Driving tests

How does driving affect the environment?

While electric vehicles are incentivised by governments as being ‘clean’, there’s still a carbon footprint associated with their production and operation. All vehicles create some kind of pollution or negative effect on the environment. Here’s how.

Air pollution

Even electric vehicles running on renewal resources have a level of residual emissions (renewable resources still need to be operated by people, maintained by people, and would have had to have been constructed initially). The main issues of air pollution are:

  1. Exhaust emissions: Vehicles produce exhaust emissions that contain harmful pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. These pollutants can cause respiratory problems and other health issues, as well as contribute to climate change.
  2. Evaporative emissions: Vehicles also release evaporative emissions from their fuel systems, which include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone and smog.
  3. Brake and tyre wear: Vehicles produce air pollution through brake and tyre wear, which releases tiny particles into the air that can be harmful to human health and the environment.
  4. Idling: When vehicles are idling, they release pollutants without moving. This can be particularly problematic in urban areas, where traffic congestion can lead to long periods of idling and increased air pollution. Companies should have an idling policy.

Climate change

Vehicles emit greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which contribute to global warming and climate change. In addition to the vehicles, the process of mining and refining the materials used to build and operate the vehicles produces lots of hidden pollution. These are the main drivers of climate change due to vehicle use:

  1. Burning fossil fuels: Vehicles burn fossil fuels such as petrol and diesel to power their engines, which releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This contributes to the overall increase in greenhouse gases, which trap heat and warm the Earth’s atmosphere.
  2. Increased demand for oil: The demand for oil to power vehicles has led to increased oil exploration, drilling, and transportation, which can have negative impacts on the environment, such as oil spills and habitat destruction.
  3. Land use changes: The construction of roads, highways, and parking lots to accommodate vehicles can lead to deforestation, habitat destruction, and land use changes that contribute to climate change. In turn, less permeable surface area leads to an increase in flooding risk, which then exacerbates the issue by destroying more land, and creating the need for heavy machinery (which is polluting) to fix the problem.
  4. Manufacturing and disposal: The manufacturing and disposal of vehicles also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Manufacturing vehicles requires significant energy inputs, and disposal can lead to the release of toxic chemicals and other pollutants into the environment.

Energy consumption

The production and use of vehicles require large amounts of energy, which often comes from non-renewable sources like fossil fuels. Energy is used to produce the vehicle, to run the vehicle and to maintain the vehicle. Use of the vehicle also makes public transport less effective through reducing demand.

For example, the vehicle is manufactured from a number of parts which are, in turn manufactured and shipped to a place where the vehicle is assembled. When running the vehicle, certain parts of it are consumed and must be replaced. When the vehicle becomes dirty, we might wash it in a car wash, which takes energy and uses water. If we park our vehicle in a garage, there’s an environmental and energy cost to that garage (construction, maintenance, etc). There are myriad ways in which operating a vehicle consumes energy.

Noise pollution

Vehicles can be a significant source of noise pollution:

  1. Engine noise: The engine noise of vehicles can be quite loud, particularly for larger vehicles like trucks or buses. This can be particularly problematic in urban areas where traffic is heavy.
  2. Horns: Drivers often use the vehicles’ horns to signal to other drivers or pedestrians, which can contribute to noise pollution.
  3. Tyres: The sound of tires on the road can also be a significant source of noise pollution, particularly for large trucks or vehicles with worn or damaged tyres.
  4. Traffic congestion: Traffic congestion can also increase noise pollution because vehicles are idling or moving slowly, causing engines to run at a constant low frequency.
  5. Maintenance: mechanics and tyre shops often operate in light industrial areas, but sometimes come into conflict with residential or mixed use areas where the noise created by machinery can be disruptive

Habitat destruction

The habitat is assaulted on multiple fronts from the use of vehicles:

  1. Road construction: The construction of roads, highways, and parking areas to accommodate vehicles can lead to the destruction of habitats, such as forests, wetlands, and grasslands. This can fragment habitats, making it difficult for animals to move freely, find food, and reproduce. Plus, it creates non-permeable surfaces that contribute to flooding.
  2. Vehicle collisions with wildlife: Vehicles can also cause direct harm to wildlife through collisions, particularly in areas where roads and wildlife habitats intersect. This can lead to habitat destruction as well as loss of biodiversity.
  3. Oil spills: Accidents such as oil spills from vehicles or transportation of fuels can have significant impacts on habitats, particularly aquatic habitats. Oil spills can harm fish, birds, and other wildlife, as well as cause long-term damage to the environment.
  4. Pollution: Vehicles can also cause pollution that can have harmful effects on habitats, such as air pollution and runoff from roads (e.g. brake dust and microplastics from tyre degradation) that can contaminate water sources.

A phasing out of fossil-fuel-based vehicles will only partially solve these issues due to the requirement to mine and make materials that can withstand impacts, weather, corrosion, and so on. The world will only cope if public transport can make significant inroads into people’s desire to travel by themselves in their own metal cocoon.

driver training courses

Darren has written over 3000 articles about driving and vehicles, plus almost 500 vehicle reviews and numerous driving courses. Connect with him on LinkedIn by clicking the name above

Posted in Advice