Is Northern Ireland’s love affair with diesel cars coming to the end of the road?

People in Northern Ireland really love their diesel vehicles. In fact, around 60% of vehicles on the road are diesel powered, and about 45% of private cars. Just one small issue, diesel pollution is killing people. If sitting in a traffic jam on the Westlink is not depressing enough, now you know that you are also slowly killing yourself and everyone around you.

Researchers estimate diesel pollution kills around 30,000 people every year. From the Guardian:

The global human health impact of the diesel emissions scandal has been revealed by new research showing a minimum of 38,000 people a year die early due to the failure of diesel vehicles to meet official limits in real driving conditions.

Researchers have created the first global inventory of the emissions pumped out by cars and trucks on the road, over and above the legal limits which are monitored by lab-based tests. Virtually all diesel cars produce far more toxic nitrogen oxides (NOx) than regulations intend and these excess emissions amounted to 4.6m tonnes in 2015, the team found.

This led to at least 38,000 premature deaths due to heart and lung disease and strokes. Most of the deaths are in Europe, where highly polluting cars are the main culprit, and in China and India, where dirty trucks cause most of the damage.

The work also shows that, even if diesel cars did meet emissions limits, there would still be 70,000 early deaths per year. Excess NOx emissions are rising, the researchers found, and strict pollution controls need to be put in place to avoid the death toll rising to 174,000 in 2040.

If you are thinking hold on a minute, 20 years ago they told us diesel vehicles were better for the environment. Indeed science is a fickle thing. Factor in the recent emissions scandal and sales of diesel cars are falling, down 15% last month alone. As an aside people who leave their diesel cars into the dealer to get ‘fixed’ are finding they get lower mileage and less performance, which would explain why manufacturers diddled the system in the first place.

Today the government announced plans to ban diesel and petrol vehicles by 2040. That may sound like a long way away but given our everlasting peace process™ has been going on nearly that long it’s not too far away in the big scheme of things.

It is clear the future is electric vehicles. At the moment electric cars are still really expensive but over the next few years battery technology will improve dramatically and prices will come down. Our car is 5 years old but we don’t use it that much so I have decided to hold off until electric cars become more mainstream. As a geek, I am really looking forward to buying my electric car. A friend recently gave me a ride in his Tesla sports car and I can’t describe how amazing the experience was, you really felt you were in a 21st-century vehicle. Obviously, we will not all have Tesla sports cars but even the most basic electric cars have fantastic oomph as you get instant acceleration. Combined with less moving parts maintenance costs will also be a lot less.

So what will your next car be?

I edited this post to remove my guesstimate of deaths in NI. It is hard to get exact figures for UK deaths. Government estimates 40-50k early deaths a year but this is from all pollution. 

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