Poll: Traffic in the United States

Life for commuters can be heaven or hell. They report an average one-way commute time of 26 minutes (over an average distance of 16 miles). But the variance is huge: On the best days, the average commute is 19 minutes; on the worst days, 46 minutes. That means traffic, at its worst, can double the average commute time, adding 27 minutes each way.

And on average -- not at its worst, but just on average -- workers estimate that traffic congestion adds a half-hour a day to their drive, 15 minutes each way. That's an impressive time suck.

Commuting to Work: the Agony, the Ecstacy
Commute Time: Average26 minutes
On a good day19 minutes
On a bad day46 minutes

Commuting to Work: the Agony, the Ecstacy
Like commute60%
Dislike it36

As an example of how much conditions vary, average commute times range from 19 minutes for people who work in towns to 34 minutes for people who work in big cities. And where people say the traffic is OK, it's 24 minutes; where poor, it's 32.

Views of traffic conditions over time have been unstable. In four Roper Organization polls between 1976 and 1992, anywhere from a low of 42 percent to a high of 59 percent said traffic in their area was good. The average was 49 percent, not far from the 53 percent measured in this poll.

One difference: A fortunate 14 percent now say their traffic is "excellent," the first time it has cracked double digits. About as many, 15 percent, give their traffic the worst rating, "poor."


Traffic engenders impressive avoidance strategies. Two-thirds of Americans sometimes take a less direct route to avoid snarls. Six in 10 sometimes leave earlier or later than planned to duck the worst traffic. Two in 10 have moved homes mainly to improve a commute.

A quarter have changed their work schedules, and 10 percent sometimes work at home to avoid a commute -- obviously not an option for many workers. This rises to a fifth of people in high-congestion areas, and a quarter of those who really don't like the drive.

Fourteen percent of Americans say they've taken the ultimate commute-avoidance measure: Changed jobs, or simply left a job, primarily because of the commute.

Traffic Avoidance Strategies
Take a less direct route68%
Leave earlier or later60
Skip a planned stop40
Changed work schedule24
Moved closer to work20
Changed/left a job14

Policy choices are a contentious brew. Among some of the most-discussed options, the public is somewhat skeptical about high-occupancy vehicle lanes and downright hostile toward adjustable-rate or city-center tolls. Solutions such as quickly hooking and hauling breakdowns, retiming traffic lights and providing prompt traffic alerts are seen as the best choices, and automatic cameras to catch traffic offenders get 2-1 support. About half see building roads as very effective -- but most oppose gasoline taxes to fund it.

For most people, public transportation and carpooling remain far outside the fast track. While six in 10 Americans have public transit available, just 10 percent use it regularly, and just 4 percent of workers use it for their daily commute. (Ninety-three percent call driving more convenient.) Eighty-four percent drive alone to work, 8 percent drive with someone else and 80 percent of solo drivers aren't interested in car pooling.

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