THE national media has been awash with claims about the air polluting terrors of (particularly) diesel-powered cars (while ignoring trucks, aircraft and ships). A local politician has even gone as far as claiming recently there is an environmental crisis in Marlborough. Here is an engineer’s more pragmatic viewpoint.
DEFRA data (2015) for the UK shows that air pollution has been steadily falling for decades. The UK car manufacturers’ body SMMT advises nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions are down 84 per cent since 2001, while diesel particulate emissions are down fully 93 per cent since the Euro emissions tests began in 1993. 
The UK government pointed out in 2015 that road transport accounted for only 34 per cent of the much trumpeted NOx emissions. Continuous efforts by energy suppliers and vehicle manufacturers are delivering rich dividends and improving all our lifestyles all the time. To describe this situation as a ‘crisis’ is misleading. Crisis is what they have in Syria, North Korea and certain parts of Africa.
Our cars bring us an fundamentally important independence, convenience and flexibility. At present, everybody is talking about battery powered electric vehicles (EVs), but these will never be able to meet the public’s fundamental needs for a car. 
One observer has suggested EVs will be like the ‘energy saving’, long life lights that replaced filament bulbs in the Noughties. On government edict, the manufacturers all invested heavily to supply the new ‘energy saver’ lights and we all grumbled about their cost and slow starting. Meanwhile, within a few years, a bright spark in Japan invented the LED light and almost overnight the ‘energy saver’ was obsolete. Today, that ill-judged edict can be viewed as taking everybody down a dimly lit one-way street at top speed. It will be the same with battery powered EVs. 
For the motor car, the future will likely be emissions free and it will involve electric motors. But the idea of us all lining up to access charging points for hours at a time or seeing the lights go out at home while all the batteries charge up is a very expensive joke. Without discussing the questionable whole of life environmental cost, EVs are 50-100 per cent more expensive than a low emissions petrol fuelled mini car. And EV resale value will be very poor. 
This is because, like your mobile phone, when those expensive batteries reach four to five years they won’t hold their charge for long. So despite all their hype, EVs appear useful only as toys for urban commutes and bragging rights at political conferences. 
But it’s likely technology will deliver a practicable alternative. We are seeing the first glimpses of some hugely innovative propulsion systems for personal transport. Many would place their bets on cars fuelled by a hydrogen fuelled generator driving electric motors (with no banks of batteries!). This mid-term horizon, perhaps in another five to 10 years, will deliver cars with comparable whole of life costs to fossil fuelled equivalents (unlike EVs) and minimal environmental footprint. 
In the short term, We as car buyers should be focusing on the huge advances in road safety that driver assistance features are beginning to offer. These include adaptive cruise control and proximity warning – effectively equipping our cars with radar. These advances reduce the possibility of crashes such as the awful truck/minibus incident on the M1 just recently. The real safety advances are the prelude to the opportunities presented by a fully autonomous car and offer so much to the inexperienced and older driver alike. And the right propulsion system will follow behind.