With climate change a top concern for countries all over the world, many governments are introducing preventative measures to reduce emissions and hopefully encourage a brighter environmental future ahead.
The way we travel is crucial to our carbon footprint, and we already know that the UK government is preparing to phase out the sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. In the run up to this, many local authorities have introduced traffic restrictions in the form of Clean Air, Low or Ultra-Low Emission Zones, and while these may just be small steps, many more will appear across the country over the next few years.
So, with that in mind, we take a look at Low Emission Zones, what they mean and how they affect drivers in the UK.
What is a Low Emission Zone?
A Low Emission Zone, often referred to as a LEZ or CAZ (Clean Air Zone), sets an environmental limit on certain city roads, restricting access for the highest polluting vehicles to improve air quality. Vehicles that don’t meet the emission standards must pay a fine before being able to drive in these zones.
These zones have been designed to protect public health, reduce the concentration of harmful pollutants and make our cities more attractive places to live, work and visit. The aim is also to encourage driver to use newer, less polluting vehicles – or to use public transport more often.
Why do we need them?
According to GOV.UK, air pollution is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK. Air pollutants are emitted from both natural and human sources including transport, domestic heating, industrial processes, energy generation and farming.
There are some pollution hotspots that need to be addressed – and these are caused primarily by road transport. Hotspots are found in congested inner city, urban areas where pollution can affect everyone, especially the vulnerable – the elderly, very young people and those with health conditions.
What sort of cars will face a LEZ or ULEZ charge?
Low Emission Zone entry is based on the Euro emission engine classification standards – the confirmed minimum criteria is:
- Euro 4 for petrol cars and vans (generally vehicles registered from 2006*)
- Euro 6 for diesel cars and vans (generally vehicles registered from September 2015*)
- Euro VI for buses, coaches and HGVs (generally vehicles registered from January 2013*)
(These dates are only indicative – please check to confirm with your vehicle manual or the manufacturer.)
It’s worth noting that a new Euro Emissions Standard is introduced every five or six years. With Euro 6 being introduced in 2015, Euro 7 was proposed in November 2022 and is expected to come into effect in July 2025.
How can I check if my car is LEZ compliant?
If your car was made after 2006, there’s a good chance it is LEZ compliant. Similarly, diesel cars made after September 2015 are also likely also being ULEZ compliant. However, if you want to be certain if your vehicle is allowed entry to a Low Emission Zone, please use this online vehicle checker.
The UK government also has a handy page where you can check if you'll be charged to drive in a Clean Air Zone. All you need is the number plate of your vehicle and they'll tell you if your vehicle meets the emission standards.
Which towns and cities are they in?
Numerous towns and cities across the UK have implemented Low Emission Zones. For example, the Ultra Low Emission Zone was introduced in Central London in April 2019 – implementing a £12.50-per-day charge for motorists using motorbikes, cars, private taxis, small and large vans, and minibuses that don’t meet petrol Euro 4 and diesel Euro 6 standards.
Meanwhile, Low Emission Zones (LEZs) were introduced on 31st May 2022 in Scotland’s four biggest cities (Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow). Local grace periods now apply until enforcement begins in 2024.
Elsewhere, Birmingham, Bath, Bradford, Portsmouth, Oxford and Bristol have measures in place, while the likes of Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield have plans to introduce their own zones in future.
For a comprehensive list of inner-city zones across the UK and Europe, the EU’s Urban Access Regulations section has an interactive map where you can check dozens of European cities’ lower-emission requirements.
Are there any exemptions?
Many of the UK’s zones aren’t yet impacting private cars or motorcycles, but it’s possible they will in the future. Almost all of these zones use the Euro emission standards as the basis for whether to charge drivers or not and as these are updated gradually, it can be hard to determine exactly when vehicles meet these standards.
However, as a rule of thumb, expect all emission zones that affect private cars to charge pre-Euro 6 diesels and pre-Euro 4 petrols. In general, this would mean it’s very likely that vehicles registered from 2006 and diesel vehicles registered from September 2015 are compliant – making them exempt from any charges. Remember though, these dates are only indicative - please check with your vehicle manual or the manufacturer to confirm.
Beyond this, vehicles that are exempt from LEZ requirements (and therefore won’t receive a penalty charge) include:
- Vehicles for disabled persons
- Police, fire, ambulance and emergency service vehicles
- Military vehicles
- Historic vehicles
- Showmans’ vehicles
How much is a LEZ or ULEZ charge?
This completely depends on the zone and your vehicle. For example, an HGV which drives into London’s LEZ and doesn’t meet standards can be charged up to £300. However, most charges are much less for cars.
In Scotland, charges are penalty-based to discourage non-compliant vehicles from entering the zones. For example, it is currently proposed that non-compliant vehicles will be charged £60 for entering a LEZ, but that penalty will be reduced 50% if paid within the first 14 days of receiving the penalty.
Is any car future LEZ compliant?
New Euro standards have still to be formally announced, so even if your car is LEZ compliant now, it’s difficult to say whether it will stay that way.
Ultimately, the only car that will permanently satisfy emissions regulations is one that doesn’t depend on fossil fuels. Electric cars are becoming increasingly popular across the UK and, with the ban on new petrol and diesel cars coming in 2030, they’re only going to become more visible on the roads.
Thinking of making the switch? Why not visit our Innovation Centre in Glasgow or Stafford to learn more about alternative fuel vehicles from our team of experts.
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