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This city cut traffic deaths to zero after making a major change to its driving rules — here's why other cities should take note

Traffic deaths and air pollution levels dropped at a startling rate.

Traffic deaths and air pollution levels dropped at a startling rate.

Photo Credit: iStock

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has recently faced criticism from political opponents for seeking to expand "ultra-low emission zones" in the city. 

If you drive a car in certain areas of the United Kingdom's capital and it doesn't comply with ULEZ standards — which follow European emissions standards — you may be liable to a £12.50 (around $15.75) daily charge.

The move is intended to help reduce toxic air pollution in the city, which Khan noted in a 2021 article for The New Statesman is a contributing factor to worsening asthma and potentially increasing the risk of dementia. 

Despite opposition from local councils and drivers of cars powered by internal-combustion engines — which produce a number of harmful emissions that damage public health and exacerbate global heating — there are very obvious benefits of trying to keep polluting vehicles off the roads. 

In Spain, for example, one city banned most cars in 1999 and has seen some remarkable changes. 

As of 2022, Pontevedra, in northern Spain, had seen no car-related deaths for over 10 years. According to comments made by the city's mayor, Miguel Anxo Fernández Lores, in a Político article, total air pollution had been reduced by as much as 67%. 

"We decided to redesign the city for people instead of cars, and we've been reaping the rewards ever since," Fernández Lores said. 

Parking has since been moved from outside of the city center, with a number of underground parking areas emerging to deal with the vehicles of residents. A 2018 video from the World Economic Forum cited information from Smart Cities that said 70% of travel in the city was on foot at the time. 

"Adopting these kind of measures initially requires political courage," Fernández Lores said. "But fear of losing elections shouldn't condition the actions that responsible politicians take." 

Since the introduction of ULEZs in London, the city's government has reported a 50% reduction in nitrogen dioxide pollution; between 2016 and 2020, the pollution rate decreased five times faster than in the rest of the U.K. It's also said that 1 million hospital admissions were avoided thanks to the policy. 

It's obvious that encouraging the takeup of tailpipe-emission-free electric cars or just simply banning cars from city spaces can deliver significant benefits to residents. Pontevedra has seen it already, and London is hoping the expansion of ULEZs will produce similar results by cutting the presence of toxic gases in the city's air.

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