Americans are spending more time in traffic than ever before, according to new data released by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
FHWA’s 2016 Urban Congestion Trends report shows that, on average, U.S. cities saw 4 hours and 43 minutes of congestion each day, up from 2015’s daily average of 4 hours and 40 minutes. FHWA defines “hours of congestion” as the amount of time, in hours, when freeways operate at less than 90 percent of free-flow, freeway speeds.
And, it seems in several cases already existing roadway improvements are happening too slow to remedy the problem.
Increased congestion is outpacing system improvements gained from investments in gridlock reduction strategies, such as road widenings, better intermodal connections, and traffic and demand management technologies,” stated Martin Knopp, FHWA associate administrator.
This imbalance means there’s little hope congestion will lighten any time soon. It’s important now, more than ever, that drivers know how to safely navigate sticky traffic situations.
Ten tips for safe driving in congestion
- Leave earlier than usual to help reduce the impact of traffic jams on your journey.
- Depart with the right attitude. If you anticipate getting stuck in traffic when you begin your drive, you’ll be less agitated when you do.
- Leave a safe gap. Keep a three-second gap between you and the car in front of you to allow you a better view of the road, more time to react, and more space to brake or steer out of the way if there’s a hazard. Maintain a safe gap when roads are busy, and expect a lot of stop-start traffic.
- Stay alert. Even if stuck in a traffic jam, stay alert, awake, and present in the moment. You always need to know what’s happening around you as the road environment can change quickly.
- Leave an escape route when you pull up behind another vehicle. Don’t creep up as close as you can to the car in front of you. Leave enough room so that you see the vehicle's tires, as well as the roadway between the two of you.
- Keep checking mirrors when stopped. Other drivers are not always attentive and might not notice that traffic has stopped again. By keeping an eye on what other road users are doing, you have more chance of being able to get out of the way if you need to.
- Tune into traffic updates. Radio traffic reports can provide you with alternative routes around incidents, as well as other information such as road closures and weather-affected travel.
- Remain focused. Even when your vehicle is at rest, whether at a stop light or in traffic, keep your eyes on the road. Using your mobile device while stopped can render you unprepared for unexpected situations, such as ambulances and neighboring incidents. Click here for more information about distracted driving for teens.
- Keep your cool. No matter how long you have been stuck in a traffic jam, don’t let stress get the best of you. Anger results when the rate of speed or time schedule cannot be achieved and drivers place blame on others. If necessary, plan to leave a few minutes early to ensure you arrive at your destination on time. Hold yourself accountable.
- Watch your speed once traffic begins moving. Don’t be tempted to rush to make up lost time. Take a deep breath, drive at a safe speed, and allow yourself to feel pleased that you haven’t let the traffic get in your way of being a safe, SMART driver.
Now that you know how to deal with traffic jams, read our SMART Driving Principles Guide to avoid a collision in almost any driving situation.