Report: Air pollution could be resulting in more UK road accidents

A new correlation between air pollution and traffic accidents has heightened the need to improve air quality, an action that could be accelerated through the use of infrared technology acting as a visual demonstration of vehicle emissions.

Research published on Monday (3 October) by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment found that minor increases of nitrogen oxide (NO2) levels in the air correlated with a measurable rise in traffic accidents in the UK.

Researcher Lutz Sager studied data from 2009 and 2014 and found that a rise of one microgram per cubic metre of NO2 correlated with a significant increase in the number of accidents each day by 2%.

In the worst affected areas of NO2 pollution – such as West London – reducing concentration levels could result in drastic reductions in road traffics accidents. According to Sager, reducing air pollution by 30% in these areas could decrease the number of road accidents by almost 5% per day.

“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,” Sager said.

“The analysis identifies a causal effect of air pollution on road accidents, but I can only speculate about the cause of the link. My main theory is that air pollution impairs drivers’ fitness. However, other explanations are possible such as air pollution causing physical distractions, perhaps an itching nose, or limiting visibility.”

Thermal solutions

Last week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that not only are 92% of the world’s population living in areas where air pollution exceeds WHO limits, but that some 16,000 British citizens are killed each year due to poor air quality.

In an attempt to raise awareness of the fatal impacts of air pollution, a new video has been released today (4 October) by thermal imaging specialists FLIR to highlight how infrared technology could be used to visually demonstrate vehicle emissions and the resulting air pollution issues.

In order to raise awareness of the amount of pollution produced by vehicles, professor of air quality at Kings College Martin Williams proposes thermal imaging as a potential means to “see air pollution as its happening”.

“When reviewing the possible impact of infrared technology,” Williams said: “Seeing is believing, and with so many deaths caused each year by air pollution, awareness could be vastly improved by modern technologies.

“By using infrared technology you can physically see pollutants and how they spread from the source, into the air. Technologies like this, that physically show pollution – whether fumes from a car, aeroplane or train – will help enormously in getting the message across.

“In instances like this seeing is believing, and rather than relying on words or statistics we should be showing citizens how every-day things are polluting the air in their community. That would be a very powerful message indeed.”

“Life and Death”

Air pollution remains a serious issue in the capital, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan making numerous pledges to tackle the issue head on, referring to the situation as “an issue of life and death”. Khan’s pledge may have to move beyond the capital, after WHO revealed that 10 UK towns and cities, including London, Glasgow and Eastbourne, are failing to meet international air quality standards.

Additionally, new diesel car emissions remain far higher than the legal limit. A report found that new diesel cars are performing far worse in the real world tests as opposed to lab based tests for NOx emissions.

Alex Baldwin & Matt Mace

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