Unless teleportation devices become a reality, commuting to work will continue to be an important part of the American work day. Despite advancements in public transportation and increased environmental awareness, the vast majority of Americans continue to drive to work. While the number of HOV lanes is growing across the country, approximately 76% of American commuters are driving to work alone.
According to CNN, the average American commuter is logging more miles and spending more time on the road than ever before. In 1980, roughly 20% of commuters carpooled to work. Today, that number has dropped to 9.4% Driving to work alone has been a trend that has grown steadily for the past 30 years.
If the drudgery of your rush hour commute feels like it’s getting longer, it likely is. The Atlantic reports “The total amount of time that American rush-hour commuters in 2014 spent stuck in traffic was about 6.9 billion hours, up from 6.4 billion in 2010.” The average American commuter spends approximately 200 hours a year commuting and spends 42 hours a year, more than the average work week, stuck in traffic. If trends continue, that number could jump to 47 hours a year in the near future.
Not only are commutes getting longer, the cost of getting to work is growing as well. CNN Money reports that commuters spend approximately $2,600 a year getting to and from work. The amount the average American is spending on their commute is comparable to their annual entertainment or health insurance budget.
Low gasoline prices have spurred a resurgence in SUV and truck sales in the United States. This means that not only are more Americans driving to work alone, but there are more empty seats in these vehicles on the daily commute. As SUVs and trucks typically get worse gas mileage than other commuter vehicles, Americans will begin to pay more for their daily commute. Gas prices are low today, but history shows that Americans are enjoying a brief respite at the gas pump.
Along with cost and environmental effects, a longer commute can have adverse health effects as well. The Population Reference Bureau believes that “In addition to psychological stress, commuting can affect overall health. Longer commutes are associated with less physical activity, lower cardiorespiratory fitness, higher rates of obesity, and elevated blood pressure.” Finally, we have evidence that sitting in traffic literally raises your blood pressure.
The allure of driving alone to work lies primarily in its convenience. Carpooling requires planning, inconvenience, and even the ability to compromise on what to listen to on the radio. In most states, HOV lanes do not always require having two occupants in a vehicle. If Americans can find ways to better utilize HOV lanes, their commutes will be shorter, their fuel bills will plummet, and their blood pressures will drop to healthier levels.