Car drivers can reduce pollution exposure by 49% by closing windows

Drivers and passengers can inhale significantly lower levels of air pollution by setting their vehicle’s ventilation systems more effectively and taking a cleaner route to their destination, a new study reveals.

Road transport emissions are major source of urban air pollution. Nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) come from vehicle exhausts, as well as non-exhaust emissions such as brake dust, tyre wear and road dust in the case of PM.

Outdoor air pollution is estimated to contribute to 40,000 deaths in Britain annually and an estimated 7 million deaths globally. It is linked to diseases ranging from lung cancer to stroke and respiratory infection, says a statement.

Scientists at the University of Birmingham have now found that if vehicle ventilation is set correctly, drivers and passengers are exposed to up to 49 % less PM2.5 and 34 % less Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) than the on-road levels.

Lead author Dr. Vasileios Matthaios, from the University of Birmingham, commented in the statement: “Exposure to air pollution within the vehicle depends upon both the ventilation setting and the type of route. The lowest exposure to particles and gases is when the windows are closed with recirculation and air conditioning switched on.

“Drivers and passengers inhale more air pollution when traveling on urban roads, followed by ring-roads and sub-urban roads. However, because concentrations inside a vehicle are lower and occupants are not as active, they inhale less air pollution than people cycling or walking on the same routes.”

Researchers explored within-vehicle levels of NO2 and PM2.5 under different vehicle ventilation settings and driving routes during real-world driving experiments around the city of Birmingham.

Four vehicles were driven on a consistent route of three contrasting road types, measuring simultaneous within-vehicle and ambient levels of particulate matter (PM10, PM2.5, PM1), ultrafine particles number (UFP), lung surface deposited area (LSDA), nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

The researchers noted that related health issues depend on an individual’s exposure to air pollution and the vulnerability of the individual to a given dose. This, in turn, depends on route selection, time of day, transport type, respiration rate and, in the case of vehicles, ventilation options and efficacy and type of cabin filters.

Image credit: David McKelvey via Flickr

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