Traffic Jams: Causes, Coping, and How to Avoid Them
Nobody likes being caught in the middle of a traffic jam. Unfortunately, they're a fact of life when you spend any amount of time behind the wheel. Being stuck in traffic doesn't have to send your blood pressure through the roof, though. There are plenty of ways to keep yourself entertained while you're stuck in traffic either by yourself or with passengers. And of course, there are also some measures you can take to potentially avoid traffic jams in the first place.
Common Causes of Traffic Jams
Unfortunately, vehicle accidents are one of the most common causes of traffic jams. This is especially true on the freeway, where an accident blocks multiple lanes or causes drivers to "rubberneck" as they pass. In the event of a fatal accident, the entire roadway may need to be shut down for a police investigation, which can create major headaches for drivers who need to find alternate routes to their destinations.
Road construction is another common cause of traffic jams. When roadwork is being done, it is common for one or even multiple lanes to be blocked off. Signs may be set up for miles alerting drivers to the upcoming lane closure, but many drivers will ignore these signs and wait until the last second to try and merge into an open lane. This can create traffic jams that last for miles.
In some cases, a traffic jam may occur in the same stretch of road at the same time every day (known as rush hour). This happens when there are simply too many cars on the road at the same time, most often during the week when people are heading to work in the mornings and back home from work in the evenings.
Coping When You're Stuck in Traffic
Being stuck in traffic can be a pain, especially when you have somewhere to be (or need to use the restroom!). Fortunately, there are some practical ways to keep yourself entertained until the traffic jam clears up.
If you're on your own, consider entertaining yourself by listening to a podcast, an audio book, or even just some of your favorite music. If you won't be moving for awhile, you could also make a phone call to a friend or family member to keep yourself occupied and catch up with a loved one. Or, if being stuck in this traffic jam is going to make you late to an appointment, why not use this time to call and reschedule?
If you're feeling particularly stressed about being stuck in traffic, use this time to meditate or engage in some deep breathing exercises. One great breathing exercise to try for stress relief is to breathe in deeply through your nose for 3-5 seconds and exhale through your mouth slowly. Repeat this a few times and you'll feel the stress melt away.
Why not get some exercise in while you're driving? Believe it or not, it's possible to get in a small workout from behind the wheel of your car. One of the best "workouts" you can do is to focus on correcting your posture behind the wheel. Do this by sitting up as straight as possible and lifting your head so that your chin is in-line with your shoulders and spine. You can also use this time to stretch your neck muscles, which can help to relieve stress and tension.
If you're stuck in traffic with passengers, kill time by playing some games. You might consider a game of "I Spy" to pass the time before traffic starts moving again.
Traffic Maps and More: Avoiding a Traffic Jam
While it's not always possible to avoid a traffic jam, there are some steps you can take to reduce your chances of being caught in traffic. For starters, consider installing a traffic app on your phone that will alert you if any of the routes on your trip are anticipated to have heavy traffic. There are many apps that will even suggest alternate routes and keep you up-to-date on traffic in real-time.
If you tend to run into rush hour traffic, start looking into alternate routes or find ways to avoid high-traffic routes at peak times. For example, you might consider stopping to do your grocery shopping immediately after work instead of heading straight home. By the time you finish up your shopping, traffic may be clear.
If you're ever stuck in traffic, be sure to exercise basic driver safety and responsibility. Keep a safe distance from cars in front of you and avoid road rage. Now is also a good time to check with your auto insurance agent to make sure you have the right coverage in the event that somebody accidentally rear-ends your vehicle during a traffic jam, as this is a more common occurrence than you might think!