What Can You Do About Traffic?
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN THE PHILIPPINES
WARNING: Many large cities suffer from a plague. It is not an infectious disease, nor is it a destructive swarm of voracious insects. Still, it threatens the well-being of millions of people. What is it? It is the plague of automobile traffic congestion!
According to researchers, frequent exposure to traffic congestion can prove detrimental to your health. One recent study even suggests that there is an increase in the risk of heart attack for at least an hour after a person is stuck in traffic. The New Zealand Herald reports that “emissions from car exhausts, noise and stress are likely to be the main causes of the sudden increase in risk.”
Poisons in the Air
Most motor vehicles emit nitrogen oxides and some carcinogenic substances. Many vehicles, particularly those with diesel engines, spew out large amounts of minute particles. These pose serious dangers to public health. It has been estimated that up to three million people die each year as a result of air pollution, much of it coming from motor vehicles. One report says that 10 percent of respiratory infections in European children are a result of fine particulate pollution, with an even higher rate in traffic-congested cities.
Consider also the dangers to the earth’s environment. Nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide from vehicle exhaust contribute to acid rain, which contaminates bodies of water, harms aquatic life, and damages a wide variety of vegetation. To make matters worse, vehicles emit huge quantities of carbon dioxide. This is the principal gas blamed for global warming, which is said to pose other dangers for planet Earth.
As traffic increases, so does the danger to human life. Over a million people die in traffic accidents each year, and the figure has been growing steadily. In some areas the danger is particularly high. For example, European Commission researchers found that “for every million inhabitants, 690 die on the roads in Greece, as opposed to 120 in Sweden.”
An ugly factor that has received much attention in recent years is road rage. Reports of drivers’ venting their anger on other drivers are becoming more commonplace. According to a survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the United States, drivers felt that one of the reasons for increased driver aggressiveness was “increased traffic or congestion.”
An Economic Scourge
Traffic congestion also costs money. One study showed that in Los Angeles, California, alone, over 1.1 billion gallons [4 billion liters] of fuel are wasted in a year as a result of traffic delays. There are indirect losses too, including lost business opportunities, additional expenses for health care because of pollution, and the toll taken by an increase in traffic accidents.
Added up, these losses put a dent in national economies. One study showed that traffic jams are costing Americans about 68 billion dollars per year in wasted time and fuel alone. In the Far East, a report in the Philippine Star said: “Like a taxi meter continuously ticking, the country loses billions of pesos each year due to traffic jams.” In Europe the costs have been estimated at about a quarter of a trillion euros.
What Is the Traffic Forecast?
Despite many efforts to come up with traffic solutions, things have become worse. A national survey by the Texas Transportation Institute of 75 urban areas in the United States showed that time spent delayed in traffic rose from an average of 16 hours per year in 1982 to 62 hours in 2000. The length of time during the day when travelers are likely to experience road congestion rose from 4.5 to 7 hours. The report states that “traffic congestion levels have increased in every area over the history of the study. The congested time is lengthening and now incorporates more road and more travel than in the past.”
Similar reports have come from other countries. Researchers working under the direction of the European Commission concluded: “Unless we radically change the way in which we get around, traffic jams will lead to citywide suffocation in the next decade.”
Asian countries have much the same problems. Tokyo is notorious for traffic jams, and other cities throughout Japan are seeing more and more traffic. In the Philippines, reports like the following, from the Manila Bulletin, are common: “Streets are jammed with bumper-to-bumper traffic, with thousands of commuters waiting for a ride during increasingly longer rush hours.”
Realistically, it has to be said that right now there seem to be no complete solutions for the problem of traffic. Anthony Downs, author of the book Stuck in Traffic—Coping With Peak-Hour Traffic Congestion, reached the following conclusion: “No matter what public policies are adopted in response to future traffic congestion, it is likely to get worse in nearly all parts of the world. So my final advice is: Get accustomed to it.”
What Can You Do?
In view of this, what can you do to cope with this annoying problem? If you are among the millions who frequently get stuck in traffic, there are things you can do to protect your physical and mental health.
▪ BE PREPARED. Many are already stressed-out before they get stuck in traffic. They get out of bed too late. They shower, dress, and eat in a rush. The thought of being late for work makes them anxious. Traffic congestion only heightens their stress levels. If you expect to be stuck in traffic, allow extra time for your trip. By leaving earlier, you may even beat the rush. According to the book Commuting Stress—Causes, Effects, and Methods of Coping, “a less stressful commute begins the day or night before.” The book adds: “Clothing, attache cases, lunches for the commuter or children in the family are prepared at night in order to avoid a morning rush.” Of course, a good night’s sleep is vital. To get an early start in the morning, you must go to bed at a reasonable hour.
There are other benefits of getting up earlier. For instance, sitting in traffic for long periods of time can stress your muscles and reduce their flexibility. If your circumstances allow it, why not exercise in the morning? A regular exercise program can improve your overall fitness and help you cope with the physical stress of being stuck in traffic. Getting up earlier may also allow you to have a nutritious breakfast. Being stuck in traffic with junk food or no food in your stomach can stress you even more.
You may avoid additional stress by making sure your vehicle is in good repair. Few things are more frustrating than breaking down in the middle of a traffic jam. This is especially so in inclement weather. Therefore, give proper maintenance to your brakes, tires, air conditioner, heater, windshield wipers, defrosters, and other vital systems. Even a minor accident in congested traffic can prove to be a major stressor. And, of course, always make sure you have enough fuel in your tank.
▪ BE INFORMED. Before you start driving, it might help you to be informed about such special circumstances as bad weather, road construction, temporary road closures, accidents, and other traffic conditions of the day. You may obtain this information by listening to news broadcasts or reading the newspaper. Also, get a map of the area. By getting acquainted with alternate routes, you may be able to bypass trouble spots.
▪ BE COMFORTABLE. Adjust the ventilation in your vehicle as well as your seat position so that you will be as comfortable as possible. If you have a radio or a cassette or CD player, you can listen to your favorite music. Some types of music have a calming effect and may reduce stress. These measures may also shield you from some of the annoying noise of traffic congestion. *
▪ BE PRODUCTIVE. One of the most productive things you can do while stopped in traffic is to engage in positive thinking. Instead of mulling over the bad traffic conditions, try to think about the day’s activities. If you are alone, the time you spend in a traffic jam may give you a unique opportunity to process important thoughts and even make decisions without interruptions.
If you are a passenger, staring at the long line of automobiles in front of you may only add to your stress. So plan to use your traffic time productively. You may want to take along your favorite book or newspaper. Perhaps you can go through some of your mail from the previous day. Some may find it comfortable to write letters or do some work on a portable computer.
▪ BE REALISTIC. If you live in an area where traffic congestion is a problem, expect to be stuck in traffic and plan accordingly. Traffic congestion is here to stay in most cities. The book Stuck in Traffic—Coping With Peak-Hour Traffic Congestion says: “A considerable degree of peak-hour congestion is almost sure to persist throughout the foreseeable future in all metropolitan areas already experiencing it.” So learn to accept traffic as a normal part of your life, and do what you can to make the best of it!
^ par. 25 Many Awake! readers enjoy listening to audio recordings of this journal as well as of its companion, The Watchtower. In some languages these are available in audiocassette, compact disc, and MP3 formats.
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Avoid traffic by planning ahead
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Before driving, select an appropriate cassette or CD
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As a passenger, find a way to be productive
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Don’t get upset with things you cannot change