Coping With Congestion

You are late for work-again. Traffic is bumper-to-bumper. You can feel the tension mounting. Suddenly, you see an opening. You accelerate. You jerked the wheel quickly to the left. Mission accomplished. You have just gained 1 car length. The driver behind you honks. Sure, you cut him off, but it was his own fault. He shouldn't have left so much space on the road.

Welcome to commuter purgatory, where heavy traffic has unleashed the "driving demon" in all of us.

Traffic congestion is the excessive accumulation of cars on a stretch of road, and it is a leading cause of aggressive driving. Since 1987, the number of miles driven in the United States has increased 35%, while the miles of pavement increased by only 1%. With traffic congestion on the rise, life for many commuters is wrought with frustration. Everywhere, people describe increasing angst as they attempt to navigate crowded roads often filled with hostile, hurried drivers.

Traffic Congestion Lead to Aggressive Driving

Heavy and slow-moving traffic makes many drivers anxious, leading to such dangerous acts as tailgating and weaving in and out of traffic.

Crowded roads leave little room for error, fueling suspicion, and hostility among drivers and encouraging them to take personally the innocent mistakes of other drivers. Once freed of congestion, drivers often find themselves pressed for time. This tempts them to speed and run red lights, thus perpetuating the cycle of aggression.

While policymakers debate long-term solutions to relieving traffic congestion, commuters must find effective ways to cope with this problem without overreacting and resorting to aggressive driving themselves.

Some Tips to Follow

  • Plan Ahead: If you know that your drive to work averages between 10 and 30 minutes, give yourself 40 minutes. Don't leave late and expect to make up for lost time on the road.
  • Concentrate: Give the drive your full attention. Don't allow yourself to become distracted by talking on your cellular phone, shaving, eating, drinking, putting on makeup, or reading the newspaper. Distractions lead to mistakes, and mistakes lead to hostility.
  • Relax: Tune the radio to your favorite easy listening station. Music can calm your nerves and help you to enjoy your time in the car. If you have a CD or tape player, treat yourself to some new tapes and allow yourself to listen to them only in the car.
  • Obey the Speed Limit: Driving too fast frequently leads to a condition called bottle-necking. This is when drivers start out well spaced, but end up at the same place at the same time, bringing traffic to a standstill. Traffic flows best when everyone is traveling at about the same rate. Drive the posted speed limit.
  • Identify Alternate Routes: The shortest distance between 2 points may not always be a straight line. Try mapping out an alternate route. Even if it looks longer on paper, you may find it is less congested. However, if you have chosen the road less traveled, don't turn it into a racetrack by speeding.
  • Vary Your Commuting Schedule: Talk to your employer about adopting more flexible work hours, allowing employees the option of starting their day either before or after the rush hour.
  • Try Telecommuting: No single technological breakthrough has the potential to alter our work environments as completely as the Internet. With the invention of email and the Internet, many workers are finding that there is no reason to leave home. Everything they need to perform their jobs efficiently and effectively is at their fingertips. Not surprisingly, the trend in working at home or from satellite offices is growing quickly. Talk to your employer about allowing employees this option once or twice a week or more. You might also point out that car crashes cost employers billions in medical care and sick leave each year.
  • Use Public Transportation: Most communities offer some form of public transportation. Try it out. Even if you find it less convenient than walking out the door and getting into your car, public transportation can give you some much-needed relief from life behind the wheel. Try taking it just once or twice a week in the beginning. Bring a newspaper or magazine along for the ride.
  • Move Closer to Your Job: Many people are finding that, despite the cost or inconvenience involved, moving closer to work is the best solution for avoiding a frustrating commute. Living closer to your job not only spares you a hectic drive; it also gives you more free time.
  • Change Jobs: This may sound like a drastic step to take simply to avoid congestion, but a long and difficult commute to and from work every day can seriously diminish your quality of life. Many people are finding that it is not worth it.
  • Just Be Late: If all else fails, just be late. No one ever died simply because they were late for work. Many people have died on the roads while rushing to get to work on time.