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Traffic congestion

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Traffic congestion

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    This article is a travel topic
Traffic congestion (also called traffic jam) is when traffic either comes to a complete stop or slows below its normal speed. It is not a pleasant situation for anyone. It is stressful, causes those unlucky enough to get stuck in it to come later than planned to their destinations, and makes it take longer to get places. Nevertheless, it is a fact of life in and between urban areas around the world.

Traffic congestion in itself is not dangerous. Since excessive speed is the most common cause of accidents leading to death or bodily injury, and traffic congestion results in slow movement of vehicles, a motorist who is caught in a traffic jam is not in danger of an accident caused by high speed. Any accidents that occur would be at low speed. But the extreme measures of distressed motorists can lead to danger, including aggressive lane changing, rat running down small streets, U-turns, and speeding after the jam is over to make up lost time can be hazardous.

Causes of traffic jams[edit]

There are numerous causes of traffic jams. On limited access highways, generally, it is not traffic volume alone that contributes to traffic jams, but a combination of that and other factors. Along a city street, traffic volume can contribute to traffic problems, as motorists get stuck behind lights, and one light cycle may be insufficient to allow all the motorists behind a light to pass through. Some of the causes of traffic jams are:

  • Accidents, which can block one or more traffic lanes
  • Disabled vehicles, which may obstruct traffic
  • Rubbernecking of accidents, disabled vehicles, stopped motorists, or other sights out of the ordinary 
  • Construction, which may result in lane closures or the need to drive more slowly than normal
  • Events that draw large crowds
  • Inclement weather, leading motorists to have to drive more slowly or cautiously
  • Unforseen emergencies

Taking a detour[edit]

If you are stuck in a traffic jam, one thing to consider is whether or not to take a detour. Here are some questions to ask prior to making such a decision:

  • How well you know the area and the alternate routes
  • If alternate routes are any better. It is worth noting that:
    • Often, the alternate routes will be just as congested because others will be turning to them as well. In some cases, they could be worse.
    • If the speed on the limited access highway you are traveling on has been reduced from 60 mph/100kph to 30mph/50kph, you are traveling at this lower speed with no lights. If you get off and use city streets, you will be reduced to the same speeds, but also be slowed by traffic lights. This will not save time.
  • How much of a hurry you are in
  • How much fuel you will use staying on the congested road versus taking a detour
  •  How safe it is to get off the road you are on and onto an alternate route.

Don't act impulsive! You may be tempted, without thinking, to take a detour the moment you see so many cars stuck. It may not be the best thing. Think before you act.

Rat run[edit]

A "Rat run" is a detour on a smaller, often little known or less traveled street or road. A rat run can be a residential street user by drivers to evade traffic jams. According to the OED, a rat run is a minor, typically residential street used by drivers during peak periods to avoid congestion on main roads. For example, "our street was used as a rat run between two main roads." The phrase "rat run" tends to be used in Britain and Australia, and less in the US. For example, in London, black cab drivers often know the best and most secret "rat runs" - and they use them to avoid the major congested intersections and problem areas.

If you are familiar with the layout of an area, a rat run can be a good way to avoid the congested main roads. There are some things to keep in mind when determining whether or not to take a rat run.

  • How well do you know the area? Can you find your way around without getting lost?
  • Many side streets and other smaller roads have various restrictions, such as being one way, having prohibited turns, or not being open to thru traffic. These features are often in place to prevent rat running in quiet neighborhoods.
  • Many smaller streets and roads often have traffic calming devices, such as speed bumps, speed humps, traffic circles, all-way stops, and other features that require slowing down. This may make your overall trip down these streets slower.
  • Some places have laws restricting the us of rat runs. It is difficult to enforce such a law, or for a police officer to determine if a motorist is doing that, when even the smallest of side streets are considered public and are open to all motorists. Some residential developments are private property, and cutting through them may be considered trespassing, which could constitute more than just a traffic violation.
  • It may be a good idea to be considerate and respect the peace and quiet of residential streets and the safety of their residents, especially small children. The safety of area residents may be compromised by high levels of traffic whizzing down at high rates of speed, and motorists whose minds are focused on quickly reaching a destination rather than pedestrians and children playing.

Avoiding traffic jams[edit]

You can reduce your chances of getting caught in a traffic jam by traveling outside of rush hour.

It is important to keep in mind that the term "rush hour" is not the same in all areas, and varies by location. It can be anytime, 24/7, depending on the hours of employers and other facilities in the region.

Consider alternative forms of transportation, such as public transportation. While it may be slower than a personal vehicle, it may be less stressful, and you will help take a vehicle off the road when you are riding a public transportation vehicle that would be running anyway.

Traffic reports[edit]

Traffic reports have existed for decades and can be an aid in your travels. They may not always be able to spare you having to sit in heavy traffic, but they can at the very least let you know what to expect, and help you decide whether or not to take a detour.

There are several ways to get information on the traffic conditions:

  • Radio: Many radio stations have periodic traffic reports. They will let you know about the conditions on the main highways in the region, and sometimes of problems on secondary roads.
  • Highway signs: In some places, electronic signs on the highways inform motorists of road conditions and upcoming obstructions. They may provide information on how many minutes one may expect it to take to travel a certain number of miles/kilometers.
  • Your smartphone: There are various sites accessible on your smartphone that can give you up-to-date traffic information. Mapping sites like Google Maps or MapQuest or local news sites or certain apps may provide this. Check what is available in each area. Commonly, such maps will display green lines for normal traffic, yellow lines for slowed traffic, and red lines for nearly stopped traffic. There are also some sites that display live images of various points along the route taken by cameras mounted in these locations. WARNING: Do NOT use your smartphone to determine traffic conditions or for any other purpose while driving. It is very dangerous, and in most places, illegal. If you have a passenger, you may have them do it for you. Or you can pull over and check.
  • GPS Navigator: Many but not all GPS navigation devices are capable of getting current traffic information and some actually when necessary will lead you on a detour.

Dos and don'ts when caught in a traffic jam[edit]


  • Be patient. Patience is all too important. You cannot survive a traffic jam without patience.
  • Realize that nothing you can do personally can alleviate a traffic jam. If you are caught in the middle, it is truly beyond your control.
  • Pay attention to the speed at which you are moving. If it does not dip below the speed of alternate routes, stay on your route.
  • If you are driving an automatic transmission vehicle, if you are able to, when a space comes up ahead of you, ease ahead by simply removing your foot from the brakes and not using the gas pedal if you do not need to. This will save you fuel.
  • If there is no obstruction requiring you to leave your lane, and your do not need to change lanes to exit or turn somewhere, stay in your lane. Other motorists may panic and try to leave your lane, thinking it looks better. If you stay, it may move faster.
  • If you can find a traffic report, listen to it carefully. It may help you determine the cause and severity of the jam you are caught in, and what the best options are.


  • Don't panic! Panicking may lead you to do things that may not be the best choices. While you are slowed, it is an opportunity to evaluate the situation and think about your options.
  • Avoid any forms of distracted driving, and don't view it as an opportunity to multi-task your driving with other activities. Though you may be sitting still one moment, it may be necessary to move ahead on a split second's notice, and you must be fully attentive.
  • Do not use the horn simply because you are impatient. This will not make the traffic move faster. This will only cause more stress within your fellow motorists. Limit horn use to necessary situations, such as preventing an accident.
  • Do not flash your lights at other motorists simply because you are impatient. This will not make the traffic move faster.
  • Do not get out of your vehicle to yell at other motorists. They are in the same boat and cannot do anything that you can't do to alleviate traffic. Only get out of your vehicle if an emergency necessitates it.
  • Do not use the shoulder as a private lane unless directed to do so by a police officer. This is illegal and extremely selfish. The shoulder is the emergency lane, and it may be necessary for emergency vehicles to reach those who have been in the very accident that is causing the traffic jam. By using the shoulder, you could be interfering with rescuers trying to reach their victims, and you may be encouraging other motorists to use the shoulder to bypass the stopped traffic, which will quickly make the shoulder into another stopped lane of traffic.
  • Do not use a parking lot or private driveway to bypass stopped traffic. Entering private property without a legitimate reason may not only be a traffic violation. It could also be considered trespassing, far more of a violation of the law.

See also[edit]