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Road speed cuts significantly reduce pollution in France

Cutting speeds on the autoroute into and out of Toulouse from 130kph to 110kph reduced nitrogen dioxide pollution by 9.8% – and about half the nearby residents are no longer in a zone rouge.

Researchers found the move not only cut road speeds and pollution but also saved drivers money by reducing fuel consumption by 9% and stopping 4,020tonnes of CO2 being put into the atmosphere. The speed cut was originally intended to be temporary to allow checks by Atmo Occitanie, an association funded by the government, local authorities and businesses, which is responsible for monitoring the region’s air quality.

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A positive outcome calls for more speed reforms across the country

It has shown such significant results that the government is looking at introducing the measure on other parts of the A6 motorway around the city, which are regularly hit by peaks of pollution. However, there is resistance and a similar proposal from the Citizens’ Convention for the Environment – a group of 150 self-selected citizens from a pool of random citizens who present ideas to President Macron – to reduce the autoroute speed limit for cars from 130kph to 110kph was quickly thrown out by the government.

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President Macron was mindful that lowering the speed limit on many roads from 90kph to 80kph in 2018 has often been cited as one of the factors which led to the gilets jaunes protests of late 2018 and 2019. The Atmo Occitanie research saw scientists take air quality samples in a 300m band on both sides of the A62 motorway over 7km between Saint-Jory and Toulouse. They checked levels of nitrogen dioxide, benzene and fine particulates, the main sources of traffic pollution.

It reported “there was a significant positive impact in nitrogen dioxide during the period of 110kph”, giving a 9.8% drop along the 300m band – although this is still above EU limits. There was only a marginal fall in fine particles and benzene levels.

President Macron told the Citizens’ Con­vention he could not accept the move to cut autoroute speeds, saying it had to “ripen” in public opinion. He also rejected calls to raise taxes on div­idends, as France is already heavily taxed, and said a call to rewrite the introduction to the Constitution would put protecting the environment above human rights.

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