'No idling' zones can help to protect vulnerable people from air pollution, says NICE

NICE has published final guidance helping local councils to improve air quality across England.

The guideline, developed by NICE and Public Health England (PHE), says bylaws could be introduced as a way to enforce ‘no vehicle idling’ in areas where vulnerable people collect (for example schools, hospitals and care homes).

Air pollution is harmful to everyone, but there are some people who are more at risk than others. Children (14 and under) and older people (65 and older) are more susceptible to the effects of air pollution. As are people with respiratory conditions, like asthma, or heart problems.

"Air pollution is a major risk to our health, and measures suggested so far have not managed to tackle the problem sufficiently.

"This guidance is based upon the best evidence available. It outlines a range of practical steps that Local Authorities can take, such as the implementation of no-idling zones, to reduce emissions and protect the public."

Professor Paul Lincoln, chair of the NICE guideline committee.

PHE estimates long-term exposure to particulate air pollution has ‘an effect equivalent to’ around 25,000 deaths a year in England. This makes air pollution the largest environmental risk linked to deaths every year.

Road traffic is estimated to contribute more than 64% of air pollution recorded in towns and cities. This comes from exhausts and other sources such as the wear of tyres.

No-idling zones could be used as a way to decrease the level of pollutants those people most at risk are exposed to.

Gorse Hall Primary School are fighting air pollution...

Sadie, Amesha and Daisy are all students at Gorse Hall Primary School in Manchester.

Their class has been learning about air pollution, the steps they can take to limit their exposure to car emissions and why it is important we all work together to improve air quality. Here is their story:

Most of the air pollution in our town is caused by cars. Hundreds of them drive past the school every day. Last week we counted 186 in just 15 minutes. There was only one bus.

We were astonished to learn that breathing polluted air contributes to thousands of premature deaths every year. It is scary to know something we cannot see could be making us sick.

The eco committee at Gorse Hall Primary School

The eco committee at Gorse Hall Primary School

At school we have an eco committee. This is where we work together to tackle environmental issues. This year we have been discussing air pollution.

We wanted to make sure we all knew about the dangers of poor air quality. And that there are simple and easy things we can do to reduce air pollution – walking to school, turning the engine off when the car is parked, or choosing to take the bus instead of driving.

We made posters to share this advice.

One of our air pollution awareness posters

One of our air pollution awareness posters

We also made a film to show people why air pollution is dangerous. Our theme was ‘when we grow up…” because we wanted to highlight the importance of acting now. You can watch our video here:

Drive smoothly to reduce harmful effects of air pollution

The final NICE and PHE guidance seeks to inform the general public about the dangers of air pollution. It also gives advice to local authority staff about how they can tackle the problem.

Accelerating or decelerating too rapidly leads to inefficient driving and fuel consumption with more harmful emissions being released into the environment unnecessarily.

This is why the guideline is calling on businesses and transport services to educate their transport staff in more efficient ‘smooth’ driving skills, such as avoiding hard accelerations or decelerations.

NICE says councils should aim to reduce air pollution across whole areas rather than focusing on known hotspots.

They can do this by introducing clean air zones (a region that has regulations to limit emissions of gasses such as nitrogen dioxide), which restricts vehicles known to produce high amounts of dangerous pollution.

And where traffic is contributing to poor air quality, the guideline says councils could enforce congestion charges within the clean air zone.

“The battle against air pollution has to be one we are all fully committed to. We need a collaborative long-term plan to improve air quality. Our guidance can help us to achieve that.”

Professor Mark Baker, director for the centre of guidelines at NICE