Driverless Vehicles, Air Pollution Claims and Scrappage Scheme

Streetwise Vehicle Ed

Residents of the London Boroughs of Croydon and Bromley need to look out from today (24/10/2019) because for the first time, driverless cars will be present on their roads. These will be operated by company FiveAI and may carry passengers but will always have somebody at the wheel ready to take over. These are basically trials run by a consortium named Streetwise.

How will they cope with the problem that London’s roads are very unlike the West coast of the USA where most such trials have been conducted to date. Stan Boland, CEO of FiveAI said “We have lower lighting, higher rainfall and greater density of road users and we also have to deal with erratic, medieval street plans that are nothing like the grid systems of the US”. However these trials are not quite so revolutionary as first appears because they will actually be on a “fixed route” – see  https://tinyurl.com/y4n8zfnq for more details.

Comment: Mr Boland did not even mention the occasional fog and snow. I remain sceptical of the general applicability of this technology when even my very intelligent TomTom satnav sometimes gets lost in central London. There are claims that it might save lives from reduced accidents, but Gill Pratt, CEO of Toyota Research has recently acknowledged that driverless cars might actually kill people. They may reduce accidents overall by removing driver error which is the cause of many accidents, but it seems software errors may still be  problem.

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, has published claims that the ULEZ scheme in central London has reduced air pollution very substantially. He claims roadside NO2 pollution has fallen by 36% in the zone with no increase in the surrounding area. He attributes this to a large reduction in the number of older or polluting vehicles entering the central zone. This is hardly surprising as operators of older LGV vehicles will have found it financially wise to change their vehicles. But the ABD doubts the claims about the actual reductions in emissions which we believe are estimates based on vehicle numbers rather than actual air quality measurements. We have submitted an FOI Act request to obtain more information. There is likely of course to have been some reduction due to renewal of the vehicle fleet over time (newer vehicles generally have lower emissions) and specific changes in the bus fleet and a strong focus on higher polluting commercial vehicles such as HGVs. But many of the pollutants in the air come from other than road transport vehicle sources and much blows in from elsewhere in the central zone.

The Mayor has also announced a £25 million scrappage fund for low-income Londoners. This is aimed at helping them move to less polluting vehicles. Motorists will be able to get up to £2,000 for scrapping older, more polluting vehicles. How many people will be able to take advantage of this scheme? Only a minority in essence because only people who are receiving means-tested benefits or disability allowances will qualify and as the fund is limited in size it may be on a “first come, first served” basis. In addition it’s probably needless to point out that £2,000 does not buy you a new car, and not even a good second-hand one. The conclusion is only people on benefits with cash in the bank to help buy a new vehicle may find it helpful. It’s surely a token political gesture which is what we tend to see from Mayor Sadiq Khan.

The latest scare story about air pollution is that on high pollution days in London it might cause an extra 87 cardiac arrests per year, an extra 144 strokes, and 74 children and 33 adults ending up in hospital with asthma-related issues. This is a claim made by researchers at King’s College London based on a study relating high pollution days to medical events.  NHS England boss Simon Stevens said it was evidence of “a health emergency”. But this is a very simplistic analysis of complex data. Such days might also be very hot ones which are known to trigger medical events. Even the claimed numbers are very small. In London. For every 100 cardiac arrest ambulance call-outs on low-pollution days, they would expect to see 102 on high-pollution days. It’s basically a statistical fraud derived from epidemiology.

Regrettably we seem to be suffering from air pollution hysteria at present. Few people look at the evidence from an unbiased scientific viewpoint and most of the claims made do not stand up to scrutiny by anyone with a scientific background.

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