Traffic congestion is the bane of every big city - and the larger the population, the more vehicles there, the worse the situation is! Unfortunately, being stuck in traffic has health repercussions, too, both physically and mentally.
A 2014 World Bank study stated traffic congestion within the Klang Valley resulted in approximately RM20 billion in economic losses. This is an incredible amount considering this is an area of ever-expanding growth and increasing population. The study also stated that the main areas of loss were environmental damage, reduction of productivity and wasted fuel.
The calculation for wasted time was based upon time lost while sitting in a traffic jam, and came to approximately one million hours per year! While these figures revolve around time lost and productivity, there’s also underlying damage to health that must also be taken into account. Because sitting in a car stuck in a city jam is not only frustrating, it’s also mentally and physically trying.
What causes traffic congestion?
- Lack of public transport infrastructure and options
- More people buying cars and motorbikes and using them daily to commute. 80 per cent of the city’s population uses a private vehicle to get to and from work
- The lack of carpooling
- Road capacity doesn’t equate to the number of vehicles on the road and the speed of building isn’t quick enough to cope with the increasing amount of people and cars
How traffic congestion affects health
The Klang Valley is highly car-centric from the early morning surge to the end-of-the-workday rush - we've all been there. Factor in road work, construction, weather conditions, bad driving and not obeying road rules and you have the perfect storm for congestion. The most obvious side effect of sitting in a traffic jam is the wasted time, causing stress and anxiety, especially if you’re rushing home or need to be at a meeting. But, there are so many more consequences, including:
- Pollution caused by congestion which affects heart health; blood pressure increases leading to a higher chance of heart attacks and strokes. This not only affects people on the road but also those that live around major roads.
- Road rage is becoming more common and is usually caused by bad traffic and inconsiderate driving. No one wants to lose their temper or be on the receiving end, but temperaments fray when you’re stuck in traffic!
- Vehicles that are stuck or waiting in traffic emit much more pollution than when they are moving and this increases the chances of lung disease, allergies, respiratory ailments and even dementia.
- Chronic stress is the biggest symptom of traffic congestion and this invariably leads to a host of conditions that affect the quality of life, from a lack of sleep, decreased immunity and feelings of depression to bad posture from sitting in the car for extended periods of time.
Solutions to the problemOn paper there are many viable solutions and they all work as proven by cities like Singapore, Dusseldorf, Zurich and Copenhagen. These cities have well-planned city infrastructure, controlled building, and excellent, reasonably priced public transport. Another important aspect is the involvement of federal and local government agencies who not only legislate but more importantly, encourage and educate people to carpool, cycle and take public transportation. Charging more for city parking, enforcing a toll to enter the city centre and making certain days and areas car-free are also options.
But, while we’re still driving and encountering the mass of traffic, we need to take it easy and accept that anger and frustration, while inevitable, does nothing for our health. Listen to the radio or your favourite music, organise your time better, be a thoughtful driver (even if everyone else is awful!), try carpooling or taking the train, keep snacks and water in the carand when it gets unbearable, think of your happy place and try not to hit the car in front of you!