Last updated: February 2023
Americans spend lots of time in their cars. Try as you might, it's difficult not to think about how much time you're wasting while you're stuck in a traffic jam. Congestion has such an effect on our lives that it even impacts non-drivers.
Mo' traffic, mo' problems. Learn more about the real impact of traffic jams and congestion below.
1.Traffic is worse than it's ever been.
Over the last 30 years, congestion has gotten worse in areas of every size – not just in big cities. After a brief dip in 2020, traffic has essentially returned to pre-pandemic levels.
2. Traffic costs you.
Traffic jams don't just make you late – they cost you money! In 2017, the average commuter wasted 21 gallons of fuel due to congestion, totaling $1,080 in wasted fuel. That's more than a week's earnings for the average American.
3. “Rush hour” isn't a thing.
So long, rush hour. Traffic has gotten so bad in major cities that there isn't a definitive rush hour anymore.
4. The recession eased traffic problems.
The 2008 recession caused a decrease in traffic problems – no surprise there. But in the years since, congestion has grown at a rate between 1-3% every year, which means that extra travel time for the typical commuter has increased by more than one hour every year.
5. Congestion gets worse as the week goes on.
Congestion builds through the week from Monday through Friday. Traffic on Thursday is almost as bad as traffic on Friday!
What's more, congestion is a problem at off-peak hours. Around 33% of total delay occurs during the midday and overnight – times when travelers expect free-flowing travel!
6. Big cities, bigger problems.
The bigger the city, the bigger the traffic problem. In cities with populations of more than 1 million, 2017 commuters experienced:
- An average of 71 hours stuck in traffic.
- A road network that was congested for approximately 6 hours of the average weekday.
7. Traffic wastes time, money, and natural resources.
Congestion comes at a cost. According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute's 2019 Urban Mobility Report, in 2017, commuters wasted a combined 8.8 billion hours from traffic jams. In that amount of time, 124 million couples could binge-watch all eight seasons of Game of Thrones! Commuters also wasted a combined 3.3 billion gallons of fuel in 2017 – the equivalent of a line of 18-wheeler fuel trucks stretching from Los Angeles to Boston!
INRIX, Inc., a data company that specializes in mobility analytics, estimates that Americans lost an average of 97 hours due to congestion in 2018, costing nearly $87 billion in lost productivity for an average of $1,348 per driver.
8. Traffic is a global problem.
According to the INRIX 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, the 10 most congested urban areas in the U.S. are:
- Boston, MA – 164 hours lost in congestion
- Washington, DC – 155 hours
- Chicago, IL – 138 hours
- New York City, NY – 133 hours
- Los Angeles, CA – 128 hours
- Seattle, WA – 138 hours
- Pittsburgh, PA – 127 hours
- San Francisco, CA – 116 hours
- Philadelphia, PA – 112 hours
- Portland, OR – 116 hours
How do U.S. cities compare to the rest of the world? Boston is the only American city to make the list of the top 10 most congested cities in the world, weighted for population:
- Moscow, Russia – 210 hours lost in congestion
- Istanbul, Turkey – 157 hours
- Bogotá, Colombia – 272 hours
- Mexico City, Mexico – 218 hours
- São Paulo, Brazil – 154 hours
- London, United Kingdom – 227 hours
- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – 199 hours
- Boston, MA, United States – 164 hours
- Saint Petersburg, Russia – 200 hours
- Rome, Italy – 254 hours
The prevalence of Latin American cities on this list should not come as much of a surprise “due to their rapid urbanization, high levels of informal settlements, unforgiving topographies and financial volatility,” according to the INRIX Scorecard report.
9. Keep it moving. Try the zipper merge.
A lot of congestion is caused by merging. While it may seem like good driving etiquette to merge upon the first sight of a ramp leading into a highway or where multiple lanes become one, you might be slowing things down.
Try the zipper merge: the way that cars take turns getting into one line, like the teeth in a zipper. Waiting to merge until you're closer to the bottleneck can help ease congestion.
10. Beware of the phantom jam.
Have you ever found yourself in a traffic jam that seemingly has no cause? There's no bottleneck, roadwork, or car pulled over on the shoulder in sight. Then, traffic picks up, and you're suddenly cruising at a normal speed again. Why?
It's not your imagination. It's the phantom jam. The phantom jam is the type of traffic jam caused by drivers who drive faster and stop suddenly.
If just one car hits the brakes, the car behind it will brake even harder to avoid a collision, setting off a chain reaction until traffic reaches a standstill. This bad driving behavior causes a rippling effect that can stretch for miles. The longest observed phantom traffic jam was around 50 miles long!
Traveling at a constant speed can avoid spurring a phantom jam. Maintain a safe, constant following distance with the vehicle in front of you, so you're less likely to slam on your brakes.
Get Direct and Get Going
You might not be able to control traffic, but you can control your car insurance coverage. With car insurance that suits your driving needs and your budget, you'll be able to Get Direct and Get Going in no time! Call, click, or come in today for peace of mind while you drive.