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Stalled Out: The Impact of the Daily Commute | Trending Topics

The average American workday begins with the jarring sound of an alarm clock, a signal that it is time to prepare for the morning commute. Some then prefer to enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee while preparing for the day ahead while others like to hit the snooze button as many times as possible before rushing out the door. The common denominator, for both early birds and night owls, is the drudgery of the daily commute. The average daily commute has a significant impact on productivity, the environment, and the finances of commuters.


The overwhelming majority of Americans commute by driving alone. A Brooking’s Institute study found that 90% of Americans drive to work in privately owned vehicles. The time Americans spend sitting in traffic results in an astonishing amount of wasted productivity. According to the Washington Post, “At an average of 26 minutes each way to work, five days a week, 50 weeks a year, that works out to something like a total of 1.8 trillion minutes Americans spent commuting in 2014. Or, if you prefer, call it 29.6 billion hours, 1.2 billion days, or a collective 3.4 million years. With that amount of time, we could have built nearly 300 Wikipedias, or built the Great Pyramid of Giza 26 times — all in 2014 alone.”

While millions of Americans are sitting in rush hour traffic, not only are they wasting valuable time, but their idling engines are costing them money. According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), “An idling car uses between 1/5 to 7/10 of a gallon of fuel an hour. An idling diesel truck burns approximately one gallon of fuel an hour. With average U.S. prices for diesel fuel topping $2 a gallon, that’s about $2 an hour wasted.”

An idling engine can quickly burn a hole in your pocket, but it’s equally detrimental to the environment. The Natural Resources Defense Council believes that personal transportation in the United States accounts for nearly 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Being stuck in traffic is a major contributor to carbon emissions. The EDF has found that “for every 10 minutes your engine is off, you’ll prevent one pound of carbon dioxide from being released.”

Avoiding standstill traffic and long commutes is the key to not only saving the environment, but increasing personal productivity and putting money back into your wallet. Driving an efficient vehicle can make a significant difference in reducing carbon emissions. In addition, an HOV-eligible vehicle can provide a significant boost to productivity and a fuel-efficient commuter vehicle can save drivers a significant amount of money compared to a clunker while sitting in traffic.

While more and more workers are telecommuting to work, the average American commute will involve driving for the foreseeable future. The current American commute results in a loss of productivity and gasoline, which is harmful to the environment. There are ways, however, to reverse the damaging effects of the daily commute. Driving a fuel efficient, HOV eligible commuter vehicle can lead to a more robust economy, greater fuel savings, and a healthier planet.



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