Road traffic is a major source of urban air pollution responsible for substantial premature mortality. Until recently, attention has focussed primarily on exhaust emissions of particulate matter from traffic as a causal factor. From analysis of air quality measurement data from the UK and France, we demonstrate that road traffic exhaust has a far greater impact on concentrations of nitrogen dioxide than of PM2.5. PM2.5 and carbonaceous particle concentrations have been declining appreciably since 2010/11 due to the use of diesel particle filters, but little change is seen in nitrogen dioxide over the period from 1995 to 2015. It is shown that the effect of NO2 from road traffic upon premature mortality was ten-fold greater than that of PM2.5 even before the widespread use of diesel particle filters, and is now considerably larger. The overwhelming contribution of diesel compared to gasoline-fuelled vehicles to emissions of both PM2.5 and NO2 emphasises the importance of further controls on emissions from diesels.
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