Air pollution makes us bad drivers, prone to traffic accidents that happen with alarming frequency each year. That in a nutshell is the key finding from a new study conducted by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science London recently.
Road mishaps, which almost always also causes massive gridlock, are partly because of impaired driver fitness brought about by high levels of toxic air, the researchers contend.
"Although it has already been shown that air pollution adversely affects human health and the ability to carry out mental tasks, this is the first published study that assesses the impact on road safety," says lead researcher Lutz Sager.
The team observed nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels for five years, from 2009 to 2014, and found that with just one microgramme per cubic meter increase, the number of accidents rose by two percent especially in urbanized areas.
As it turns out, the increase of polluted air not only affects the driver's health but it also causes watery eyes or itchy nose that could distract the motorists while they're on the road.
“My main theory is that air pollution impairs drivers' fitness." says Sager. "However, other explanations are possible such as air pollution causing physical distractions, perhaps an itching nose, or limiting visibility."
Though the study was done in the UK, Sager explains, "I think my findings are relevant to other parts of the world. These additional costs from traffic accidents strengthen the case for reducing air pollution, particularly in congested cities."
But what if you're in a closed vehicle with sufficient air conditioning?
Surprisingly, the air pollution that accumulates inside the car could be twice more than the pollution outside because NO2 builds up in small spaces, according to a report.
Although there are many different toxic substances such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, NO2 is found to have the most impact on a driver's health.
Maybe you'd think twice on ignoring those face masks now?