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September 21, 2023

World Car Free Day

Friday 22 September 2023 is World Car Free Day. The aim of the day is to cut CO2 emissions by giving up our cars for a day and travel in a more sustainable way. It’s also an opportunity for us to see what towns and cities could look like without cars, and how our environment can function without congestion from vehicles. 


We’d like to add our voice to this cause to raise awareness of some of the risks that vehicle emissions present to our health. Vehicle engines burn petrochemicals and additives to enhance their performance and emit them in exhaust fumes. These include styrene and benzene, classified as a ‘known human carcinogen’ by the UK Government. 


How vehicle pollution affects our health – petrochemicals 

  • Styrene is classified by the UK government as a possible human carcinogen. Acute inhalation exposure to styrene irritates the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and throat. Regular skin contact can cause skin irritation and itching. 
  • Benzene is a biproduct of all sources of combustion, including vehicle fumes and cigarette smoke and is absorbed into the body by inhalation. Benzene is an extremely toxic chemical that is mutagenic and carcinogenic.
  • Xylenes are also present in exhaust car fumes and may cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, incoordination, and central nervous system depression.  


The wider health risks of vehicle pollution 

The health risks of exposure to vehicle emissions are well documented, including lung and heart disease. But concerns about the effects of air pollution on our mental wellbeing are growing as evidence emerges that air pollution might be the cause of a range of mental health conditions and neurodegenerative disorders.  


Cars and other vehicles emit particulate matter in exhaust fumes and toxic chemicals are released when rubber tyres wear. Particulate matter in air pollution causes up to 36,000 deaths every year in the UK. 


How to get involved with Car Free Day 

We start and end all our journeys as pedestrians, and 71% of all car journeys made are for 5 miles or less. With such short journeys it’s often possible to walk to work, school, or the shops with a little forward planning. As well as the physical health benefits of walking or cycling, there are many positive wellbeing reasons to leave the car at home.  


  • The Mental Health Foundation list reductions in stress and mental fatigue, a sense of achievement, and more focus and motivation as some of the reasons why physical exercise including walking is good for our mental health. 
  • Cycling UK offer lots of inspiring ideas to help to get started if you’re not a cyclist. 
  • Taking the bus or tram will help reduce emissions instead of your car, and using the train reduces CO2 emissions by 70% vs taking the car. 
  • Residents and visitors in Nottingham will enjoy a car free day on one of its streets where a Pop-up Park will be held. For information about how you can create a car free day in your area visit Pop up Parklet. 
  • London will see hundreds of streets transformed into fun spaces including free space hoppers!
  • Cork is hosting its first car free day on Saturday 23 September.
  • Brussels went car free on a busy Saturday and the results were awe inspiring. 58% of their residents support a weekly car free day.



Further reading 

United Nations information about World Car Free Day across the world. 

Global transport emissions – comparative statistics for trains, planes, and cars 

Search for inspiration on social media using #CarFreeDay 

Guardian investigation finds 98% of Europeans breathing highly damaging polluted air.



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