Frequency of open windows in motor vehicles under varying temperature conditions: A videotape survey in Central North Carolina during 2001

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Abstract

Air pollution exposures in the motor vehicle cabin are significantly affected by air exchange rate, a function of vehicle speed, window position, vent status, fan speed, and air conditioning use. A pilot study conducted in Houston, Texas, during September 2000 demonstrated that useful information concerning the position of windows, sunroofs, and convertible tops as a function of temperature and vehicle speed could be obtained through the use of video recorders. To obtain similar data representing a wide range of temperature and traffic conditions, a follow-up study was conducted in and around Chapel Hill, North Carolina at five sites representing a central business district, an arterial road, a low-income commercial district, an interstate highway, and a rural road. Each site permitted an elevated view of vehicles as they proceeded through a turn, thereby exposing all windows to the stationary camcorder. A total of 32 videotaping sessions were conducted between February and October 2001, in which temperature varied from 41°F to 93°F and average vehicle speed varied from 21 to 77 mph. The resulting video tapes were processed to create a vehicle-specific database that included site location, date, time, vehicle type, vehicle color, vehicle age, window configuration, number of windows in each of three position categories (fully open, partially open, and closed), meteorological factors, and vehicle speed. Of the 4715 vehicles included in the database, 1905 (40.4%) were labeled as "open," indicating a window, sunroof, or convertible top was fully or partially open. Stepwise linear regression analyses indicated that "open" window status was affected by wind speed, relative humidity, vehicle speed, cloud cover, apparent temperature, day of week, time of day, vehicle type, vehicle age, vehicle color, number of windows, sunroofs, location, and air quality season. Open windows tended to occur less frequently when relative humidity was high, apparent temperature (a parameter incorporating wind chill and heat index) was below 50°F, or the vehicle was relatively new. Although the effects of the identified parameters were relatively weak, they are statistically significant and should be considered by researchers attempting to model vehicle air exchange rates.

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