Traditional transport endangers individual and overall public health. Current modes and systems of transportation also have health-related economic costs that strain both the public health system and the overall economy. Sustainable transport aims to address these issues. This article identifies and describes the different negative health impacts of transportation.
How Does Transportation Impact Health: Specific Health Problems Caused By Traditional Transport
1. Diseases From Outdoor Air Pollution
A 2014 report from the United Nations Environmental Programme noted that 2.4 premature deaths from outdoor air pollution could be avoided each year. Transportation accounts for 27 percent of total emissions in the United States and 14 percent of the total global emissions according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Traditional transportation such as automobile vehicles and aircraft depend on combustion engines based on fossil fuels. Burning these fuels produce significant amounts of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and particulate matter, among others. These pollutants have been linked to numerous health conditions or diseases.
Poor air quality is a precursor to respiratory ailments such as allergies, asthma, and bronchitis. It also increases the risk of developing life-threatening conditions such as ischemic heart disease, stroke, other cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema.
2. Injuries and Deaths Due To Road Accidents
Another report from the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development mentioned that there are over 1.2 million deaths and another 50 million cases of injuries and permanent disablement that transpire each year due to road accidents. Traditional transportation also creates problems related to public health and safety due to the frequency of traffic-related accidents.
Injuries and disablement have significant economic costs to both the affected or involved individuals and the local government. The same is true for road fatalities which left families with financial burdens due to expenses arising from treatment and interment, as well as income lost or opportunity cost to affected households or family members.
There are different causes of road accidents. Some of them stem from inefficiencies in the transportation system. A study in Libya concluded that most accidents occurring between 2006 and 2007 were caused by environmental stress factors such as inadequate lighting, ailing street plans, lack of safety measures, and lax traffic law enforcement.
3. Physical Inactivity and Sedentary Lifestyle
Motorized transport has contributed to the predominance of a sedentary lifestyle in cities and megacities. Researchers M. J. Douglas et al. compared prevalent car ownership with tobacco smoking while D. A. Shoham et al. associated not owning a car in the United States with high levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.
Physical inactivity results in lifestyle diseases such as metabolic disorders and cardiovascular problems. Commercial drivers are at risk of developing metabolic disorders according to a study by C. A. Appiah et al. while commuters who travel long distances are also at risk of developing detrimental health conditions related to physical inactivity.
Findings from a cohort study of R. Patterson et al. involving more than 25 years of census data in England and Wales revealed that compared with commuting by private motorized vehicles, cycling was associated with a 24 percent decreased rate of cardiovascular disease mortality while rail commuting had a 21 percent reduced rate of cardiovascular disease mortality.
4. Notable Mental and Behavioral Problems
Mental health problems and behavioral issues represent another negative impact of transportation on health and well-being. Traveling or commuting can be a major stressor according to studies. Long commutes are stressful for both workers and students. Inefficient systems that entail different modes of transfer and traffic congestion are other sources of stress.
A descriptive, cross-sectional study by A. Alalool et al. involving drivers in the United Arab Emirates showed that traffic congestion leads to stress, nervousness, and aggressiveness. Short commutes can improve well-being according to a Harvard Business Review article but long commutes have been linked to an increased risk of mental health issues.
Those who live alongside rail tracks, parallel to busy streets, and near airports suffer from the ill effects of noise pollution. These include sleep disruption which leads to reduced cognitive function during the day. Exposure to loud noises can also cause an increase in high blood pressure, other cardiovascular diseases, chronic stress, and behavioral problems.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Alalool, A., Al-Hashaikeh, B., Khamis, H., Majdalawi, R., and Ainawi, R. 2017. “Traffic Congestion and Long Driving Hours.” Primary Health Care. ISSN – 2167-1079
- Al-Ghaweel, I., Mursi, S. A., Jack, J. P., and Joel, I. 2009. “Factors Affecting Road Traffic Accidents in Benghazi, Libya.” Journal of Family & Community Medicine. 16(1): 7-9. PMID: 23012183
- Appiah, C. A., Afriyie, E. O., Hayford, F. E. A., and Frimpong, E. 2020. “Prevalence and Lifestyle-Associated Risk Factors of Metabolic Syndrome Among Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers in a Metropolitan City in Ghana.” Pan African Medical Journal. 36. DOI: 11604/pamj.2020.36.136.16861
- Bailey, J. R. and Cohen, A. 2021. “That ‘Dreaded’ Commute is Actually Good for Your Health.” Harvard Business Review. Available online
- Chatterjee, K., Chng, S., Clark, B., Davis, A., De Vos, J., Ettema, D., Handy, S., Martin, A., and Reardon, L. 2019. “Commuting and Wellbeing: A Critical Overview of the Literature with Implications for Policy and Future Research.” Transport Reviews. 40(1): 5-34. DOI: 1080/01441647.2019.1649317
- Douglas, M. J., Watkins, S. J., Gorman, D. R., and Higgins, M. 2011. “Are Cars the New Tobacco?” Journal of Public Health. 33(2): 160-169. DOI: 1093/pubmed/fdr032
- Patterson, R., Panter, J., Vamos, E. P., Cummins, S., Millett, C., and Laverty, A. A. 2020. “Associations Between Commute Mode and Cardiovascular Sisease, Cancer, and All-Cause Mortality, and Cancer Incidence, Using Linked Census Data Over 25 years in England and Wales: A Cohort Study.” The Lancet Planetary Health. 4(5): e186-e194. DOI: 1016/s2542-5196(20)30079-6
- E. 2020. “Noise Pollution is a Major Problem, Both for Human Health and the Environment.” EEA Newsletter. European Environment Agency. Available online
- Shoham, D. A., Dugas, L. R., Bovet, P., Forrester, T. E., Lambert, E. V., Plange-Rhule, J., Schoeller, D. A., Brage, S., Ekelund, U., Durazo-Arvizu, R. A., Cooper, R. S., and Luke, A. 2015. “Association of Car Ownership and Physical Activity Across the Spectrum of Human Development: Modeling the Epidemiologic Transition Study.” BMC Public Health. 15(1). DOI: 1186/s12889-015-1435-9
- United Nations Environment Programme. 2014. Air Pollution: World’s Worst Environmental Health Risk. United Nations
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2022. “Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” Greenhouse Gas Emissions. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Available online
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2022. “Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” Greenhouse Gas Emissions. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Available online