Driving your car is probably the single most polluting thing you do, according to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Driving your car is probably the single most polluting thing you do, according to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Chugging out of your tailpipe and seeping out from underneath your hood are carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide. Though the bulk of these gases are released during combustion, they can also escape through evaporation as the fuel as your car heats.

According to the EPA, in 1999 the transportation sector accounted for more than half of carbon monoxide emissions, about one third of hydrocarbon emissions, and nearly half of all nitrogen oxide emissions in the United States. The EPA also states that in 2003 the transportation sector accounted for 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide.   

The EPA details the dangers of many air pollutants. Carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas associated with trapping the Earth’s heat and contributing to climate change. Carbon monoxide is tasteless, odorless, and poisonous. Because it reduces the flow of oxygen to the body’s organs, carbon monoxide is responsible for impaired mental functions and visual perception.

Nitrogen oxides not only contribute to the formation of acid rain and cause water quality problems, but, in the presence of sunlight and elevated temperatures, they can also react with hydrocarbons to form ground-level ozone. Ground-level ozone can cause eye irritation, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and permanent lung damage.

Since the Clean Air Act of 1970, the EPA has had the authority to regulate motor vehicle pollution. Policies have become progressively more stringent since 1970, and the 1990 Clean Air Act included provisions for tighter tailpipe standards, improved control of evaporative emissions, computerized diagnostic systems that identify problems within emission controls, and greater durablility. According to a 1994 report from the EPA, the advent of the catalytic converter has reduced hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions and cut down on lead pollution. Exhaust gas recirculation and electronic fuel controls have also helped to control pollution.

These changes have, however, been met with an even greater change in the number of miles logged by drivers. 

A 1994 report from the EPA on automobile emissions said, “Efforts by government and industry since 1970 have greatly reduced typical vehicle emissions. In those same years, however, the number of miles we drive has more than doubled. The increase in travel has offset much of the emission control progress.” 

Policies and technological changes have only been able to put a dent in the problem of air pollution.

“Despite the progress made in the last 30 years, millions of people live in counties with monitor data showing unhealthy air for one or more of the six common pollutants,” the EPA reports.

There are, however, ways in which you can cut emissions from your own vehicle.

The EPA’s Office of Mobile Sources offers three suggestions for drivers – drive less, maintain your vehicle properly, and drive wisely. These suggestions will not only cut down on air pollution, but also include a few perks for drivers.

“Your car will last longer and you will save money.”

The Examiner

Some of this year’s most fuel-efficient cars:

Toyota Prius
City: 48 mpg, Highway: 45
Starting price: $21,500                                                                                                                                                                                   

Honda Civic Hybrid
City: 40 mpg, Highway: 45
Starting price: $22,600

Smart Fortwo
City: 33 mpg, Highway: 41
Starting price: $11,590

Nissan Altima Hybrid
City: 35 mpg, Highway: 33
Starting price: $25,480

Toyota Camry Hybrid
City: 33 mpg, Highway 34
Starting price: $25,650

Toyota Yaris
City: 29 mpg, Highway: 35
Starting price: $11,550

Ford Escape Hybrid
City: 34 mpg, Highway: 30
Starting price: $26,640

Ford Focus
City: 24 mpg, Highway: 35
Starting price: $14,395

2009 Pontiac Vibe
City: 26 mpg, Highway: 32
Starting price: $17,440

2008 Dodge Caliber
City: 24 mpg, Highway: 29
Starting price: $15,545