If your daily commute to work seems to be more of a hassle in 1989 than you remember it being in 1979, there's a simple explanation: It is.

"Americans' love for the open road is being dealt a serious setback by roads so crowded in some places that traveling by car is no longer the enjoyable experience it used to be," said Richard F. Hebert, managing director of public affairs for the American Automobile Association (AAA).And it's not just the big metro areas like Los Angeles, New York and Chicago that are slowly working their way toward gridlock, Hebert said. Severe traffic congestion is being felt in smaller areas, such as the Wasatch Front, and even on rural roadways.

According to a AAA survey of motorists across the country, many people now concede that traffic problems have grown so severe they are changing their driving habits - something few car-loving Americans would have admitted to a decade ago even under the threat of the energy crisis.

AAA's Travel Attitude Monitor survey of 1,000 motorists shows that 86 percent of drivers believe traffic congestion is worse or hasn't improved in the last year, and more than three-fourths say they changed their vacation plans in 1988 because of crowded roads. Only 3 percent felt that traffic congestion in their area improved in 1988 over '87.

Traffic congestion is of greatest concern to motorists in the Northeast and Midwest, where 87 percent said local roads are worse or unchanged from last year. Results from other surveyed regions include Great Lakes 86 percent, West 84 percent, and Southeast 83 percent.

Drivers in all age groups surveyed are affected by congestion, but motorists age 45 and over are most concerned as 90 percent felt traffic is worse or hadn't improved over the previous year. Seventy-six percent said they altered their vacation or pleasure travel plans last year because of traffic congestion. Changes included leaving earlier or later, allowing much more time to reach their destination and driving 10 miles or more out of their way to avoid congestion.

Traffic congestion was a serious enough problem that 9 percent of those surveyed decided not to take a vacation or pleasure trip, 6 percent altered their destination and 11 percent switched to a different month.

To help relieve serious traffic congestion, AAA recommends the following strategy:

- The federal government should release the nearly $10 billion balance in the Highway Trust Fund to construct and improve roads.

- States should designate scenic roads and promote travel on these roads as alternatives to other heavily traveled highways.

- Interstate bypasses should be built around congested metro areas, and, where possible, include separate truck-only lanes.

- Large trucks should be restricted to non-rush hour time periods on crowded key urban routes.

- Downtown truck deliveries should be restricted to non-rush hour time periods.

- More car and van pool programs should be initiated with preferential treatment given to two-person car pools.