Health watchdog wants to remove speed bumps and reduce motorway speeds

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More variable speed limits should be imposed on motorways, while speed bumps should be removed to reduce emissions, according to a health watchdog.

Officials at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have issued the first draft of guidelines designed to improve air quality and health.

One of the suggestions that would have the biggest impact is to introduce more variable speed limit sections on the motorway. Air pollution levels are at their worst when there is heavy congestion and when cars are forced to accelerate regularly.

The so-called smart motorways are designed to slow traffic to improve flow, improving journey times and reducing emissions. NICE also suggests utilising average speed camera technology – static cameras encourage drivers to slow down as they pass, before accelerating back up to their original speed.

Professor Mark baker, director at NICE, said: "Slowing everything down to 60mph or 50mph is the best approach – but not all the time. That's why variable speed limits are far more sensible than blanket 50mph or 60mph (limits)."

Another suggestion is to remove speed bumps in areas where a 20mph speed limit would have the same effect on minimising the danger of speeding cars. NICE's reasoning is that travelling at a constant 20mph causes fewer pollutants than traditional traffic calming measures.

Retraining drivers of public sector vehicles should also be taken into consideration, say officials. Staff should be trained to avoid rapid accelerations or decelerations, switch off engines whenever possible and ensuring vehicles are properly maintained.

Cycle routes should be designed to keep cyclists as far from polluting vehicles as possible, while dense foliage could be placed between cars and bikes to help block pollutants.

RAC roads policy spokesman Nick Lyes said: "Poor air quality is primarily a localised problem, so requires locally-developed solutions.

"But the conclusion of NICE's consultation should mean that councils have clear guidance they can use to decide what changes they need to bring in to tackle pollution hotspots."

Councils will be encouraged to take these suggestions into consideration, as air pollution causes up to 25,000 premature deaths each year.