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New Study Explains Safest Way to Use Rideshare Services Amid Pandemic

Published on Dec 9, 2020 at 8:39 am in News.

Dashboard of car

A new study from the University of Massachusetts looks at the safest way to ride in an Uber or Lyft without spreading COVID-19. The research looks at driver-to-passenger and passenger-to-driver transmission for different ventilation options and uses passive scalar transport as a proxy for infectious particles. Heat maps illustrate the scalar concentration field coming from the driver or passenger.

While most people likely have the instinct to roll down the window, the study shows that opening the car window closest to you isn’t always the best option to protect yourself from an airborne virus like the coronavirus.

In the paper published in Science Advances, researchers concluded the surprising ways in which the airflow patterns within a car’s interior could heighten or suppress the risk of airborne infection during everyday commutes.

According to the lead author of the study, Varghese Mathai, “One might imagine that people instinctively open windows right beside them while riding with a co-passenger during the pandemic. That may not be optimal – though it’s better than opening no window. We designed this research with ride-sharing in mind, from a traditional taxi or Uber and Lyft to noncommercial commutes, assuming a driver and one passenger, seated in the back on the passenger side to provide the best possible spacing between the occupants.”

From the current understanding, the riskiest situation is to keep all the windows up and use only recirculated air. Opening all the windows, along with bringing in fresh air through the vents, is thought to create the best environment to reduce the risk of transition.

The research suggests that opening the window farthest from the driver and the back-seat passenger might also offer some benefits: “We had this idea that if you open the rear and front windows on opposite sides, then you might create an air current from the rear to the front of the cabin, and crossing through the middle.”

The scientists who conducted the study used a simplified, time-averaged model for turbulent airflow and noted implications are limited to the airborne mode of transmission. The computer model was based roughly on the exterior of a Toyota Prius driven around 50 mph, and the field tests of smoke and flow wand were recorded in the cabin of a Kia Optima.

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