We all know there are traffic problems in our district – congestion frustrates us and slows us down. But what if it’s also making us sick?
Air pollution has become a serious threat to our health. We see photos of appalling smog in India, read about London’s air quality breaching safe annual levels after only a few days and hear about worried teachers and pupils campaigning for clean air in Manchester.
Yet this problem isn’t confined to big cities. The Harrogate District has many places where air quality has become unsafe.
Known as Air Quality Management Areas, these hot spots are Bond End and York Place in Knaresborough, Wetherby Road in Harrogate, and High and Low Skellgate in Ripon. The single worst place in the district is right in the centre of Harrogate on Station Parade, near the bus station and taxi rank.
Vehicle exhaust fumes contain a number of harmful gases. There’s carbon dioxide, which contributes towards climate change, along with nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons – which are linked to asthma and other lung diseases.
It has a disproportionate effect on the young – whose bodies are still developing – and the elderly, with an estimated 40,000 premature deaths linked to air pollution in the UK every year.
The problem is aggravated, and emissions are pushed up to dangerous levels, by engines running from vehicles that aren’t moving. You can taste the fumes in the air when everything grinds to a halt, and that’s because idling an engine for just two minutes uses up the same amount of petrol as driving a mile. An average car emits 700 g of carbon dioxide in that time. And think of all that wasted fuel.
Vehicle pollution affects everyone. But you might be surprised to know that it is not pedestrians or cyclists who are the worst affected. Drivers and passengers can be subjected to ten times as much pollution, as they’re sitting in a confined space and drawing in exhaust fumes through the car’s ventilation ducts. So think about walking short journeys if you can.
The good news is that we can all make a significant difference with some simple changes in our driving habits. If you’re not moving, then turn your engine off. Even 10 seconds of idling wastes more fuel than a restart. At the traffic lights, at a railway crossing or just waiting to move forward in slow traffic, it’s more efficient – and healthier– to stop the engine than to idle for more than a few second. And always turn your engine off when you’re parked, wherever you are, as soon as you stop.