With summer vacation driving about to begin, predictions that traffic congestion -- a major source of driver frustration and fatigue -- will increase dramatically this year.
While the U.S. population has increased 30 percent in the past 30 years, the number of licensed vehicles has increased 87 percent and vehicle miles traveled increased 130 percent. Today, there are more licensed cars than licensed drivers in the U.S. Traffic now exceeds road capacity in more than half of the nation's 50 largest urban areas. Highway traffic congestion causes an estimated 3.5 billion hours of delays per year in 75 of the largest metropolitan areas.
"Americans love life in the car, but they hate life on the road," says Ben Soraci, U.S. manager of ExxonMobil's company-operated On the Run convenience stores. "The car is our private space; our personal refuge where we can listen to whatever music we like, or sing as loud as we want. But life on the move is frustrating due to traffic congestion, anticipating bad drivers making sudden moves, and dealing with whatever weather Mother Nature has in store."
Recognizing this, ExxonMobil studied the needs, wants, attitudes and behaviors of the nation's drivers to help improve the overall driving experience. One finding: taking periodic breaks is an important factor in making the journey safer and more enjoyable. And when drivers do stop, they expect a lot more than just re-fueling their cars.
To help provide a small oasis from the crowded highways, On the Run's design engineers have gone as far as designing each store's layout with drivers' needs in mind, to make it as easy as possible to find what they want, in a friendly atmosphere.
"Taking a break helps motorists sharpen their focus on driving," says Soraci. "Around a quarter of all traffic incidents are caused by distractions, which account for 1.2 million problems. When distracted, drivers react more slowly to traffic conditions, fail more often to recognize potential hazards and decrease their margin of safety. Even seemingly innocent activities such as reaching or leaning, manipulating music, or adjusting temperature controls can be significant distractions."
Soraci advises that before you start a trip make sure you know how to get to your destination. Have an alternate route in mind, or an atlas in the car. Limit each day's drive to 300 miles; switch drivers even if you don't feel tired. Roll down the windows to increase ventilation to help stay alert. Take regular breaks from driving at a place that's easily accessible from the highway, like On the Run. Eat light meals and drink stimulating beverages like coffee, tea or other caffeinated drinks.
"More daylight and shorter nights, combined with increased vacation travel to enjoy the season, can result in fatigue and falling asleep while driving," says Soraci. "Sleeplessness increases attention lapses, while slowing reaction time and cognitive processing. Take remedial action before stress and fatigue gets the better of you.
"If we all share the road safely and be patient in traffic, we can help reduce the anxiety about overcrowding that can actually increase congestion."