The good news is that you can do something about it.
The USC Keck School of Medicine has carefully studied the quality of the air we breathe when driving in traffic. It can be quite poor. Here is everything you need to know about the problem and the solutions:
How bad is the pollution on congested freeways?
According to the USC researchers, concentrations of particle pollutants on freeways are often five to 10 times higher than other typical daily locations.
How much of this pollution ends up in your car?
A lot. Driving with your windows down will raise inside pollutant concentrations to the same levels as on-road levels. If you put your windows up, but pull in outside air, 70-80% of the outdoor air pollutants will end up in the cabin of your car. With your windows up and your air set to recirculation, 20-30% of the outdoor air pollution will still make its way into your car.
Why should you care?
We are exposed to many pollutants when sitting in traffic, including particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) (invisible particles smaller than 2.5 microns). These particulates can get deep into your lungs, and some may even get into your bloodstream. Exposure to such particles can affect both your lungs and your heart. Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including:
• premature death in people with heart or lung disease
• nonfatal heart attacks
• irregular heartbeat
• aggravated asthma
• decreased lung function
• increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing.
Who is most vulnerable to exposure to PM2.5?
People with heart or lung diseases, children, and older adults are the most likely to be affected by particle pollution exposure. This is one of the reasons the USC researchers advised parents who drive their children to school to recirculate their air whenever they are stuck in traffic.
What can you do about it?
Whenever you find yourself sitting in heavy traffic, recirculate your air. This will reduce the pollution inside your car by 70-80%. After roughly 15-30 minutes, if conditions have not improved, open your vents for a couple of minutes to avoid a dangerous buildup of carbon dioxide. Then recirculate your air again. Repeat this process until you are no longer in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Because you cannot eliminate pollution from entering your car, you should also buy a HEPA Cabin Air Filter. These filters are designed to remove more than 99% of smaller particulates from the air. Although it is not a panacea, a HEPA filter will further improve the quality of the air you breathe when your pull outside air into your car (with your windows up) and it will remove harmful pollutants from the air even in recirculate mode because your cabin air will continue to pass through this filter.
Unfortunately, HEPA Cabin Air Filters are rarely included as standard equipment on new cars or offered by service department when they replace your filter during regular service (roughly 1/year), so you will need to buy one if you want to breathe cleaner air. Fortunately, these filters are available for virtually all the best-selling cars over the last several years. You can find the model that fits your car and purchase it through our Shop. And they are typically very easy to install. (You can get precise instructions in your owner’s manual).
Please give yourself and your family the gift of cleaner air this holiday season.
Thanks for Driving2Save.