There are precautions you can take to greatly lower your exposure to harmful toxins when driving in traffic.

By Talia Avakian
August 26, 2016
Traffic Jams
Credit: Getty Images

Sitting in a traffic jam can be frustrating, and a new study shows that it is also harmful to our health.

Recent research from the University of Surrey shows that drivers caught in traffic jams face great exposure to toxic fumes, with adjustments made to their car’s ventilation systems affecting just how much.

Scientists found that having your window closed but keeping the fan on puts you at the highest risk of exposure while in traffic, considering the pollution in the outside air that is now being circulated in the vehicle. According to the study, having your window closed and the fan off can lower your exposure to in-car pollutants by 76 percent.

The findings also showed that when stopped at a red light, cars release emissions as they go through driving cycles that vary from accelerating and decelerating to staying idle. In these cases, the emissions take longer to disperse and therefore accumulate in the air near traffic lights.

This can become alarming in urban cities, as outdoor air pollution has been classified by the World Health Organization as a crucial risk humans face, with the potential to lead to premature deaths, disease, and health complications.

The research also found that the pollution levels inside of cars were up to 40 percent higher for vehicles caught in traffic jams and red lights, as opposed to those driving in free-flowing conditions.

Dr. Prashant Kumar, senior author of the study from the University of Surrey, said in a news release that drivers should keep their windows shut, fans turned off, and to try and increase the distance between them and the car in front during traffic jams or while stationary at traffic lights to limit their exposure.

He also recommended having the air re-circulating within the car rather than utilizing outdoor air if the fan or heater does need to be on.

Talia Avakian is a digital reporter at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @TaliaAvak.