The researchers charted accidents to the level of air pollution between 2009 and 2014 and found a rise in the concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) of just one microgramme per cubic metre above the daily average is sufficient to increase the average number of accidents each day by two per cent.
While toxic air was found to possibly impair driver fitness, watery eyes and an itchy nose were also deemed distractions for motorists. Lutz Sager, PhD candidate in Environmental Economics, London School of Economics, said, “Although it has already been shown that air pollution adversely affects human health and the ability to carry out mental tasks, this is the first published study that assesses the impact on road safety. 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.”
Air pollution can result from several pollutants, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, small particulate matter, and ozone. Sager added, “Although this analysis has used data for the United Kingdom, I think my findings are relevant to other parts of the world. These additional costs from traffic accidents strengthen the case for reducing air pollution, particularly in congested cities.”
The establishment of a possible link between air pollution and traffic accidents may be significant for India, which doesn’t hold impressive records in either department. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently confirmed that Delhi’s air is the worst among the world’s megacities. And as far as traffic accidents go, nearly 5 lakh accidents occured on the country’s roads last year.