Memorial Day Weekend is traditionally the start of the heavy summer driving season. Additionally, people are facing longer commutes and spending more time in their vehicles overall.

To operate a vehicle safely, a driver must be alert, awake and unimpaired. Slow reaction time or clouded judgement can be deadly. Both also may be symptoms of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the country.

"The car is a prime spot for exposure to carbon monoxide," said Dr. Edward Krenzelok, past-president of the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology and director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center.

"People poisoned by carbon monoxide can be as dangerous on the highway as drunk drivers because their brains are similarly affected," he said. "Even low levels of carbon monoxide can affect a driver's reaction time as well as seriously impair judgement. You might feel dizziness, headaches, fatigue, irritability or other symptoms and not even consider carbon monoxide."

What's more, if a person has been drinking alcohol, the impact of carbon monoxide exposure can be magnified, Krenzelok noted.

Pregnant women, the elderly and children are particularly susceptible to the effects of carbon monoxide, he said.

A 1999 California Air Resources Board Study reported that the air breathed inside cars could be as much as 10 times more polluted than typical dirty outdoor air in Southern California. The report noted that Southern Californians' highest daily exposure to air pollutants may be during their commute to and from work -- including carbon monoxide, which was found in high concentrations.

Until recently, drivers had no way of knowing if odorless, invisible carbon monoxide was present in automobiles. To combat this serious health and safety risk, Quantum Group, the world leader in CO alarm sensors, is introducing the COSTAR® Model P-1, a personal carbon monoxide alarm made especially for use in motor vehicles.

Carbon monoxide, a major component of car exhaust fumes, can enter the passenger compartment of a car in several ways. A motor vehicle in front of or on either side of a vehicle could be a prime source of CO. Other potential opportunities for CO build-up within a vehicle include operating a vehicle in an enclosed structure such as a garage or carport, idling, a damaged exhaust system, cracked block or leaking gasket or backdrafting while driving (which occurs when negative air pressure forces CO into the vehicle from exhaust fumes).

"The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends carbon monoxide alarms for every home in America," said Mark Goldstein, PhD.D, president of Quantum Group. "We know from research that motor vehicles are a major source of carbon monoxide. It stands to reason that having carbon monoxide alarms in cars could help prevent illness and death due to CO exposure".

The COSTAR P-1 Personal Carbon Monoxide Alarm retails for $59.99 and can be ordered online at www.qginc.com or by calling Quantum Group at 800-432-5599.