The Advantages and Disadvantages of Driving to Work

Is it better to drive? Or use public transport? Well, that depends. Check out the advantages and disadvantages of driving to work.

Reviewed by Hayley Ramsey

Person driving to work instead of commuting

The option of driving to work is often a given choice for most workers – they prefer to be in their own space, stick to their personal schedule and generally feel more comfortable. But is commuting to work by car the most affordable and logical option? Or would you save a lot of stress, hassle and money by finding an alternative method to get to work?

Here we uncover both the pros and cons of commuting to and from work by car.

The advantages

1. Your personal space remains personal

If you’re a germaphobe (like me), you’re probably already sold on this first point. Who wants to be squashed like a sardine on a busy train full of people coughing and spurting their guts out?

And what’s even worse is entering a jam-packed train carriage on a hot summer’s day at rush hour, only to be faced with a smelly armpit and too many people entering your personal space.

So, if you’re big on traveling in pure bliss, there’s no other option than commuting to work by car!

2. You’re not faced with time constraints

Missing your morning alarm happens from time to time, whether it’s because your phone battery died, you forgot to set your alarm, or you switched the alarm off in your sleep. If you commute to work, it’s not usually a big deal as you can make up the time on the road and get there as soon as possible.

traveling to work by public transport is another story, though. You can end up missing your regular bus or train, and you may have to wait up to half an hour for the next one. Before you know it, you’ve missed that important meeting — and you’re in trouble with your boss!

3. It can be your downtime

Many of you will agree that mornings are probably the craziest time of the day — particularly if you’re a working parent. The whole routine of wake up, make breakfast, pack lunches, feed the [insert pet(s) of choice here], do some quick housework, get ready and drop the kids off at school — all in the space of an hour or two — can suck the energy right out of you.

Driving to work, though, can be your downtime. It’s the perfect opportunity to relax from the morning confusion, collect your thoughts and mentally prepare yourself for the day ahead. You can even use it to educate yourself by listening to a podcast of interest or an audiobook.

4. You can sing to your heart’s content

You don’t have to be auditioning to The X Factor to agree with this advantage. Let’s face it: having a little singalong on your commute is fun, it puts you in a good mood, and it lifts your spirits for the day! (I’m clearly speaking from experience here!)

On the contrary, trying to sing to your heart’s content on the train will only spur many troubled looks and some unwanted attention. So, if you’re the typical behind-the-wheel soloist, traveling to work by car can make a world of difference!

5. It’s often quicker

If you aren’t traveling into the center of a busy city like London or New York, then getting to work by car can often be quicker. You’re more likely to take A-roads and shortcuts to get to your place of work, without having to endure the continuous stops that come with public transport. You’ll even avoid strikes, delays and other possible disruptions that train commuters often face.

That said, commuting in your own vehicle is also an advantage if you’re faced with an emergency and need to leave the office. It will save you planning out your destination route and will also ensure that you get there as soon as possible.

6. It’s more comfortable

Understandably, traveling in your own space is way more comfortable than commuting by train, which usually includes a walk to the station or bus stop and then a couple of changes in between. This type of commute gets increasingly more difficult when you have to lug a laptop, gym bag or any other personal possession with you.

You’ll also be able to control the temperature of your vehicle, the music or radio station, and even wait in your car if necessary — a much better alternative to hanging around in an overcrowded train station.

7. It can be social if you car-share

Carpooling is not only great for saving money on petrol costs, but also a good way to socialize and make friends at work. You can even take it in turns to drive each other so your vehicle doesn’t incur too many wear-and-tear costs.

Besides creating meaningful relationships, car sharing also helps the environment by reducing carbon emissions, traffic congestion and air pollution. Just a small change like reducing non-renewable energy sources can make such a big difference to the environment for years to come.

8. You have a more scenic route

Let’s face it: underground tunnels are boring, which is why everyone has their face buried in a Kindle or their phones. On the other hand, driving in the countryside is much more scenic, and it can be much more refreshing than a bog-standard bus or train ride.

If you have alternative routes — which you most likely will — you can choose which way to travel depending on your mood, meaning that you don’t have to endure the same monotonous drive day in and day out.

9. Driving supports productive thinking

While some may use the time in a car to unwind and decompress from the events of the morning, an added benefit is to utilize that hard-to-come-by, uninterrupted time for some productive thinking. Psychologists have researched over the years that while driving is a complex task, it also frees up parts of the brain to think productively that may not have been there before.

So, when you look at it that way, if you have a major task that you can’t seem to make any headway on, maybe it’s time to jump in and complete that complex task of driving and open up the brain for problem solving at the same time!

10. It sets clear boundaries

You can’t work while you're driving — at least, it’s not recommended to be typing away on your computer plugging numbers into your spreadsheet for your upcoming meeting. This gives you a safe space to set clear work-life balance boundaries that may not have otherwise existed without driving.

For most of us involved in remote work, our commute is from one room in our house to another, or from laying down to sitting up, which makes it hard to establish boundaries of where work stops and where it begins. An advantage of driving to work is that it creates that much needed separation where you can focus on nothing but the road if you so choose, and no one can fault you for it. What freedom!

The disadvantages

1. It can be hard to find parking

Driving to work comes with its difficulties, too, and the biggest trouble that comes with commuting by car is the dreadful search for a good parking spot. Unless your work offers on-site parking (which is rare), then you’ll most likely spend a good while searching for the closest free parking garage to your workplace.

That said, it’s also not so dreadful as it forces you to stretch your legs on the way to and from work. With such a sedentary lifestyle, parking away from the office can be your exercise for the day — just make sure that you allow yourself enough time before you need to be in the office!

2. There are many hidden costs

The cost of running a car can often be much higher (in the long run) than using public transport. Wear and tear is expensive, and it can cause a lot of unexpected overheads when you endure a long commute.

To ensure you’re always ready for mechanical malfunctions or general wear and tear to your car, it’s wise to always have an emergency fund set aside. This way, you’ll be able to cover the cost of the fixes without getting into debt. After all, getting to work is a necessity that can’t be ignored.

3. Driving is bad for your health

If you’re an office worker, you’re most likely to lead a sedentary life, and commuting to work by car can only add to the inactive lifestyle. However, the stress you face on the road can be far more damaging to your health than the lack of movement.

It not only increases stress levels and blood pressure, but it also gives you backaches, and it increases the risk of mental health illnesses, including anxiety and depression, according to Time. But that’s not all: it also affects your work productivity and even your personal relationships, as you become less social and trusting of other people.

4. It’s dangerous

Traffic jams, roadworks and accidents add to the increasing danger that lingers on the roads. You never know what’s going to jump out at you when you least expect it (stray animals, motorcyclists or pedestrians) and you can sometimes not anticipate what another reckless driver will do.

Bad weather is also an added danger to your daily commute; with pouring rain, thunderstorms and hailstones, you’re more likely to be delayed and be at risk of an accident due to the slippery roads and blurred vision.

5. It increases pollution levels

Besides the risk of being involved in a car accident, commuting by car also exposes you to more pollution. Regardless of whether you drive with the windows up or down, the exposure you get from recycled air in your vents is still hazardous.

This level of pollution is also detrimental to our lungs and the environment. Writing for HowStuffWorks, Linda Brinson says: “Air pollutants emitted from cars are believed to cause cancer and contribute to such problems as asthma, heart disease, birth defects and eye irritation.”

6. You can get caught in traffic

A large disadvantage of commuting by car is the risk of getting stuck in traffic for hours on end. Unlike public transport, you can’t just get out of your car and walk to work or home. Instead, you have to sit through the painful traffic jam with all the other irritated and restless drivers on the road.

This annoyance can then have a knock-on effect for the rest of your day or evening. You’ll end up missing out on work and may need to make the time back later, or you won’t get to unwind and relax if you’re on your way home from work.

7. It’s a big responsibility

There’s a lot of added responsibility that comes with driving; you’re not only responsible for your own life, but also those around you. You can’t just drift off or daydream for a while (like you can on a train). You have to be alert and aware at all times, ensuring that you’re driving at the correct speed and looking out for any hazards around you.

8. You have the cost of maintaining a car

Outside of the fees to actually own and maintain a vehicle, think about the time that goes into training, testing and re-testing just to be able to drive a car. Not only do you have to pay for all the tests, you have to find the time to study for your driver's test, go to the DMV to take the test, and pass to drive.

Once you've done all that, you have to maintain it through the entirety of your driving career. There may be updates to laws that require additional research and study or additional tests; it’s so much work! While driving is a highly complex skill, it goes to show you, it may be more work than it's worth in the long run just to drive to work.

9. You could gain weight

One disadvantage of driving to work is the potential for weight gain. The British Medical Journal found that people who drive to work have a higher body mass index (BMI) than those that get to work by other means. This study doesn't just include those that walk, cycle or run to work, it also includes individuals who take public transportation and commute.

Women who drove to work had a BMI 0.7 points higher and weighed more than 5 pounds more than those who didn’t drive. While men who drove to work had a BMI 1 full point higher and weighed nearly seven pounds more than men who didn’t drive to work; a true disadvantage of driving to work.

10. You can't use your mobile phone

While the thought of listening to your favorite podcast may be exciting, it can also ruin your day if your electronic device messes up while driving. But the real question is, do you pull over to fix it? Most of us just fumble through going back to our podcast while at a stoplight or attempting to keep one eye on the road and continue driving.

This is considered distracted driving and it is illegal in most states. Penalties in some states start at $136 and go up from there as you get more tickets for driving under the influence of electronics. If you don’t get your electronic device set up properly before you hit the road, you'll either be late for work, or you could have a long, terrifyingly quiet journey, instead of the podcast-filled drive you had intended.

Final thoughts

While driving to work has its perks, you must also take into consideration the negative effects that it can cause. For some, it’s a given choice, but for others, it’s merely an option.

What do you think? Is driving the best way of commuting to work, or do you prefer taking the safer option and traveling to work by bus? Perhaps you’re very health-conscious and prefer walking or cycling to work? Join the conversation down below and let us know!

This article is an updated version originally published in January 2015 and contains contributions by staff writer Shalie Reich.