Reducing emissions when we drive

Motor vehicle emissions are the main contributor to two air pollution problems know as photochemical smog (as ozone) and, to a lesser extent, fine particles.

Ozone, the main component of photochemical smog, is a secondary pollutant formed from emissions referred to as NOx (oxides of nitrogen) and VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Photochemical smog is a whitish haze formed from the action of sunlight on chemical compounds.

Particle pollution is evident as the brown haze sometimes seen in the cooler months of the year. There are many sources of particles in the air from both natural process, like bush fires, and human activity such as motor vehicles.

The pie charts below show the impact on air quality that motor vehicles contribute to in Sydney compared to other emission sources (such as industry, commercial, off-road transport such as planes, trains and ships).

Contribution of motor vehicle emissions to human-generated emissions in Sydney.
Contribution of motor vehicle emissions to human-generated emissions in Sydney.

Road transport is also a growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia. Between 1990 and 2007, emissions from road transport increased by 26.1 per cent or 14.2 million tonnes. In 2007, road transport was responsible for 68.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

Passenger vehicles (cars) are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from road transport and accounted for around 61 percent in 2007 (source: Australian Government, Department of Climate Change, 2009).

On average, for every litre of petrol used in a motor vehicle, 2.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide is released from the exhaust (source: Australian Government, Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, 2009).

Australia has improved the emissions performance of new vehicles by promoting the adoption of more stringent fuel and emission standards. Since the early 1970's, these standards have progressively tightened. The current standards reflect Australia's commitment to harmonise with the vehicle standards developed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

The state's Motor Vehicle Policy includes the NSW Cleaner Vehicles Action Plan which is a package of initiatives to make the motor vehicles on NSW roads cleaner.

  • The Green Guide – a consumer guide to the environmental performance of new cars and light trucks
  • Clean Fleet Program – reducing diesel vehicle emissions from trucks and heavy vehicle commercial fleets
  • FleetWise - a NSW Government program that aims to reduce fleet emissions reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants from passenger and light commercial vehicles.

What is Roads and Maritime Services doing to reduce vehicle emissions?

Roads and Maritime Services, along with other agencies, has done extensive research to improve vehicle emissions, and has developed and implemented a range of initiatives to reduce the impact of vehicle emissions on the air quality in NSW.

  • Reducing petrol emissions - With the amount of vehicles on our roads increasing every year, vehicle emissions is a serious issue. It's important that we all do our bit to work together to improve vehicle emissions. More information about reducing petrol emissions
  • Reducing diesel emissions - Roads and Maritime is a leading participant in the Diesel National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM) that seeks to reduce the impact of emissions from diesel vehicles in Australia by facilitating new vehicle emission standards, better fuel quality, travel demand management and new diesel vehicle emissions technologies. More information about reducing diesel emissions
  • Improving fuel and vehicle emission standards - As a result of tougher vehicle emission standards for new cars and trucks and enhanced fuel quality standards, emissions from motor transport are declining. This will continue the trend over the last 30 years which has resulted in cleaner and more fuel efficient cars and trucks on our roads. More information about fuel and emission standards.

In-tunnel Air Quality (Nitrogen Dioxide) Policy

In January 2016, the NSW Government introduced a formal policy for emissions compliance in new tunnel projects to protect the health and safety of tunnel users.

Find out more information on the In-tunnel Air Quality (Nitrogen Dioxide) Policy.

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