Why Your Commute is a Threat to Your Safety

by Terry Bryant

Nobody likes long commutes to work, so it isn’t good news that the time people spend behind the wheel is continuing to increase. A recent study by the AAA Foundation shows that the time Americans spend in their cars has increased by about 20 minutes a week, compared to 5 years ago. Collectively, Americans now spend an astounding 70 billion hours a year in their cars. And with more time spent on busy roads and highways, the chances of being in an accident also grow.

Texas Drive Times

The study didn’t break down driving times by state. But a report by Houston Public Media about the AAA study said that the average commute time to work in the Greater Houston area is just under 30 minutes, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. This is an increase of approximately one minute from about five years ago.

Statistics from the Texas Department of Transportation show that statewide in 2017, the annual vehicle miles traveled were 275 billion, which was an increase of 1.2% over 2016, when drivers traveled 271 billion miles, further evidence that time spent in our cars is growing.

Drivers who spend long periods of time on congested roads are exposed to more opportunities for accidents. They may grow more stressed or fatigued and, consequently, more careless. They may try to use the time to complete other tasks while they sit in their cars, including texting, updating social media, applying makeup, shaving, eating, and other things that add up to distracted driving. Some might speed or otherwise drive more aggressively as they try to shorten commuting time.

A representative from AAA Texas who is quoted in the Houston Public Media report says that the study is a “call to action for drivers to pay attention, stay alert, and really focus on driving.”

Most Deadly Roads in the Country

Following this advice is something everyone who gets behind the wheel in Houston should do. The Houston Chronicle reported in a series of articles last year that the Houston metropolitan area is the most deadly in the country for driving. It reported that 640 people a year die on Houston-area roads and 2,850 are seriously injured. Long commutes, during which four out of five people drive alone, was cited as one of the reasons for so many crashes. Other reasons included road design that encourages high speeds, poor traffic enforcement, inaction by lawmakers, and a lack of sidewalks and bike lanes for pedestrians and cyclists.

Drive Times by Demographics

Who is driving? The study found that, nationwide, men drive 19% more than women. People ages 35 to 49 spend the most time driving, at an average of 59.6 minutes per day. Even senior citizens still spend a lot of time behind the wheel. The average driving minutes per day for people 75 and older is 34.8.