In a typical driving restriction, vehicle use is restricted based on the vehicle’s license plate; one cannot drive vehicles with certain license plate numbers on certain days. Driving restrictions have been used as a method to reduce urban air pollution or traffic congestion because they are easy and inexpensive to implement. We investigate whether driving restrictions introduced in São Paulo, Bogotá, Beijing and Tianjin have improved air quality. Across different versions of the driving restrictions there is no evidence that the overall air quality at different places has been improved. However, several important results show up in this extensive analysis. Temporal shifting of driving is likely to appear when the restrictions are only effective during certain hours of weekdays. Driving restrictions could potentially reduce the extreme concentrations of air pollutants. Driving restrictions can only be expected to alleviate air pollution when implemented with an extended schedule or in an extended region. The effects of the driving restrictions are primarily on the concentrations of CO and PM10.


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