Mönchengladbach in North Rhine-Westphalia, Mainz in Rhineland-Palatinate and Wiesbaden in Hesse are just three of the cities to draw up an environment area, or Umweltzone, a scheme begun in 2008 with the aim of slashing pollution in densely populated areas.
The system requires vehicles to display special red, yellow or green “emissions badges” depending on their environmental performance.
Each of the brand new zones will ban all vehicles without a green badge which signifies the lowest emissions category.
Until now, vehicles with yellow badges had been given a grace period allowing them into green zones in many places, but rules will be tightened this month in a number of communities such as Freiberg, Mannheim and Augsburg – only green classified vehicles will be allowed in.
In Germany’s biggest Umweltzone covering the Ruhr valley, only those vehicles without an emissions sticker of any kind were banned – this will be tightened somewhat to include those with red badges. It is one of the few areas where yellow badge holders are still allowed, another being Cologne city centre.
Local authorities all over the country, such as those in Essen, Heidelberg and Munich, have promised stricter oversight of the scheme this year, once road signs have been fully updated to signify the new rules.
Drivers found without the right emissions badge on their vehicles in green zones are subject to a €40 fine and driver’s license point penalties.
Despite initial worries that the scheme was not improving urban air quality, experts believe the restrictions have encouraged drivers to switch their cars over to more environmentally friendly models.
“The fleet of vehicles has changed significantly and this process is continuing,” Heiko Balsmeyer, an air quality expert from the German Traffic Association told the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper on Thursday.