Written by Ann Wilkinson
28 June, 2019
Getting stuck in traffic is never ideal, especially if you’re waiting to start your weekend away or are planning a fun day with the kids. While traffic is inevitable during peak periods like Bank Holidays, half term breaks and the festive season, there are some steps you can take to reduce your chances of ending up in a jam, and to stay calm if you do get stuck. This traffic survival guide looks at the importance of planning ahead, checking your car before a long journey and keeping your cool in queues to make sure traffic doesn’t ruin your day.
While you can never really predict traffic, there are some congested routes and travel times you can avoid to reduce your chances of getting caught in a queue. If you’re driving during the half term, on a bank holiday or during a busy holiday period, you should avoid travelling down the motorways around airports, key transport points like the Eurostar, shopping centres and main tourist attractions unless absolutely necessary. The M25 London orbital motorway is notorious for standstill traffic, as is the M6 through Birmingham and the M8 in Glasgow, so avoid these routes where possible. Make sure to check the traffic before setting off, listen to the radio to get updates on your way and programme your sat nav to plan an alternative route if it identifies a hold-up.
Most people tend to travel on a Friday night once they’ve finished work, so try to avoid heading off for your weekend at the peak time between 4-7pm if you can. School holidays can mean a noticeable reduction in traffic during rush hour on weekdays, but you should still bear half-term trips away in mind if you’re planning to travel on a Friday evening.
Another cause of traffic aside from holiday commuters is roadworks. Be sure to check for any ongoing work or diversions along your route so you can factor these into your journey time. Highways England generally suspends roadworks during peak travel times like Bank Holidays and rush hours to help reduce traffic, but you should consult their website for up-to-date traffic news in case motorway maintenance is unavoidable.
If you can’t avoid the traffic, you need to make sure that you’re prepared for a long stint in the car, particularly if you’re travelling with children. If you’re travelling with little ones, it’s best to journey at a time they’d usually be sleeping so that they don’t distract you or get grouchy while you’re navigating traffic. You should also bring some home comforts and toys to keep them entertained in case you do end up in a queue, with tablets and handheld consoles perfect for holding their attention and keeping them calm. Just be sure to bring headphones and make sure all devices are fully charged before setting off.
Older children may prefer to play educational games such as naming country capitals, or you could use the opportunity to teach them car classics like I Spy. You should also bring snacks and water to keep you focused in traffic. If you’re covering a long distance, it’s beneficial to bring an emergency kit with first aid supplies, jump leads, a blanket and caffeinated drinks, just in case you’re stranded in bad weather or start to get tired while driving. If you’re yawning, experiencing brief memory lapses or deviating from your lane, you should pull over for a break. Driving tired can be as dangerous as driving drunk, so it’s important that you’re well rested and schedule breaks where possible on longer trips.
It’s important to check your vehicle to ensure you don’t run into any difficulty on the road before setting off, otherwise you risk breaking down and causing traffic yourself. You should always ensure that you have enough engine oil to keep the car running smoothly, as well as topping up fuel so you have more than enough for the journey ahead. Make sure that your tyres are inflated and free of damage, and that your windscreen wipers and lights are all working correctly.
Driving in traffic can be frustrating and you’ll often find that other drivers will become impatient when stuck in a jam. However, it’s crucial to make sure that you’re driving safely at all times, particularly if you’re a relatively new driver. Your clutch control is key to navigating heavy traffic as there will be a good deal of starting and stopping. Some modern vehicles utilise start-stop technology, meaning that your engine will stop when you’re at a standstill and start up again when you’re ready to move again. Make sure that you leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front when stuck in traffic, as the pace may pick up but then suddenly come to a standstill.
Defensive driving is a valuable skill for drivers to learn as it helps reduce the chance of collisions or incidents in traffic. It’s crucial to always expect the unexpected and make sure you’re prepared in the event that someone pulls out in front of you suddenly – especially as heavy traffic is known for making people impatient and erratic. If you’re sitting in a traffic jam, you need to make sure that you’re not blocking any turnings, junctions or pedestrian crossings, and keep an eye out for yellow hatched markings and ‘keep clear’ signs on the road surface. Also be sure to look out for pedestrians that may be weaving in and out of traffic.
Getting stuck in traffic can be frustrating and time-consuming, which can often lead to road rage, an increased chance of breakdowns and restless passengers. But if you plan ahead, prepare for the worst, make sure your car is in full working order and bring enough supplies to pass the time, you may just survive.
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