Diesel cars should be phased out to stop pollution deaths, says Chief Medical Officer

Diesel cars should be phased out to stop pollution deaths, says Chief Medical Officer


Diesel cars should be phased out to cut the tens of thousands of deaths caused each year from air pollution, the government’s chief medical officer has said.

Dame Sally Davies, said that she drove a car with a petrol engine because of the polluting effects of diesel.

Dame Sally, who was guest editing Radio 4's Today programme, was asked by BBC presenter Mishal Husain if diesels should be banned to save lives.

“I think we do need to steadily phase them out, there is good evidence of that pollution,” said Dame Sally.

“But you can’t do things overnight. I am pleased to say when we replaced our car a few years ago we did buy petrol.

“But all of these things are open to both regulation and individual behaviour. The big issue for us is how do we change behaviors, not just the public’s but our own.”


Air pollution plays a contributing factor in at least 25,000 deaths in England each year,  triggering heart attacks and exacerbating respiratory conditions.

But road usage in Britain is at record levels, with an estimated 320 billion vehicle miles travelled in the year ending September 2016, contributing to about a third of air pollution in urban sites.

The government is facing huge pressure to phase out diesel cars, or tax their owners, after missing European emissions targets for cutting pollution.

Limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were introduced by EU law in 1999, and were to be  achieved by 2010 but the Government has consistently missed targets and is facing millions in fines. In November the High Court ordered the Department for the Environment to come up with a new strategy for cutting fumes by the summer.

Motoring groups believe that diesel car and truck owners will be incentivised to scrap their vehiclesor face heavy taxes, because they emit the largest amount of nitrogen dioxide and particulates.But the RAC said 'demonising' diesel was the wrong approach to tackling pollution. RAC roads policy spokesman Nick Lyes said: “The chief medical officer’s comment about needing to steadily phase out diesel cars is not helpful in that it is very much a ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’ approach to tackling poor air quality caused by harmful nitrogen dioxide and particulate emissions.“Demonising diesel cars as a whole is extremely short-sighted and simply phasing them out is not the answer. We should instead be looking to ‘phase out’ the most polluting diesel vehicles on our roads.“Some of the newest diesel vehicles on the road are also some of the cleanest, and diesels will also play a role in helping to reduce CO2 emissions, which contribute to man-made climate change.".


The AA also warned that diesel car drivers were unfairly targeted when haulage was the biggest problem. Many bought their cars during Gordon Brown’s "dash for diesel" when ownership was encouraged to tackle climate change by cutting carbon dioxide emissions.“Diesel car drivers are seen as an easy target but that is really missing the point, and barking up the wrong tree,” said Luke Bosdet, AA spokesman.“If you are going to have ever increasing numbers of people living in urban areas then they need to be serviced with goods, and their waste taken away. It is the big delivery and refuse trucks that are largely to blame for diesel emissions, so until there is a strategy to replace them, penalising car drivers won’t do much good.“The fact is, diesel is 15-20 per cent more efficient, and until there is a new technology which can take over from it, I can’t see how it can be phased out.”

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