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Health report adds to pressure for stricter noise standards

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A new World Health Organisation report says Europeans lose at least one million healthy life-years due to traffic noise every year. The findings are likely to put pressure on the EU to produce a meaningful revision of the vehicle noise directive that is due this summer.

The report includes data that measure exposure to traffic noise and its impact on health in terms of heart disease, sleep disturbance, children’s learning, tinnitus and annoyance. According to the findings, 1.8% of heart attacks in high-income European countries are caused by traffic noise levels higher than 60 decibels. The findings are described as conservative, which means the problem could be much greater.

The report comes just two months before the Commission is due to publish proposals to revise the EU’s vehicle noise directive (70/157/EEC). The directive should have been revised two years ago, but despite the fact that the current standards were set back in 1992, the Commission has delayed its proposals to set stricter noise standards for cars, vans, lorries and buses.

T&E deputy director Nina Renshaw said: ‘The Commission has an opportunity to halve road traffic noise and thereby protect millions of Europeans from this health risk. It has a terrible record on road noise, having failed to set standards that provide incentives for the automotive industry to use and develop the quietest technology. This is the EU’s chance to show that the needs of citizens are driving traffic noise policy, not the interests of automotive companies who don’t want to embrace the latest technology.’

An EU study by the Dutch consultancy TNO says a policy of setting moderately stricter standards in the short-term, with a commitment to stricter standards a few years later, would bring economic benefits that outweigh costs by more than 15 to one.

  • A night-time ban on flights using London’s Heathrow airport could produce up to €1 billion in financial savings over a 20-year period through reduced health costs of sleep disturbance and stress. These are the findings of research by the Dutch consultancy CE Delft, designed to coincide with a review by the British government of its rule that no more than 16 flights on average can use Heathrow between 23.30 and 06.00.