SUMMARY POINTS

  • Weaving is marginally faster but far more stressful
  • Take it easy on the commute and drive steady for less stress
  • Change your mindset about commuting and make it fun or relaxing
It’s the start of your workday. You’re packed up and ready to go with coffee in hand.

As you walk to the car, you check traffic on your phone and then you see it - way more solid red lines than usual for your route to the office.

Great, just what you needed to begin your day.

Your stress levels just went up a notch.

You’ve done this commute to the office countless times. You’ve got the timing down perfectly from the moment you step out of the house to the moment you walk into your hamster box.

You glance down at the time and figure out that you’ll be cutting it really close to making the first meeting of the day. And, it’s an important one that you can’t be late for.

You think yourself, “Am I gonna save any time by taking side streets with all the lights and local traffic?”

You figure that it’ll be a wash and not worth it.

So now, the question is whether or not it’d be faster to aggressively weave your way through the dense traffic to gain some precious minutes back or do your usual type of driving and get there late.

Today, there really isn’t a choice. It’s time to bring out some Lightning McQueen.

It's On - Commuter Racing

We’ve all done a little casual “commuter racing” every now and then. It seems like we’re all auto-programmed to do this.

You spot another car that is in the next lane over and track it to see if you’re moving any faster or slower.

The lane you’re in comes to a dead stop.

The lane on your right is moving along. The car you’re tracking against is in that lane and getting further ahead. More and more cars are passing you by.

So, what do you do?

Yup, you flick on the right turn blinker and try to nose your way into the right lane. But, nobody’s letting you in.

What a bunch of assholes.

Finally, there’s a gap to dart over. You surge over to the right lane and feel victorious. Now, you’re moving. You’re part of the faster crowd and passing all those other losers stuck in the left lane.

You are zipping along. Then, the inevitable happens. Your short-lived quicker pace and joy grind down to a standing halt.

WTF?!

Now, those same drivers in the left lane that you were mocking just moments ago are flying by you.

This opening scene from the now classic 1999 movie, Office Space, sums up the torture quite hilariously.

VIDEO: Office Space Movie Intro
YOUTUBE: Will Campo
LENGTH: 2:12
Your frustration is mounting. Your stress bumps up another level. And, where the hell is that other car?

You repeat the process to varying degrees of success and failure. Sometimes, you manage to get ahead of the other car while at others times, you’re left in the dust.

Finally, you arrive at the office with only a few minutes to spare. You race to your cubicle, drop off your stuff, grab your notebook and jump into the meeting.

Phew - you just barely made it.

But, at what cost?

Yes, you just made it on time. However, you’re completely frazzled and wound up. It’s going to take a solid hour or two to destressify, calm down and get your heart rate and blood pressure back to normal.

Is it worth it to weave your way through traffic?

Does it really make any sense?

Does it get you to work faster?

In order to answer these questions, we need to understand how and why traffic happens in the first place.

The Science Of Traffic

There are lots of technical engineering mumbo-jumbo about traffic. We’re not going to dive into the nerdy details. We’re just gonna give you the main high-level points.

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way.

More Vehicles = More Traffic
When it’s rush hour, there are a ton more people out on the roads. Lots of people driving on a limited amount of road capacity means slower travel times for all and greater probabilities for accidents which makes things worse.

As frustrated drivers, we’ve all asked why don’t they just build more lanes? Or, here’s another idea, just make all the highways double-decker highways to handle more cars and trucks.

The superficial logic seems like such an obvious solution to the problem.

However, it doesn’t fix the issue mainly because of this thing called “induced demand.” This is when there’s something that people need or use and if you build more of it, more people start using it.

So, if more roads or lanes are built, more people will start using it and any initial reductions in traffic simply get cancelled out as more and more people drive on them.

It fulfills a basic human desire or need of being mobile. Going all the way back to the caveman days, humans need to get from one place to another for hunting, gathering, migration etc.

Today, it’s fundamentally the same thing. We all need and want to get somewhere everyday. Whether it’s for work or play. And, if people have greater ability to travel more easily, they will do it more often and for greater distances.

The running joke among traffic engineers is that adding more lanes to reduce traffic is like wearing a size or two up in your pants to fix your obesity.

Humans (yes, all of us) can’t drive smoothly

We’ve all yelled inside our cars, “That driver is an absolute idiot. They can’t drive for shit.”

We humans are imperfect beings incapable of doing things exactly and precisely in coordination with others. We’re not robots.

Or more specifically, we can’t drive smoothly and consistently all the time in traffic. It’s impossible for everyone to drive in perfect harmony.

It’s like the team building event we’ve all done before - plank walking with a group.
It’s really hard to get everyone to do one action, at the right time and in the right direction. Eventually, the most organized team is able to get everything coordinated and they can make it across the finish line.

However, out in traffic, there is no team. It's brutal out there. We’re all fending for ourselves. We’re only coordinating with other drivers just enough not to get into an accident.

And, with each little driving maneuver, we create a small ripple effect that can quickly grow into a tidal wave of reactions around us. We don’t even realize it’s happening since it’s just all behind us.

For example, it’s like when we speed up when there’s space in front of us, only to have to tap the brakes to slow down when we get too close. Little do we know that tapping the brakes to slow down a bit causes the driver behind us to brake as well and maybe, a bit harder than normal. Then, the driver behind that car does the same thing. This causes the “traffic wave” slow down behind us.

This is the imperfection we’re talking about. It’s unavoidable. We are not robotic driving machines that can all act together in perfect unison.
This short video explains this clearly.

VIDEO: The Simple Solution To Traffic
YOUTUBE: CGP Grey
LENGTH: 5:13
Summary points:
  • Normal human reactions during driving can cause traffic jams
  • Keeping a consistent buffer or space in front and behind is best
  • Self-driving cars are more capable and efficient in traffic coordination
Lane choice doesn't matter in heavy traffic.

Numerous research studies including this one, basically state that in heavy traffic conditions, all lanes will have about the same average speed. It doesn’t really matter which lane you pick.

It may seem like the other lane is faster, but that’s just a ‘road illusion.’ We are all suckers for this.
In some cases, particularly in moderate traffic levels, you can make small gains in time.

However, because of human behaviors and reaction times, the gains or losses will most likely cancel each other out in traffic conditions. Some moments you’ll be faster while in others, you’ll be slower.

But damn, it feels like we’re in the slower lane more often. We get the same feeling at the supermarket checkout lanes too.

Each time we get in our cars to drive to/from work, we are contributing to the traffic volumes. The only way to avoid rush hour traffic is to not participate in it to begin with.

However, with the exception of a small percentage of us that can work from home or remotely, most of us have to join the cattle migration every day.

Our Recommendation

It’s proven that weaving in and out of moderate traffic will save you some time. However, it will cause more harm than good to you and your fellow commuters.

Using aggressive driving tactics will definitely shorten your commute and get you some minutes back but it will also:
  • Generate more traffic for others
  • Raise your chances of getting into a car accident
  • Use more fuel than necessary
  • Increase the wear and tear on your car
  • Trigger a lot of unnecessary stress into your day
The last point is the big one.

Why introduce more stress when you’ve already got enough to deal with at work?

Take it easy on the commute and drive steady for less stress.

Don’t continuously switch from lane to lane. Instead, try to stay in one lane for most of the drive and change lanes only when you really need to. It’s far less stressful this way.

When you’re hopping from lane to lane, your mind is being taxed more. You’re coordinating the timing and speed of your car by working the steering wheel, floor pedals, turn signals, etc. Furthermore, your mind needs to process everything happening outside and around the car while at the same time working all of the controls.

There’s a lot going on when you’re driving and even more so when you’re driving aggressively. Taking it easy has less mental workload burden but it does add travel time.

And knowing that this method will take a bit longer (but only marginally longer), leave 10-15 minutes earlier than you normally would and use the commute as your personal "me time" to get away from it all.

This short Mythbusters episode proves out that weaving is faster when traffic patterns vary from heavy to moderate, but the hidden costs and risks of doing this don’t outweigh the small time gains.

VIDEO: Which Is Faster - Weaving Or Staying In One Lane?
YOUTUBE: Discovery
LENGTH: 4:10
Summary points:
  • Weaving is faster (barely) than staying in one lane in moderate to heavy traffic
  • However, it is far more stressful than normal driving
  • Switching from lane-to-lane is not as safe as staying in your lane
So, don’t turn yourself into race car driver during your commute. But, don’t be a Sunday snail either. Find a good lane that jives with you for that day and enjoy the ride. 

Change Your Mindset About Commuting

A lot of people consider commuting drive time as "dead time." That’s not a good way to see it. It sets the wrong tone in your mind.

Think of it this way. It’s an ideal part of your day where you can be completely selfish. It's your little slice of time where you're not having to deal with work, home, family and other issues.

Switch up your perspective about commuting and turn it into something fun and/or relaxing instead of a frustrating event. It can and should be your twice daily self-therapy session.

Here are a few ideas that can get your thoughts rolling:

  • Have a long conversation with Siri/Google/Alexa on something unusual or weird
  • Listen to podcasts on your crazy hobbies (there’s a podcast for *everything*)
  • Get your laughs on by listening to hilarious comedy segments
  • Be your own mobile karaoke studio (probably the most popular option)
  • Get your daily dose of happiness or inspiration with positive podcasts
  • Brainstorm for ideas on your next project or side hustle
  • Just enjoy the peace and silence of the car humming along
Taking added time for your commute and changing it to some positive “Me Time” activity is the best option.

Well, we say this is the best option until we get fully self-driving cars or when all of our employers allow us to work remotely from home all the time.

We can’t wait for the day either of those options become reality.

Feel Better,
[Cubicle|Therapy]

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