Freeways get clogged, minutes tick by and tempers sometimes flare, but there's another side to the daily commute for millions of Americans: Most of them actually like it.
So it goes (and stops-and-goes) in the nation's love-hate relationship with the daily task of getting around. In a country where 220 million adults average an hour and a half a day in their cars, views of traffic in America vary as much as highway conditions themselves, from the joy of the open blacktop to the misery of another rubberneck-inspired backup.
On balance, the road still offers more freedom than frustration. Three-quarters of Americans say driving often gives them a sense of independence, and nearly half say it's often relaxing. Four in 10 love their cars -- not just like them, but love them.
But there's a darker side: About a third can be classified as aggressive drivers. Six in 10 concede they sometimes go well over the speed limit. Sixty-two percent occasionally get frustrated behind the wheel, more than four in 10 get angry and two in 10 sometimes boil into road rage. And nothing fuels driver anger like getting stuck in a traffic jam.
From emotional responses to policy choices, this ABC News/Time magazine/Washington Post poll dissects public attitudes on traffic and experiences on the road, with some surprising results. The national survey supports ABC's weeklong, cross-platform coverage, "Gridlock Nation: America's Traffic Toll," starting Feb. 13.
For better or worse, America is a nation on wheels. To get where they need to go, 90 percent of Americans say they usually drive, reporting an average of 87 minutes a day behind the wheel. For car commuters, it's an average of 100 minutes; for parents with children at home, an average of 104 minutes (compared with 77 minutes for people without kids at home). The average household owns two cars, trucks or sport utility vehicles -- and one in four owns three or more.
|Sampling, data collection and tabulation for this poll were done by TNS.|
Emotions Behind the Wheel
|Driving often makes you feel...|
|Driving occasionally makes you feel...|
Traffic overall is not decidedly dreadful -- 53 percent say it's pretty good in their area. But 47 percent say it's bad, and there's great local variance. Traffic is worst in big cities and suburbs -- but far better in the towns and rural areas where about half of Americans live. Regionally it's best in the Midwest and especially bad in the West, which on a population basis mainly means California.
Rating Traffic Conditions
About half of Americans say traffic in their area is worse now that it was five years ago, and about half expect it to be worse still five years from now -- both about 10 points less negative than they were in a 2000 survey. Westerners, suburbanites and people with long or often-delayed commutes are most likely to say traffic has gotten worse, and to expect it to worsen further.
Almost a quarter of Americans get stuck in traffic jams on at least a weekly basis. That's the same as it was five years ago -- no worse -- but still it represents about 50 million adults stuck on the road with something better to do. Among commuters, more, nearly a third, get nailed by traffic jams at least weekly.