Commuting health/death risks

One of the factors we don’t explicitly calibrate when we evaluate telecommuting programs is the health benefit of staying off the road. Well, we do actually assess a benefit in terms of the days of sick leave not taken by telecommuters (roughly 2 days annually less than non-telecommuters). But, thanks to an article in (and a tip from our colleague in Buenos Aires) you can assess your own health risks if you’re still commuting frequently.

This is particularly important if you live in one of the areas where commuting is the worst for your health. There are various ways to compile the bad news list but the Forbes article focused on the ultimate health risk: annual fatalities per-capita. By that measure Riverside, CA is the current top loser, followed by Atlanta and Los Angeles, with Houston and Washington, DC, tied for fifth place.

I recall a test made at Rancho los Amigos hospital in Los Angeles in the early 1970s by Dr. Jack Hackney. Dr. Hackney checked the effects of smog on drivers in a smog chamber at the hospital. Among other harms, Dr. Hackney found that a half-hour exposure to the air pollution inhaled by a typical commuter, markedly increased the irritability of the commuter. As if the tensions produced by stop and go traffic weren’t bad enough.

This terminal commuting risk issue is described in more detail in an article titled Road kill in the Opinion section of the Sunday, August 5th Los Angeles Times. Gregg Easterbrook, the author of Road kill makes the comparison between the American fatalities from the war in Iraq and those from accidents on US highways since 9/11: 3,400 vs. 254,000, respectively. Unfortunately, I can’t (yet) separate the road kill numbers into those that are commuting- and non-commuting-related. I assume that the commuting-related deaths are a smaller proportion of the total than commuting is of total vehicle miles traveled. Drunk drivers and teenagers probably make up a higher fraction of the toll. Further, a lot more Americans are commuting than are currently in Iraq so the fatalities numbers would be expected to differ.

Still, the death risk of commuting is one more factor to consider if you’re undecided about the joys of that daily commute to work — and the other disbenefits of commuting aren’t enough to persuade you.

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