Cutting Coronavirus Risk in Cars

The view from the backseat of a rideshare.

Even in a pandemic, it’s sometimes necessary to share a car with someone outside one’s bubble. When that’s the case, it’s important to know how to limit risks of coronavirus exposure. For this study, researchers used computational fluid dynamics to simulate flow around and inside a Prius-like four-door sedan with a driver and a single passenger located in the rear passenger-side seat. Assuming the air conditioner was on and the car was moving at 50 miles per hour, the researchers found that the baseline flow of air inside the car moves from the back of the cabin toward the front. With the windows closed, the simulation suggested that 8-10% of the aerosol particles exhaled by one passenger could reach the other.

Opening the car’s windows increases the ventilation and reduces exposure risk. The best configuration the researchers found opened two windows: the front passenger-side window and the rear driver-side window. By opening the window opposite each person, the airflow in the car creates a sort of curtain between the two that reduces aerosol exposure to only 0.2-2% of what’s exhaled by the other occupant. (Image credit: rideshare – V. Xok, CFD – V. Mathai et al.; research credit: V. Mathai et al.; via NYTimes; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

Computed streamlines for flow through a sedan with a driver and one rear passenger, with each opposite window opened.
One comment
  1. devi raj sunkara

    I have been thinking about it a lot ever since a recent unavoidable travel. Thanks Nicole, for sharing this! Big fan from India! 🙂

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