Abstract Exposure to roadway emissions is an emerging area of research because of recent epidemiological studies reporting association between living within a few hundred meters of high-traffic roadways and adverse health effects. The air quality impact of roadway emissions has been studied in a number of field experiments, most of which have not fully considered the impact of wind direction on near-road concentrations. This paper examines the role of wind direction by using a dispersion model to analyze data from three field studies that include measurements under varying wind directions: 1) a tracer study conducted adjacent to highway 99 in Sacramento, CA in 1981–82, 2) a field study next to a highway in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2006, and 3) a field study conducted next to a depressed highway in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2010. We find that wind direction is an important variable in characterizing exposure to roadway emissions. Under stable conditions, the near-surface concentrations at receptors up to 100 m from the road increase with wind angle before dropping off at angles close to parallel to the road. It is only for pollutants with short life times does the maximum concentration occur when the wind direction is normal to the road. We also show that current dispersion models are reliable tools for interpreting observations and for formulating plans for field studies.