Resolve to master new driving habits for peaceful 2016
Another year, another 13,476 miles.
That’s the average distance American motorists drive every 12 months, according to the Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration.
Seems like more than that by the time you kill the engine after that 200th or so rush hour of the year, doesn’t it?
Actually for men it is; they log an average of 16,550 miles per year compared to only 10,142 for female drivers. People in the 35-54 age range — those in the thick of careers and childrearing activities — cover the most ground: An average of 15,291, or 11,464 for women and a whopping 18,858 for men.
And no matter how much you like to drive, navigating that many miles takes its toll not only on tires and engines but on our tempers, waistlines and pocketbooks. It’s easy to fall into a rut of using the vehicle as a storage unit, gnashing teeth at slowpokes and road hogs, and listening like a zombie to the same old traffic and weather reports every few minutes.
So, since the turning of the calendar is always a good time for a fresh start, here are some tasks to add to the lose-weight-get-fit-quit-smoking-give-up-sugar-and-get-organized drumbeat that soon will be drowning out holiday carols. Adopt some of these ideas to make motoring less of a strain in 2016.
Address your anger. Road rage deaths are trending up, from 208 in 2008 to 392 in 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And even if you make it home alive, rage behind the wheel detracts from daily quality of life.
If you’ve found yourself increasingly irked in traffic, check out the AAA Foundation’s online quiz to assess your crazy quotient (www.aaafoundation.org/are-you-aggressive-driver). I knew my score would be high and it was; the AAA advises me that “you will be much happier if you learn to enjoy the relaxation of the journey instead of letting yourself grow angry over petty road behavior.” When cut off in traffic, the website says, think “Be my guest,” not “expletive-deleted.”
If your workplace offers stress management or temper control sessions, sign up; you don’t have to be ready to bop your boss to benefit from them. Or, seek out calming techniques online. Many YouTube videos offer tutorials in directed or soothing breathing techniques. The American Psychological Association gives tips on how to use imagery, humor and problem-solving techniques to help yourself simmer down. (www.apa.org/topics/anger/control.aspx)
Save money. A few minutes on the phone or online can return one of the highest hourly wages you’ll ever enjoy if you can locate a more competitive insurance rate — I halved mine recently by making a couple of phone calls.
Lower operating costs by joining the rewards programs at fuel chains you frequent; saving $2 or $3 a week on gas adds up to more than $100 a year, just for swiping a membership card. Major retailers like Meijer, Kroger and Wal-Mart also offer substantial discounts if you use their credit cards at the pump.
Join a van pool or car pool to really boost bang for your buck. Google “MDOT Rideshare” to reach the Michigan Department of Transportation’s portal to Rideshare agencies and MichVan Commuter Vanpools; not all counties are served but if you’re in populous areas, chances are you can find a group to join. Also, MDOT operates more than 250 carpool lots throughout the state, and has partnered with Meijer stores to offer additional parking for ride-sharers. Search “carpool” on www.michigan.gov/mdot for an interactive map of lot locations.
Make commuting time do double duty. According to government-sponsored time-use surveys, average motorists spend 46 minutes a day behind the wheel. That’s about 20 hours a month or 10 full days a year you could put to better use.
Knock off a couple of audio books each month, learn a foreign language with a CD-based program, or even exercise. Wikihow offers instructions for doing the “commuter crunch” for abs, “steering wheel push-ups” to tone those upper arms and other fitness tips. (http://www.wikihow.com/Exercise-While-Commuting)
Have fun and be grateful. Vehicles do more than get us to work, school and the grocery store. They open up the world to us, offer a sense of independence — and for many in these parts, are the basis of an industry that has provided upward mobility for our families.
Take a moment when you next fire up the ignition to marvel that you have at your command a powerful machine that would make most humans in history gasp in awe, and that is still beyond the reach of many of our fellow Earthlings. For all their petty annoyances, costly upkeep and time spent sitting in traffic jams, our automobiles are pretty amazing things.
Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her via Melissa@MelissaPreddy.com.