Low-emission zones (LEZs) are usually found in city centres and their aim is to discourage highly polluting vehicles from entering areas where air quality is particularly poor. Vehicles that do not reach the minimum standard for emissions can still enter, but daily charges are usually enforced.
Where are they?
A low-emissions zone is currently in force in London, where pollution levels are particularly high. Other LEZs are active in Brighton, Norwich, Nottingham and Oxford, although these currently only affect local bus services. However, further and more comprehensive zones are expected to be implemented across the UK as local authorities strive to cut harmful emissions. Scotland plans to introduce low-emission zones in its four biggest cities, and these will be much stricter, with penalty charge notices (PCNs) applied.
When can I drive in them?
Different rules are likely to apply to each low-emission zone. The London LEZ covers most of Greater London and, unlike the Congestion Charge Zone, operates 24 hours a day. If your vehicle doesn’t meet the minimum emissions standard, you could find yourself paying both charges if you drive in London during the day on weekdays. If an LEZ is introduced near you, you’ll need to check when and where the charges apply.
Which vehicles are affected?
Again, the rules will differ depending on the LEZ. In London, vehicles that are affected include pre-October 2006 lorries weighing more than 3.5 tonnes, coaches weighing more than five tonnes, larger vans, minibuses and motorised caravans. Charges also apply for light 4x4s and pick-ups registered new before January 1, 2002. Those wishing to avoid the charges could have an approved filter fitted or switch to a more enviornmentally friendly mode of transport.
As more no-emission, ultra-low-emission and low-emission zones are introduced, more vehicles will be affected. The London zone is set to expand geographically by 2019 and will affect all vehicles, including cars. Under the new ultra-low-emission zone, charges will be imposed on diesel cars registered before September 1, 2015, and on petrol cars registered after January 1, 2006.
How can I avoid the charges?
The fact is, if you drive a petrol or diesel car, you may eventually end up paying low-emission zone charges. The sale of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned from 2040, with hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric cars favoured.
Electric cars use no fuel at all, while plug-in hybrids use very little and hybrids use significantly less than petrol or diesel cars. If you’re thinking about buying a new car, it might be worth considering one of these ‘greener’ options so you don’t have to fork out if an LEZ pops up nearby or the rules suddenly get stricter.
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