Traffic Hell Tops Kids' Yell in Road-Trip Tensions Study

CARS.COM — Going over the river and through the woods isn't nearly as enchanting as the song would suggest when the bridge has traffic backed up 2 miles into the merge. A new study finds gridlock foils the family road trip more than any other factor — from fuel to fussbudgets.

Related: Tech-Free Travel: Road-Trip Games, No Screen Necessary

In a GM-commissioned Harris Poll of 1,063 parents in the U.S. with children under 18, nearly two-thirds of the group said traffic beat out packing, fuel costs and children as the most stressful aspect of any road trip. It's little wonder, as transportation analytics firm Inrix's annual traffic report finds America home to five of the 10 most congested cities on the planet.

Sources of Stress

If all those brakelights make you want to break something, you aren't alone. In a multiple-answer question, 63 percent of respondents named traffic and "other unexpected delays" as one of the most stressful aspects to a road trip, GM spokeswoman Katie Amann told Cars.com. That beat out packing (39 percent), fuel costs (37 percent), getting lost (24 percent) and a slew of peanut-gallery stressors: child entertainment (31 percent), ETA requests (26 percent), arguments (20 percent) and children's music selections (11 percent).

Interestingly, 4 percent of respondents said nothing stressed them out about family road trips, Amann said. (That's 43 respondents, give or take. We must find them and document their practices.)

Everybody Loves Road Trips

The good news? Despite the stressors, 93 percent of parents said they like or love family road trips, and 86 percent of those who took them growing up said they have many fond memories from those journeys. Asked why they enjoy road trips, respondents cited time with family, unplugging from the daily grind, enjoying food and snacks, and exploring the open road.

Two-thirds of respondents involve their kids in road-trip planning, and they bring an average of 6.6 mobile devices in the car. Fifty-six percent said the trip would benefit from in-car Wi-Fi — a feature increasingly available in new cars, though it typically incurs a monthly subscription fee once the free trial runs out.

More Distance, Less Driving

In the not-so-distant future, those road trips may involve less actual driving, even as the distance traveled increases. A new study by IHS Markit expects vehicle miles traveled to increase 65 percent by 2040 in four global regions (the U.S., China, Europe and India) even as auto sales decrease. Self-driving cars will account for "a significant share of new vehicle sales after 2030," the firm said, as technological developments meet reductions in regulatory and social barriers. Indeed, so-called "mobility as a service" fleets will account for a significant share of miles traveled by the mid-2030s, according to the study.

But that doesn't mean the family road trip will become a service where you hail a self-driving pod to pile the kids in — at least not anytime soon. Mobility fleets have the most potential to impact markets where few people own cars, but "there will be much that looks familiar, even in 2040," said Tom De Vleesschauwer, IHS Markit's transport and mobility practice leader, in a statement.

"The majority of new cars sold and miles traveled will be in vehicles purchased for personal use," De Vleesschauwer said. "But the future of automotive transport will be an era defined by multidimensional competition. And the changes that future brings about will be profound and permanent."

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