Negotiating an intersection brings with it a variety of aggravations and dangers. If the lights are not timed correctly, an intersection can add frustration to a daily commute, and there are few things in the world more irritating than the inefficiency of a four-way stop. Intersections have also proven to be dangerous places to drive. As many as one-third of all traffic accidents occur here. However, a recent study has revealed an additional hidden danger lurking at these crossings.
As If Waiting Wasn’t Bad Enough
Automotive pollution contains a number of harmful nanoparticles that are detrimental when inhaled. Prolonged exposure has been linked to increased risk of heart and lung disease. Newly released research has shown that the incidental ingestion of these particles increases 29 times while sitting at a traffic light compared with driving on the open road. This disparity is caused by the fact that an idling engine cannot disperse these particles as efficiently as a car in motion. The concentration is further exacerbated if drivers rev their engines looking to get a jump on the green light.
British researchers recently completed a study investigating the concentration of pollutants at intersections. In a news release, study author Prashant Kumar spoke about the findings published in the journal Atmospheric Environment. “With more cars than ever joining the roads, we are being exposed to increasing levels of air pollution as we undertake our daily commutes,” he said. Kumar added, “The best ways to limit your exposure is to keep vehicle windows shut, fans off and try to increase the distance between you and the car in front where possible.”
The study author had much more to say including the fact that even though we have made efforts to reduce the amount of time we spend in cars, vehicular pollution has remained relatively consistent over the past ten years. Kumar suggests that drivers try to switch their routes in an attempt to avoid the busiest intersections and thereby limit exposure. His advice also extends to pedestrians and cyclists.
Good Idea, but It Really Doesn’t Work for Me
Rerouting your daily commute is an impractical and sometimes impossible task. The better solution may be to make changes to the driving environment itself. City planners could alter the timing of lights at certain intersections to reduce the length of time that cars idle there. Many four-way intersections could be converted into roundabouts (also known as traffic circles) to keep cars in motion so that these harmful particles can be dispersed. Incidentally, the institution of roundabouts would also have a more immediate impact on safety as they have been shown to reduce the incidence of collision at street crossings significantly.
The World Health Organization reports that as many as 7 million deaths a year can be attributed to air pollution. It is incumbent on each of us to reduce the level of these harmful nanoparticles by any means possible. Every driver can do their part by keeping their cars well-tuned, avoiding aggressive acceleration and shifting to neutral while waiting at traffic lights.