UK motorists could soon face a ‘tyre tax’ in an attempt to cut emissions

Cars queue in traffic on the main road A4 in London.
Cars queue in traffic on the main road A4 in London.   -  Copyright  AP Photo/Frank Augstein
By Euronews Green

Particles from tyres could be the next avenue for clean air campaigners to tackle pollution.

Motorists in the UK could soon have to pay a tax on tyres in a bid to slash air pollution.

Electric cars produce far less air pollution than their petrol-guzzling counterparts. But it’s not just a car’s engine that produces toxic pollutants.

The Department of Transport has hired consultants to “develop recommendations on how to better assess and control these emissions which will persist after a transition to zero tailpipe emission vehicles,” according to a government filing.

One of the suggestions they reportedly made was for a tyre tax to be imposed.

The government told UK newspaper the Telegraph that it wanted to “better understand the impacts of non-exhaust emissions” like particulates from tyres on the environment.

It added that the research was not commissioned to inform the country’s tax policy.

Why is tyre wear a problem?

Government data shows that exhaust emissions from cars in the UK have dropped by 90 per cent since 1996. Once combustion engine vehicles are phased out, tyre and brake wear could be the next avenue that clean air campaigners explore to cut pollution.

A recent study from Imperial College London estimated that 52 per cent of all small particle pollution from road transport came from tyre and brake wear in 2021. Around the world, they say 6 million tonnes of tyre wear particles are released each year.

These particles can contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals, the scientists said.

AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali
Traffic in Regent Street, London.AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali

Larger particles can wash or blow away to contaminate air, water and soil. They add to the plastic pollution that has been discovered all over the world from beaches to the middle of the desert.

Smaller particles, like ultrafine pollution, are also concerning. They are so small that they can enter organs via the bloodstream. These tiny particles are less than 23 nanometres across - around 2,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. 

Their size can be difficult to measure and they are not currently regulated in the UK or EU.

Could a tyre tax make roads less safe?

Motoring organisations in the UK have voiced concerns about how a tyre tax could impact safety.

The RAC’s road policy chief Nicholas Leyes said it could “do more harm than good by causing more injuries and deaths on our roads by putting drivers off replacing worn-out tyres when they should.”

There is also concern that cheap tyres which wear out quickly could be taxed more heavily as they would produce more pollution.

“Making cheaper tyres more expensive would no doubt cause some to continue driving on illegal tyres, compromising road safety for everyone,” Leyes added.

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