Traffic - The Human Causes
Every day, drivers up and down the country are sitting in traffic jams. While some are brief and quickly over, others can last for many hours. Of course, there is not a single cause of traffic but instead a combination of several. Causes, such as accidents, are arguably unavoidable as by their very nature... they are accidents. The UK's roads also are seeing more cars use them than ever before; data published by the Government shows that there was just over 21 million cars on our roads in 1994. 2020 saw 30.6 million cars being driven. Many of the UK's roads have not been improved to cater for this increase, so we cannot ignore this factor when considering traffic.
That being said, there are a few things that we, as drivers, do to cause traffic unnecessarily. If we all made some ever so slight improvements to our driving, traffic could be reduced or even avoided altogether in some circumstances.
Distraction and Human Reaction
Traffic at traffic lights or a junction is a common sight, and of course it is always you stuck at the red! The simple answer is, if we all pulled away at exactly the same time and exactly the same speed, more drivers would get through the lights in one go. Now, this is never going to happen. Asking drivers to all move at the exact same time would require synchronisation and communication skills... skills that not everyone possess.
One simpler solution to this issue is improving our concentration when waiting at a red light or a junction. Being distracted by food, the radio, our surroundings or even a mobile phone (which is illegal!) can delay a driver in pulling away by a few seconds. These seconds could have allowed more cars through the lights or junction, thus easing the congestion behind. What's more, the cars behind who are concentrating may have started to move towards the clear road ahead but are then forced to brake by the driver in front not concentration. As we will discuss later, harsh braking is a big cause of congestion.
So, keep the distractions to a minimum and pay attention to the road ahead. Don't be that driver that takes their time at green lights and pulling out at junctions!
'Rubber necking' is a term we are all familiar with and ties in nicely with managing our distractions when driving. The term rubber necking refers to staring at something of interest, often twisting our neck around to get a better view. Hence the term 'rubber neck'. When talking about driving and traffic, drivers love to rubber neck when they see an accident, even if it is on the other side of the road or carriageway. It comes from our very strange trait of morbid curiosity: we are fascinated by danger, a wreckage or serious injury.
We are all guilty of slowing down and having a good look when we see a smashed up car and a stream of blue flashing lights, but the reality is that rubber necking is not only dangerous but a significant contributing factor to congestion. For example, an accident on the northbound motorway can easily cause a tailback on the southbound carriageway. Then the second you pass the accident, the traffic is free flowing again. As we slow down to gawk at the accident we are passing, drivers behind are forced to slow, sometimes to a complete stop. This has a chain effect on the other cars behind, quickly leading to a lengthy tailback. Furthermore, it may even cause another accident and small shunts are common in rubber necking situations.
Keep your eyes on the road ahead, don't slow down just to stare at an accident and keep the flow of traffic moving.
Changing Lanes and Harsh Braking
Being stuck in traffic when we have places to be is a nightmare and we can often adopt a selfish driving style to speed up our progress. Unfortunately, this actually worsens the problem for those behind. Now you may be thinking "well I don't care about the people behind", but think of how many people in front of you had the same thought and made things worse for you! You have probably noticed during traffic on a motorway that the gantry sign may display "Congestion. Stay in Lane" and this is for good reason.
We have already covered the issue of middle lane hogging in one of our blogs which can also contribute to traffic. During heavy congestion, we are advised to stay in lane because switching lane causes the traffic behind to slow. Seeing a large gap can be tempting to dart into if that lane is moving faster. But you pulling into that gap, followed by harsh braking, will cause the car behind to brake; the car behind that one to brake harsher and so on until the queue of traffic has to come to a complete stop. This ripple effect can be felt for miles!
Similarly, keeping a safe distance from the car in front actually allows traffic to flow faster and smoother. Sitting too close to car in front results in a cycle of harsh braking and speeding back up. As mentioned above, this harsh braking has a knock on effect on the cars behind. Maintaining a gap between your car and the next not only reduces the risk of an accident but allows you to drive at a continuous speed, rather than periods of speeding up and stopping.
Don't pull into gaps being left by drivers, stay in lane during congestion and be aware of the lane you are using during times of moderate traffic.
Be a Jam Buster
So, those are our top tips to being part of the solution when it comes to congestion. Of course, this is not a complete list and using public transport where possible is another great idea. But if you are using your car, be a considerate driver, follow these simple tips and plan your journey.
After all, the average UK driver spends FOUR YEARS of their life stuck in traffic. Think of all the better things you could do that with that time. With four extra years you might get round to sorting out the loft or fixing that leaking tap you have been promising to do!!