Most countries are – or have already – bringing out Ultra Low Emission Zones, sometimes called Clean Air Zones, which limit the access of “polluting” cars to certain parts major metropolitan areas. ULEZ zones usually allow free access to the designated area for any car that has pollution levels below a defined limit. This is often (but not always) Euro4 for petrol cars (basically any car manufactured after 2005) and Euro6 for diesels (cars manufactured after 2015). Hybrid and electric cars are usually exempt. The zones capture number plates through overhead cameras and nothing happens if your car is recognised as compliant. If your car is not compliant, then you should pay a daily charge within 24 hours, or be exposed to fines for having broken the ULEZ rules.
France has introduced LEZ zones, which use Critair certificates to identify cars that are allowed access, and Paris has already begun limiting access to central Paris to cars with low-number Critair categories. Other metropolitan areas will follow suit. To buy a Critair sticker for your car, go to https://www.certificat-air.gouv.fr/. The page has links for both French and foreign registered cars. The cost is €3.11 for the sticker, plus a postage charge.
However, other countries are doing the same thing and you need to know which cities have introduced them and how to make sure you don’t get caught out by a heavy fine if you did not comply with the local regulations. For a general overview of European ULEZ zones, you can go to https://urbanaccessregulations.eu/. These can take various forms, such as the well-known London Congestion Charge, and in many cases the Zones concerned are well identified, with signs making it very clear that you are about to enter the Zone and giving details of how and where you can pay – as usually the restrictions of these zones apply to every vehicle except those which are 100% electric. ULEZ zones are not so clear as they can cover large areas and use overhead cameras to read number plates and only charge cars which are non compliant.
In most cases, cars from the country concerned are not affected as the organisation running the program can access the national car registration data base to confirm the car is compliant with relevant the pollution levels. However, if you drive in the restricted areas with a foreign registered car, you will probably be required to pay the daily charge – or if you don’t be fined – even if your car is compliant with the pollution regulations unless you have pre-registered your car with the relevant authority.
Metropolitan areas outside France where ULEZ or Clean Air Zones have been implemented and for which cars are covered include:
Other cities in the UK have also introduced clean air zones, but which do not, as yet, cover cars (unless they are private hire vehicles or taxis). These are Bath, Bradford, Portsmouth, Sheffield and Tyneside. Greater Manchester is also considering introducing a Zone, but no date is set yet. To find out the current status of clean air zones in the UK, go to the UK Government website.
In order to visit ULEZ or Clean Air Zones with your car and avoid having to pay the daily charge, you may have to pre-register your vehicle with the relevant authority. As mentioned above, cars of the country concerned are recognised automatically as the Zone administrator has access to the national car register. Foreign cars have to register before visiting the Zone.
This can be completed online at:
Brussels LEZ program: https://lez.brussels/mytax/fr
Ghent and Antwerp LEZ programs: https://lez.antwerpen.be/?Taal=FR
London ULEZ zone:https://epcplc.com/tfl_registration/login
Registration is usually free, although you will be required to provide details about your vehicle, including uploading a scan of your registration document (carte grise for France).
If you do not register and travel in the restricted zones, for the Belgian cities the authorities are entitled to access the French car register due to EU information sharing procedures.
However, as the UK is no longer in the EU, there are not currently any agreements between the UK and France that allows the local authorities to obtain vehicle details, including your address, in order to send charge or fine notices.
Unfortunately, for the London ULEZ Zone, the company hired by Transport for London to manage the levies appears to have found a way to get non-UK car users details and a significant number of fine notices were sent out in November 2022, covering journeys in the London ULEZ zone between October 2021 and November 2022). These were sent to all non-UK registered car owners, regardless of whether that car was exempt from paying the ULEZ charge and some car owners received multiple fines totalling, in extreme cases, more than €10.000.
A Facebook group was set up to share information on how to contest these charges, EPC Official Complaint Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1547730375655081) and due to this concerted action, most of those who have cars that are compliant with the ULEZ requlations have been able to appeal against the fines, which have been dropped. However, if your car is not ULEZ compliant (basically diesels older than 2016 and petrol cars older than 2006) the fine is still payable. As questions have been askes about the legality of the manner in which EPC obtained the car owner's address, those car owners are taking a collective legal action against EPC and Transport for London to attempt to obtain the cancellation of the fines. That case is still pending.
Similarly, fines have been levied by EPC for non-payment of the Congestion Charge or the Dartford Crossing toll. These differ from the ULEZ fines in that in each case the charge should have been paid (no vehicles are exempted) and so the only argument that may lead to cancellation of the fine is the illegality of the manner in which the car owner's address was obtained. Aghain the legal case on this is still pending.