WM-Air: Using Driving Data to Improve Pollution Levels in Cities

Sam Chapman - September 21st, 2020

traffic on a street in Leeds UK

Taken from an article in Driven magazine from June 2020.

Last year, The Floow became involved in the West Midlands Air Quality Improvement Programme (WM-Air) – a multi-year project set to run until 2023. The project, coordinated by the University of Birmingham, is designed to support air quality improvement and its associated health, economic and environmental benefits in the West Midlands. 

WM-Air: Working to Improve Air Quality in the West Midlands

Each year, over seven million people across the world die from air pollution, 34,000 people are estimated to die early in the UK as a result of air pollution and 91% of the world’s population live in places where outdoor air pollution levels exceed WHO guideline limits. 

Researchers at the University of Birmingham, alongside other WM-Air project partners, are working to identify the wide-ranging causes and effects of air pollution so this can be applied to global public policy with the aim to develop Clean Air solutions for countries such as India and China, as well as regions across the UK. 

The WM-Air project focuses on three broad themes: 

  • Situational awareness – to understand air pollution levels and sources
  • Predictive capability – to develop and evaluate air quality policy options
  • Application – to support the application of specific policy scenarios

A study with this level of detail over such a wide area has never been done before and it has the potential to impact on policy making both in, and beyond, this large region. The key beneficiaries of WM-Air will be the people in the West Midlands but the insights which are discovered through this project will have impacts on the wider population.

The Floow’s Involvement in the WM-Air Project

One of the areas this project focuses on surrounds investigating the long-term effects of pollution across the West Midlands area to see how pollution is changing based on evolving vehicle technologies and changing driver behaviours. The Floow’s involvement in this project focuses on this area of vehicle pollution and emissions from the tailpipe as well as wear of brakes and tyres.

By utilising our understanding of mass anonymised driver behaviour on particular sectors of road, we can better understand pollution and driver behaviour trends in the West Midlands area. Analysis of this data allows us to see where driving behaviours alter as a result of measures and initiatives aimed at reducing pollution, as well as understanding the impact of these measures on pollution outputs in the area.

Our data is being used as the key input for modelling emissions from vehicles, which are the biggest contributor to Nitrogen Oxide variants (NOx) and particulate matter in urban centres. It will be used to produce a detailed map of emissions from the entire road network in the West Midlands over a four year period, which will be extremely useful for councils and local authorities to help them plan road infrastructure changes and influence more ecologically-friendly driving.

Working Together to Improve Pollution Levels in the West Midlands

This WM-Air project coincides with planned introduction of local Clean Air Zones (CAZ), city areas where the passage of vehicles will be discouraged. Project partners will assess the CAZ situated on Birmingham’s ring road, now due to launch in 2021, to monitor behaviour change from pre-covid, to after covid levels and then during and after implementation of the CAZ. 

The outcomes of this study, monitoring the effectiveness of the Birmingham CAZ, will provide insights into the effectiveness of these mitigation initiatives in reducing air pollution, to judge how they can be rolled out or adapted to maximise positive societal impacts.

Wider Impacts of this Project

With over eight years experience analysing telematics data and working on many future-focused projects, including some aimed at reducing pollution levels, we know that aggressive driving behaviours – such as harsh braking and acceleration – are not only dangerous but that they emit much higher levels of pollution than driving more smoothly.

This unique knowledge allows us to make informed recommendations which will have a positive impact on pollution levels in a specific area, and help to curb dangerous braking and deceleration events which impact on a driver’s risk profile and the amount of risk on an insurer’s book.

Our understanding provides insurers with the opportunity to help drivers gain more value from their motor insurance or save money on their premium. This is acheived by helping drivers become safer behind the wheel, and by encouraging more eco-friendly driving practices such as using less fuel, switching to electric vehicles and reducing vehicle wear and tear through smoother driving practices.

The data processed over the course of the project will form an evidence base to inform policies in government departments including the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Department for Transport (DfT) to lower pollution levels in UK cities. The decisions these departments make will have a knock-on effect on mobility across the UK – for drivers, insurers, motor manufacturers and other organisations involved in mobility.

To find out more about the WM-Air project, check out the full Driven article about the WM-Air project, you can visit the University of Birmingham’s website or check out the blog which we wrote about our involvement in the project back in April 2019.

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