In 2017, the average driver can expect to spend around 32 hours a year sat in traffic jams in the UK, which was ranked the third worst country in Europe for congestion. This is according to recent data published by the Telegraph, which also found that London is the seventh worst city for congestion out of 1,000 analysed across the globe.
Pretty depressing, right? It gets worse. The direct and indirect cost of us Brits sat in traffic tipped the scale at £31 billion last year, around £968 per driver. But what, if anything, can be done about it?
While the AA is blaming the growing number of delivery vans for Britain’s congestion woes, we think the way motorists drive has a big impact on traffic flow, and can even lead to jams and tailbacks. So, we’re suggesting that by following these traffic rules, some of the congestion on British roads could be avoided, or at least, lessened.
Here, we list some of the traffic management rules which could help keep Britain’s roads jam-free.
1. Ease Merge Queues with the ‘Zip Merge’
When it comes to merging onto a busy motorway or into a different lane, there’s a lot of conflicting rules and opinions. Some drivers think that merging early is the best and fairest way, whilst others think that all the ‘free’ carriageway should be used up until the point where merging is now the only option (what some might consider to be ‘pushing in’).
Regardless of your stance on the great merge divide, we think the best option for everyone is the ‘zip merge’ model, which is becoming more popular in North America. This is when both lanes are used up until the point of merging, and cars alternate one after the other as to who’s allowed in — just like the teeth on a zip).
By spreading the traffic fairly across two full lanes, the difference in speed between the two is reduced, making it easier for cars to merge whilst also making sure everyone is equally disadvantaged by the pace of the traffic flow — which can reduce the impact of road rage. This also reduces the likelihood of back-ups as both lanes are constantly moving forward, rather than one moving sporadically while cars try to merge.
Zip merging doesn’t really work when traffic is moving at full speed, but when it’s congested, advocates believe it can reduce tailbacks by up to 40% — so everyone gets home a little earlier. The problem with this type of merging is that it’s behavioural, and not every driver is courteous enough to let others in. Better signage instructing drivers to use both lanes could help with this, but it’s still unlikely that we’ll see zip merging being used widely on UK roads anytime soon.
2. Don’t Hog the Middle Lane
Back in 2013, the government announced plans to introduce a £100 fine and penalty points for drivers caught hogging the middle lane on the motorway. This was part of a plan to ease congestion, but travel on any stretch of the UK’s 2,173-mile motorway network today and you’ll quickly discover that even the risk of penalty hasn’t deterred the dreaded middle-lane driver.
But what’s so wrong with driving in the middle lane, and why do so many people do it? In short, middle-lane hogging causes congestion by reducing the capacity of the motorway by a third, leaving one lane empty whilst the other two are very busy. Cars in the left-hand lane are also unable to overtake due to the volume of traffic in the middle, further slowing down the network.
Middle-lane hogging is still so prevalent due to drivers’ reluctance to undertake (in which slow-moving cars are overtaken on the left). Undertaking is one of the biggest no-nos of the British motorway, so when one car hogs the middle lane others are forced to do the same until they can overtake in the fast lane.
If more drivers move over to the left when travelling on the motorway, the speed of the network will increase, reducing the chance of tailbacks and bottlenecks.
3. Maintain a Large Space Ahead of Your Car on the Motorway
Tailgating isn’t just dangerous and illegal, it can lead to further congestion and slow the flow of traffic on the motorway. If every driver on the motorway maintains the two-second rule, there should be enough space for other vehicles to enter the lane and overtake freely, without causing other cars to brake or slow — which can lead to tailbacks.
When cars are grouped too closely, there’s no space for other cars to overtake, meaning that some people might get stuck behind a slow-moving vehicle (like a truck). This then has repercussions for every car in that lane, slowing the flow of traffic and increasing the risk of drivers making dangerous lane changes.
To keep traffic moving at an even speed on the motorway, every car should maintain a decent gap in front and be prepared for others to enter that space to overtake. Chevrons can help with this, but really it’s down to driver behaviour and how much courtesy is shown by those in the middle and fast lane.
4. Don’t Make Unnecessary Manoeuvres When Driving in Town
How many times have you been held up by a fellow motorist attempting a tricky manoeuvre on a busy road in the middle of town? By our experience, many times! While it’s not illegal to make three-point turns, there’s certainly a time and a place for it — and not when there’s a queue of people trying to get to work.
Hold ups caused by people making ill-advised manoeuvres on busy roads can add a lot of time on to a journey, and generally slow the flow of traffic through towns and cities. Rather than turning around right there and then on the main carriageway, drivers should find a quiet side street to manoeuvre where they won’t affect the traffic flow.
The same can also be said of parallel parking. Drivers should only attempt to parallel park on a busy road if they’re confident they can get into the space quickly, without holding up the queue of traffic for too long. Often, it takes several attempts for a car to get into a space — wasting everyone’s time.
Manoeuvring around town can be a stressful experience for everyone, but by showing a little courtesy to other road users, everyone can get from A to B quickly and without incident.
5. Drive at a Constant Speed to Reduce Traffic Jams
Driving at an erratic speed can be dangerous, and can also cause traffic jams when other motorists react to your brake lights. It also inhibits safe overtaking, making it more likely that cars get stuck in the middle lane and clog up the carriageway.
For cars that have cruise control, it’s a great idea to use this feature on the motorway to maintain a steady speed. If everyone on the motorway drove at a constant speed around 70-80mph, this would not only be safer for everyone but would reduce the likelihood of queues and hold-ups.
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