For many Frederick County residents, commuting 1-2 hours a day to get to and from their DC area jobs is the norm. According to one Washington Post poll, “Washington-area residents spend nearly twice as long getting to work as people in the rest of the nation. They also get stuck in traffic jams three times more often than commuters in the rest of the country” (Ginsburg). Yet, most commuters in our area still prefer to drive themselves to work.
When weighing the option to either drive yourself to work or carpool, it would be smart to consider the benefits and drawbacks of both, as well as to take an inventory of how each option fits your priorities, goals, and preferences. A carpool is made up of two or more people who share a ride. The obvious benefits of carpooling include reduced traffic congestion and improved air quality; while some of the more personal benefits of carpooling are: being able to relax or read while someone else drives, saving on the cost of gas, reducing wear and tear on your vehicle, and obtaining possible discounts on auto insurance (“Transportation Options”).
It is also most likely to be faster, cheaper, cleaner, and less crowded than public transportation (Zimmerman). Recently, the Internet has made it easier to connect with locals that want to share a ride. Disadvantages of carpooling may include: having to ride with strangers (or putting yourself out there and making the effort to meet new people), not having the freedom to run errands on the way home if needed, and having to remember carpool etiquette (Zimmerman). People sharing rides typically live and/or work near each other and have a similar work schedule – which could be difficult to arrange (Yeager).
One disadvantage of being a carpool driver is the potential legal action from passengers in the case of an accident. Although most metropolitan area carpool organizations these days offer a “guaranteed ride home” service of some sort (“Transportation Options”), you would need to find alternate transportation on a day when your carpool driver is sick or on vacation. Driving one’s own vehicle, the preferred method of getting where you need to go for decades now, has plenty of its own advantages and disadvantages of course.
Advantages of driving yourself include: being in control of where you go and at what speed, the ability to have a conversation on speaker phone (hands-free, mind you) without having to worry about annoying or offending other passengers, and the ability to listen to your own music at whichever volume you desire. An article on Associated Content, a news Website for Yahoo, suggests that drivers may also choose their car over ride sharing because of conflicting schedules, unpredictable overtime, long hours, sudden demands and unexpected deadlines (Nyholm).
One of the biggest disadvantages of commuting in your own car is the cost. The average cost of owning and operating a vehicle in 2009 was 54 cents per mile, or over $14,000 per year, according to AAA’s 2009 Edition of Driving Costs as listed on the Commuter Connections Website (“Transportation Options”). Even so, owning and driving a vehicle is somewhat of an American standard and a right of passage. Driving is a responsibility people take on with a sense of pride.
Edward McDonagh, a Sociology professor who served as dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Ohio State University, was once quoted as saying “The car has become a secular sanctuary for the individual, his shrine to the self, his mobile Walden Pond” (“Driving Quotes”). People love their cars so much that they are willing to keep on driving despite the expense, the high volume of traffic, and the adverse effects it may have on the planet. Carpooling is definitely more earth-friendly, while driving is obviously more self-satisfying for a multitude of reasons.
It is important to think about where your priorities lie – whether or not you want to make more of an effort to go green, help reduce rush hour congestion, or save a little money and wear and tear on your car; or whether your life dictates that you have the freedom to come and go as you please. When deciding whether or not carpooling is right for you, it makes sense to explore each option, to compare all of the advantages and disadvantages of both driving yourself and carpooling, and to think about which best fits your lifestyle.