Sometimes the seemingly small things in life can be major stressors.
no one likes sitting in traffic for example
According to one study,
commuting is one of the least pleasant things we do.
But it’s not just an annoying time waster.
There’s a case that it’s a public health issue
and that’s the topic of this week’s Healthcare Triage.
Special thanks to Austin Frakt, from whose Upshot column this episode was adapted.
According to analysis by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute,
the average American commuter spends 42 hours per year
stuck in rush-hour traffic.
In the Los Angeles area, the figure is nearly twice that,
equivalent to more than three days.
A 2015 Los Angeles Times poll found
that among residents of that city, traffic concerns exceed those pertaining to
personal safety, finances or housing costs.
The total cost of traffic associated with lost time
and wasted fuel exceeds a hundred billion, with a B, per year.
As time slips away, idling vehicles add pollution
which has environmental and health consequences,
including contributions to climate change.
Long-term exposure to vehicle exhaust
is associated with respiratory problems, especially in children.
Another toll is to psychological well-being.
Stemming from the sense of helplessness we experience in traffic and its unpredictability.
This, too, can be quantified.
One study found that
to save a minute of time spent in traffic,
people would trade away five minutes of any other leisure activity.
Another study found that
we deal better with the commuting delays that we can anticipate
Stressed-out people can take out the frustration on others.
We’ve probably all experienced or seen road rage,
but aggressive behavior can carry over beyond a commute.
Recent analysis of Los Angeles traffic Recent analysis of Los Angeles traffic
documented a link between congestion and domestic violence.
From 2011 to 2015, a study found,
extreme evening traffic on two major highways (I-5 and I-10)
increased the incidence of night-time domestic violence by about 9%.
What researchers meant by extreme traffic in their study is best explained with an example.
The average evening commute along I-10 for residents of Santa Monica in their study was 45 minutes.
Extreme traffic would increase that to 87 minutes.
Officials are not powerless before the problems that stressful commutes can cause.
Los Angeles has put in a system that charges solo drivers more to use certain lanes
I-10 and I-110 highways during periods of heavy traffic.
This encourages drivers to move their commutes to less congested times or routes.
Study of congestion pricing on Seattle’s SR 520 bridge found that
drivers using the route and its alternatives were less stressed
and more satisfied with their commutes after the pricing change.
In addition many states have been replacing toll booths with electronic and cashless tolling systems
like EZ Pass.
More employers are allowing people to work remotely.
Trouble transit systems in some cities may be partly behind an increase in car ownership in those areas.
But certain West Coast cities are making sweeping expansions of their public transit systems
and many cities are adding bike lanes.
Those who can walk or bike to work tend to have a double advantage.
Not only do they avoid the harmful consequences of traffic but they can also improve their health through exercise.
Younger people are more likely to prefer that style of commuting
and are driving less than previous generations.
There may be more good news in coming decades for those who loathe gridlock.
Although self-driving cars won’t cure traffic woes on their own,
the way that economics based approaches like congestion pricing can they may be able to reduce stress.
You’re crawling along in traffic and are late to an appointment
but are allowed to take a nap, play video games
watch your favorite TV show or sip a cocktail,
will that reduce your stress?
We don’t know for sure.
But we look forward to the studies on that.
Hey, do you like the show?
It really helps if you subscribe or like it wherever it isn’t the screen right now,
and another good way to support the show is at patreon.com.
Go to patreon.com/healthcaretriage.
We’d especially like to thank our research associate Josef ‘its and our surgeon Admiral Sam,
And if you want more content,
go to our podcast. It’s great.
The Healthcare Triage podcast,
wherever you download podcasts or ever that are available
and of course my book, The Bad Food Bible, still on sale in stores.
Appreciate it if you pick up a copy.