Blog

Do Low Levels of Air Pollution Damage Your Heart?

Following the publication of a scientific paper analysing heart condition and the impact of air pollution, the national media immediately jumped to headlines such as “Low Levels of Air Pollution Linked to Changes in the Heart” as published by the BBC. Stories were typically illustrated with pictures of traffic jams, car exhaust and visible London air pollution. Calls to reduce legal maximum air pollution figures were added.

What does this scientific paper actually show? You can read it here: https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.034856 . It’s a paper by Nay Aung et al. But here are some comments on it:

  1. The paper was published in the journal “Circulation”, a small distribution specialist scientific journal, It is based on information from the UK Biobank which contains medical information on thousands of volunteers who have in this case had heart scans.
  2. The study correlated the information from 3,920 individuals to air pollution data (specifically NO2 and PM2.5) where they lived from 2005-2010.
  3. The study concluded that after adjusting for numerous other factors such as demographics (age, sex, ethnicity), anthropometrics (height, body mass), socioeconomic factors (income, employment, educational status), cardiac risk factors and physical activity there was a positive correlation between minor changes to left ventricle (LV) mass and other heart changes to air pollution levels where the volunteers were resident.
  4. Such changes to a heart are known to precede heart disease.
  5. The paper’s authors therefore concluded that “our findings add to the growing evidence of the damaging effects of ambient air pollution even in the setting of relatively low exposure levels”.

Are their conclusions justified beyond any doubt, and in particular are the popular media’s headlines justified? My conclusion is no. For example, like any epidemiological study it only provides a possible statistical association, not a direct cause. As Prof Kevin McConway commented on this paper (as reported by the BBC): “Heart disease is affected by a wide range of factors – smoking, drinking alcohol, diet, exercise, social position, and more. Suppose that people whose heart health is worse because of some of these factors are also more likely to live in places where air pollution is high. That could show up as a correlation between air pollution and heart disease, even if the pollution itself is having no direct effect on the heart”.

Another possible issue is that air pollution inside houses is known to often be many times worse than that in the most polluted streets. That pollution comes from cooking, new paint, fabrics, carpets, smoking by other residents, animal hair, etc. Lack of ventilation in houses and apartments can increase levels substantially so people who live close to noisy roads who never open their windows as a result may be particularly affected.

The report is open to attack on the detail of their statistical methods, and they also note that other similar studies did not provide the same evidence in all cases. In summary the overall evidence is quite weak. Neither does the report confirm that the minor changes noted to heart mass lead in this case to significant heart disease.

Their reference to “low exposure levels” may also be misleading because air pollution levels were not measured outside the volunteers’ houses or where they work. In addition the fact that the people studied were volunteers, i.e. were self-selected rather than being a randomised sample, could have biased the outcome even though lots of adjustments were made for possible confounding factors.

All the report really suggests is that more study should be undertaken of a possible effect. The conclusion drawn by some commentators that air pollution legal limits need to be reduced further is not substantiated by this report.

In the meantime, readers are advised not to live within a few metres of a busy road because it may be bad for your health. But that’s no surprise is it? Just living in a noisy environment is known to be very damaging to your health. High noise levels are correlated with cardiovascular disease according to the World Health Organisation. It seems it increases stress levels which has a negative impact on health.

What the Aung report does not do is justify even more aggressive attempts to reduce air pollution in cities such as London, where NOX and particulates are already falling after the mistaken support of more diesel vehicles by the Government. Road vehicles will soon no longer be a major contributor to air pollution in cities so more scaremongering of this ilk is not required.

The answer to the question posed in the headline of this article (“Do Low Levels of Air Pollution Damage Your Heart”) is simply that it is “Not proven”.

Press Release: The Police Need to Regain Trust of The Public By Changing Their Priorities

According to figures recently released, only 445,000 of the 4.6 million crimes committed in the last year in England and Wales resulted in prosecution.  Yet over 2 million motorists were pursued for exceeding a speed limit.  The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) suggests that the police really need to get their priorities right.  When the only contact most people have with the police is when they are pointing a speed gun at you, usually on a safe stretch of road with a speed limit that is set too low, is it any wonder respect is at an all-time low?  We are now seeing a generation of children brought up with this situation, hearing their parents cursing the police as they slam on the brakes.

The ABD has already highlighted the problem with the false targeting of speed enforcement, ignoring dangerous driving and favouring those sites than can generate mass prosecutions. (1)

We have also highlighted the fact that speed awareness courses are not making drivers safer.  Incredibly we are even told that isn’t their intent.  (2)

Despite the endless propaganda hardly any crashes are caused by sober, otherwise legal drivers traveling a few MPH over the speed limit. The vast majority of so called ‘speeding’ crashes are caused by drunk/drugged/stolen or very high reckless speeds/racing (3) The police need to finally admit the truth and start catching real criminals.

What has been happening is an enormous diversion of resources in both the police and criminal justice system from the pursuit and prosecution of real criminals to “crimes” that can generate money. Is it surprise that crime figures of all kinds are ballooning to record levels?

  1. http://www.abd.org.uk/setting-speed-limits/
  2. http://www.abd.org.uk/no-benefit-from-speed-awareness-courses/
  3. http://www.abd.org.uk/the-hidden-truth-behind-statistics-used-to-justify-speed-enforcement-priorities/

Ends

Stopping the School Run by Closing Roads

The “school run” is now a major cause of traffic congestion. It has got worse for three reasons: 1) more ownership of cars, 2) the ability of parents to apply to any school for admission of their children introduced a few years ago and 3) parents concern with the safety of their children if they walk or cycle to school.

Although schools do often have “catchment” areas that limit applications to a geographic area around the school if there are too many requests for places, in practice these are quite wide. For example, this map shows the catchment are for Coopers School in Chislehurst (London Borough of Bromley): https://www.schoolguide.co.uk/schools/coopers-school-chislehurst . For those who know the area, that means that children come from as far afield as Mottingham, Swanley and Orpington, i.e. several miles distant. Walking would be impractical, and even cycling would be difficult due to steep hills, so only buses or car use (if they don’t live near a bus route) would be an option for many children. The result is daily congestion around that school during school term times, particularly as there are several other schools in the same area including some private schools whose catchment areas could be even larger.

How to solve the school run problem? Some local councils are now looking at road closures during school opening/closing times to deter the use of cars and encourage the children to walk or cycle. Road safety benefits are also suggested. The Borough of Croydon have already experimented with such a scheme for six months at 3 schools. The access restrictions were enforced by ANPR cameras with £130 fines for infringement. Local residents within the boundary could obtain a permit. Croydon council has now decided to make the scheme permanent despite many objections from residents (some living within the boundary).

The justification for the scheme was that it would reduce air pollution and encourage more healthy life styles but there was no evidence of the air pollution being a problem (no measures were taken), and it is exceedingly unlikely that excluding vehicles from a very small area for very limited times of the day would have any impact on air quality. No evidence on road safety benefits was provided. Such schemes just cause vehicle users to park further away outside the boundary causing wider parking problems, or they turn-up and park earlier. It causes major problems for delivery drivers, or other visitors to homes within the boundary as drivers are often not aware of the scheme.

The London Borough of Greenwich is also considering such a scheme for eight schools according to an article in the Newsshopper local paper and it suggests the access restriction would even be imposed by rising bollards.

Such schemes are spreading across the country. Solihull is another example of an experimental scheme which was put in without consultation. One local councillor said they did not consult first because they thought people would object!

Another area considering using such a scheme is Cambridge County Council where one councillor has put it forward. Again this is was primarily on spurious environmental grounds. The writer of this article spoke on BBC Radio Cambridge on the subject on 17/7/2018 and I suggested that such policies emanate mainly from car haters and that no evidence is provided on the environmental or other benefits.

There is another motivation for such schemes which is money (just like the closure of Bank Junction in the City of London which is generating enormous sums in fines). In Croydon, some 2,000 fines were issued in six months, which is likely to generate hundreds of thousands of pounds per year of additional income to the council.

The school run and the congestion it causes is of major concern to many people but this writer does not support road closures of this nature. They just obstruct and corrupt the road network.

In Croydon local activist Peter Morgan claims the council have acted illegally by not taking notice of objections and failing to meet their obligations under the Traffic Management Act. He is asking the Secretary of State to block the councils move.

The Alliance of British Drivers opposes road closure schemes of all kinds on the grounds that they create major inconvenience for many people, rarely provide any claimed benefits and particularly so when they are used as money making schemes by councils to exploit unwary motorists.

But if you have other solutions to the congestion caused by school run drivers, that are more practical and less unreasonable, then please let us know.

Roger Lawson

Press Release: Targeting Cars to Solve ‘Pollution Problems’ Was Never the Answer

The ABD welcomes so called ‘weakening’ of the government’s stance against petrol and diesel engines (1).  Despite much media hype the vast majority of petrol and diesel cars that do significant mileages are clean modern vehicles. Car emissions are a tiny and fast diminishing part of overall pollution which comes from many sources in modern life including many that originate in our modern insulated homes.

Much of the recent hype has resulted from hysterical claims of ‘multiple premature deaths’ from pollution.  The clue is in the word ‘premature’ and actual number of hours or days that a life is supposedly shortened by are never stated.  The truth is that if we stopped all industry, all heating, all trade and all transport there would still be pollution from natural sources.  We may live a few extra hours from the cleaner air but would die from cold and malnutrition far earlier instead.  We need to remind ourselves that whilst there may be minimal negative trade-offs from modern living, the benefits outweigh these many fold. Some common sense needs to return to the table.

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/roads-update-the-zero-emission-road-transport-strategy

Who Are the Worst Councils?

Does your local council provide free or affordable parking, good road conditions rather than roads full of potholes, and do they reduce congestion as opposed to removing road space while imposing 20-mph speed limits? This video talks about how Bristol has negatively impacted motorists in recent years: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upPBqNVIxrQ

Note that the prize competition mentioned in the video has now concluded but if you have any good examples of how your local council behaves either particularly badly or well, then please provide a note of same to the ABD so that we can publicise.

Setting Speed Limits

Get the Limits Right and Arguments About Speed Enforcement Could Vanish

It is very easy when we hear people complaining about speed limit enforcement, to assume that the person complaining is somehow irresponsible, liking to drive faster than is safe. We hear it a lot.  When we delve a little deeper however, whilst there are inevitably a tiny minority of this ilk, the vast majority including all of us here in the ABD fully support enforcement against anybody who drives faster than is safe.  The issues they have are invariably with the way enforcement is targeted, and many are very angry indeed that it appears all too often to be targeted at the safe, sober, responsible driver on the safer stretches of road where the limit appears unreasonably low to a significant number of drivers, and perhaps worse still, those speeding in dangerous places are not targeted at all.

What is the exact nature of the problem?  Well the problem with current enforcement is that it incentivises targeting at high revenue sites.  This isn’t just to make profit, it is also because empires that are self-financing and self-perpetuating have been encouraged by government policy, With no fine income, the empires die. When vehicles, equipment and staff have no income stream financing them, they simply die out.  Targeting areas where the majority of drivers sense danger and therefore slow down is not viable because although those caught would be the ones everybody wants them to catch, the numbers are lower so it is not financially viable.

And the solution?  Well it’s two-fold.  Firstly we could take the financial incentives away by sending fine revenue directly into the tax system and fund ‘safety partnerships’ directly from government, rewarding them for casualty reduction only.

Secondly, if limits were properly set then there would be no unreasonable limits for the ‘safety partnerships’ to target.  All the arguments about enforcement would simply go away and the authorities would return to being respected and supported by everybody, something nobody would argue was currently the case.

So, how do we get limits right?

Well we need to depoliticise limit setting.  Take it out of the hands of local politicians who, although often well meaning, are unqualified on the subject and are also often keen to go with whatever they think will win them votes.  There needs to be a national policy on the setting of limits and they need to be in the hands of qualified experts.  There is a system which we in the UK abandoned a few years ago which set limits using a method proven all over the world to maximise safety.  It is called the 85th percentile rule.  Put simply it measures the speed of free-flowing traffic on a particular road in the absence of a limit.  The limit is then set at a speed below which 85% of drivers naturally choose.  There are exceptions but as a broad principle this method creates limits which earn respect and are respected.  Using this method would raise some limits and lower others.  The ABD calls for an end to the current unsustainable fiasco and a reintroduction of the 85th percentile.  It saves lives, increases respect for the enforcement agencies and gives smoother traffic flow.  There really is nothing not to like.

And what else needs to be done on speed?

Limits are far from the only tool in the box.  Setting one’s speed safely to the conditions is probably the most vital skill a driver needs to master.  But it isn’t about numbers.  It is about looking ahead, well ahead, observing potential hazards and continually reappraising one’s speed.  Put simply, the main discipline is to ‘always drive at a speed where you can safely stop in the distance guaranteed to be clear’.  It is virtually all that matters and needs to head up all education campaigns.  When, however did you last hear these words?  Did you ever hear them from anybody in the speed management business or authorities?

Road Safety and Grass Cutting

With the approach of summer it is interesting to see how different councils approach grass cutting and the effects that unattended grass can have on road safety. For three years it has been necessary to remind Durham County Council of their responsibility to cut grass because of the impact on road safety.

On previous occasions, the threat of members of the public cutting the grass on behalf of the council has motivated the council to take remedial action, but with a policy of only cutting grass twice a year and no attempt to monitor if road visibility is being impaired, the motorist is repeatedly being put at risk.

“Reasonable foreseeability” in law ought to demand greater consideration from Council operatives where clearly the risk of accident has been considerably increased.

The photo attached clearly illustrates the indifference that both the local authorities and the police have for road safety in this regard. Perhaps this is being ignored because it is a cost to tackle this problem when council budgets are stretched, but the cost of road accidents is so large that surely it is worth spending some money on this issue? It should not be ignored.

It is also very worrying that at several roundabouts in the Durham and Sedgefield area, barriers have been erected or trees planted to purposely hamper visibility as cars approach roundabouts. I am sure that licenced road users are capable of approaching roundabouts with due care, without the local authority creating hazardous situations for the motorist to negotiate.

We at the ABD are sincere in our desire to achieve the highest levels of road safety and would ask that those in authority operate with integrity and deal with this issue.

Francis Barnish

Press Release: No Benefit From Speed Awareness Courses

 The Department for Transport (DfT) have, after a long delay, published the Ipsos-MORI report that they commissioned into the effectiveness of speed awareness courses. This is the key statement in the Executive Summary: “this study did not find that participation in NSAC [National Speed Awareness Courses] had a statistically significant effect on the number or severity of injury collisions”.

In other words, as the Alliance of British Drivers has repeatedly said, this unethical and legally dubious diversion of drivers to speed awareness courses is primarily about generating money, not about road safety because there is no evidence of any real benefit. Indeed drivers who have attended such courses might be interested in another statement in the report: “the NSAC was not designed to reduce the incidence of collisions”. So what exactly is the objective one might ask as it appears not to be focussed on improving road safety?

Was the study too small to produce statistically significant results? Not exactly because the records of 2.2 million drivers, of whom 1.4 million had accepted a course offer, were studied over a period of 4 years. This data was linked to subsequent speed reoffending and involvement in collisions to produce the report’s conclusions. That’s a large sample.

The only impact they found was that there was a small reduction in reoffending after involvement in an NSAC, but that is surely hardly surprising because drivers might simply take more care about speeding after being caught for one offence because you cannot be offered a second NSAC within 3 years.

The report argues that an even bigger study might prove there is some benefit but the proponents of such courses are surely clutching at straws if they think that expense is worthwhile.

Regardless we suggest speed awareness courses should cease to be a money making industry for ex-police and road safety officers and should only be offered to people who are actually convicted of speeding offences. Otherwise they are just a way to bribe the police to look the other way when an offence is committed (a waiver of prosecution as they call it). That’s corruption and a perversion of justice!

The ABD’s campaign against this illegality is documented on this web site which explains the history, the financial arrangements and the evidence of police profiteering: http://www.speed-awareness.org/

The Ipsos-MORI report can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-speed-awareness-course-impact-evaluation

Roger Lawson

(Twitter: https://twitter.com/AmpowABD )

Press Release: Chancellor’s Tax Policies Are Major Blow To Car Industry

Today’s new car registration figures show that last year’s changes to Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) have now led to a whole year of declining new car registrations. The decline started on the day the new regime that Chancellor Osborne designed, and Hammond implemented, kicked in. The ABD calls on Chancellor Philip Hammond to immediately address the issue before further harm is done. The October budget will be too late.

ABD spokesman Nigel Humphries explains: “Due to the confusion created by the shambolic new tax regime, rather than trading in their existing cars, usually economical diesels with cheap or free VED, drivers are choosing to hang on to their old car. This is having a disastrous effect on new car sales. Why would you buy a new car when a) The road tax will likely be higher; b) If buying a diesel, there is no guarantee that local authorities will not in future introduce all manner of charges for parking or even entering towns; and c) If buying a petrol then economy will be poorer than your existing diesel?”

The ABD calls for four immediate changes in the VED regime to reinstate confidence and fairness in the market:

1. The government must announce with immediate effect that no local authority will be allowed to impose discriminatory charges on any type of car or motorcycle for parking or entering a zone based upon type of motive power. Those that have already, including the London Mayor, must scrap them.

2. The zero VED band and sliding scale should be reintroduced for low emission new cars.

3. VED should be capped at £300 pa for all cars over three years old, ending the anomoly where certain cars sold between 2005 and 2018 pay up to £535. This will help the lower income driver. When newer models with equivalent CO2 figures only pay £140 after the first three years £500+ cannot be justified.

4. New electric cars should pay VED of £500 and the gift of £4,500 from the taxpayer to buyers should be scrapped. It is grossly unfair on other drivers that those who can afford expensive new electric cars cars pay nothing at all to use the roads whilst others pay thousands in fuel duties and VED.  EVs cause as much congestion and wear to the system as any other car.  £500 is still substantially less than most other drivers pay (10,000 miles pa 40mpg car pays around £1,100 fuel tax and VED) and is more than sufficient reward for their green credentials.

Press Release: Government Entirely Responsible for Urban Vehicle Emissions Issues

 

Why, after over four-and-a-half decades of dramatically declining vehicle emissions (typically having fallen by some 70%; see Fig.1 below ), do we have urban vehicle emissions hotspots that ostensibly require urgent remedial action?

Answer: The emissions hotspots are entirely the fault of successive central and local governments of various political complexions: incompetently enacted transport policy implemented by apparently even more incompetent urban transport planners.

Decades of installing only intermittently-used bus-/ taxi-, and cycle-only lanes, pinch-points, asynchronous traffic-light phasing, speed ramps, 20mph zones, other speed limit reductions and private vehicle lane-subtraction schemes have choked average city-centre traffic speeds down to little over 10mph (16km/h).

At these low traffic speeds, NOx, NO2 and the other vehicle emissions ramp up precipitately to over four times those observed at steady, free-flow speeds of 30mph (50km/h) or above (see Fig.2 below).

So what has been the cumulative effect of some two decades of this ill-conceived, social-engineering-inspired, anti-car, traffic hindering central and local government policy?

Answer: To utterly negate over forty years of improvements in vehicle emissions abatement technology.

Another “triumph” of knee-jerk policy implementation over superior technological solutions.

If politicians are really committed to improving urban air quality – as opposed to merely looking to engineer yet another opportunity to financially exploit hard-pressed drivers, they will implement the five Action Plan Points below.

If you are fed up with being used as local and central government’s tame cash-cow, write to your MP (see: https://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/) and demand that central and local government’s urban road transport policies be formulated around these key action points:

  1. Firstly, reverse the pernicious traffic gating-, lane-subtraction-, public transport-, and cycle-prioritisation policies that have brought traffic speeds in our major cities down to a staccato mix of stationary and walking pace progress – with consequent completely avoidable adverse emissions and urban air quality effects.
  2. In the short-term, invoke a more targeted pursuit of the worst transport sector polluters; getting the highest emissions (mainly delivery, public transport vehicles and diesel rail transport) remediated or scrapped and replaced.
  3. Convince domestic heating and transport fuel manufacturers to alter their refining processes; further purifying their products, yielding cleaner-burning versions which produce lower concentrations of NO2, NOx, PM2.5s, PM10s and SOx.
  4. If, as is being constantly preached to us, the future is electric, Government must facilitate the development of electric vehicles with an all-weather conditions range of at least 350 to 700 miles, and a recharging time comparable to that required to refill a modern, liquid-fuelled car. To be market-competitive, their performance capabilities will also need to be comparable to those typically achievable by modern petrol and diesel cars.
  5. Government must also provide the infrastructure investment for all UK private dwellings – including apartment blocks – to have the facility to park off-road, and recharge at least two electric vehicles per household resident at that dwelling.AND FINALLY:
  6. Write to the local Council Leader (in whatever is the town or city in which you live) and invite him – and his equally culpable transport “planners” – to stand down forthwith, and give way to scientifically-literate successors who know what they are doing.

References:

  1. Emissions time-series figure reproduced with permission from a Local Transport Today article authored by Mr. P. Dobson (LTT726; 07-20/07/2017, p.20).
  2.  London average traffic speed was recently reported to be 11mph (roughly 18km/h). See e.g., http://www.thisislocallondon.co.uk/news/804876.london_cars_move_no_faster_than_chickens/
  3.  See e.g., “London Exhaust Emissions Study – Developing a test programme and analysis of emissions data from passenger cars in London”, Transport for London.