Sunday, 31 August 2014
The Curse of the Phantom Traffic Jam
I got back from a fantastic holiday in Newquay yesterday. What a lovely place. Less lovely was the journey to and from. Not being a regular when it comes to long motorway journeys I had never experienced the horror of the phantom traffic jam before and can now add it to my portfolio of driving experience.
The journey down to Newquay was not too bad. I followed friends' advice and set off at around 3.00am. This would allow us to avoid any nasty snarl ups on the country roads near Newquay. I have to say it was sound advice and the only time we had to stop was for breaks at service stations. I won't bang on about prices at these places. We were well tired and lost all sense of time for that day but not to worry. We were on holiday.
The drive back was a different story. I knew there were road works on the M5 and these didn't seem to present a problem as the speed limit was reduced top 50mph but traffic was still flowing nicely. The M42, however, was a total nightmare. Time and again traffic came to a complete standstill for significant lengths of time. I thought there must have been an accident or that lanes had been closed for whatever reason. After sitting there for 20 minutes or more the road would clear as if by magic and we were off again. A lot of drivers sped straight up to 80mph or more to make up for lost time only to come to a complete stop again 5 or 10 minutes later. I couldn't figure it out. It was totally frustrating.
I now discover that the phantom traffic jam can be caused by the actions of just one motorist. Heavy braking can cause a ripple effect with each following motorist braking harder than the last one until traffic completely stops. Poor lane changing can cause others to brake harshly kicking off the ripple effect. I saw plenty of this with a few motorists making me wince as they darted from one lane to another right in front of another vehicle. Late or non existent signals didn't help. Insufficient following distance was a big factor and I saw plenty of tailgaters slamming on when there wasn't really anything to brake for. More distance between cars and the problem would have been avoided.
Large vehicles and cars towing caravans take absolutely ages to overtake and I sometimes wonder why they bother at all. The centre lane owner driver who sits in the middle instead of pulling back into the left lane does not help one bit. trouble is we all suffer for the sake of a few bad drivers. There is definitely a need for mandatory motorway training as part of gaining a licence or as a post test training course. It's sad to say a lower speed limit on the motorway might help. We are obviously not equipped to drive at high speed and keep traffic flowing. It's nice to be home and now it's time to was all the dead flies off my car ready for the return to work tomorrow.