Originally created 11/29/03

Study says time spent on road affects drivers' health



A new study suggests more people are commuting for longer amounts of time to work, resulting in added frustration and a loss in worker productivity.

It's a transportation trend that has been seen in Richmond and Columbia counties, but it doesn't seem to be as much of a problem for Aiken County, according to census numbers.

The study, conducted by Jennifer Lucas, a psychology professor at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, surveyed hundreds of motorists nationwide and found that nine out of 10 Americans drive alone to and from work. She also found that the time people spend driving to work has tripled during the past 20 years.

Dr. Lucas said the cause is more people moving out of city limits and more motorists being on the road because of dual-income families.

"A lot of women are in the work force," she said.

Comparing 1990 with 2000 census figures, the number of those driving from Columbia and Aiken counties to work in Richmond County has increased from 28,159 to 32,625.

A large growth of job commuters during the 10-year span also occurred in Columbia County, with commuters from Richmond and Aiken counties increasing from 4,560 to 9,159.

In Aiken County, commuters from Richmond and Columbia counties decreased from 10,304 to 8,895.

Lt. Michael Frank, of the Aiken County Sheriff's Office, said there is still a large number of motorists traveling from outside Aiken County to jobs at the Savannah River Site, but "I know the work force out there is smaller, which may contribute to the decrease."

The number of commuters who live and work in Aiken County increased by more than 2,500 from 1990 to 2000.

Dr. Lucas said her study showed extra travel time has resulted in a loss of worker productivity and an increase in road rage.

She said national statistics show traffic delays cost 5.7 billion hours of work time and $65 billion in lost wages and wasted fuel in 2001.

Dr. Lucas said leaving earlier for a long drive to work also has cut down on people's sleep.

She said stressful drives seem to affect women more than men. She's also conducting a study that will involve motorists' saliva, which she says could prove that long, stressful drives cause physical problems for motorists.

"With saliva, you can test people's stress hormones," she said. "What I want to show is that over a period of time, when people report having bad commute stress, it can be physically harming to them."

The effect of road rage is something Augusta-area police say they haven't seen a large number of reports on lately. But Dr. Lucas said that doesn't mean such cases haven't increased.

"I don't think people do report it," she said, noting that it usually has to rise to a violent offense before motorists call authorities.

Maj. Ken Autry, of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, agrees.

"You can't hardly ride down the road and not see some form of road rage," he said. "I know everybody recognizes it going on."

To cope with such stress, Dr. Lucas says motorists should ask employers about flex time to avoid the rush hour and consider car pooling, telecommuting, varying the route to avoid burnout and listening to a book on tape or relaxing music.

ON THE ROAD

2000 commuters by county and increase from 1990:

COLUMBIA COUNTY:

From Columbia County: 14,211, up 5,506

From Richmond County: 7,637, up 3,623

From Aiken County: 1,522, up 976

RICHMOND COUNTY:

From Richmond County: 67,645, down 5,148

From Columbia County: 22,363, up 3,024

From Aiken County: 10,262, up 1,442

AIKEN COUNTY:

From Aiken County: 44,243, up 2,555

From Richmond County: 5,051, down 2,067

From Columbia County: 3,844, up 658

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3904 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.