Research suggests traffic safety gets priority over clean air
Air pollution kills more people than car accidents, but the government focuses on road safety over alternative transport options, according to new research.
Cars, buses and lorries are the main cause of air pollution in 95 per cent of cities in the UK where the air is ‘unfit to breathe’, leading to an estimated 50,000 lives a year shortened by air pollution.
This is compared to 1,713 deaths from traffic accidents in 2013.
But researchers at the University of the West of England, who present their findings to the Royal Geographical Society today, said tackling air pollution falls through cracks between government departments, with focus instead on road safety and economic growth.
Dr Tim Chatterton, co-author of the research, said:
‘Air pollution-related morbidity and mortality are at epidemic levels – and, although less obvious, are more significant than road transport collisions as a cause of death and injury.’
He added that addressing this means ‘a strong political and societal commitment to protecting public health’:
‘This will require not just improvements to transport infrastructure, but also changes across society in our expectations of how we, and those we connect with, get around.’
Dr Chatterton and co-author Prof Graham Parkhurst say responsibility for air pollution falls within both the Environment (Defra) and Transport departments, but that neither has it as a priority, while the government in effect promotes vehicle use for the movement of goods and labour.
Stephen Joseph of the Campaign for Better Transport commented:
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‘We see all round the country traffic planners and government agencies coming up with big road schemes, that will in practice add to air pollution rather than solving it.
We need to change transport spending priorities to support alternatives to cars.’