London low emission zone

Van and minibus drivers who travel into London now risk a £500 fine if they do not fully research new London Low Emission Zone regulations that came into force on 3 January 2012.

For the first time, large vans (those over 1.205 tonnes unladen weight), minibuses and other specialist vehicles are required to meet minimum standards for emissions when travelling within London. These Euro 3 emissions standards were enforced for new vehicles back in January 2002: all vehicles produced before this date are unlikely to meet the new Low Emission Zone standards.

It is important those who own or use a large van or minibus now make the necessary checks here, as the financial implications are severe. Vehicles that do not meet the standards are required to pay a charge of £100 per day in order to travel in London. If this charge is not paid, a £500 fine is automatically imposed on the owner of the vehicle via CCTV licence detection cameras.

The London Low Emission Zone is not just something that affects those travelling right into Central London, either. Unlike the London Congestion Charge, it covers almost all of Greater London – indeed, most of the roads within the M25 are covered by the Zone, including parts of the M1 and M4 too. Only the M25 itself is not covered by the Zone.

The borders of the Zone are clearly marked by Low Emission Zone signage, but even though it’s so large, it is still easy to drive past these without noticing. Once you are within the zone, you must pay the daily charge, even if you drive straight out again. This means that even those living far away from London may be affected by it – and when the fine for falling foul of the rules is so large, it is worthwhile to clearly understand them.

The reason Low Emission Zone rules are getting tougher is to tackle the issue of smog in London. This has been getting worse in recent years and the Mayor of London is eager to improve air quality in London prior to the 2012 Olympic Games this summer.

The setting of minimum exhaust emission standards to large vans and minibuses coincides with a tightening of regulations for HGVs and buses already covered under the scheme as well. These are now required to meet more stringent Euro 4 exhaust emissions standards.

This means that only vehicles produced from 1 October 2006 will automatically be eligible to travel for free within the Low Emission Zone. Vehicles produced before this date will probably not meet the new standards and will have to pay a £200 daily charge: the fine for not paying this is a staggering £1000 per day.

The London Low Emission Zone first came into force back in 2008. This set minimum standards for particulate emissions from vehicles travelling within Greater London, managed by compliance to the ‘Euro’ exhaust emissions standards. Since then, the rules have gradually been tightened: the current broadening of the scheme is the third such expansion since its introduction.

The rules will continue to get tighter, too. In time, it is likely vans and minibuses will have to meet Euro 4 standards too, while rules for London taxis will also become more strict. This year, for example, taxis aged 15 years or older will start to become outlawed.

As the Mayor of London makes further commitments to environmentally friendly transport within London, the Low Emission Zone will continue to develop and begin to affect more and more drivers. It is something well worth-while being aware of – particularly as, in terms of transport, London leads where others in time follow…