How to Unravel A Traffic Jam All By Yourself

This site is devoted to all things reimagined; careers, relationships and concepts. I love the notion of taking something apart, looking at it in new ways, then re-assembling it to create something new and improved. We can do this with our psyches, and, as you’re about to learn, we can do it with our cars.

You can un-jam a traffic jam, and you can do it with little or no help at all!

Many years ago, when I was executive producer of the Don Bleu morning radio show on San Francisco’s K-101, we did a segment on solo traffic management. We discussed ways to make traffic around us flow better, then we did a live demonstration with a listener on the 680 freeway. The woman was amazed as we coached her through the steps. Moments later she exclaimed, “It works!”

It does work. I’m going to share the secret with you.

The Rubbernecker.  This is a classic. Idiots around us cannot resist taking a good long look at the fender-bender on the shoulder. They hit the brakes and ogle. This is what it looks like:

We come upon the “bulge” and we too have to slow down, because there are gawkers in front of us preventing us from speeding up.

Here’s how to loosen up this knot.

You see brake lights ahead. Now is the time to be a hero. Slow down gently. Bring a big space ahead of you. The gap you are creating slows the flow of incoming cars which feeds these jams and keeps them alive. A single driver can easily erase a small jam, removing the bottleneck. If you brake too quickly, you will create a wave behind you of brake lights. Coasting to about 10 mph below the speed limit should do it.

 The Merge. I wrote about this the other day in a post on unjamming an airplane so you can get off faster. Idiots drive as fast as they can up to the merge point, hit the brakes and wait- jam on.

This is what it looks like:









This is what it’s supposed to look like: Maintain a large space ahead of your car.

Encourage one, two even three cars to merge ahead of you.

If traffic slows to a complete stop, keep two car-lengths of space ahead of you.

Never “punish” merging drivers by closing your gap.

Be patient. It’s going to work.


Allowing people to get in front of you while you slowly hang back opens up the congestion and reduces the merge blockage rapidly. Bay Area folks –  try this at the Caldecott Tunnel. 


Caltrans doesn’t need to build a new bore, at a cost of trillions –  we need to drive better.

We don’t realize that sometimes we alone are the cause of traffic jams. If we change lanes on a freeway under  25 mph, we cause a wave of brake lights behind us. That one’s on us, 100% of the time.

There’s an argument that allowing space makes you “that guy”, the slow poke on the road. Not true. Because so many of us are doing everything but driving when we are in a car, your subtle slowdown is going largely unnoticed. Many times people will “follow” you through a jam, and benefit by your skillful driving.

The fastest lane on the freeway is the far right, correct? When on ramps are causing slowdowns, the farther you are away from it the better, right?

Rarely. The best option is often the far left lane. When you create some space as you approach the on ramp, allowing several cars to join the freeway, you are unjamming the road, improving the flow, and making it possible for all of us to get to our destinations faster. We all forget that driving is a skill, a technique – not a race.

The images and some words in this post came from a 1998 website that amazingly is still live; it’s the site whose author we interviewed back in the day for the radio show. Take a look.

I’m a curmudgeonly socialist when it comes to driving. It’s a privilege, not a right; so many of us are simply not qualified to be on the road, and I’d love the DMV to make obtaining a license a Herculean task with a high cost.

Since that’s not going to happen, you alone can create a commuting experience that benefits all of us.

Go out there and reinvent your driving experience – unjam a jam, for fun and for our collective sanity!



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