Why drivers inhale more pollutants

Shutterstock
Shutterstock
Don't fool yourself that being inside a car protects you from air pollution and its multiple ill effects.

Recent monitoring conducted by air quality researchers at King's College London and the UK's Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) provides further evidence that "in-car" pollution can be many times higher than exposures for pedestrians and cyclists travelling the same busy route.

The BBC reports that British members of parliament on the EAC were fitted with air pollution monitors to test London levels for themselves. Travelling by taxi in rush hour traffic through central London, on a hot day with the windows open, the MPs' monitors recorded pollution levels six times higher than those recorded when walking.

A car in city traffic takes in pollution from the exhaust of vehicles in front of it, which then tends to get trapped inside; pollutants are diluted somewhat for pedestrians and cyclists, who have benefit of better airflow. Pollution levels also tend to be highest at the centre of a road, and lower at the verges.

In-car air quality is further reduced by the plastic interior off-gassing toxic compounds (that "new car smell"), as well as cigarette-smoking by passengers.

Read: How does pollution affect people who exercise outdoors?

Tips to lower your pollution exposure

Whatever your mode of transport, these tips will help reduce your exposure to urban pollutants:

  • Avoid rush hour: bumper-to-bumper traffic produces the worst carbon emissions and the worst pollutant exposures.

  • Avoid routes with busy traffic: discover some of the quieter, and often prettier, alternative routes.

  • Pedestrians and cyclists can considerably reduce their pollution exposure by using walkways and cycle lanes, and cutting across parks and squares instead of using pavements directly adjacent to traffic.

  • Setting your car ventilation to “recirculate” helps reduce exposure to air pollution.

  • Driving with the windows open raises in-vehicle pollutant concentrations (and adds drag on the vehicle at higher speeds), but keeping windows closed for over half an hour with several passengers raises carbon dioxide levels inside (from exhaling). To prevent this CO2 buildup, outside air should be pulled in every 10-15 minutes for 1-2 minutes.

  • The air is generally cleaner after a rainstorm or a blustery day.

  • If walking and cycling's not for you, consider public transport: pollution levels are lower in buses than in cars, and even less in trains. (Underground railways tend to trap pollutants however).
Read more:
Keep your car cool
Detox your garage
Car-pooling makes a comeback

References:
BBC (September 2014). UK air pollution fuels official concern

Image of car exhaust:
Shutterstock

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Zama zama crackdown: What are your thoughts on West Village residents taking the law into their own hands?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Authorities should bring in the army already
11% - 765 votes
Illegal miners can't be scapegoated for all crime
46% - 3132 votes
What else did we expect without no proper policing
40% - 2712 votes
Vigilante groups are also part of the problem
4% - 256 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
16.49
+0.6%
Rand - Pound
19.95
+0.4%
Rand - Euro
16.88
+0.3%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.49
+0.5%
Rand - Yen
0.12
+0.5%
Gold
1,790.04
-0.2%
Silver
20.43
-0.5%
Palladium
2,204.00
-0.8%
Platinum
935.50
-0.2%
Brent Crude
96.31
-0.4%
Top 40
62,765
-1.6%
All Share
69,298
-1.4%
Resource 10
64,219
-1.3%
Industrial 25
84,055
-2.1%
Financial 15
15,642
-0.6%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE