What Would Happen To The Environment If Everyone Stopped Driving?

  • By: greenorb
  • Date: September 3, 2021
  • Time to read: 8 min.

I’m always on the lookout for life without driving. I mean, we all stop using motor vehicle transportation. 

This applies to vehicles like cars, vans, buses, trucks, and tractor-trailers that rely on fossil fuels.

Driving motor vehicles contributes to the emission of carbon (IV) oxide gas to the environment. And this can pose a great danger to the environment’s quality. 

It also contributes to global warming.

But if we all stop driving, the environment would be in better condition. That’s because the level of carbon (IV) gas emissions will reduce significantly.

What is the problem with cars and pollution?

You can drive cars without worrying about the damaging effects on the environment. Because what matters is how we drive our vehicles.

But it’s not just about how many miles we have driven or about how much fuel we use. It comes down to tailpipe emissions.

And there are three kinds of these tailpipe emissions:

  • Particulate matter

It’s a combination of solid matter and liquid droplets in the air. They form smog and promote atmospheric haze.

Sadly, particulate matter from cars can destroy your lungs and enter your bloodstream, causing health problems.

  • Carbon (IV) oxide (CO2) and Carbon monoxide (CO) gases

Motor vehicles emit carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide when fossil fuels burn to provide energy.

When you breathe air rich in CO or CO2, your vital organs such as your brain and heart will get affected.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) states that about 95% of all CO and CO2 emissions in most cities originate from motor vehicle exhaust. 

  • Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)

When fossil fuels burn, there exists a reaction between nitrogen and oxygen to form other types of nitrogen oxides.

For instance, NO2 (Nitrogen Dioxide) results from emissions from trucks, cars, off-road equipment, and power plants.

Breathing air with a greater concentration of NO2 can affect your respiratory system.

Generally, the majority of tailpipe emissions are carbon (IV) oxide gases. 

Driving motor vehicles increases carbon (IV) oxide and many other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Under normal circumstances, these gasses reduce the sun’s heat available in the atmosphere. Besides, they help keep the earth warm.

However, an increase in the use of cars and the burning of fossil fuels like gasoline increases greenhouse gases, causing global warming.

Tailpipe emissions from motor vehicles affect the environment’s quality in different ways. 

They also produce chemicals that attack cell membranes, affecting various living organisms.

These effects on living organisms are very harmful and could even cause death.

To prevent these effects, several government agencies have developed standards to regulate vehicle pollution.

In the U.S, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared cars as the leading mobile source of pollution.

So if we all stop driving, cars that are driven will make fewer tailpipe emissions and contribute fewer harmful effects to the environment’s quality.

Let’s take an example of the United States:

The country has about 254 million cars and light trucks. Now, what would happen if everyone in the country stopped driving for even a single day?

Here’s the thing:

Let’s calculate;

(254,000,000 x 36.92)/ 0.008887 = 3,458,068 metric tons of Carbon (IV) oxide

And the net annual CO2 emissions will be about 6.673 billion metric tons. This is just a small value (approximately 0.5%).

But, even this tiny amount may add up and benefit the environment in a significant way. 

Therefore, if people in the U.S could stop driving for one day, we’ll help prevent CO2 emissions by about 3.5 million metric tons. This sounds good!

The main drivers of motor vehicle CO2 emissions that can drastically reduce if everyone stopped driving are:

  • CO2 emissions in every gallon of fuel
  • Fuel efficiency

How much does a car contribute to air pollution?

A regular car (passenger vehicle) emits about 4.7 tons of Carbon (IV) oxide per year.

This assumes that an average gasoline vehicle you can find on the road today operates with a fuel economy of 22 MPG.

Plus, the car drives for a total of 11500 miles each year. So, each gallon of gasoline produces CO2 emission of approximately 8,887 grams.

In addition, a regular car contributes to the production of other types of air pollutants such as Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2).

An average car releases NO2 at a concentration of 0.17 ppm in the lower atmosphere.

You may not realize its presence, but Nitrogen dioxide is a harmful chemical. It can cause respiratory disease and other problems in humans.

These tailpipe emissions also include hydrocarbons (HC), carbon monoxide (CO), and other harmful chemicals.

In addition, the use of petrol and diesel for combustion produces carbon dioxide (CO2).

Will there be any change in air pollution, noise level, and water pollution?

Let’s do some calculations:

First of all, if we stop using cars for a day, we will decrease:

1.NO2 by 17 x 3600 = 672,000 ppmv (parts per million by volume) or 6.72 ppmv

2.CO by 4.7 x 12 = 57 ppmv

3.CO2 by (1/12) x 4.7 = 0.34 ppmv

Therefore, if every person in the United States stops using their vehicles for a day, the pollution level of each air pollutant will be decreased slightly.

A typical car produces about 57 ppm of CO, while a regular vehicle driving an average distance of 11500 miles will produce about 0.34 ppmv of CO2.

Driving also causes an increase in the sound level of an area. To give you a general idea:

An average car can produce up to 77 dB(A) in 30 minutes.

While this may not seem like a lot to you, it can cause noise pollution and other harmful effects on people’s health.

Besides, it will also disrupt your sleep and make you feel uneasy during the night!

So, If we decide to stop driving vehicles for a day, it may reduce air pollution and noise level to some extent.

Now you may ask: Why is that? This happens because the total amount of pollutants produced by vehicles is offset by reducing contaminants from other sources.

These include:

  • Construction practices
  • Agricultural activities
  • Industries and factories

All these factors will have a more significant impact on the level of air pollution than your car has on a given day.

What causes the most damage to the environment when driving?

If you are about to drive a car, you may wonder: What do I do to harm the environment?

The answer is that everything (driving your car) will affect the quality of the air we breathe. 

In other words, driving causes harmful gas emissions to the environment. This damages the environment’s quality to support any form of life. 

So, you should not feel guilty about driving your car. It’s the overall effects of pollution and noise from your automobile that cause damage to the environment.

But let’s take a look at the “Tricks” used in some vehicle engines. Many cars use an exhaust gas recirculation system called EGR (exhaust gas recirculation).

The EGR reduces NOx emissions by producing a mixture of oxidized and unoxidized hydrocarbons. This results in reducing the emission of Nitrogen oxide to below legal limits for some engines.

Plus, some automobile manufacturers use the AdBlue injection system. This fuel additive helps reduce harmful nitrogen oxides and exhaust gases emitted during the combustion process.

These emissions usually get released into the environment through an exhaust pipe by injecting urea-based fluid (AdBlue) into a car’s diesel engine exhaust. This helps reduce nitrogen oxide emissions, thus resulting in cleaner air.

How does driving less reduce global warming?

As we have seen in the previous sections, the amount of smog is negligible compared to other factors such as industrialization and heating.

So, If you stop driving for a day, there will be a less significant effect on the air pollution level.

On the other hand, if everyone stops driving for a day and uses public transportation instead.

It will result in:

1. Reduce CO2 by (4.7 x 7.4) = 31 ppmv

2. Lower NO2 amounts by (17 x 7.4) = 123,200 ppmv or 12.32 ppmv

Carbon (IV) oxide is a major greenhouse gas. It absorbs solar energy to warm the earth.

However, excessive driving increases CO2 emissions, which in turn causes atmospheric temperatures to spike.

If we drive less, there will be reduced CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This will keep temperatures favorable, thus reducing global warming.

Are there any other environmental impacts besides carbon emissions from producing vehicles?

Yes. According to the EPA vehicle inspection report, there are three significant environmental impacts from producing vehicles:

  • GHG (greenhouse gas)
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals
  • Poor water usage

Irrigation activities consume about 14% of total water use. The rest (86%) is for drinking, manufacturing processes, and many other uses.

More than 90% of this water comes from surface water (lakes, streams, rivers). The production of vehicles requires a lot of water in their daily operations.

This reduces the quantity of water available for human and animal use. Besides, water bodies serve as a medium for such industries to dispose of their waste. 

In such cases, the rivers and other water bodies get polluted, damaging water quality for use by people and animals.

Do you think that electric cars can replace gasoline-powered ones?

Yes, electric cars can replace gasoline-powered ones. Unlike gasoline vehicles, electric vehicles (EVs) run exclusively on electricity. As a result, you can expect zero tailpipe emissions.

However, the CO2 emissions for electric cars are higher than gasoline vehicles when considering power plant carbon emissions.

This can be offset by energy storage systems (such as solar panels), which can store electricity produced during off-peak hours to be used at peak hours.

The production of lithium batteries required to power these cars also produces a lot of carbon dioxide. But, scientists have developed new EV batteries that are more energy efficient.


With all these facts, the environment may improve in quality and become sustainable if everyone stopped driving. 

Regrettably, this will not make any significant impact. That’s because the amount of smog in the air is negligible compared to other factors such as industrialization and heating.

For sure, that’s a good idea for us to try it. That way, we can develop a sustainable environment for all living organisms.

But, it will at least make a minor change.

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