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How Traffic Congestion Affects the Environment (and Humans)

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Congestion is arguably the most widespread transport challenge in the world, particularly in the large cities. Numerous causes contribute to traffic congestion, such as an inefficient traffic flow system, the massive demands placed on the system, delays caused by breakdowns and accidents, and high-traffic volumes due to an increasing amount of people owning vehicles.

The most traffic-congested cities in South Africa

INRIX, a private transportation analytics company based in the US, found Cape Town to be the most congested city in South Africa with a global ranking of 43, followed by Johannesburg which ranked 71 on the list.

Source: INRIX

Ecologists say that this rapid increase in the number of vehicles on our roads globally has and will further impact the environment and ecology. Atmospheric pollution will increase along with traffic volumes due to exhaust fumes emitted from vehicles on the road.

What are the effects of traffic congestion on the environment?

Motor vehicles have been identified as the most dominant source of a plethora of air pollutants in cities. Stuck in slow-moving traffic, vehicles spend more time on the road, idling, crawling, and undergoing many stop-go events that inevitably leads to an increase in emissions. The burning of fuel creates numerous harmful byproducts, all having a damaging effect on the health of humans, animals, and the local vegetation.

The main emissions from vehicles include:

  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) – Harmful to vegetation, damages foliage, decreases growth, or reduces crop yields. NO2 and other NOx interact with water, oxygen and other chemicals in the atmosphere to form acid rain which harms sensitive ecosystems such as lakes and forests.
  • Carbon monoxide (CO) – CO does not have a direct effect on the global temperature but affects the ability of the atmosphere to cleanse itself of many other polluting gases. In combination with other pollutants and sunshine, it plays a part in the formation of ozone.
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) – The most common and important greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide is essential to life on Earth by keeping the Earth’s temperature from freezing. The problem is that carbon dioxide has been steadily increasing and tipping the greenhouse effect out of balance – too much greenhouse gases absorbing the sun’s energy causes an over-warming of the planet.
  • Unburnt hydrocarbons (HCs) – HCs react with sunlight and other pollutants, such as nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide, to form ozone (O3) which is a main component of photochemical smog. It contributes to the greenhouse effect, depletes the ozone, and reduces photosynthetic ability of plants
  • Benzene – Benzene can react with other chemicals to create smog. It may attach to rain and snow and be carried to the ground to contaminate water and soil where it remains for a longer time than it does in the air. It has been found that the knock-on effect of this pollution on the local flora and fauna could be worse than previously thought.
  • Formaldehyde – Formaldehyde is highly toxic to the fish, shellfish, and other creatures in rivers, lakes and oceans.

Not only does traffic congestion have a harmful effect on ecology, cause air and noise pollution and impact the quality of life, it also results in more travel time and fuel consumption. Furthermore, the time wasted in traffic impacts productivity and has negative consequences on the economy and society.

As we can see, these effects have a significant impact on our pocket, health, safety, lifestyle, future, and surroundings, which means that it directly affects each of us personally as individuals.

2 simple ways motorists can reduce the impact

  • Make sure your car runs cleanly and optimally by keeping it regularly serviced and well-maintained.
  • Keep your tyres correctly inflated so that your vehicle runs properly and burns fuel efficiently.

As always, maintenance is key. Not only will it help towards less harmful emissions, it will save you money in the long run and keep you safe on the road. Visit your nearest Supa Quick fitment centre for a free vehicle safety check.

Disclaimer: This information is for educational, or entertainment purposes only. It must not be construed as advice, legal, financial, or otherwise. We do not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability, and accuracy of this information.


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