It is widely known that automobiles contribute a great deal to air pollution, and it turns out red lights in particular are air pollution hotspots, exposing you to nanoparticles that contribute to respiratory and heart diseases, new research says.

UK commuters spend an average of about 1.5 hours a day behind the wheel. And even though these drivers spend just two percent of their commute passing through traffic lights, this short duration contributes to about 25 percent of total exposure to harmful nanoparticles.

"Our time spent travelling in cars has remain fairly constant during the past decade despite the efforts to reduce it and with more cars than ever joining the roads, we are being exposed to increasing levels of air pollution as we undertake our daily commutes," Dr. Prashant Kumar from the University of Surrey, who led the study, said in a press release.

So what is it about traffic intersections that make them such air pollution hotspots? According to the researchers, it's because of the frequent changes in driving conditions. Meaning, when drivers decelerate to stop at red lights and then quickly speed up when they turn green, peak particle concentration is 29 times higher compared to free flowing traffic conditions.

In addition, since cars tend to be close together at lights, the likelihood of exposure to vehicle emissions also significantly increases.

And according to the World Health Organization, air pollution is linked to seven million premature deaths per year.

"It's not always possible to change your route to avoid these intersections," Kumar noted, "but drivers should be aware of the increased risks at busy lights. The best ways to limit your exposure is to keep vehicle windows shut, fans off and try to increase the distance between you and the car in front where possible."

The results were published in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).