New Study Reveals How Electric Trucks Will Save Lives

Volvo is one of the truck manufacturers switching to electric propulsion in order to eliminate carbon emissions from commercial vehicles. (Volvo Trucks USA)

Most Americans are familiar with the environmental benefits of electric vehicles (EVs). But few consider the positive impact the change to zero-emissions commercial vehicles will have on our nation’s health.

Commercial trucks and buses are among the most significant contributors to air pollution, despite representing only 4% of the vehicles on the road. Meanwhile, each year 20,000 Americans die prematurely due to pollution exposure on or near our streets and highways. A disproportionate number of these deaths affect people of color and low-income households.

A new study by the Environmental Defense Fund argues that these Americans and others will enjoy better health as public transportation and commercial entities transition to zero-emissions vehicles.

Consider the average American student. As children wait for, enter, and exit a school bus, they risk exposure to harmful tailpipe emissions, particularly if the bus uses a diesel-fueled engine. Pre-pandemic, there were almost 500,000 school buses across the country, exposing close to 25 million children each school day to toxic fumes.

Add to this the millions of Americans riding public transportation daily, such as diesel-burning buses, that can pose a significant cumulative risk to public health. Because lower-income residents rely more heavily on public transport, these communities often experience greater carbon emissions exposure.

Another hotspot for dangerous pollution is warehouses and distribution centers. As diesel-burning trucks enter, sit idle, and depart these locations, workers are exposed to harmful pollutants.

Researchers studied this phenomenon in Houston’s Fifth Ward, where, due to a concentration of metal recyclers and concrete plants, diesel truck activity is high. Their findings revealed that Fifth Ward residents were exposed to NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) levels 48% higher than the rest of the city.

As truck and bus manufacturers take the lead on transitioning to zero-emissions vehicles (ZEV), they will spare thousands of lives. Truck giant Daimler recently allocated $85 billion towards transitioning all of its trucks and buses to ZEVs by 2039. Swedish truck manufacturer Volvo also pledged to be fossil-free by 2040, with the ambition of 35% electric sales by 2030.

It is also encouraging that the companies who purchase these trucks are committed to an emissions-free future. In addition to the environmental and health benefits, electric commercial vehicles promise decreased fuel costs, fewer mechanical issues, and less downtime.

Walmart has committed to a transition to zero-carbon long-haul trucks by 2040. Furniture giant Ikea has promised 100% ZEV delivery services by 2025. FedEx recently announced a phased program to replace existing vehicles with ZEVs by 2040. Amazon is testing electric delivery trucks in Los Angeles. Even the U.S. Postal service is looking for ways to update itself with EVs.

If these companies successfully transition to zero-emission trucks and buses by 2040, they could prevent thousands of premature deaths by that year. Longer-term, ZEVs may prevent as many as 57,000 premature deaths through 2050.

So, as consumers embrace EVs, it is comforting to know that trucks and buses are changing too, and with those changes, our environment and our nation’s health will benefit.

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