Researchers have suggested there could be a link between toxic air pollution and an increase in road accidents.
Analysis by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics found that a rise in the average concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) of just 1 microgramme per cubic metre will increase the average number of accidents each day by 2%, with the biggest effect occurring in cities.
Pollution from road traffic can increase collisions
Researcher Lutz 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.
'Whatever the exact mechanisms responsible, the robust finding of a significant effect of air quality on road safety is important given the high cost of road traffic accidents through damage to vehicles and deaths and injuries to people every day.'
Mr Sager calculated that in west London, which has some of the highest levels of air pollution, a cut of about 30% in the concentration of nitrogen dioxide could reduce the number of road accidents every day by almost 5%.
This is thought to be the first study to look into the link between pollution and road safety.
Air pollution is mainly caused by road traffic and includes carbon monoxide, NO2, sulphur dioxide, small particulate matter and ozone.
Mr Sager said his analysis ‘suggests that the causal effect of air pollution on road traffic accidents measured in this study more likely stems from nitrogen dioxide or other pollutant gases rather than particulate matter’.
Last week new data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that over 90% of the UK population lives in areas where levels of ultra-fine particle air pollution exceed WHO limits.
Environmental campaigners ClientEarth are currently taking the Government back to court over its national Air Quality Plan, specifically plans to cut NO2 from road traffic.