Explained: Low-emission driving zones | AA Cars

Localised air pollution is a problem. With Nitrogen Dioxide (NOx) and diesel particulates released into the air, they affect the air we breathe and also warm the planet as toxic gases build up in the atmosphere.

Vehicles create a lot of emissions. And in towns and cities, those emissions are more concentrated as more cars are used in a smaller space.

To help combat this, low-emission zones (LEZs) are being introduced in urban areas, aiming to improve the health of people and protect the environment. But what exactly are LEZs and can you drive your car in them?

What are low-emission zones?

An LEZ is an area where vehicles must meet set emission standards to drive through it. They’ve helped encourage more widespread take-up of vehicles with lower emissions, such as hybrids and electric vehicles (EVs).

Most LEZs are found in cities, with 6 currently in the UK. Others are set to follow in the near future. London’s is the most well-known, but LEZs are also in:

  • Brighton
  • Glasgow
  • Norwich
  • Nottingham
  • Oxford

Continental European countries have LEZs as well, with many major cities requiring drivers to apply for special stickers before using the roads. You can see some of the main zones in our guide to driving in Europe.

Can I drive in the London Low-Emission Zone?

Yes, you can – but it may cost you. Introduced in 2008, the London LEZ covers most of Greater London. The zone is clearly signposted and affects certain vehicles built before October 2006 with charges. They are:

  • Lorries over 3.5 tonnes
  • Coaches over 5 tonnes
  • Larger vans
  • Minibuses
  • Motorised campervans

Light 4x4s and pick-ups built before 2002 are also affected.

The system is enforced via Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, with drivers needing to pay up to £200 to enter the zone. You can find out if your vehicle is affected on the Transport for London (TfL) website.

Isn’t there an Ultra-Low Emission Zone?

Yes – in central London. The ULEZ, introduced on April 8, 2019, affects petrol cars built before 2006 and diesels pre-2015. 

The TfL number plate checker will tell you if your vehicle is affected or not. 

Currently enforced in the congestion charge zone, the ULEZ boundary will be extended to the North and South Circular roads from 25 October 2021.

Drivers of vehicles that don’t meet the emissions standards need to pay £12.50 to enter the zone – which applies all day every day. That’s on top of the £11.50 congestion charge, which is applicable from Monday to Friday, 7am to 6pm. If you fail to pay it, you’ll be fined £160.

To warn drivers, TfL is putting up plenty of signs to make sure as few people as possible are caught out. 

EV drivers don’t need to pay the congestion charge as they have more than a 20-mile zero-emission range. Drivers in the ‘disabled’ or ‘disabled passenger vehicles’ tax class won’t need to pay the ULEZ charge until 26 October 2025.


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