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Seven In 10 Northern Virginia Motorists Drive Alone, Spend 30 Minutes In Car

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All those single drivers lead to all that Virginia traffic.
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All those single drivers lead to all that Virginia traffic.

Despite a decades-long war against the use of single-occupancy vehicles, seven out of ten Virginia workers still get in their car and drive alone to work every day — and half of those drivers are alone in their cars for more than 30 minutes each day.

The good news for Northern Virginia is that fewer people here drive to work alone than in the rest of the U.S. Across the country, 76 percent of workers drive alone to work alone each day — 77 percent in Virginia. But that drops to 69 percent in Northern Virginia. Even then, some say that's too much.

"That figure is too high. It should be unacceptable to everybody," says Kitty Jerome, action center director at County Health Rankings, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

They looked at the use of single-occupancy vehicles across the country as an indication of health, and found the numbers troubling. For example, almost half of Northern Virginia single-occupancy drivers have a commute of more than 30 minutes each way.

The range of single-occupancy vehicle drivers who spend more than 30 minutes alone in their car ranges from nine percent in Charlottesville to 66 percent in Amelia County. (See map below.)

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin say all that time in the car is a public health threat.

"When we look at the rate of obesity in America, when we look at the air pollution in America and we look at the physical inactivity and we look at the outcome of social isolation and stress," says Jerome.

Arlington County has the smallest percentage of people in the region who drive to work alone each day, at 53 percent. Outside of Northern Virginia, only Lexington County has a lower rate — 51 percent.

"Arlington pre-planned. It zoned and build to take advantage to remove people from single driving cars as much as humanly possible," explains Jerome.

The debate about single-occupancy vehicle use is slowly moving from a conversation about social behavior to a discussion about economic incentives. As the use of technology advances, drivers are increasingly asked to pony up when they're alone in the car.

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