Munich. Summertime – congestion time! The season of clogged motorways and frayed tempers. In a typical situation, the car in front brakes abruptly and there’s a crash – at both front and rear. The reasons are clear; excessive speeds, inadequate distance from the car in front, loss of attention. TÜV SÜD’s experts have five tips on correct road behaviour in holiday traffic.
When the motorway is full, the line of cars expands and contracts like a snake. The narrowest points are where crashes happen – usually involving not just two, but several vehicles. TÜV SÜD’s mantra is to keep your distance, adjust your speed and always keep your eye on the cars around you, even when you think the line is moving steadily: "Slowdowns can arise abruptly for a wide variety of different reasons", warns Jürgen Wolz of TÜV SÜD. "Even a sudden burst of bad weather can trigger congestion."
Avoid bottlenecks: An excellent piece of advice is to check your route beforehand for potential traffic jams. In statistical terms, the travel days with the lowest volumes of traffic are Tuesdays and Wednesdays. If it is possible to book a holiday where you are not compelled to travel from Saturday to Saturday, seize the advantage. "Don’t travel on Saturdays, when everyone else is on the road", advises Wolz.
Check the rear-view mirror: If drivers end up in a traffic jam despite their advance planning, they should approach the end of the traffic jam cautiously, brake gently and allow the car to coast. “By now at the latest, you should be keeping a watchful eye on following traffic, because in congestion the greatest danger comes from behind”, stresses Wolz. "Orient your vehicle slightly towards the side of the road and keep one or two lengths away from the car in front. This is the only way to ensure you have the chance of responding rapidly if the car behind you has failed to notice the end of the traffic jam."
Warn fellow road-users: Wolz recommends a case-by-case approach to using hazard lights. Although they are a useful warning when approaching the end of the traffic jam at a point where visibility is poor, any premature or over-cautious use of hazard lights – for example, when the traffic flow slows for any reason – can cause cars behind to brake unnecessarily abruptly.
Clear an emergency lane: Once you are in the midst of congestion, the TÜV SÜD expert strongly advises switching off the engine, even for short periods. Once traffic starts up again, leave one or two vehicle lengths between you and the car in front. As a vital point, “always leave an emergency lane free between the two main lanes”, urges Wolz. “Failure to do this puts lives at risk.” The rule is that where there are three or more lanes, an emergency lane must be left clear between the inside lane and the lane next to it. If the congestion was caused by an accident, pass the accident point at a steady speed and on no account slow down to take a look. "Gawkers are the cause of yet more congestion!"
Keep to your lane:Weaving from left to right and back again will not get you to your destination any faster. Numerous studies have shown that even chronic lane-changers drive out of the congestion with the same “neighbours” they had when they entered it. On the other hand, overtaking vehicles on the inside in slow-moving traffic is not a problem. "In congested traffic, the inside lane may well progress faster than the outside lane; if traffic starts moving faster on the outside, drivers can swim with the tide." However, very different rules apply to using the hard shoulder. Contrary to the beliefs – and habits – of many a driver, taking the hard shoulder as a quick way of driving the last few kilometres before an exit is prohibited: “The hard shoulder is out of bounds, and can only be used as a lane under police instructions, or in exceptional cases where signs show the appropriate orders."
Unless the motorway is completely closed after an accident, seeking alternative routes to bypass congestion is generally a waste of time. "Side roads and routes through villages or towns are usually just as clogged as the motorway – or even worse", warns Wolz.