SafeAuto Report: Traffic Now Costs Americans Almost $160 Billion Per Year


And it’s only going to get worse, unless we do something.

Traffic is a reality of modern life. Wherever you need to go, there are probably a thousand other people who also need to be there yesterday and you’re all going to get in line, in your car, and wait. But did it ever occur to you that you might be wasting a lot more than just your time in traffic?

The United States Treasury has prepared a new survey of just how much we lose by being stuck in traffic and, frankly, it’s shocking. Even if we just go by averages, we’re wasting billions upon billions of dollars in traffic.

Here’s what we’re losing…and what we can do about it. And if you think gas is the most expensive, you’re in for a real surprise.



Cost: $7.5 Billion

Believe it or not? Gas is the cheapest cost to come out of this. The Treasury estimates that Americans waste 1.9 billion gallons of gas in traffic jams, about 5% of all the gasoline we consume. And considering prices are hovering at around $4 a gallon, well, the math isn’t pretty.

Not that this is insubstantial, even on the smallest level. On average, your typical American household spends $3100 on gas. Five percent of that works out to $155 a year. It’s not necessarily a huge amount of money…but hardly chump change, either. And that’s just the gas costs; we all know that what comes out your tailpipe isn’t great for the environment.

What Can We Do About It?

Buy a hybrid. Seriously, that’s where hybrids really show their gas mileage: by shutting the engine off in stop-and-go traffic, and instead using batteries, they step mileage up. Even just getting a more fuel-efficient car will save you money: the less gas it burns, the less change is blowing out the tailpipe.

Also, think ahead; plan alternate routes for areas you know are going to have traffic, especially since your time is more valuable than you think.

Your Time


Cost: $50 Billion a Year

Cumulatively, we spend about 5 billion hours sitting in traffic, twiddling our thumbs, according to the Treasury Report. And, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we might as well just be feeding a 10 dollar bill, at least, into the shredder every hour; the average American wage is $10.20 as of February 2012, so every hour stuck in traffic is another 10 bucks you could have.

Per person, this sets us back about $300 a year, but remember: that’s just an average. In major metropolitan areas, that can rise to as much as $700 a year, or even more.

What Can We Do?

Well, don’t work from your car, but if possible, talk to your boss about changing your hours. Perhaps come in early to avoid traffic, and leave slightly early, and encourage others in the office to stagger their schedules. If nothing else, it’ll stop your coworkers from booking 9am meetings.

Another option: telecommute. If it’s possible to work from home, consider it as an option. After all, you’ll save on gas, and you’ll be able to log in and get things done.


Cost: $101.7 Billion

This is where it really hurts.

It’s pretty simple math: there were 254,212,610 registered cars on the road in 2009, nearly one car for every American. The Treasury found that we spent an average of $400 per car on keeping up deteriorating highways and bridges. Multiply the number and you’ve got a number that would make a car mechanic smile…except he has to drive too.

Even worse, that’s just an average. Depending on the age of your car and just how behind your local municipality is on its road work, you could easily be paying double that. Stop and think for a minute about what you could do with an extra $800 a year.

There are no two ways about it, Americans own a lot of cars and they like to drive them. And a lot of them are aging; the average age of the US fleet is nearly 11 years old. The good news is that means lots of replacements…the bad news is, it means lots of aging cars sitting on used car lots, waiting for people to buy them and grind their wallets between the gears.

What Can We Do About It?

First and foremost? Support bond issues. Many states and cities use municipal bonds to pay for road work. Get involved and talk to your city councilman or state representative about what you can do to help get the roads fixed.

Beyond that, embrace the word Americans seem to dread: carpooling. Start a carpool club at work with coworkers who live nearby and rotate between vehicles, so the wear and tear is spread out more evenly…and the traffic is just that much lighter.

Or, if possible, get off the road completely: ride a bike to work, or take public transit.

The Total Average Cost to You?

That would be, best case scenario, $855. Per year. Imagine getting together nearly a thousand dollars and just lighting it on fire. That’s how much it costs us, without us even noticing.

And it gets worse …

These are just the numbers we can quantify. For example, it’s pretty likely that traffic plays a part in driving up our medical costs, since the stress and aggravation of, say, being late to work and also likely having to go to the bathroom ups your odds of poor health, ranging from heart attacks to mental illness. Or, even more directly, poor roads and infrastructure may contribute to car crashes and other accidents, killing and injuring Americans every year.

The Good News

We can fix this. Really, in the end, all we have to do is take responsibility: drive a little less, save a little more gas, think a
little bit more ahead. That’s the key thing to remember: this problem is created by every driver on the road, but if we all pitch in, we can use that effort and solve this problem.

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