Vehicle Access Regulations when Travelling Abroad
Know your LEZs from your ULEZs, ZEZs, WLEZs and LTZs!
Major cities across Europe have implemented special areas that restrict certain vehicles in a bid to reduce pollution. These are known as Low Emission Zones or LEZs. Other countries have taken it a step further, bring in Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZs) and Zero Emission Zones (ZEZs). These zones may affect your travel plans so we're going to outline the do's, don't's and must's when travelling in urban areas.
All information has been sourced from urbanaccessregulations.eu and was correct at time of publication.
What are Low Emission Zones?
Low Emission Zones are special areas within urban spaces that regulate the most polluting vehicles by placing restrictions on when or if they can enter the zones. Some LEZs charge a fee for some vehicles to enter.
Typically, zones are implemented in areas where air pollution is at harmful levels, often in city centres. LEZs improve the air quality and make it safer to breathe.
Air pollution can not only lead to respiratory health problems, but in some cases of constant exposure, death. It has huge costs, in both health and money:
- Air pollution is responsible for 310,000 premature deaths in Europe each year
- Air pollution causes more premature deaths than road accidents
- The human health damage from air pollution is estimated to cost the European economy between £358 and £662 billion per year
Diesel emissions have been classified as carcinogenic (causing cancer) by the World Health Organisation.
Since 2000, air pollution is urban areas has been greatly reduced by the implementation of LEZs and as petrol and diesel vehicles are phased out, we will see further reductions in harmful particles.
Do LEZs affect all vehicles?
No. If your vehicle is electric, you're exempt. All other motorised vehicles (often excluding motorcycles) are affected. But it is worth noting that not all LEZs are created equal. Some only affect HGVs, others affect all traffic and then there are schemes that target diesel vehicles, particularly high polluting vehicles and older vehicles so its worth doing your research before travelling.
What are Euro Standards?
The EU 'Euro' Standards is a scale used to rate the emissions of a vehicle. Introduced in 1992, Euro 1 was the first standard to be used and it saw all new vehicles fitted with catalytic converters. Euro 2 came in 1997, Euro 3 in 2001, Euro 4 in 2006, Euro 5 in 2011 and Euro 6 in 2015. You can find out more on the RAC website.
What are ULEZs, ZEZs and WLEZs?
Still with us? Great. ULEZ stands for Ultra Low Emission Zone. ZEZ stands for Zero Emission Zone. And WLEZ stands for Winter Low Emission Zone. These all do slightly different things and affect different vehicles. ULEZs and ZEZs are designed to reduce air pollution to an absolute minimum in urban areas. Inner London is covered by an ULEZ, with outer London (within the M25) covered by a LEZ.
WLEZs are used in Italy during the colder months. They usually run from October to April, Monday to Friday between daylight hours. Some municipalities observe Ecological Sundays once a month, effectively banning all vehicles except public transport and EVs from town centres.
Austria has a number of schemes in place but they currently on apply to HGVs.
There is a draft framework for national Low Emission Zones in Belgium. You don't need stickers but foreign vehicles do need to register in advance. You can do this online (watch out for fraudulent websites selling invalid stickers). Registration is free of charge.
Low emission zones are in force in
There are also a number of car-free, pedestrian-only and time-sensitive zones in many of the major cities. Its worth familiarising yourself with these so you don't end up in a sticky situation!
Although the Czech Republic has, for a long time, been planning the implementation of Low Emission Zones in its major cities, nothing has yet been introduced. Currently, all regulations only affect HGVs.
Denmark has a national framework of Low Emission Zones but this only affects HGVs.
Being such a large country with many major cities, it comes as no surprise that France has many schemes in place and these vary widely from city to city. You will be required to purchase and display a Crit'Air sticker - these are mandatory for French and foreign vehicles and cost about €3,50. Again, be careful of fraudulent websites.
There are low emissions zones in:
- Greater Paris
Germany has a national framework of low emissions zones that affect all motorised vehicles except motorcycles.
There are Low Emission Zones in over 80 cities in Germany. Find the full list here.
Windscreen stickers are mandatory, these can be purchased at TÜV stations or online, although they are often pricier online.
Athens is the only city in Greece that has a LEZ scheme in force. Greece operates an odd/even registration plate system meaning that vehicles are allowed to enter restricted zones on alternate days depending on their number plate.
There are restrictions on vehicles over 2.2 tonnes registered after 1998 (this year increases with every year that passes).
The LEZ area in Athens doesn't affect foreign vehicles for the first 40 days but if you plan on staying longer than this, make sure you follow all rules.
Ireland has no low emission zones in force.
Rules and regulations vary widely throughout Italy. Each province has its own schemes so check before you travel to see if your vehicle is affected.
Most major cities will have LEZs in force, many also have Winter Low Emission Zones (WLEZs) in place during the colder months.
Toll cost will depend on how polluting your vehicle is deemed to be, with older, more polluting vehicles paying more.
Poland has no LEZs in place.
Slovenia has no LEZs in place.
Most major cities in Spain have LEZs in place. This follows a law passed that states that all cities with over 50,000 inhabitants must implement Low Emission Zones by 2023.
You must purchase and display an Emissions sticker in your windscreen, you should also register your vehicle if it is registered outside of Spain. Stickers can be purchased in post offices, government offices and online.
The following cities have LEZs in place:
Sweden has a national framework on Low Emission Zones but this only affects HGVs and buses. However, Stockholm is the exemption, as cars are affected by this scheme. From 1st July 2022, the minimum standard allowed to access the city will be Euro 6.
Whilst Switzerland doesn't have any LEZs, it does have a number of car-free mountain resorts.
There are around 20 cities in the UK that have implemented LEZs. They include:
- London (also ULEZ, ZEZs and tolls)
- Oxford (also ZEZ)
Low Emission Zones are also known as Clean Air Zones. Stickers are not needed but foreign vehicles will need to register. If a vehicle fails to meet the standard needed for admission, they can pay to enter.