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The Dangers of Traffic Lights

Few things are more frustrating than constantly having your commute interrupted by red lights. I live just two miles from my workplace, but I have to pass through seven traffic lights to get there - and if I get my timing wrong, my commute time can almost double. When I reach one particular light just as it’s turning red, I know I have a four-minute wait before it will turn green again.  

Now scientists have found another reason to try to avoid red lights - dangerously high levels of air pollutants near intersections controlled by traffic lights. 

Research from the University of Surrey in the UK, found that 25 percent of a driver’s total exposure to air pollutants came from passing through intersections controlled by traffic lights. This held true even though the time spent at intersections controlled by lights may comprise as little as 2 percent of a total journey.

The study tracked a busy six kilometer (3.7 mile) route that included 10 intersections with traffic lights. They found that these intersections had the highest levels of pollution because of the frequent changes in driving conditions. Remaining in the same place for an extended period of time, and then revving up quickly to move when the lights changed resulted in high concentrations of dangerous nanoparticles in the air.

The study’s authors suggest avoiding intersections controlled by traffic lights wherever possible, and when it’s not possible, keeping as much distance between you and the car in front as possible. Winding your windows up and closing your car’s fans may also help avoid pollution. Cyclists and walkers should also be aware of the dangers of busy intersections.  

Exhaust fumes have been associated with multiple health problems, including asthma, cardiovascular disease and even childhood leukemia. People who live or work near major roads, or intersections are at an increased risk for these problems. Air pollution was recently placed in the top 10 health risks faced by human beings globally, with the World Health Organization linking air pollution to 7 million premature deaths every year.  

Now that I know about the dangers of intersections, I’ll be closing my fans when I drive to and from work (I never have my windows down - I don’t want to mess up my hair!) And I’ll be crossing my fingers even more that the majority of those seven intersections are green each time I travel my daily commute.

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