Research has shown how drivers and pedestrians are being exposed to very high levels of air pollutants at traffic lights

February 17, 2015 1:59 pm

While not great for stress levels in general, there are other ways
that the daily churn through can negatively affect health.
Research
at the University of Surrey in the has shown how drivers and
pedestrians are being exposed to very high levels of air pollutants at
traffic lights.
The World Health Organisation links air pollution to seven million premature deaths every year.
It’s
well known that road vehicles in particular emit polluting
nanoparticles which contribute to respiratory and heart diseases.

Research has shown how drivers and pedestrians are being exposed to very high levels of air pollutants at traffic lights.
Despite efforts to encourage a reduction, car usage has remained fairly constant in recent decades.
The
research monitored drivers’ exposure to air pollutants at various
points of a journey and found traffic intersections were high pollution
hot-spots due to the frequent changes in driving conditions.

With drivers decelerating and stopping at lights, then revving
up to move quickly when lights go green, peak particle concentration
was found to be 29 times higher than that during free-flowing traffic
conditions.
Also of course, while travelling by road drivers are
generally pretty close to the air pollution source, which is the
tailpipe of preceding road vehicle.
Though drivers spend just 2
per cent of their journey time passing through intersections managed by
traffic lights, this short duration contributes to about 25 per cent of
total exposure to these harmful particles.
It’s not always
possible to change your route to avoid these intersections, but drivers
should be aware of the increased risks at busy lights and at least try
to avoid regularly taking routes that force them to sit in traffic
inhaling potentially harmful fumes.
Where this is unavoidable the
best way to limit exposure is to keep vehicle windows shut, fans off
and try to increase the distance between the cars in front where
possible.
Pedestrians regularly crossing such routes should
consider whether there might be other paths less dependent on traffic
light crossings.
But there is more to it than asking drivers to take circuitous routes.
Local
transport agencies could also help by synchronising traffic signals to
reduce waiting time and consider alternative traffic management systems
such as flyovers. They could also consider the appropriate placement of
traffic lights.
The use of these systems in built up residential
areas, near schools or hospitals may serve to manage traffic flow but at
the cost of trapping higher concentrations of harmful pollutants in
exactly the areas where residents, and vulnerable members of society
will most regularly commute or walk.
The UK’s Environmental Audit Committee recently described air pollution as a ‘public health crisis’.
These considerations are not just a ‘nice to have’, they have a direct effect on our health and wellbeing.

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