Renault Group

Learning your way around alternate traffic restrictions, emissions-based driving restrictions, and low-emission zones

01 May 2020
4 min
From “circulation différenciée,” “restricción vehicular,” to “road space rationing,” “restrizioni alla circolazione delle auto,” and “low-emission zones”, all over Europe major cities are putting driving restrictions in place. How do they work and what types of vehicle are affected?
by Renault Group

Let’s start with a few definitions. Road space rationing restrictions are usually implemented by authorities as a temporary measure during peaks in air pollution in order to reduce their negative effects on public health. What France calls “zones à faibles émissions” (ZFE), or low-emission zones (LEZs), are specific areas in which vehicles with high emissions are banned from driving.

What’s the difference between road space rationing and emissions-based driving restrictions?

Road space rationing restrictions were used before the introduction of emissions-based driving restrictions. The idea was simple: in a particular zone defined by the authorities (specific neighborhoods, downtown, or the whole metropolitan area, for example) and at certain times of the day, only vehicles with even-numbered license plates were allowed to circulate on even days, and those with odd-numbered license plates on odd days. Traffic was thus reduced. The first city in Europe to use this system was Athens in the early 1980s. Several Italian cities and many European capitals followed. Paris used this system for the first time in 1997. It has since been replaced, in France and elsewhere in Europe, with a different system: emissions-based driving restrictions.

What exactly are emissions-based driving restrictions and low-emission zones?

The idea is to prohibit access to a city (or certain zones) to the vehicles that produce the most pollution: those that do not meet certain emissions or equipment requirements. The system of emissions-based driving restrictions and low-emission zones, which have replaced alternate traffic restrictions, is quite simple. It is based on a system of rankings, displayed by stickers on each vehicle. The stickers were originally issued by local communities but are now managed by a nation-wide system. France, for example, has the “Crit’Air” sticker system, while Denmark has “ecostickers,” Germany has “environmental stickers,” and Spain has “distintivo ambientals.”
In each country, the vehicles’ stickers correspond to the level of emissions they produce, which is categorized according to European standards and regulations. The ranking is determined based on the information provided on the vehicle’s registration documents. In France, for example, the Crit’Air system has six different categories: electric vehicles have a “0” ranking, while vehicles manufactured before 1997 have a “6” ranking. To find out your vehicle’s ranking and obtain the certification, which must then be stuck to the dashboard, you should consult the public authorities. In France, this can be done online ( and the sticker costs 3.62 euros. The ranking is valid for the vehicle’s entire lifetime.
Other countries and cities have opted for a sticker-free system involving the registration and tracking of license plates by cameras in public places. This is the case, for example, in several Italian cities as well as in Brussels, Belgium.

Emissions-based driving restrictions and low-emission zones in Europe

With the help of traffic restrictions and low-emission zones, major European cities are looking to protect their inhabitants’ health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) outdoor air pollution is responsible for 4.2 million premature deaths in the world each year. With emissions-based driving restrictions, European cities aim to respect the maximum emissions levels recommended by the World Health Organization and authorized by the European Union (EU).
The upper limit for NO2 is 40 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³.) Although there are significant disparities in the numbers from one measuring station to the next: the concentration is generally higher in larger cities such as London, Madrid and Paris. In October 2019, the European Union Court of Justice criticized France for its “significant and constant” excess of permitted NO2 pollution levels. In Germany, since February 2018, the federal administrative tribunal invited municipalities to consider restricting traffic to meet the maximum allowable levels of air pollution as put in place by the EU. In the city of Hamburg, old diesel-powered vehicles are no longer allowed to circulate on two of the city’s main streets.

How do emissions-based driving restrictions work?

While sticker ranking systems such as Crit’Air are governed by a national organization, it is for local communities to determine which vehicles are and are not allowed to drive on certain roads depending on the geographical, social, economic and traffic context specific to each city. For example, during peaks in air pollution, all vehicles with 3, 4, 5, and 6 rankings may be faced with restrictions, while the rest of the time, only vehicles with a ranking of 5 or 6 will be restricted. It is up to each city to determine which vehicles are restricted at what times, depending on the severity and duration of the peak in air pollution. It can even change over the course of a peak. For example, in Lyon, southeastern France, if a peak in air pollution lasts more than 4 days, only vehicles with a 0, 1, 2, or 3 Crit’Air ranking will be allowed to circulate, whereas the restrictions are less severe during the first few days of the peak. In Marseille, southern France, where alternate traffic restrictions/emissions-based driving restrictions were first implemented in June 2019, only vehicles with a 1, 2, or 3 Crit’Air ranking are allowed to circulate in the city center from 6:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M.

The days and times of emissions-based driving restrictions (how to learn more)

It is easy to find out the hours and regulations for emissions-based driving restrictions: they are published widely in the media. In France, you can consult the measures put in place during peaks in air pollution on the following website: Some GPS applications, such as Waze, also provide updates for their users. In general, when authorities impose emissions-based driving restrictions, they must make an announcement by 7:00 P.M. the day before at the latest. To learn more about traffic restrictions in Europe, you can also download a free app called Green Zone. It provides a map indicating the zones, days and times of the restrictions that will affect your vehicle. To learn more about ongoing restrictions, the best website to refer to is

Traffic restrictions and electric vehicles

In France, like elsewhere in Europe, the only type of vehicle that guarantees your ability to circulate, regardless of alternate traffic restrictions or emissions-based driving restrictions, and no matter how high pollution levels may be, is the electric vehicle. Electric vehicles all benefit from a Crit’Air “0” ranking. Electric vehicles are also the only ones that are accepted in all low-emission zones where high-emissions cars are definitively banned. Low-emission usually only concern certain zones in any given city, but Paris and London have committed to implementing a system by 2030 under which all combustion-powered vehicles will be prohibited from circulating anywhere in the cities, at all times.

Emissions-based driving restrictions and carpooling


Until then, if your car’s ranking is too high to drive under emissions-based driving restrictions, why not consider carpooling? In general, the laws on emissions-based driving restrictions have a special clause for carpooling: in which vehicles with at least 3 passengers on board are allowed to circulate, no matter their ranking. So when the next peak in air pollution rolls around, why not make some new friends? Or get a vehicle that releases less emissions!


Copyright : m-gucci, Nikada, South_agency

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