Tight traffic
Tight traffic rolls down Madison’s Beltline.

Even the American Automobile Association, the advocacy group for the nation’s car drivers, has started to question the advisability of spending too much time in traffic.

This month’s issue of AAA Living, the organization’s magazine for members, asks whether drivers’ commutes may be damaging their health.

Are there health risks linked to commuting, the article asks, and then it answers: “Yes. Studies have shown that big-city bus drivers produce more stress-related hormones than other people -- even than themselves prior to driving a bus for a living. And the worse the traffic in their cities, the higher their hormone levels were. Also, California State University researchers found that the longer the commute, the greater the link to health issues, from obesity to high blood pressure.”

The article also laments that the sheer number of cars on the road during rush hour, plus the urgency people feel getting to work on time or hustling home, makes the drivers more vulnerable to accidents.

The one redeeming factor, though, is that since cars are in gridlocked traffic, the crashes aren’t as deadly as nonrush-hour accidents.

The magazine doesn’t mention other studies that have shown commuters suffering other health problems from breathing the pollution that builds up in heavy traffic.

What’s the AAA’s solution to all this? People shouldn’t buy housing so far away from where they work. But, if they insist on living in the far-off suburbs, drivers should try to make the commute feel short.

“Listen to a book on tape -- not traffic reports. And leave earlier. You won’t stress about running late, you might avoid congestion and you’ll give yourself a better chance to enjoy the drive,” the article concludes.

AAA couldn’t bring itself to suggest that maybe more commuters ought to consider public transportation, saving fuel and even their health.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com

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