As travel starts to open up again, FIVA – the worldwide organisation dedicated to the protection, preservation and promotion of historic vehicles – is urging European policymakers to respect historic vehicles with a consistent approach to low and zero emission zone rules

It’s a call that chiefly applies overseas, but one that will resonate both with holiday-making Brits and those staying closer to home.

The European Commission published its Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy at the end of last year, and more recently a roadmap for a new Europe-wide urban mobility framework, which anticipates at least 100 climate-neutral cities in Europe by 2030.

However, as FIVA points out, vehicle access and pricing for low and zero-emission zones can vary even between towns and cities in some countries. The organisation says this ‘patchwork’ is causing increased consumer confusion: it is urging the European Commission to publish LEZ guidance for member states and urban authorities that recognises the unique role of historic vehicles in our cultural heritage.

“While FIVA fully supports the move to a greener and more sustainable future, forthcoming changes to mobility regulations across Europe could unintentionally threaten the use of historic vehicles on public roads,” said FIVA president, Tiddo Bresters. “FIVA works hard to protect this ‘mobile museum’ for future generations to enjoy.”

Although it acknowledges the need to reduce urban emissions, FIVA believes a distinction should be made between an old (and potentially poorly maintained) means of transport, and a vehicle that is ‘historic’. It defines a historic vehicle as a mechanically propelled road vehicle at least 30 years old, which is preserved and maintained in a historically correct condition and is not used as a means of daily transport.

Emission zone rules in the UK

In the UK, the European Commission’s guidance no longer applies following Brexit. Emission zone exemption in England is currently consistent where historic vehicles are concerned, in that vehicles in the historic tax class are exempt from charges where they are applied to cars.

This exemption is currently set at 40 years, providing the vehicle meets the Vehicles of Historical Interest (VHI) definition – this requires that the vehicle has not been substantially altered in the last 30 years. Zone enforcement is largely carried out by ANPR, which recognises the vehicle’s historic status with DVLA.

In Scotland, low-emission zones are set to begin in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow between February 2022 and May 2022, having been paused due to the pandemic. Cars that don’t meet Euro 4 for petrol (generally post-2005) and Euro 6 for diesel (generally post-2015) will be denied entry altogether and fined for breaches, unlike in England where they can pay to enter.

However, historic exemption looks set to be set at 30 years. That sounds good on paper, but does not simply apply to vehicles that are three decades old – again, it looks as if they will have to meet an EU-inspired definition of a Vehicle of Historic Interest (VHI).

This is problematic for ANPR; a 30-year cut-off doesn’t align with a car being registered as historic by DVLA. That means owners will likely have to register the car with Scottish authorities first, and possibly for each individual city – the kind of inconsistent approach FIVA wants to avoid.

A potential solution would be to move the historic tax category in Britain to exempt vehicles over 30 years. A petition to do so has recently been set up to make 1980s classics more affordable, but would also mean fewer cars forced out by the likes of London’s ULEZ, which expands hugely in November. At the time of writing it had received 7250 signatures, but whether or not it makes an impact remains to be seen.

As the UK is no longer part of the EU, it is unlikely to be part of any consistent approach that may be employed across Europe. And in case, the use of identifiers like specific ‘oldtimer’ numberplates could curtail freedoms in an unacceptable way for some enthusiasts – for example, those at odds with FIVA’s definition by using classics every day.

However, a clear and consistent approach – by country at least – would certainly simplify things for classic owners. Otherwise, it’s a case of researching each destination individually, or keeping our motoring heritage away from city centres altogether.