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A half-turn of a car key could make us all breathe easy

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When you park, do you turn the motor off as soon as your car is neatly lodged in its space?

Or do you start doing other things – drink a gulp of water, search your bag for a hanky, reply to an urgent email, redo your make-up, check the ward rota or phone your mother-in-law – eventually realising after 15-20 minutes that your motor is still running?

I walk around London a lot and frequently pass parked vehicles with their engine running and, in the driver’s seat, a person comfortably sitting and looking at their phone, reading or gazing into space with obviously no intention of pulling out into the road any time soon. And often, they are parents parked outside a school, waiting for their child.

“A recent study in Scotland revealed a clear link between spikes of air pollution and peaks in hospital admissions of patients with bronchiectasis”

According to the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), around 40,000 deaths a year are linked to air pollution. In evidence to the parliamentary inquiry on improving air quality published in March 2018, the RCP said air pollution causes and exacerbates many long-term conditions, increases the likelihood of strokes and heart attacks in susceptible individuals and adversely affects foetal development.

It also linked air pollution with new-onset asthma and said it contributes to diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases and is a risk factor for lung cancer.

A recent study in Scotland revealed a clear link between spikes of air pollution and peaks in hospital admissions of patients with bronchiectasis. To top it all, we’ve started to see evidence of a correlation between air and noise pollution and the risk of dementia.

So on bad days, I confess that I mentally assign the accolade ‘murderer’ to people I spot sitting in their car for longer than half a minute with the engine running. And some people do it for far more than half a minute.

On my way to the shops recently I passed a parked vehicle emitting toxic fumes, only to find it still fuming on my way back 45 minutes later. I was fuming too.

Yes, this is my personal bugbear and I get hung up about it, which admittedly is not good for my own health so I’m trying to stay cool.

It doesn’t matter whether a car is a shiny new hybrid or an ancient diesel. It doesn’t matter whether it’s been fine-tuned to keep emissions as low as possible (or we’ve been told so by a manufacturer who fiddled the emissions tests).

Why release even a small amount of deadly emissions into the air we all breathe (drivers included) when it can be so easily avoided? As they say, every little helps.

“It can contribute to saving lives and save car owners money”

Even with electric cars, it can’t harm to promptly turn the motor off. While they may not release toxic fumes themselves, they aren’t necessarily powered by ‘green’ electricity.

It is such a simple thing to do. It can contribute to saving lives and save car owners money. And it would make me – and people living with respiratory diseases – extremely happy!

Perhaps it’s time for a public health campaign to remind drivers that the turn of a key could help save a life – and it might even be their own.

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