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Field Adventures

Environmental Resources

About Citizens for Planet Earth

About Journey to Planet Earth

For Educators




Find out if commuters are polluting the air in your neighborhood.

Compare your community with other parts of the country.


Because the exhaust from motor vehicles causes serious health problems, one way to improve the quality of our air is to lower the number of vehicles on the road. That's why local and state officials are always encouraging commuters to either car-pool or take public transportation.


In this Citizens for Planet Earth field activity, your goal is to figure out whether commuters driving near your home, school, or science center are doing their part to reduce air pollution. A good way to begin is to find out the average number of people in each car traveling through your neighborhood. This is called the Average Vehicle Occupancy, or AVO. For example, if 100 vehicles carry 160 people, the average AVO is 1.6 (160 passengers divided by 100 vehicles.)


When you finish your field work, please come back to this site to enter and share your results and thoughts with others. You will also discover how your neighborhood compares with other parts of the country.


Conducting the Field Adventure


1. This is a fun activity for the entire family, your schoolmates or friends, but make sure there's an adult on your team. (Even Aunt Emma and Uncle Harold could have fun. We're not sure about your lazy brother Ralph, but try to get him to join your team.)


2. Use a street map to help pick out the busiest commuter routes near your location. Before conducting the survey, carefully select a safe place to view traffic during prime commuting times (between 6:30-9:30am or 4:30-6:30pm ).


3. Before going into the field, download, copy, or create several of these:

Tally Sheets.


4. When in the field, as vehicles drive by, record for at least 15 minutes how many people (occupants) there are in each car that goes by. (Do not count public transportation vehicles such as buses or trolleys.) To avoid confusion, counters should make very specific comments to the recorder. For example: "car, one person," "motorcycle, two people," "truck-three people." You will get more accurate information if you conduct the observation at three to five different locations several times over a period of time. That will give you more data to work with in calculating commuter information in your neighborhood.


5. After you have collected all your data, calculate the Average Vehicle Occupancy ( AVO) for your neighborhood. Divide the total number of people in the cars by the total number of cars. This is the AVO. Example: suppose you counted 30 cars and 54 people. By dividing the total number of people (54) by the total number of cars (30), you will arrive at an AVO of 1.8. The higher the AVO, the better your community is doing in the car-pooling department. The worst score possible is 1.0, indicating that NOBODY is carpooling. (A score of less than one will indicate that some cars are drifting down the road without drivers!)


6. Now share your results online.

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