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Scientists find exhaust fumes hitting drivers hardest

DRIVERS breathe in up to three times more toxic exhaust fumes than pedestrians or cyclists, a survey says.The report, by the Institute for European Environmental Policy, contradicts conventional thinking. Pedestrians and cyclists, thought to be the unprotected victims of poisonous gases spewed from the tailpipes of cars and lorries, in fact suffer the least exposure.

Drivers have been seen as cocooned from the worst effects of dirty air by modern cars, their windows shut against the elements and heated or cooled by air-conditioning systems. But cars offer little or no protection from pollution, says the report, because motorists are driving in a ``tunnel of pollution''.

This is the time of year when exposure is worst, as slow-moving traffic builds up in towns and cities and heater fans draw pollution into the car from outside.

Worst-affected motorists are those who choose to drive in the centre or outside lanes where there is a huge build-up of toxic gases, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, soot particulates, benzene and other hydrocarbons. That cocktail is blamed for diseases ranging from increased incidence of asthma to heart attacks and cancers.

Cyclists who stay close to the kerb avoid the worst of the pollution because they are not in the ``pollution tunnel''.

Malcolm Fergusson, a senior fellow and author of the report, said: ``There is an increasing body of evidence that shows that they (drivers) are in fact in the centre of the pollution and suffering the worst effects.'' Typically, a driver sitting in a traffic jam will breathe in up to three times the level of pollutants as a cyclist or pedestrian and about twice as much as a bus user.

The report was drawn up for the Environmental Transport Association, which is to lobby for tighter legislation on exhaust emissions.

Meanwhile, Lexus have just introduced a `sniff and switch' system on their GS300 and LS400 luxury cars. A sensor near the front of the car constantly monitors the levels of hydrocarbons in the atmosphere.

When it reaches a certain level, the sensors trigger the car's climate control to switch from ``fresh'' air to re-circulation. That effectively shuts out the pollution until such time as the sensor detects acceptable levels again. It is expected that a number of car makers are considering such devices in their cars in future.

(The Times, London and other agencies)

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