The public's role in air quality

The public's role in air quality

The most obvious sources of pollution affecting air quality are factories and power stations, but they aren’t the main producers of air pollution.

It is actually the large number of smaller amounts of pollution that we all cause every day which give rise to most of the pollution which affects our air quality. This means that the actions which we take every day can lead to a big improvement when they are added up across the community and throughout the year.

The most important source of air pollution that affects our air quality are road vehicles. They cause exhaust fumes which contain nitrogen dioxide (NO2), as well as a small amount of carbon monoxide (which most people think of as being a cause for concern), and fine dust particles (PM10) from tyre and brake wear and from the engine exhaust.

NO2 causes irritation at high levels, and this is more of a concern for people with asthma or other, similar, underlying conditions. PM10 dusts (particulates smaller than 10 micron – 1/1000 of a millimeter – across) are small enough to be inhaled deep into the lung, where they can cause irritation, and this can be made worse if the dusts and fumes are mixed.

While carbon monoxide is produced in motor vehicle engines, it is present in much smaller amounts and is not actually a cause for concern from the traffic on our roads.

Using your car sensibly can have a big role in improving air quality.

Do you need to use your car?

If you can walk – great! That certainly doesn’t cause any pollution, and it’s good exercise, too.

If you need to use a vehicle, is it possible to use public transport? One bus full of people can replace many cars, reducing congestion and traffic fumes.

If you do need to use your car, there are still quite a few things you can do to reduce the effect of your journey.

Can you plan your journey to take place at off-peak times?

Cars are most efficient when they are moving. That might sound a silly thing to say but if you are stuck in a traffic jam or crawling along slow-moving congested roads, very little of the fuel you are using is actually moving your car. So, if you can travel when the roads are less busy you’ll use less fuel to get to your destination, which will cause less pollution, and save you money.

If you have to travel at busy times (and it often can’t be avoided) and do get stuck in traffic, turn your engine off. Car engines run at their best at faster speeds, producing fewer fumes, and using less fuel (it’s back to saving money again, too!). Some modern cars do this automatically, but there’s no reason why we can’t do this when driving as well.

Is your car running at its best?

Cars that are regularly serviced run better. Fixing a car that is noticeably out of tune or has failed an emissions test can improve its mileage by an average of 4%, though results vary based on the kind of repair and how well it is done. Fixing a serious maintenance problem, such as a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve your mileage by as much as 40%.

You can improve your mileage by up to 3.3% by keeping your tyres inflated to the proper pressure. Under-inflated tyres can lower mileage by 0.3% for every 1 psi drop in pressure of all four tyres. Properly inflated tyres are safer and last longer.

You can improve your mileage by 1% to 2% by using the manufacturer's recommended grade of motor oil. For example, using 10W-30 motor oil in an engine designed to use 5W-30 can lower your mileage by 1% to 2%. Using 5W-30 in an engine designed for 5W-20 can lower your mileage by 1% to 1.5%. Also, look for motor oil that says "Energy Conserving" on the API performance symbol to be sure it contains friction-reducing additives.

These simple steps can improve your mileage by almost 10%.

A car that runs well is more efficient, causes less pollution and saves you money. That’s got to be a winner!

If you are considering switching from a car to a bicycle, you may find the Cycle Streets website useful to help plan your route based on existing cycle routes. You can also use this route for walking too. 

If you would like to find out more information about air pollution, take a look at the Clean Air Hub.  

Last updated on 29 April 2021