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If you’re someone who regularly finds themselves stuck in bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic, this might not come as a surprise. What might come as a surprise, however, is the impact that your chosen mode of transport can have on your physical and mental wellbeing.
While driving to work or school offers the convenience of arriving at your destination without walking the last mile or transferring between multiple buses and trains, studies show it doesn’t translate to happiness. A survey of 3,800 motorists, public transit users, and pedestrians at McGill University found that drivers reported the highest average levels of travel stress. They were also the most likely to want to use an alternative mode of transport.
The main cause of this stress is the risk of unexpected delays, with drivers allowing for an extra 21 minutes to account for congestion. That congestion can also be a source of grief, with an MIT study finding that driving in heavy traffic can be as stressful as skydiving.
This strain can have a significant physical toll. Researchers at Lund University linked long car commutes with poor sleep and exhaustion, and a study from various Australian universities suggested that the high rates of inactivity among drivers leads to obesity, psychological distress, and general health issues. And that inactivity is a major concern – according to the country’s National Heart Foundation, public transport users on average perform 41 minutes of incidental exercise during their commute, compared to just eight minutes among motorists.
Stress from driving can also result in antisocial behavior, such as road rage. In the US, almost 80 percent of motorists express aggression when behind the wheel, based on a national survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. This behavior certainly isn’t helped by the fact that Americans spend 42 hours per year in rush-hour congestion, as noted by the Texas A&M Transport Institute.
For drivers who live in cities where they’re spoiled for transport choice, there’s an obvious way to improve your physical and mental health with a new commute. A separate study by McGill University showed higher levels of commuter satisfaction among those who walk or travel by bicycle or train than motorists. Walking and cycling have the benefit of providing physical exercise, and sitting on the train offers an opportunity to be productive.
However, this isn’t an option for everyone. Not every city provides robust public transit or safe routes for walking and cycling. Furthermore, workers who commute long distances often have no choice other than to travel by car. Improving the breadth and efficiency of transport in urban and remote spaces is certainly important from an economic standpoint, but that needn’t be the only reason to build strong mobility solutions. Good transport makes people happier and healthier, and that’s a great reason alone.