Brake welcomes landmark ruling by Supreme Court ordering government to take immediate action to reduce air pollution

Wednesday 29 April 2015

Brake, the road safety charity

Brake, the road safety charity, has today welcomed a ruling by the Supreme Court which ordered the government to introduce new plans to reduce nitrogen dioxide levels. NO2 is produced mainly by emissions from diesel vehicles and is linked to a range of respiratory illnesses.

Announcing the decision, Lord Carnwath said: "The new government, whatever its political complexion, should be left in no doubt as to the need for immediate action to address this issue."

The case was brought by ClientEarth - a group of environmental lawyers - which notes that air pollution causes tens of thousands of premature deaths a year in the UK.

Gary Rae, campaigns manager for Brake, said: “The highest court in the land has made it clear that the government must do better when it comes to reducing air pollution. Everyone has a right to breathe clean air; this judgement confirms that right. It’s one reason why our theme for Road Safety Week this year is drive less, live more. We think road safety isn’t just about driving safely and legally, it’s about making our streets safe and pleasant to use. It’s also about doing what we can to protect ourselves, people around us and the planet we depend on. A big part of that is driving less, as little as possible, or not at all, if we can.”

The number of early deaths from air pollution in the UK is put at 29,000 a year - more than obesity and alcohol combined. According to scientific experts, this may be an underestimate as it does not include all air pollutants, including NO2, which is produced mainly by emissions from diesel-powered vehicles.

The UK has been breaching legal limits for nitrogen dioxide since 2010 in 16 different cities and regions. The judgment forces the next government to draw up new air quality plans - for submission to the EU - by the end of the year.

Find out more about Road Safety Week 2015, the drive less, live more theme, and register to be involved and get a free action pack at

Notes to editors

 Why Brake has chosen drive less, live more as its 2015 Road Safety Week theme

  • Two thirds (63%) of trips are made by car1, including four in 10 (40%) trips of less than two miles2.
  • Average walking trips per person have decreased by 27% since 19953.
  • A quarter of adults in England are obese4 and the cost to the NHS of people being overweight is estimated at £4.2 billion a year5.
  • Incorporating activity like walking and cycling into everyday life is effective for losing weight6.
  • In 2013 there were 1,770 people killed and 22,377 people seriously injured on UK roads7. The vast majority of casualties are attributable to driver error8.
  • Nearly half of households in England could be struggling with the costs of car ownership9.
  • On average a family can save £642 a year by swapping a car-based school run for walking or cycling10.
  • 22% of UK greenhouse gas emissions come from road transport11.
  • Air pollution is estimated to cause 24,000 deaths a year in the UK, half attributable to road transport12.
  • The number of cars is set to increase by 43% by 2035 and traffic delays by 50%13.

1 Commuting and Business Travel, Department for Transport (2011)
2 National Travel Survey, Department for Transport (2010)
3 Ibid
4 Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, Health and Social Care Information Centre (2014)
5 The economic burden of obesity, National Obesity Observatory (2010)
6 Start Active, Stay Active: a Report on Physical Activity from the Four Home Countries’ Chief Medical Officers, Department of Health (2011)
7 Reported road casualties in Great Britain 2013, Department for Transport (2014) and Police Recorded Injury Road Traffic Collision Statistics: 2013 Key Statistics Report, Police Service of Northern Ireland (2014)
8 Dimensions of aberrant driver behaviour, Aberg, L. and Rimmo, P. A., Uppsala University (1998)
9 Locked Out: Transport poverty in England, Sustrans (2012).
10 Estimate by Sustrans based on figures from the AA, DfE school statistics, DfT National Travel Survey, DEFRA & DECC GHG conversion factors and the Bike Station (June 2014)
11 New Car Fuel Consumption & Emission Figures, Vehicle Certification Agency (2013)
12The Cost of Air Pollution, OECD (2014)
13 Keeping the Nation Moving – Time to face the facts, RAC Foundation (2011)

About Brake

Brake is a national road safety charity that exists to stop the needless deaths and serious injuries that happen on roads every day, make streets and communities safer for everyone, and care for families bereaved and injured in road crashes. Brake promotes road safety awareness, safe and sustainable road use, and effective road safety policies. We do this through national campaignscommunity education, services for road safety professionals and employers, and by coordinating the UK's flagship road safety event every November, Road Safety Week. Brake is a national, government-funded provider of support to families and individuals devastated by road death and serious injury, including through a helpline and support packs.

Brake was founded in the UK in 1995, and now has domestic operations in the UK and New Zealand, and works globally to promote action on road safety. Follow Brake on Twitter or Facebook.

Road crashes are not accidents; they are devastating and preventable events, not chance mishaps. Calling them accidents undermines work to make roads safer, and can cause insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by needless casualties.

Tags: emissions pollution