The average American worker spends about four hours a week commuting to and from work, and much of that time is often spent in traffic. Traffic can make you anxious on your way to work, and unhappy on your way home. But for many, daily commutes are simply a fact of life.
Spending four hours or more on the road every week can be hazardous, as rush hour traffic often brings accidents -- sometimes deadly ones. That means driving almost every day to work can be dangerous, but there are ways to make your daily commute safer, from vehicle maintenance to changing your route and asking for more flexible hours. In our guide, you'll find practical tips for making your commute to and from work safer every day.
- Choose a safe vehicle: A safe commute starts with a safe car. When shopping for a vehicle you'll use on your commute, remember to check the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) ratings to see how the models you're considering stack up. And if it's in your budget, look for a vehicle that has next-level safety features such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings, blind spot detection, and automatic braking.
- Safely maintain your vehicle: A safe vehicle is essential, but keeping it running safely is just as important. Remember to maintain your vehicle safely to avoid breakdowns that can ruin your day -- and everyone else's on the road.
- Take the safest route: You know the highway will probably be packed during rush hour. Consider whether taking back roads or an alternative route might be faster, less congested, or simply more scenic and enjoyable. Use an app like Wazethat will automatically direct you to the least congested route on your way to work. Remember that traffic conditions can change every day depending on accidents, construction, even events.
- Shift your hours: The best way to deal with rush hour is to avoid it completely. Many employers are able to offer flexible work hours that make it possible to arrive and depart from work during off peak hours for driving. It might mean working 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., or 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., depending on the traffic in your area and your needs at work.
- Give other drivers space: When you're in bumper to bumper traffic, giving other drivers space is sometimes easier said than done. But if you leave adequate space between you and the driver in front of you, you'll be safer and less likely to get in an accident. With extra space, you will have a longer time to react to anything happening in front of you, and even if you're completely stopped in traffic, leaving space ahead can help you avoid getting pushed into the vehicle in front of you if you're rear ended.
- Don't engage in aggressive driving: There's no question that drivers get irritated on their daily commute, and with frustrating conditions like traffic, accidents, and constantly getting cut off, it's understandable. But it's safer to be courteous and avoid engaging in aggressive driving. Tailgating, cutting off other drivers, failing to yield, and even making gestures can be dangerous. Take a deep breath and keep your cool for safety's sake.
- Be prepared for the sun: Depending on the season, you may be driving in to or home from work while the sun is rising or setting. This can result in dangerous sun glare that interferes with your visibility on your commute. Take measures to be prepared with sunglasses, an operational car visor, and a clean windshield with working wiper blades.
- Leave early on tough driving days: You'd probably rather hit snooze one more time, but on tough driving days, it's best to leave a little early to be ready for difficult conditions on the road. If you know it will be rainy or otherwise bad weather, you may need extra time to make it to work. If you give yourself this extra time, you'll be able to drive calmly instead of suffering from anxiety about being late to work. Keep an eye out for inclement weather, the days before holidays, even back to school days when traffic may be a bit more difficult than usual.
- Choose the middle lane: On a three lane road, the middle lane is often the safest and most efficient one you can choose. The left lane is often clogged with drivers hoping for the fast lane, while the right lane has other drivers entering and exiting the roadway. With no one getting off or on in your lane in the middle, there is less merging and lane changing to deal with. It's safer and may get you there faster as well.
- Make use of your time: Staying entertained on your commute may not make you safer, but it will make you happier and more at peace with your daily drive. Listening to the radio day in and day out can get old and leave you bored -- maybe even tempted to text or check in on Facebook while you're sitting in traffic. Consider safe entertainment alternatives such as audio books, podcasts, and lectures that can have you engaged without taking your focus off of the road.
- Focus on driving: However you commute, it's essential that you avoid distracted driving. Cell phones cause about as many crashes as speeding, and each day nine Americans are killed by distracted driving accidents. Texting makes you eight times more likely to crash, and distractions like grooming, watching videos, and eating can prove deadly as well. Even if you're stuck in a long commute, it's essential that you commit to focusing on the road and the task at hand: driving.