Motorists are exposed to the highest level of harmful emissions at the start of every journey, research shows.
Emissions systems that are built into cars to capture harmful pollution take around five minutes to warm up and activate, resulting in dangerous ‘pollution bursts’ in the initial moments drivers and their passengers are en route.
And a new report claims that many Britons are needlessly exposing themselves to these higher toxicity levels to travel paltry distances that could easily be covered by other means.
‘Pollution bursts’: Many drivers are exposing themselves to high levels of pollution to complete the shortest of journeys that could be covered by other means, a new report claims
According to figures from driving licence check firm Licence Bureau, 56 per cent of all car trips are less than five miles in length and six per cent cover less than a mile.
These stats were supported by Transport for London research that suggested that over a third of trips taken by car in the capital cover fewer than two miles.
While drivers might assume that these short journeys are doing little to harm to their health and that of others around them, it seems there is a high price to pay for getting behind the wheel.
Latest stats from Emissions Analytics show that the time spent in a car to cover these short distances – especially in urban areas – are not sufficient for a vehicle’s pollution control system to warm up and become fully functional.
After reviewing a number of new models last year, it found that it can take more than five minutes for pollution control systems to reach operating temperatures, thus allowing harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx) to be emitted into the air and the car’s cabin.
While diesel cars have a much higher NOx output, proportionally it is petrol cars that perform worse in the first minutes of driving, the study showed.
It means that for a journey of five miles covered at an average speed of 30mph, half of the 10 minute trip would have exposed the car occupants to these higher pollution levels.
Licence Bureau said the vast majority of journeys between 1 and 5 miles are covered via car
Research by Emissions Analytics found that proportionally it’s petrol cars that perform worse in the first five minutes of driving compared to their usual pollution outputs when the emissions systems have started to work efficiently
However, once the emissions systems reach optimum operating conditions the NOx outputs for petrol cars fall more dramatically, Emissions Analytics said.
These figures suggest many drivers are unwittingly exposing themselves – and others – to these higher levels of pollution that, had they known existed, could have been avoided by leaving the car at home.
Environmental group Global Action Plan said there is strong evidence for a lack of public understanding when it comes to the impact of using their cars on short journeys and the ‘significant contribution’ it has towards the UK’s air pollution challenge.
According to Global Action Plan, poor air pollution – which is impacted by vehicle emissions – prematurely kills around 29,900 Britons a year
Larissa Lockwood, head of health at the campaign group, said there is already recent evidence of the impact reduced car use can have on air pollution levels.
Last month, measurements taken on the London Marathon route showed an 89 per cent decline in air pollution with drivers restricted from accessing the capital’s major roads due to the event.
She said: ‘Taking collective action to tackle air pollution every day can make a massive difference, particularly if we cut down on using the car for these short, polluting journeys, many of which can be walked or cycled instead.
‘Imagine if more people left the car at home every day, particularly for these short journeys. We could achieve similar levels of clean air on a daily basis as we did when the roads closed during the London Marathon which led a massive 89 per cent drop in air pollution.
‘We would suffer far fewer health problems from air pollution and we would also reduce levels of congestion and free up our streets, making them safer.’
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is set to announce a new ‘Road to Zero’ policy in the coming months that will outline extended measures that will help Britain trim its air pollution.
Reports leaked last week suggest that one part of the policy will be to ban the sale of new vehicles in 2040 that cannot cover up to 50 miles on electric power alone.
This would not only outlaw petrol and diesel models but also ban all hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles on sale today, with cars like the Toyota Prius Plug-In only able to travel in electric mode for a claimed 39 miles.
According to Global Action Plan, air pollution causes heart disease and worsens asthma in both adults and children.
Young children and those with heart and lung problems are most at risk if exposed to areas of high air pollution, which prematurely kills an estimated 29,000 people every year – around 80 a day.
On 21 June 2018 the group will spearhead Clean Air Day, which is designed to provide guidance on the actions people can take right now to reduce the air pollution they create.
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