Traffic congestion is deadly

Here’s some bad news for Brisbane commuters who endure the slow crawl along Coronation Drive and our other major roads in peak hour – traffic congestion can cause heart attacks, according to a new study published in the pre-eminent medical journal The Lancet. As reported in Time Magazine (Major Triggers of Heart Attack: Alcohol, Coffee — and Sitting in Traffic):

Exposure to traffic, which can increase blood pressure as well as absorption of heart-harming exhaust, seemed to pose the greatest relative risk to the heart, accounting in the researchers’ model for 7.4% of attacks. This was followed by physical exertion, responsible for about 6% of heart attacks, and then by alcohol, coffee and air pollution, each of which contributed to about 5% of events. (Other smaller risks included anger, sex and smoking marijuana.)

To the extent that heart attacks are associated with the stress of traffic congestion itself (rather than air pollution) we would need to revise upward the estimated $13.5 billion cost of traffic congestion across Australia’s capital cities ($1.8 billion in Brisbane). These estimates are from the Commonwealth Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics (see tables on pages 129-130):

Estimating urban traffic and congestion cost trends for Australian cities

The congestion costs estimated by the Bureau include the value of time lost due to congestion, increased vehicle operating costs, and the health costs of air pollution, but not health costs associated with the stress of congestion.

The Lancet study is another good reason for our governments and local councils to promote public transport, cycling and walking. And, as identified in the Henry Tax Review (see pages 53-54 of the Overview), it may be time to consider congestion charges for vehicles travelling through our central business districts in peak hours.

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