Windows-down driving dramatically increases exposure to air pollution

This is just another example of how being poor can be really bad for your health.

Craig Cole Former reviews editor
Craig brought 15 years of automotive journalism experience to the Cars team. A lifelong resident of Michigan, he's as happy with a wrench or welding gun in hand as he is in front of the camera or behind a keyboard. When not hosting videos or cranking out features and reviews, he's probably out in the garage working on one of his project cars. He's fully restored a 1936 Ford V8 sedan and then turned to resurrecting another flathead-powered relic, a '51 Ford Crestliner. Craig has been a proud member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).
Craig Cole
2 min read
Air Pollution
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Air pollution is deadly. Smoke, smog and microscopic exhaust particulates can cause untold health problems for those that are exposed to them in large quantities or over long periods of time. The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution takes the lives of around 7 million people each year.

Underscoring this shocking statistic, a study released by the Global Centre for Clean Air Research at the University of Surrey in the UK reveals that commuters in 10 of the world's poorest cities are exposed to high levels of in-car pollution. Researchers examined the air in metropolises like Chennai, India; Cairo, Egypt; and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Not surprisingly, windows-down motoring exposed drivers to the most airborne grime, though passengers are not immune to filthy air, either. In testing, it was found that they were exposed to high levels of pollution for as much as a third of their total travel time.

Researchers also took measurements with vehicle HVAC systems running. Operating the fan with the windows up certainly helped but using recirculation mode significantly reduced exposure to harmful particulates, dropping it by around 80%. Naturally, cabin air filters can remove some of the pollution from recirculated air.

Using recirculation mode is not always an option in hotter locales, but there is one thing you can do to reduce your exposure to air pollution. Driving or traveling during off-peak hours can lower windows-down exposure by 91% in the morning and by as much as 40% in the evening.

Using vehicles fitted with air conditioning would certainly help limit exposure as well, as would switching to a fleet of new, emissions-free electric cars and trucks. But for disadvantaged drivers in poor cities neither of these options are likely to be economically viable.

Air pollution is a pressing global issue. Sadly, it's one that seems unsolvable, at least in the immediate future.

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