20 aoû 18

City driving bans, a Europe-wide trend

There is so much talk of the increasing restrictions on traffic driving in our major cities, that a short round trip around some of Europe’s major fleet markets is a useful way of alerting drivers and fleet managers to what is actually happening. 

There is a central trend which can be identified, and which applies to virtually all of the cities that have so far taken action in this domain: to start with, the most polluting (oldest) diesels are being targeted, but other diesels and then petrol-driven cars will be drawn into the net over the next few years.

It should be noted that most of the cities apply exemptions or modifications in certain cases.


In Paris, the system works via the Crit’Air windscreen sticker. Drivers send their car registration document and a small fee (around 4 Euros) and receive a sticker with their car’s environmental rating, from 0 (electric) to 5 (Euro-2 compliant).

On high pollution days, only the cleaner categories are allowed to drive in the low emission zones of Paris.  The overall zone is Paris intra-muros, but the périphérique and one or two major thoroughfares, are not included. This system has been used, in particular at the end of July / early August 2018 during the heatwave, when only categories 0 to 3 were allowed to drive in Paris and several other urban areas. Category 5 vehicles are banned all year long from 8.00 am to 8.00pm during weekdays.

Grenoble, Lille, Lyon, Strasbourg and Toulouse (normally with their greater metropolitan areas) have also adopted the Crit’Air system. Other cities are sure to follow, and in particular Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Marseille-Aix-en-Provence, Metz, Montpellier, Nancy, Nantes, Nice, Orléans, Rennes, Rouen, Saint-Etienne, Toulon, Tours and Valenciennes.

The UK

In London, the whole of the inner city – roughly from Vauxhall in the south to Clerkenwell in the north, and Marylebone in the west to the City in the east – is defined as the Congestion Charge area. Vehicles pay a charge of £ 11.50 (€ 14.00) per day to drive inside the zone, between 7.00 am and 6.00 pm on weekdays. The charge enables a vehicle to enter and leave the zone as many times as it wishes within one day. Drivers can pay in advance, on the day of travel or the next day. In this last case, the charge goes up to £ 14.00 (€ 16.50). The system uses cameras to recognise number plates. 

Other UK cities including Manchester and Glasgow, for example, are currently considering implementing Low Emissions Zones.


Drivers in Germany are required to have a special environmental sticker or badge on their car in order to enter the ‘green zone’ of most German cities. This law applies to anyone driving in Germany, whether a resident or a foreigner. It is important to note that even if the car meets German/EU pollution standards, a driver can still be fined if there is no sticker on the car’s windshield. Almost every German city or town of any size now requires a green-zone sticker. The stickers are green, yellow or red depending on the level of emissions of the car. Stickers are available from the TÜV either on line or at an office. They are valid for the lifetime of the vehicle.

The following German cities and towns had restricted environmental zones as of early 2016: Aachen, Augsburg, Berlin, Bochum, Bonn, Bottrop, Bremen, Cologne Dortmund, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Erfurt,  Essen, Frankfurt am Main (and its region: Offenbach, Siegen), Freiburg (Breisgau), Gelsenkirchen, Halle (Saale), Hanover, Heidelberg, Herrenberg, Ilsfeld, Karlsruhe, Leipzig, Leonberg, Ludwigsburg, Mannheim, Mühlacker, Mülheim an der Ruhr, München (Munich), Münster, Neu-Ulm, Neuss, Nuremberg, Oberhausen, Osnabrück, Pfinztal, Pforzheim, Pleidelsheim, Recklinghausen, Reutlingen, Ruhr region, Schwäbisch-Gmünd, Stuttgart, Tübingen, Ulm, Wuppertal.


In Belgium, Brussels is gradually introducing a Low Emissions Zone system. At the moment, only Euro-1 or non-Euro diesel engines are banned, but the measure will be extended to other diesel and petrol cars over the coming years. The zone covered is the whole of the Brussels Capital Region’s 19 communes. 
Antwerp has a similar system in place, and is also set to extend it.

In the Netherlands, there is a national and uniform system of Low Emissions Zones, which is starting with high pollution vehicles such as trucks, but which will gradually be extended to other vehicles. Recognition is by cameras reading number plates. The network covers many Dutch cities, including Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Eindoven, Utrecht, Maastricht and many more.

Luxembourg has no system in operation but is considering the banning of HGVs from Luxembourg city.


Looking at Spain’s two principal cities, Barcelona has a camera-enforced Low Emissions Zone in place and Madrid is considering following suit. Certain other Spanish cities have emergency schemes in place, but the likelihood is that these will become more structured over time.

In most cases, vehicles registered outside of the country concerned are also required to comply with the regulations. They register with the city authority or pay he fee in the same way as nationally registered cars. 


Many Italian cities have ZTL areas, or restricted traffic areas, along with Low Emissions Zones.  These cities include Rome, Milan, Florence and Pisa, but the list runs into dozens and the ZTL zones are designed to avoid further structural damage to the historical centres of the cities. 

Driving into a ZTL without the appropriate authorization will lead to a steep fine, and in nearly all cases tourists and non-residents are forbidden from being issued passes, as only local drivers are allowed to drive in these zones. The fines for crossing into a ZTL boundary are issued by ticket-cameras placed at the entrance of each zone.

In Rome, traffic is banned on Sundays to try and ease the smog, and the police hand out fines. All vehicles except motorbikes and electric cars are involved, but drivers of electric cars have to get official permission. To illustrate how complicate this whole domain can be in Italy, there are six schemes in operation in and around Rome…

Check before driving

This list is by no means exhaustive, and so rapidly is the whole domain of anti-pollution evolving, that it is worth checking the local authority regulations for any major European city before sending fleet drivers there.

It has been possible to identify at least three different objectives in all of this, which can be summed up as follows: Paris – to improve the breathing air; London – to decrease congestion; Italian cities – to protect the historical centres against exhaust-induced degradation. 

One thing is quite clear: this trend is not going to reverse, but to intensify. You can almost feel the fear in local politicians’ minds as they wonder what the backlash will be if they are not seen to be protecting their own citizens like other cities are…

Image: congestion-charge sign in London

Authored by: Tim Harrup