The Commute: Living in a Metal Box

Austin is growing up (or out, depending on perspective). As written in the Austin American Statesman:

…the “travel time index,” indicates what percentage of extra time travel takes in each city during peak travel times… In Austin, the travel time index in 2001 was 1.31, meaning peak trips take 31 percent longer than free-flow trips. That was up from 1.27 in 2000. In 1990, before the boom, that number was 1.12. That equates, the authors say, to 30 hours of delay per person per year. That’s about five minutes a day. The numbers for other Texas cities: Dallas-Fort Worth, 1.33 and 36 hours; Houston, 1.39 and 37 hours; San Antonio, 1.21 (down from 1.23 in 2000) and 18 hours.

So we’re playing with the big kids now. Although at least we aren’t on par with Los Angeles — it has a time travel index of 1.83, up from 1.80 in 1990.

When there’s congestion, road rage is not far behind. How can you reduce stress while commuting? How do you avoid road rage incidents?

On reducing stress while driving:

  • Don’t take other drivers’ mistakes personally. We all make errors when driving, so don’t leap to the worst conclusion about the other driver.
  • Allow plenty of time for your trip. When time is short, the potential for rage increases when anything interferes. You can reduce the stress you create for yourself by planning ahead.
  • Create a relaxing environment in your car. Keep your car interior neat, adjust the seat comfortably, and add support if needed. Play relaxing music, listen to educational radio (like NPR), or listen to a book tape.
  • Let someone else drive, even part of the time. Most cities have some form of mass transit (buses, subways) and some even have special lanes carpools or vanpools.

As for road rage, here are tips to avoid provoking it and how to handle an angry driver:

  • Don’t cut off other drivers. When merging lanes, make sure you have plenty of room and always use proper turn signals.
  • Don’t drive slowly in the left lane. Use the passing lane for the brief time it takes to pass.
  • Don’t tailgate. Many drivers get angry when they are followed too closely. Allow a two-second space between your car and the car ahead of you.
  • Use your horn sparingly. Even a polite horn tap may be enough to provoke another driver.
  • Avoid eye contact with an angry driver. To some people, eye contact is as good as a challenge. Someone who’s bent on acting out his or her frustrations can misinterpret even a friendly smile. Your best bet is to keep your eyes on the road.
  • Don’t signal gestures to other drivers. Making an obscene gesture to another driver is sure to provoke him or her. Keep your hands on the wheel.
  • Give angry drivers plenty of space. Even if you accidentally offended another driver on the road, they may try to pick a fight with you. Put as much distance between your vehicle and the other car as you can.

Remember, the purpose of driving is to get you from point A to B — alive — and to avoid harming others in the process. Is being faster, earlier, or right more important than that?

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2 Comments on “The Commute: Living in a Metal Box”

  1. David E Hollingsworth Says:

    Another option is to think outside the metal box & find a different means of commuting. Unfortunately, Austin is without a high-speed transit system, but a bicycle & bus pass will get you pretty far.

    Personally, I find it much harder to stay upset about poor driving while cycling, even though I’m at greater risk of harm.

    The mobility report for Austin can be found here:

  2. Kathryn Says:

    Public transportation is a great idea. I’ve used public transportation extensively in my life. It does have drawbacks, though. Unfortunately, cities sprawl. Biking in a city such as ours is very dangerous. And those of us who have to dress “nicely” for our jobs find riding a bike cumbersome; if we wear riding shorts, there is often no place to refresh and change clothes once at work. This may seem like a nominal concern, but it is a consideration to be dealt with.

    My previous job required a car; I drove all over the city and metro area to see people at their residences, took them to doctor’s appointments, to the grocery store, etc. I spent about five hours a day in the community and in local traffic, and I put 900-1200 miles on my car each month. My patience for the road wore thin.

    Having skills trained people to use the buses, I have to say in this city it’s extremely inefficient. I took a client from his home off Braker near I-35 to south Austin, where there was a facility for disabled people on S. 1st St close to Ben White. We caught the first bus at 9:30 a.m. and arrived at our destination near noon. We spent a half hour there, and then began the return trip. We didn’t arrive until 3:00 p.m. Many bus stops had no protection from the summer sun, and for the disabled, elderly, and those on certain medications, intense exposure can become problematic.

    Public transportation — the way it is currently set up — isn’t feasible or worthwhile for most people. I doubt it will change much. Until it does, the suggestions listed in the post might help people to better manage their time on the road.

    Thanks for the link to the mobility reports.