Southern California traffic: Causes and solutions for stress on the road

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Traffic. It seems to be getting worse and worse. And what is all that traffic doing to us?

"When you're on the road for an hour each way a day, the toll that takes on you both physically and psychologically is tremendous," said Dr. Rick Shuman, a psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles.

Our own Scott Reiff, who flies over traffic daily in AIR7 HD and who's been covering Southern California traffic since the 1980s, has seen it worsen over the years.

"It's so bad now that no matter where you drive, or when, you should just expect to hit heavy traffic," said Reiff, while hovering above the traffic-choked 101 Freeway.

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And almost everyone does run into that heavy traffic these days. But while "more cars" is the obvious reason, there are other things that drivers can't necessarily see.

From his vantage point in AIR7 HD, Reiff sees all the things that can slow traffic down - for example, lanes ending or lanes narrowing due to construction. Sometimes the freeway is re-striped, and that can confuse drivers and cause them to slow. And some drivers deal with the rising or setting sun, right in their eyes.

"It can be tough. The visibility is reduced. It causes accidents, and it certainly slows down the flow of traffic," noted Reiff. He specified two long-time trouble spots for sun glare. The eastbound 101, going down the hill from Winnetka in the morning, and the 10 westbound by Kellogg Hill near Covina in the late afternoon and early evening.
So you can't do anything about those circumstances, but how can you deal with all of those things without getting so stressed out? Dr. Shuman has advice for his patients and others.

"If you're a driver, and you're stuck in traffic, one of the ways that you cope with that is recognizing, 'I can't control this, and I have to figure out how I'm going to adapt to it,'" he said.
It's a variation of "The Serenity Prayer."

Shuman then added, "So I suggest you just listen to great music. What I've been doing? Learning a foreign language. So I'm not quite fluent yet in French, but that's how I spend my time driving up the 405."

And there are things you can do to help your fellow drivers. Like avoiding those distractions behind the wheel. Texting, emailing, grooming, or other distractions are not only dangerous, you can end up slowing down everyone behind you. When a driver doesn't notice that the car ahead has begun moving or sped up, that lag ripples back to the other cars in the lane.
Also, frequent lane changing may or may not shave a couple of minutes off your drive. But what it can do, as a downside, is cause drivers in other lanes to have to brake. Which of course, makes the traffic a bit worse.

And then there's "rubber-necking," which seems to have been around as long as traffic itself. Slowing down to look at things like a disabled car on the shoulder takes your eyes off the road and adds to the congestion.

"You wondered what's stranded you for so long, and then you wish you wouldn't look. But I think most people do, unfortunately," noted Reiff.
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