The key to surviving a traffic jam lies in expecting the unexpected.
The best way to avoid getting caught up in a gridlock nightmare is to avoid the situation altogether. However, this isn’t always possible, despite all the traffic alerts available via tech gadgets and local and national media channels.
Sometimes, traffic congestion can build up for no obvious reason, rather than roadworks or an accident. The RAC calls these snarl-ups “phantom traffic jams”, and they often happen on motorways.
When you’re stuck in a traffic jam, the inability to do anything about it can produce stress and anxiety, and even anger or alarm. While you can’t control the traffic disruption around you, you can manage your reaction to it.
You can help to keep yourself calm amid bumper-to-bumper bedlam simply by taking deep breaths, which, according to health professionals, counters tension and feelings of panic.
According to a 2014 study by Liverpool John Moores University, the type of music you listen to in a traffic jam can actually affect your physical health. Researchers found that aggressive music – or no music at all – increased blood pressure while soothing sounds kept listeners calmer.
Planning ahead to survive a traffic jam
Being prepared can go a long way towards beating the traffic jam blues. It pays to make sure your car contains:
- Mobile phone to get in touch with people and access traffic info apps.
- A good book to while away the time.
- Snacks to recharge your batteries.
- Bottled water to avoid dehydration, particularly in hot weather.
- Puzzle book or portable single-player board game.
Being stuck in a traffic snarl-up is bad enough, but running out of fuel really would be the last straw, so make sure you always have enough in the tank to get home in any situation.
Make the most of it!
Adopting a positive attitude can help you to survive a traffic jam with your psychological and physical health intact. Since there’s nothing to do but sit there and wait, you might as well make the most of the situation by:
- Enjoying your favourite tunes. Bearing in mind the Liverpool research, you might want to favour easy listening or soft rock over heavy metal!
- Telling people you’re going to be late. If you’ve come to a dead stop, use your mobile phone to explain your situation to work, family or friends. However, remember it’s an offence to use your phone while your car is moving.
- Keeping up to date with your situation. Local radio is usually a good source of information and updates about traffic problems, and so are apps like Waze and Highways England’s Traffic England services for mobile phones, and Traffic Scotland and Traffic Wales.
Coping with kids when you’re stuck in a traffic jam
If you get caught up in heavy traffic on a family outing, you’ll need to minimise your kids’ stress levels as well as our own. Again, the solution is to be prepared, with a few distractions on hand (depending on their age) such as:
- Colouring books and crayons.
- Books for reading.
- A few small toys.
- DVD movies.
- Book, music and games downloads.
How to survive a motorway traffic jam
Traffic jams on motorways can develop at any time and may last for hours – and are particularly galling. You can see the trouble ahead but there’s no turning back – literally.
If you get caught in heavy motorway congestion, road safety experts stress the importance of staying in your car while traffic is moving, however slowly.
It’s also advisable to:
- Keep food, drinks and warm clothes in your car.
- Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged.
- If you’re taking prescription medication, take it with you.
The cost of traffic jams
The UK has the worst traffic jams in Europe, costing the economy billions of pounds and motorists more than £1,000 a year as they spend an average of 31 hours stuck in traffic.
In the future, drivers may be able to beat traffic jams with a new app that maps the UK’s most congested roads. In 2018, the Government committed to investing £10 million in this Street Manager technology, designed to allow existing apps like Waze and Google Maps to improve their services for motorists.
Meanwhile, we hope our hacks for surviving a traffic jam will help to keep you sane the next time you find yourself mired in road chaos and confusion.