Experts recommend making the extra effort to avoid peak driving hours. You may even end up getting home at the same time as if you had left earlier.
"Maybe it is better off to say, 'I'm going to put the radio on a station that's nice, and kind of chill out for the 30 or 40 minutes, rather than aggressively try to get home and beat everyone else,'" Strayer says.
Distractions: When driving kills quickly
People get bored while driving for a long time. They want something else going on while they're just looking at cars crawling around them. But some forms of entertainment are far more dangerous than others.
Strayer and colleagues used a driving simulator to look at just how distracting technology can be in the car. A 2008 study from his group, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, found that people made more errors driving while talking on a cellphone than while chatting with another passenger.
The impact of those errors is more than you might imagine. The researchers showed in a 2006 study that talking on a cellphone, in terms of how it impairs driving, is comparable to a blood alcohol level of .08, which is the legal limit in the United States.
About one in three fatalities on the road can be linked to some kind of distraction; some estimates put this figure even higher, Strayer says.
Distractions in your car can slow everyone else down, too, Strayer says. Computer modeling shows that if one car is not keeping up with the flow of traffic, the number of vehicles per lane, per hour, declines as more drivers are distracted. That can add precious minutes onto the commute you're complaining is too long anyway.
We all know that texting while driving is risky. But even hands-free, voice-activated interaction with phones can be distracting, Strayer says. Some conversations are not mundane -- you may find yourself in a heated argument or in the middle of a breakup talk (not to mention a breakup text).
What are the precise demands on your brain with voice-activated systems and what are the consequences of that? Bryan Reimer, research scientist at the MIT AgeLab and associate director of the New England University Transportation Center, is looking into this question.
Reimer is working with Toyota's Collaborative Safety Research Center to study the visual and nonvisual demands of your attention while driving. Results should be out sometime next year.
"If you feel anxiety and your phone goes off, that's a problem," Strayer says. With all of the notifications barraging our smartphones from e-mail, text, social media and calendars, "It's a little unclear what long-term consequences of that are."
Changing your commute?
After several years, the daily drive to and from work in high-traffic areas can really get under some people's skin.
"It was something that was taking an enormous toll on my overall happiness, on my ability to deal with stress, on the amount of free time that I had," says Micah Puett, who used to live in Atlanta and worked for Turner Broadcasting in the 1990s.
It wasn't until Puett moved to Denver and found himself in a similarly perilous commuting situation that he realized how much the driving was affecting him. He made a bold choice: centralizing where he lives and works.
Puett now lives in a more urban neighborhood of Denver, where he can walk and bike around. In the warmer months, he'll ride a motor scooter, and two weeks might pass without him using a car. Since he is a contractor, Puett can be selective about which companies he works for based on travel time. (He'll accept longer commutes if they're short-term commitments.)
"Having lived the way I live now, you couldn't pay me enough for me to live out in the suburbs, or live anywhere, and commit to a 45-minute or hourlong commute every day," he says. "There's no amount of money that I would accept to do that."
But there are plenty of people who don't -- or can't -- draw that line. Ramona Patrick is the principal of an elementary school and drives 55 miles through Los Angeles to get to work Monday through Friday. She'll leave later in the evening to avoid traffic, but "your life is either on the road or at work."
And Minnick says she loves her job enough to make the trek from Athens three times a week. Podcasts and audio books help her get through.
"I would never say that this is fun," she says of her commute. "I feel like I've done a good job of making it more enjoyable. I'm really good at knowing what's going to make me happy for two hours."