If you’re like most Americans, you spend a lot of alone time in your car. Seventy-six percent of American commuters drive to work by themselves every day, and the average American spends 54 minutes per day commuting.Unfortunately, many people don’t enjoy their trips to and home from work. Commuting often comes with traffic congestion, delays, boredom, and social isolation. A Swedish study linked longer commutes to higher levels of chronic stress. Moreover, when Texas women were asked to rank their enjoyment of daily activities for a survey, commuting came in last.
People who walk, bike, or take the train to work are generally more satisfied with their commutes than those who drive. But if driving is your only option, don’t despair. Keep reading to learn how to improve your car commute and maybe even look forward to it.
Shorten your driving time
Numerous studies suggest shorter car commutes are better for human health and well-being. Car commutes longer than an hour are linked to depression, financial worries, work-related stress, sleep troubles, obesity, and decreased productivity. Longer commutes also decrease the amount of time people spend with family and friends, which is one of the biggest predictors of happiness.
Bottom line? The more time people spend commuting by car, the less likely they are to be satisfied with their lives, according to a study conducted at the University of Waterloo in Canada. If you can’t change jobs or move closer to work, these changes may help shave time off your commute.
Commute during off-peak hours
Is your job flexible? Change your schedule so you commute when fewer people are on the roads. Rush hour varies from city to city. In most places, the busiest times are between 7 and 9 a.m. and 4 and 6 p.m. The average commuter spends 42 hours per year stuck in traffic. Driving to work before or after peak hours could save you the time and stress of navigating traffic congestion. And it may save you gas money since starting, stopping, and idling reduce fuel economy.
Use a traffic app
You probably know your route backward and forward. But it’s still a good idea to use a navigation app to help you steer around traffic jams and accidents. Try one of these free apps, which provide live traffic and accident updates and suggest alternate routes.
- Google Maps
- INRIX Traffic
- HERE WeGo
- Ask if you can telecommute
Can you skip your commute and work from home some days? It’s worth asking. Your manager may even be excited about the idea if you share the benefits for your company. Workers who telecommute a few times a month are 77 percent more productive when they work offsite, according to one study. Moreover, telecommuting may improve employee absenteeism and increase employee retention.
Driving for long periods is hard on the body. People who drive for a living are twice as likely to suffer from back pain and sciatica as those who don’t. Minimize the damage to your body by learning about ergonomics and setting your car up for comfort.
Adjust your seat
Sit far enough from the wheel that your arms are almost straight when you hold the wheel at 10:00 and 2:00. Make sure you do not slouch or strain to reach the pedals. Your right thigh should touch the seat when you press the gas pedal. If it doesn’t, you’re too close to the wheel. (Sitting too close to the wheel is not only uncomfortable, it can be dangerous if the airbag deploys in an accident.)
Support your lumbar
If your seat doesn’t offer lumbar support, buy a special cushion for the purpose or fold a small towel and place it at belt level to support the natural curves of your spine.
Angle the seat to 100 to 110 degrees
You don’t want to be perfectly erect, but reclining too far strains the neck when you extend your head forward.
Fix the headrest
Place the top edge of the headrest so it’s level with the top of your head. Adjust the tilt so the headrest is about two centimeters from the back of your head.
Stretch out both legs
When you stretch only your right leg out and keep your left leg bent, your pelvis rotates, which fatigues the lower spine. Instead, stretch out both legs so you sit square to the wheel. Many car manufacturers provide a “dead pedal” on which to rest your left foot. Turn on cruise control whenever possible so you can relax both legs.
Get plenty of physical activity when you’re not driving
These ergonomic tips will help you stay comfortable in the car, but being sedentary for long periods still puts drivers at risk for numerous health problems. If you have a sedentary job, make sure you get up from your chair and move around every half hour during the day and make time for exercise before or after work.
Keep your brain busy
A University of Leicester study of 500,000 British commuters uncovered disturbing data. The more people drove on a daily basis, the more their intelligence and memory deteriorated. Why? The researchers pegged sitting and boredom as the two main culprits.
No matter how long your commute, make it a priority to bust boredom. Podcasts may be your greatest ally. Whether your passion is management, marketing, politics, book reviews, cooking, health, grammar, or anything else, someone has made an entertaining podcast on the topic. Download one of these free apps to help keep track of podcasts and find new ones.
- Stitcher Radio (Android or iOS)
- Castro (Android or iOS)
- Overcast (iOS)
Don’t forget about audiobooks, which can help you catch up on books while you drive. Most public libraries provide access to Overdrive and Hoopla, which allow members to stream hundreds of audiobooks for free. Or consider subscribing to one of these paid audiobook services.
Your car commute could also be the perfect opportunity to take audio courses, learn to speak a new language, or practice singing.
Unfortunately, driving comes with some inherent risks. Keep your car maintained with regular oil changes and tune-ups, and beware of distractions. Distracted driving is a factor in nearly 3,500 traffic deaths per year. Don’t text and drive, and invest in a phone mount for hands-free navigation.
- Car cell phone charger
- Non-perishable snacks
- Drinking water
- First aid kit
- Local roadmap
- Ice scraper
- Spare tire, wheel wrench, and jack
- Jumper cables
- Fire extinguisher
- Duct tape
- Cat litter or sand to aid tire traction
Take back your commute
Your commute doesn’t have to be something you dread. If you take proactive steps to shorten your driving time and transform your car into a safe, comfortable, entertaining oasis, you may look forward to having time to yourself before and after work. After all, where else can you belt out tunes without anyone hearing?