Santiago is one of the most polluted cities in Latin America. The Chilean capital, with more than 6 million inhabitants, and the metropolitan area as a whole are particularly affected, especially in winter (May-August). Pollution is mainly due to the intensity of road traffic and the geographical location of Santiago – in a valley between two mountains – which prevents the dispersion of pollutants.
The World Air Quality website has a real-time air quality index visual map.
However, authorities have passed laws to reduce the level of air pollution. With the “Santiago Respira” plan launched in 2016, the government wants to reduce fine particles emissions by 60% within the next 10 years, through traffic restrictions, ban on the use of wood heating and stricter regulations on pollutant emissions by industry.
There are several levels of pollution alerts, with different emergency measures:
Restriction during all winter (May-August) for old vehicles
The Chilean authorities have defined a perimeter delimited by the avenues Américo Vespucio (sur, norte and oriente), within which traffic restrictions are in effect from Monday to Friday from 7:30am to 9pm. These restrictions apply based on the last digit of each vehicle license plate.
To be noted: the avenues that delimit the perimeter and the highways that cross it are not included in the ban. It is therefore possible to take Aveno Américo Vespucio, as well as Costanera Norte and Autopista Central.
- From May to August, whether there is an alert or not: a part of the vehicles with catalytic converters and whose license plate was registered before September 1st, 2011 are not allowed to circulate inside the perimeter. This restriction impacts one digit per day (10% of vehicles, see table below).
- Cars without a catalytic converter and motorcycles dating from before 2002 are not allowed to circulate in the perimeter except during public holidays, regardless of the last digit of the license plate. Outside the perimeter, but within the province of Santiago and the municipalities of Puente Alto and San Bernardo, restrictions apply according to the last digit of the license plate between 7:30am and 9pm. These restrictions impact four digits per day (40% of vehicles, see table below).
- Some motorcycles registered between 2002 and September 1st, 2010 are not allowed to circulate within the perimeter. This restriction impacts two digits per day (see table below).
Alerta ambiental (1st level of pollution)
Every day, four numbers of vehicles with non-catalytic converters are not allowed to circulate, which does not change anything in winter. From this level of pollution, the use of wood heating and agricultural combustion are prohibited.
In addition to the traffic restrictions above, the restriction for vehicles with non-catalytic converters extends to six digits per day. From this level of pollution, the authorities recommend not to do any physical activity.
In addition to the traffic restrictions above, the restriction for vehicles with non-catalytic converters extends to eight digits per day and the restriction for vehicles with catalytic converters extends to two digits per day.
Vehicles with catalytic converters registered from 2012 are always excluded from restrictions, even in case of preemergencia and emergencia.
You can get more information on the website of the Unidad Operativa de Control de Transito. The Department of Transport and Telecommunications is very active on Twitter and many information is conveyed via the official account.
You can enter the number of your license plate on the website of the Department of Transport and Telecommunications to know the days on which you are not allowed to drive.
Restrictions compliance is controlled by police officers, but also by cameras located on the major axis within the perimeter. If you do not comply with the restrictions, you may be fined, between 1 and 1.5 UTM, that is to say between $47,000 and $71,000 (see our dedicated article on UTM). To find out if you have been fined, you can enter your license plate on the website of the Ministry of Justice.
If you use your car and take a highway, be careful not to use a motorway exit located inside the perimeter, it is likely that the access control cameras are used for this purpose.