Nobody likes being stuck in a traffic jam. There’s nothing more frustrating than mile after mile of stop start traffic. It’s hard on your car too, with the clutch, brakes and engine all getting much more wear than in free-flowing traffic. Being stuck in a traffic jam because of roadworks or an accident is bad enough, but even worse is finding yourself in regular tailbacks on your daily commute. Is it possible to avoid the worst traffic jam hotspots?
Where are the Worst Jams?
American company Inrix produces all sorts of statistics about the most congested roads not just in the UK, but across the world. It will come as no surprise to Londoners that that most traffic jam prone road in the UK is the M25, in particular the stretch between the M4 and the M40. Other major hotspots around the UK are.
- Edinburgh City Bypass
- The M6 through Birmingham
- M60 near Manchester at the Stockport junction
- M5 south at Clevedon near Bristol
- A48 west through Cardiff
- M62 west near Leeds
It’s hardly surprising that Inrix highlights motorways in their worst traffic hotspot list, as this is the company which has developed the “smart motorway” technology which allows for variable speed limits and use of the hard shoulder at peak times to keep the traffic flowing. Although the M25 is the worst traffic jam zone in the UK, it’s not nearly as bad as elsewhere in Europe. Hamburg and Stuttgart in Germany, and Antwerp in Belgium both have a higher incidence of traffic jams than London’s orbital motorway.
Traffic Jams and the Law
We’ve all seen pictures of people setting up a picnic on the central reservation of a motorway after being stuck in a lengthy traffic tailback. It’s not illegal to get out of your car if you are at a standstill because of a serious jam, but it’s not recommended. Emergency vehicles may whizz past on the hard shoulder at any time, with motorcycles weaving through the traffic if the hard shoulder is blocked. You should also be aware of the law around mobile phones, which still apply in heavy traffic. In order to use a handheld phone legally, you should be parked with the engine switched off. The only exception to this is if you need to call the emergency services. Always follow instructions from the police and other emergency services. They want to get you on your way as soon as possible too.
Dealing With a Jam
If you’re stuck in a jam, there’s not much you can do except wait until the traffic clears, allowing you to get moving again. If rather than being stopped you are crawling along for miles, this is when your engine is at risk of overheating. If you’re close a services, consider stopping, stretching your legs and having lunch in the hope that by the time you’re finished the traffic will have cleared. If you decide to continue on, keep an eye on the engine temperature gauge. If you spot the temperature indicator reaching the red zone, turn off the air conditioning, turn the heating on and open the windows. If you see any indication of steam coming out from under the bonnet, pull over right away. Don’t risk opening the bonnet to see what’s going on until the engine has cooled. Top up the coolant level in your car, using water as a temporary fix if you don’t have any proper coolant on hand.
How to Avoid the Traffic
Sometimes, getting caught up in a traffic jam is unavoidable. But if you know you have to travel through a pinch point, there is lots you can do to make your journey run more smoothly. If you have the flexibility to plan your journey to avoid peak times, try to leave early in the morning, or in the middle of the day when fewer people are on the road. Keep your radio tuned to a local radio station and listen out for the traffic updates as these will give you early warning about where the worst traffic is. If you have a satnav, these are often set up to take you the fastest route, not necessarily the shortest route. If your satnav is telling you to leave the motorway and make your way along A-roads instead, it may be trying to help you avoid bottlenecks further along the road. There’s lots of information online too, with live mapping showing where roadworks, accidents or sheer volume of traffic are causing hold-ups.
Damage to Your Car From Stop Start Driving
If you regularly find yourself stuck in heavy traffic on your daily commute, then this can result in extra wear and tear on your vehicle. Brakes are the obvious component to experience extra wear, as you constantly inch forward, then slow to a halt once again. If you regularly experience this type of driving then it can be worth having your brake pads and shoes checked more regularly. Worn brakes are a common reason for cars failing their MOT tests, and if you have checked regularly it won’t come as such a shock when you are presented with a large bill for their replacement. Any strange noises such as grinding from the brakes should be checked out straight away, as this could indicate that the pads have worn through completely.
Maintaining Your Car
If you know that you are likely to experience heavy traffic, it’s more important than ever to keep on top of checking windscreen wash, coolant and oil levels. A lack of any one of these fluids can cause your car to break down completely. If you don’t have breakdown cover, the bill for being towed off the motorway and to the nearest garage can be hefty. Checking that you’ve enough windscreen wash or oil doesn’t take long, and should really be a task done weekly. As well as having the annual MOT test, keep up with the recommended servicing programme set out in the owner’s handbook.