UK's Car Pollution Problem Costs £6 Billion a Year in Health Damages

A team from Oxford University and the University of Bath revealed the damage done by vehicle emissions in the UK could cost the NHS £6 billion per year.
Shelby Rogers

Residents of the UK are shelling out an additional £6 billion per year in services due to car-related health issues, Oxford University researchers reported.

The Oxford team collaborated with the University of Bath and give a first-of-its-kind look into the health impacts of various types of transportation on public health. The study found that the health impacts of diesel cars are significantly higher than the health impacts of standard petrol, electric vehicles, and hybrids.

But just how much more dangerous are those diesel vehicles compared to other options? Vehicle emissions are roughly 20 times more impactful to health than electric vehicles and five times more damaging than standard petrol. The researchers linked the exposures to PM2.5 and NOX to 40,000 early deaths.

"Cars and vans are responsible for 10,000 early deaths each year, and diesel vehicles are the main problem unfortunately."

"Cars and vans are responsible for 10,000 early deaths each year, and diesel vehicles are the main problem unfortunately," said Christian Bard. "The valuation of health effects associated with diesel vehicles are at least five times greater than those associated with petrol vehicles, and around 20 times greater than battery electric vehicles. These results raise important questions as to how best to develop effective and fair air quality and transport strategies in urban areas."

The Global Action Plan commissioned the study in preparation for June 21's Clean Air Day. Clean Air Day exists to show people how they could protect themselves from the harmful effects of air pollution and encourage the public to look for alternate means of transportation if possible in order to reduce air pollution.

The Global Action Plan also put out a table noting which regions of England contribute the most damage in cost to the NHS. At the top of the list (rather unsurprisingly) are London and Birmingham. London contributes roughly £605 million per year in vehicle-related bills and Birmingham £150 million. 

"Our research for the first time illustrates the individual cost that each car and van has on the NHS and wider society," said Alistair Hunt, Lecturer in Environmental Economics, University of Bath. "Every time these vehicles are driven, they are having a significant impact on our health, equivalent to £7,714 for an average inner London car over its lifetime."

The teams didn't generate these numbers through their own analysis. Rather, they used the DEFRA and COMEAP impact analysis in addition to fleet composition, emissions concentrations and miles traveled in order to generate an idea of each individual vehicle's damage to a particular area.


"This report clearly illustrates the true cost of air pollution from each petrol and diesel car and van, particularly in inner cities," Chris Large, Senior Partner, Global Action Plan, said. "Swapping 1 in 4 car journeys in urban areas for walking or cycling could save over £1.1 billion in health damage costs per year. Switching 1 million cars from diesel to electric would save more than £360 million per year in health costs from local air pollution. This demonstrates the impact that people's individual choices can have, so we would look to the government to use Clean Air Day as a springboard for year round public engagement through its new clean air strategy."