More than 200 million adults in America drive an average of one and a half hours every
day. If you’re already driving more than an hour every day, spending even more time on
the roads due to traffic probably feels like torture.
There is a major traffic problem in the U.S., and it just seems to be getting worse. Rush
‘hour’ has lengthened to several hours of peak traffic, and stress levels among drivers
just keep getting higher. While driving in heavy traffic is sometimes unavoidable,
learning how to avoid it whenever possible and how to deal with it when you do get
stuck in a jam can help make your driving experience much less stressful no matter how
many cars are on the road.
1. Time it Right
When it comes to avoiding heavy traffic, timing is key. If you time your drive carefully,
you can usually escape the heaviest rush-hour traffic. Try to avoid driving—especially
on the highway—between the hours of 7 to 9 a.m and 4 to 6 p.m. to avoid getting
caught in peak rush-hour traffic. Depending on where you live, rush hour in your area
might be different. In big cities, morning rush hour can start as early as 6 a.m. and last
until 10 a.m, and evening rush hour can extend to 8 p.m. or later.
Timing your drives around the heaviest traffic helps you avoid the worst congestion on
the roads and can save you hours on longer drives. If you have to get somewhere at a
specific time, it’s almost always worth it to to time your drive so you don’t have to deal
with rush-hour traffic—even if you have to leave earlier than necessary.
2. Stay Focused
One of the easiest times to get distracted while you’re driving is in a heavy traffic jam.
When you’re stuck at a virtual standstill in stop-and-go traffic, it’s much more tempting to
sneak a peek at your phone since you’re moving at such a slow speed—if you’re even
moving at all. Contrary to popular belief, distracted driving in a traffic jam is not any less
dangerous than it is on a road that’s completely clear. In fact, failing to focus and drive
carefully in heavy traffic is actually a major cause of car accidents and collisions.
Staying focused on the road in a traffic jam is just as important as avoiding distracted
driving at any other time, if not more so. Find other safer ways to entertain yourself in
heavy traffic—like listening to your favorite playlist or an audiobook or podcast that
interests you—to help yourself resist the temptation to check your email or scroll
through your social media.
3. Assume the Worst
Worrying that you’re not going to make it to your destination on time is probably the
source of much of the stress and frustration you feel when you’re stuck in heavy traffic.
If you need to be somewhere at a specific time, it’s better to leave yourself more time
than you need rather than risk arriving late.
To make sure you have plenty of time to drive where you need to go, always assume
the worst possible scenario in terms of traffic and road conditions. Consider factors
beyond rush hour—like harsh weather, road construction, and local events—can all
significantly increase traffic. When you feel like you have plenty of time and are not in
danger of being late to something important, dealing with a traffic jam without getting
stressed or angry is much easier.
4. Drive Defensively
Defensive driving is especially important when you’re driving in heavy traffic. Braking
and accelerating frequently and suddenly in stop-and-go traffic increases the risk of
accidents and pile-up collisions. Always keep a safe distance between you and the cars
in front of and behind you. You should stay far enough away from the car in front of you
that you can easily see the bottom of its tires.
Also, stress levels are extremely high among drivers in traffic jams. You’re likely to get
cut off or blindsided by cars and motorcycles aggressively weaving through lanes in an
attempt to fight the traffic around them. Always keep your eyes on the road and keep
your cool. Use your blinkers and mirrors responsibly and drive defensively—not
5. Take Back Roads
Traffic is almost always heaviest on highways, especially during rush hour. When you
don’t want to deal with stop-and-go traffic, try avoiding highways altogether and take
back roads instead. If you’re driving in a traffic-heavy area where you aren’t familiar with
back roads, use a navigation app on your smartphone. Most popular navigation apps
give you the option to indicate that you don’t want to drive on the highway and calculate
an alternative route for you.
Taking back roads isn’t a perfect solution. Alternative back road routes don’t offer the
same straight shot drive that highways do. Plus, when traffic is really heavy on the
highway, many other drivers get the same idea and back road routes get clogged up as
well. However, these back roads are usually at least slightly less congested than the
highway. Taking an alternative route during peak traffic times helps you avoid the stress
and frustration that comes with slogging through very heavy traffic, even if you end up
driving a few miles out of your way.