How Is Traffic Congestion Caused?

By admin / July 6, 2020

If you drive to or for work, then something you likely understand well is traffic congestion.

Traffic is frustrating and causes everything to slow down. A trip that should normally take you just 10 minutes can take more than an hour in the worst traffic.

There’s simply nothing good about traffic congestion. The impatience and frustration it causes to everyone affected can lead to road rage, accidents, and illegal maneuvers.

Should you be a victim of any one of these situations, a car accident lawyer in Houston can get you the compensation you deserve. You’re better off avoiding traffic altogether, which begins with understanding how traffic congestion is caused.

To help you have a better grasp of traffic, we’ll explain a few of the paramount reasons why it happens below.

Structural Limitations

Firstly, current structural limitations almost guarantee traffic congestion considering how society operates.

Too many people want to get to their destinations as quickly as possible every day. Unfortunately, the routes that drivers take often overlap and intersect with other drivers.

When too many drivers are attempting to travel through an area at once, there are more cars than the road can handle. The structural limitation of the road prevents more than a specific number of cars from effectively navigating an area at one time.

One of the best examples of this is freeway onramps near a city center during the morning rush hours. The freeway can only handle so many cars and it’s often packed for several miles.

Despite this, more cars continue to enter the freeway and add to the traffic. Due to the sheer number of vehicles, the speed of traffic grinds to a halt to accommodate the constant inflow of new cars from onramps.

Most roads are not well-equipped to handle large volumes of vehicles. This is where daily, regular traffic build-ups stem from. Take this into account and use routes that avoid heavily-traveled roads during busy hours.

Car Accidents

One of the biggest reasons for traffic congestion is car accidents.

Car accidents have two significant effects on traffic. They physically obstruct the road and cause other drivers to slow down as they try to look at the accident scene.

Think about any car accident you’ve seen on the freeway. If the police were already at the scene, several lanes of traffic have likely been blocked off to ensure the safety of those in the area.

Depending on how extensive the accident is, it may block just one or several lanes of traffic. The greater the extent, the bigger the traffic build-up will be.

Then there’s the curiosity to know what happened. Many drivers, yourself likely included, want to see the accident, determine how serious it is, see the damage to the vehicles, and evaluate if the occupants survived.

Accidents are exciting, although not for good reasons. This causes people to stare, which means their attention isn’t on the road or driving.

With this in mind, car accidents are often the cause of random traffic build-ups and are difficult to plan for.

Inclement Weather

Inclement weather will also cause traffic congestion.

Driving certainly isn’t the easiest task, but most drivers can manage in good conditions. However, when conditions get poor is when many drivers lose their confidence.

The easiest way to picture this is by thinking about how drivers flounder when it begins to snow. Poor weather is a cause for concern, but it does not mean that you should forget how to drive.

The easiest response is often to slow down. Sometimes, drivers will slow down to excessively low speeds like 20 MPH on the freeway when there’s light rain.

This will lead to unnecessary traffic congestion. Inclement weather should naturally cause drivers to slow down, but dramatic overreactions cause congestion.

If the weather looks particularly poor for a given day, expect your trip to take longer as congestion is likely.

Road Work

Construction and road work is certainly beneficial, but it does cause traffic while it’s underway.

This happens in two ways.

First, road work takes up physical space similar to a car accident. Several lanes of traffic may be blocked off to give adequate space for working on the road.

Furthermore, the traffic flow near road work is typically controlled. Usually, a flagger on either side of the site will allow traffic to flow in a single direction at a time.

Because traffic flow is slow and frequently stopped, this creates the perfect scenario for traffic congestion.

The other traffic effect of road work is causing drivers to take alternative routes to avoid road work. While this may seem smart, it only works until the other roadways also become congested.

Putting this together, road work causes direct traffic congestion at the site and indirection congestion on nearby roads. Try to research where road work is happening and plan your routes accordingly.

Phantom Jams

Finally, phantom traffic jams can arise from poor driving behavior.

You’ve likely been in a phantom traffic jam before. This is when there is no obvious cause for congestion. You won’t see a car accident, the weather is fine, no road work is being done, and it isn’t a busy time of day.

Nonetheless, congestion still occurs as a result of the combined behaviors of a few drivers that have a ripple effect on all the vehicles behind them.

It typically begins with a few drivers that block all lanes of traffic. They drive particularly slow, perhaps below the speed limit.

Drivers behind them get impatient and accelerate rapidly, followed by quickly braking. This constant stop-and-go confuses the drivers behind them, who must respond by also stopping-and-going.

Eventually, this causes a wave of traffic. You won’t be able to move until the wave reaches you, meaning that each car ahead of you has inched forward one at a time.

Phantom jams are as stupid as they sound and it comes down to incompetence and impatience. You can’t anticipate this, so always leave wiggle room on your travel estimates to account for the unexpected.

Closing Thoughts

Traffic congestion is a major hassle that you may deal with daily. It is often unavoidable due to the nature of how society operates, the limitations of public roads, and the need for frequent road work.

However, some causes of traffic can be avoided. This includes car accidents, inclement weather, and phantom jams. Safe and attentive driving will prevent most traffic build-ups, but not all drivers practice these behaviors.

While traffic is certainly an inconvenience, you must plan around it to accomplish your goals. Always consider the impact of traffic and how it will affect your trajectory to minimize avoidable delays.

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