Minimizing Commuting Isn’t Just About Saving Time

A few weeks ago I came across this article in the Albany Business Review that stated:

What would you do if you suddenly had two extra days each year?

The average commuter in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metro area spends about that much time, 42 hours a year, stuck in traffic, according to a new study from the Auto Insurance Center.

That’s not even that bad: 42 hours is the average across the country. New York City commuters spend 74 hours a year in traffic, and Washington, D.C., drivers lose 82 hours annually.

When I worked at Schick I had a 10 mile commute down I-95 that often took closer to an hour than the 15 minutes that it should have taken. The congestion was unreal. There were accidents everywhere. It was constantly stop-and-go unless you went in at 6 AM or left at 7 PM.

To me, that was miserable and getting rid of a crappy commute was always on top of my mind as we were constructing our business. When we moved into the warehouse and it was just us owners we had a rotation where each of us only went in four days per week. Since then we continued to chip away at our commutes until settling into our current schedule almost two years ago. I typically work Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from home, with Wednesday being a day for meeting and working with my partners, and Friday being my day at the warehouse.

Recently though, I’ve started to think that the health and safety costs of driving as just as important as the time and monetary costs. I think that the health effects of sitting for long periods of time are pretty obvious and well documented. It’s the main reason I switched to a standing desk back in 2010.

It’s the safety cost that’s really crystallized for me lately, particularly as self driving cars are becoming closer and closer to a reality. Driving is the single most dangerous thing that the majority of us do. This is the CDC’s chart for leading cause of death by age group:

CDC Leading Cause of Death by Age Group

From age 1 – 44 the #1 cause of death is “Unintentional Injury” and it’s not even really that close to #2. For all ages combined, it’s the #4 cause of death. And what exactly is “Unintentional Injury”? It’s broken up into three categories: unintentional poisining deaths, unintentional fall deaths, and motor vehicle traffic deaths. I don’t know about you, but I’m not putting myself at risk for poisioning or falling to my death nearly as frequently as I am hopping in the car.

The reason we put up with over 30,000 motor vehicle deaths each year is because of the the conveniences cars offer us. Self driving cars will massively reduce those numbers, but until that’s a reality I think there’s a few really simple things that make total sense to strive for:

  1. Live close to the places you need to go so that you keep your miles down (or give yourself the opportunity to walk)
  2. Rely on online shopping whenever possible (I swear, the mall is a death trap for accidents)
  3. Keep your commute short and/or commute less than the normal five days per week.

I put a whole lot less miles on my car now than I did when I was in college and subsequently working. Going back to an hour or more in the car each day not only sounds miserable, it would be expensive, bad for my health, and increase my chances of dying in an accident. No thanks.

2 comments on Minimizing Commuting Isn’t Just About Saving Time

  1. Tim says:

    Shocking data here, I never realized the incredible risk. I was well aware of the time wasted, and the extreme expense associated with it, but that doesn’t compare to risking your life. Late last year we went from a two car family to a one car family, and even that car we seldom drive much these days, we’re driving so little these days we filled the tank for the third time last week, the first time we’ve filled up since May!

    We’re saving a ton AND safer – go us! Last year I filled up 4-5 times a month like clockwork going to work, even driving a fuel efficient vehicle it was $120/month, plus wear and tear, insurance, and a car payment – the financial savings are significant. The time savings, are also great, there’s nothing quite as frustrating than a beautiful Friday afternoon, sunroof open, itching to get home to start the weekend and you’re sitting in bumper to bumper traffic for 45 minutes when it should amount to a 15-minute drive.

    What I find most interesting, the shock in people’s face when I tell them I no longer own a car. I don’t live in a big city, there are cabs but not many, I’m not even sure if Uber is here (I know Lyft is), but with my lifestyle, I don’t need a car. I’m 35 and grew up in a small town in upstate NY, where EVERYONE has a car. Most of my peers cannot fathom not owning a car, but this I’m positive will be the way it is in the near future. Much like telework, it will start to become the new normal before too long.

    Sure people will hold onto their cars, there will still be collectors, but as the masses stop driving the cost for those that hold onto this will skyrocket, insurance will be ridiculously expensive. The ripples this will have is going to be fascinating to watch take shape.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      The time savings, are also great, there’s nothing quite as frustrating than a beautiful Friday afternoon, sunroof open, itching to get home to start the weekend and you’re sitting in bumper to bumper traffic for 45 minutes when it should amount to a 15-minute drive.

      Exactly!

      Most of my peers cannot fathom not owning a car, but this I’m positive will be the way it is in the near future. Much like telework, it will start to become the new normal before too long.

      Totally agree. I think it will happen faster than people think too (in the 2020’s).

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