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7.4.8 Provincial Programs


7.4.8 Provincial Programs

Bringing Into Being the Future We Wish to Live In

The Ontario Drive Clean Program

Fewer Emissions, Cleaner Air – The good, the bad and the smoggy

For most of us, cars are an important part of our lives. But as our cities grow, our road systems expand and the number and size of cars on the road gets bigger, we’ve noticed a change in the air. Ontario cities are becoming more and more affected by smog. Poor air quality hurts the health of city people. It also hurts the health of people and ecosystems outside our cities when the wind moves the smog in their direction.

The smog we experience in Ontario is a mix of very fine particles and ground-level ozone. It’s called “photochemical” smog because its key component, ground-level ozone, is produced when some of the chemicals from car exhaust (and from industrial sources) combine in the presence of sunlight. Cars are responsible for part of it, but more than 50% of Ontario’s smog problem is produced by sources in the United States.

Because the sunlight is more intense in the summer, the conditions are better for smog to form. So we experience more smoggy days during the summer season. Smog is harmful to breathe, especially for children, the elderly and people with respiratory and heart conditions. And as we experience more hot days due to climate change, the weather conditions that help create smog are becoming more common. So reducing emissions from fossil-fuel burning vehicles is important.

Emissions from a poorly maintained car can be up to 30 times higher than those for a car that runs well.

Driving cleaner

To help improve air quality, the Province of Ontario introduced a Drive Clean program to help drivers keep their car emissions to a minimum. In 1999 the program became mandatory across southern Ontario’s “smog zone.” Most passenger cars, vans, light trucks and sport utility vehicles in the Drive Clean program area must pass a Drive Clean test to renew the stickers on their licence plates. Cars must have a Drive Clean test every two years. And if a car requires a safety certificate when ownership is transferred, it must also pass a Drive Clean test.

The Ontario Drive Clean program is helping to reduce smog-causing pollutants from vehicle emissions. Keeping a car well maintained makes it run cleaner and more efficiently, consume up to 10% less fuel – and last longer.

Over 11 million vehicles in Ontario have been tested since 1999.

Drive Clean – Light Weight Vehicle Tests since 1999

Pass % Fail % Cond. Pass % Total
Program To Date 9,768,818 83.1% 1,730,371 14.7% 256,764 2.2% 11,755,953

Higher New Standards for Trucks and Buses

In December of 2003, the new Liberal Minister of the Environment, Leona Dombrowsky, passed improved vehicle emissions standards for the province of Ontario. When the new standards take effect in April 2004, Ontario will have the toughest emission limits in North America for large diesel trucks and buses. This will help dirty vehicles to be found and cleaned up.

The Ontario School Bus Association was part of the consultation on cleaner driving standards, and they strongly support them. School buses, even older ones, will be subject to Drive Clean tests under the new standards.

Between 2000 and 2002 Drive Clean resulted in a reduction of nearly 1,100 tonnes of particulate matter from heavy-duty vehicles. This is excellent news for the lungs and the health of everyone in Ontario.

Smog Watch A Health Alert

Because smog is a health hazard, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment monitors the air quality every day. They issue a rating of how clean the air is, called an Air Quality Index.

Even though efforts are being made to control smog, southern Ontario is still experiencing summer smog days. Back in 1995, the government registered fourteen smog days in Ontario. In 2001, they announced that there were 23. And by 2002, they reported 27. (Note: a citizens’ group, the Clean Air Alliance, claims there were 37 smog days in 2003 for a comparison of their findings to the government’s, see http://www.cleanair.web.ca.

Health professionals now realize that it is not only summer smog, but year-round particulates (very small airborne particles from burning, such as soot) that affect respiratory health. And even though there has been some improvement in individual car efficiency, the number of cars on the road continues to rise, making polluted air a continuing problem.

According to the Ontario Medical Association, 1,900 people died prematurely in the province in the year 2000 from the effects of air pollution. Childhood asthma has increased fourfold in only two decades.

Greenhouse Gas Reduction

Ozone, the main ingredient in smog and the key target of the Ontario’s anti-smog plan, is also a greenhouse gas. Reducing the smog and its ozone is therefore an important way to cut down on transportation contributions to climate change.

On July 1, 2002, Drive Clean was expanded to include all municipalities in Ontario from Windsor to the Quebec border. When fully implemented, Drive Clean is expected to cut carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas, by 100,000 tonnes annually the equivalent of taking 23,000 cars off the road.


For more details, see “The Story of Smog” http://www.toronto.cbc.ca/features/smog/measuring.html The Ontario Clean Air Alliance



  1. Explain how cars, sunlight and summer and climate change and smog are all related to human health.
  2. How does the Drive Clean Program strive to improve air quality in Southern Ontario?
  3. What is smog alert day? How many smog alert days per year does Ontario have?
    If a smog alert is issued in your community, what do you think you and your family should avoid doing?