Traffic is the most complex, high stakes thing we do on a daily basis as Americans. Piloting a car a is a privilege and a responsibility. Getting behind the controls of a heavy machine is a perpetual responsibility, even if the laws, signals, markings, and space have all been modified to the scale of your car. Passengers don’t get off much better, especially if their opinion of your driving differs. We’re married, with one car, so I know these conversations.
The continued prospect of wrecking a 2-ton vehicle into a 2-40 ton vehicle traveling fast enough to kill you and everyone in your two cars is a bracing implicit reminder in traffic. Compare this with the pro-forma consideration of bumping into a stranger at the mall or on the sidewalk. The stress of driving in complex traffic is harder on men than it is on women, according to a study of driver physiology of commuters in traffic. For women, stress of being in congested traffic increases less than 10%, while men experience a 60% increase in stress. This stress was even detectable for men who self reported that their commute was not stressful at all.
While the act of driving at high speeds is the riskiest, the act of driving under congested conditions is the most stressful for drivers. The number of collision decisions is much higher, and switching the right leg from the brake to the accelerator is a frequent act that involves muscles all the way up to the back. The stress of commuting in traffic is about the stress of congestion, and the longer a commute in congested conditions, the more stress we take on This stress is independent of the import or demands of the job we are commuting to. All else being equal, a worker with a 12 hour workday and short commute will be healthier than one with a long commute and a shorter workday
The further we commute in traffic, the more likely we are to be be obese or suffer from high blood pressure. Commuting 20 minutes less in traffic every day reduces risk of obesity by 20%, and the risk of a heart attack by 300%. Sitting in traffic is the highest population predictor for heart attacks, more than physical labor or air pollution. This is not to say that traffic is going to give you a heart attack, but that it is so easy to sit in a car, but so stressful once in traffic, that it is a great way to have a heart attack if your body is ready for one.
Trigger Discipline is vital in these matters.