Updated 01 August 2017

More reasons why rush-hour traffic is bad for your health

Being stuck in traffic isn't only bad for your nerves; pollution and noise levels also take their toll.


No-one likes to be stuck in traffic and yet thousands of us have no choice on a daily basis.

Wheels24 reports that Cape Town is the most congested city in South Africa, followed by Johannesburg.

Apart from pushing up your blood pressure as your anger and impatience levels soar, rush hour traffic also increases air pollution levels in cars to much higher levels than previously believed.

'Double whammy'

"We found that people are likely getting a double whammy of exposure in terms of health during rush-hour commutes," said Michael Bergin, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina.

He and his colleagues installed sensors inside 30 cars going to and from downtown Atlanta. Over the 60 commutes, they found that levels of some types of harmful particulate air pollution in the cars were twice as high as levels detected by roadside sensors.

Contaminated air particles

"If chemicals are as bad for people as many researchers believe, then commuters should seriously be rethinking their driving habits," Bergin added in a university news release.

The contaminated air particles can include dust, pollen, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets. Chemical exposure was higher than seen in previous studies that used roadside air monitors, regardless of speed, type of route or whether windows were open or closed, the researchers said.

"There's still a lot of debate about what types of pollution are cause for the biggest concern and what makes them so dangerous," Bergin said. "But the bottom line is that driving during rush hour is even worse than we thought."

The findings of the study were published in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

Risk of hearing damage

It is not only the harmful chemical exposure and contaminated air particles that causes pollution in traffic. Your ears can be permanently damaged by daily sounds, such as the noise from car traffic. Did you know that car engine sounds in rush hour traffic can exceed 90 decibels? If you continue to be exposed to this noise level, you might be at risk for permanent hearing damage.

Possible solutions

Unfortunately, skipping the daily commute to and from work is not an option for many. But there may be some solutions:

  • Try experimenting with flexi-hours if your employer offers the option. Choose earlier mornings and afternoons to avoid the rush-hour traffic.
  • Try public transport, provided that it's safe and easily available.
  • Start a lift club or share a ride with colleagues living close to you to decrease the number of vehicles on the road.
  • Keep your car windows closed to reduce your exposure to polluted air and loud noise.
  • Plan your route before you drive. Consult the traffic updates on News24 to be aware of any unusual congestion.


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