Roman Holiday: Extreme Smog Leads to Ban on Cars in Italy

Vehicles in the Italian capital, and in Naples and Milan, have been booted from roads.

People ride their bikes near the Coliseum in Rome after cars are banned owing to unhealthy air-quality levels. (Photo Credit: Filippo Monteforte/Getty)

Dec 28, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

With its recent spate of pollution red alert days—and residents so desperate for clean air that they're importing cans of it from Canada—China catches plenty of flak for its smoggy conditions. But negotiators at the recent COP21 climate conference in Paris weren't in town only because of poor air quality in the Asian nation. It's so smoggy in Italy that officials have booted cars off the roads in Rome, Milan, Naples, and several other cities.

Vehicles with odd-numbered license plates were banned from driving in Rome for nine hours on Monday, and cars with even-numbered plates will be prohibited on Tuesday. In Milan, 350 miles to the north of the capital, the streets were car-free thanks to a ban on all vehicles, which will extend through Wednesday. Meanwhile, in the south in Naples, only vehicles that operate with a stricter emissions standard, Euro 4, were allowed on roads.

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Milan's mayor, Giuliano Pisapia, called the traffic ban "a response to an exceptional emergency," according to The Local. "The measure does not bring the city to a standstill, but it does have a strong deterrent effect," he added.

High pollution levels across Italy have been blamed on extremely dry and unseasonably warm conditions across the European nation—conditions that have allowed emissions from vehicles, furnaces, and industrial factories to sit in the air.

Breathing dirty air is nothing new for residents. A report from the European Environment Agency found that Italy has the most polluted air in Europe. It's so smoggy there that in 2012 more than 84,000 Italians died prematurely from poor air quality. Officials in the country said that an increase in acute cardiovascular disease has been reported since this latest spike in toxic air began, according to The Local.

Kicking cars, motorcycles, and scooters off roads even for a few hours has been shown to clear the skies. In late September when Paris banned vehicles from the city center on a Sunday, levels of the pollutant nitrogen dioxide dropped as much as 40 percent when compared with a week earlier, when cars were present.