Smog alert reality check

smog-90The government declared a “smog alert” here today. It will last for a week if anything from the past is an indicator. The purpose of the “smog alert” is to reduce the speed on the roads, especially the highways. Highway speed is limited to 90 km/h on days when “smog alert” is in force.

Local radio just gave a good summary of facts about the today’s situation:

  • The smog is caused by a cloud of particles (pollution) brought to us by wind from the east, it is not originating in the country.
  • The morning traffic jam was exceptional with roughly 400 km of jams covering the country (against the usual 100 km).
  • The number of accidents was something extraordinary as well, although they did not provide specifics.
  • Traffic jams happened even in places that never see traffic jams and without visible cause (like road works or an accident).

Managing a country is similar to managing a corporation, the basic rules are the same. So there is nothing wrong with the businessmen looking at the governmental decisions from the business point of view. What do we have?

The smog was not caused by any internal source in the country. The wind is blowing, so the emissions from inside the country are blown away and new pollution from outside is blown in.

Ok, fine, we still want to reduce the pollution at least a bit. Well, the emissions at various speeds for various cars is a very complicated subject and nobody will tell you what the cumulative effect of the speed increase or decrease will be. There are just no such data. But one thing we definitely know for sure is this:

Emission rates are higher during stop-and-go, congested traffic conditions than at free flow conditions operating at the same average speed. — U.S. EPA, “Automobiles and Ozone.” Fact Sheet OMS-4

So the result is that we increase the pollution while lowering the safety of the traffic (remember accidents). That is not a good business decision. In companies, people should get fired for this kind of decisions. In the government, unfortunately, this is not the case.

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