Wednesday , May 22 2024

Netherlands may scrap 60mph motorway speed limit as research shows it makes virtually no difference to emissions

  • In 2019 the speed limit was cut from 81pmh to 62mph due to EU net zero targets
  • But a study showed nitrogen emissions were only reduced by 0.2 per cent

The Netherlands may scrap its 60mph motorway speed limit after research showed it made virtually no difference to emissions.

The idea is one emerging as an area of possible consensus as the country’s four biggest political parties struggle to reach a coalition agreement following Geert Wilders’ October general election win.

The motorway speed limit used to be 130kmh (81mph) until 2019 when it was cut to 100kmh (62mph) after Dutch courts ordered the government to cut air pollution to meet EU net zero targets.

‘The reason why we are hearing about this is that it is probably the only thing all four parties can agree on,’ one Dutch official told The Telegraph.

Repealing the low speed limit has increased in popularity after a study showed the 60mph limit, which only applies between 6am and 7pm, reduced nitrogen emissions by at most 0.2 per cent 

Traffic signs with the speed limit of 100 kph are manufactured in 2019

Traffic signs with the speed limit of 100 kph are manufactured in 2019

Gasoline vehicles emit much less nitrogen dioxide than diesel vehicles

Gasoline vehicles emit much less nitrogen dioxide than diesel vehicles

Mr Wilders, who has been dubbed the ‘Dutch Trump’ has previously called for the Netherlands to leave the landmark Paris climate agreement.

Even the current caretaker conservative prime minister Mark Rutte said it was a ‘rotten measure’ when he imposed the lower limit four years ago at the diktat of the EU courts. 

The speed cut put the Netherlands alongside Cyprus with the lowest motorway speeds in the EU. 

The most common maximum speed limit in Europe is 80mph, while in the UK it is 70mph. 

But despite the measures the Netherlands continues to produce more nitrogen emissions per capita than the EU average.

The Dutch nitrogen crisis even halted new construction projects in the midst of a housing crisis and led Mr Rutte to propose compulsory farm buyouts to reduce nitrogen emissions. 

Nitrogen-reducing measures also included changes to the amount of protein in animal feed to lower the levels of nitrogen-bearing ammonia found in the urine produced by livestock.

The idea is one emerging as an area of possible consensus as the country's four biggest political parties struggle to reach a coalition agreement following Geert Wilders' (pictured) October general election win

The idea is one emerging as an area of possible consensus as the country’s four biggest political parties struggle to reach a coalition agreement following Geert Wilders’ (pictured) October general election win

Prime Minister Mark Rutte, pictured in 2019, at the announcement of the maximum of 100 kph (62 mph) speed limit, a significant decrease from the previous limit of 130 kph (81 mph)

Prime Minister Mark Rutte, pictured in 2019, at the announcement of the maximum of 100 kph (62 mph) speed limit, a significant decrease from the previous limit of 130 kph (81 mph)

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Nitrogen oxides — which can cause respiratory issues and stunt crop growth in high enough concentrations — are notable for giving smog its yellow-brown colour. 

Nitrogen in soil and groundwater, in contrast, typically comes in the form of nitrates from fertilisers and sewage and can cause damaging algal blooms in waterways.

The Dutch agricultural industry is responsible for 61 per cent of the country’s nitrogen pollution. 

Those policies were followed by a string of tractor protests that inspired similar populist uprisings against EU green rules across Europe.

And in March 2023, the BBB, a Dutch farmer’s party, won a shock landslide victory in regional elections which had become a referendum on Mr Rutte.

The government the fell in a row over migration policy and Mr Rutte, the longest serving Prime MInister in Dutch history, announced he would not run again.

The Netherlands’ possible rise in speed comes as a 60mph experiment on the M1 and M6 will be scrapped.

Last month it was announced the motorways, two of the UK’s busiest, had been part of a scheme to see if driving at lower speeds reduced emissions, with the slower limit imposed on the M1 at Rotherham and on the M6 at Witton, near Birmingham.

But the road sections returned to the national speed limit of 70mph after no real change in average speed was found during the course of the experiment. 

HOW MUCH NO2 IS SAFE?

Nitrogen dioxide comes from vehicles, power plants, industrial emissions and off-road sources such as construction, lawn and gardening equipment. 

All of these sources burn fossil fuels.  

The US Environmental Protection Agency has issued guidance for safe levels of inhalation of Nitrogen Dioxide, measured in parts per billion breathed over the course of an hour.

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Safe to moderate levels range from zero to 100 parts per billion per hour.  

EPA GUIDANCE ON AIR QUALITY
Air Quality Index (ppb) Likely impact
Good (0-50) No health impacts are expected when air quality is in this range
Moderate (51-100) Individuals who are unusually sensitive to nitrogen dioxide should consider limiting prolonged outdoor exertion
Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (101-150) People with lung diseases, such as asthma, as well as children and older adults, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion
Unhealthy (151-200) Sensitive groups should avoid outdoor exertion and everyone else should limit prolonged exertion
Very Unhealthy (201-300) Sensitive groups should avoid outdoor exertion and everyone else should limit theirs

Scientific evidence links short-term NO2 exposures, ranging from 30 minutes to 24 hours, with adverse respiratory effects including airway inflammation in healthy people and increased respiratory symptoms in people with asthma. 

Studies also show a connection between short-term exposure and increased emergency room visits and hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses.

Individuals who spend time on or near major roads can experience NO2 exposures considerably higher than occur away from roads. 

These exposures are of particular concern for sensitive groups, such as people with lung disease including asthma, children and older adults.

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