9 Secrets to Surviving Summer Traffic Jams

Week-long traffic delay: Don't get stuck in nightmare gridlock.

August 24, 2010, 5:33 PM

Aug. 25, 2010— -- It's nearly impossible to fathom the massive traffic jam in China, now in its 11th day with cars moving about a half-a-mile each 24 hours.

Yes, you read that right, cars and trucks on a 60-mile span of highway in Inner Mongolia are moving slower than most people can crawl.

And yet there are no reports of road rage, no massive protests against road crews. The drivers' only complaint: villagers who are providing food and water to them seem to be price gouging.

"The thing that shocks me the most, is the way the drivers are handling it, their basic tolerance for it," said Tom Jacobs, director of the Center for Advanced Transportation Technology at the University of Maryland. "Folks here, God forbid they spend more than an hour in a traffic backup."

That's probably true. American drivers love to avoid gridlock, especially when heading out for a family vacation. So before you hit the road these final weeks of summer, we decided to ask the experts for tips to avoid traffic and what to do when stuck in that driving nightmare.

The easiest way to stay happy while in a traffic jam is to avoid one in the first place. That's not always easy, but technology is quickly expanding to assist motorists.

Before Jacobs leaves his office, he checks a desktop traffic widget on his personalized Google page that gives him real-time traffic updates for all the highways on his drive home. If there is a problem, he can pick an alternate route before even leaving his desk.

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Once in his car, Jacobs relies on the old – radio traffic reports – and the new – programs on his smartphone that provide real-time traffic updates. Supplement all of that with those highway message signs run by the state's department of transportation and he's up to speed with any delays, hopefully before hitting them.

"If it looks like it's horrible, I don't care, I will bail out," Jacobs said. "Invariably there's a local road, a rural road. Even if it means that I have to travel way out of my way to get around a particular event, I will do it."

Summer Road Trips

Chris McGinnis, a travel expert and the head of Travel Skills, said that that being stuck in a traffic jam is not as bad today as it was in the past when we were not so wirelessly connected.

"With a smartphone, you at least know what lies ahead, where the next exit is and how far away it is and what the problem or hold up ahead is," McGinnis said. "In the past, no one knew -- except truckers with CB radios -- and it was the uncertainty of the situation that made it so awful."

Amy Graff, who blogs about her family road trips at On the Go With Amy, says a surefire way to avoid traffic is to avoid rush hour.

"With kids it's really important to steer clear of the road during rush hour. Kids just don't have the bandwidth to sit for long stretches of time," Graff said. "This is especially important around holiday weekends--such as Labor Day and Thanksgiving. My family sat in some terrible traffic the day before Thanksgiving two years ago trying to get into Portland, Ore. What should have taken 30 minutes took two hours."

Her recommendations: Leave around 5 a.m. or after 8 p.m. The hours might be rough, but you'll have a better drive and get to spend more time at your destination.

Another key tip from Graff: stop every two hours. Think about this before you get stuck in that traffic nightmare. It's always best to stretch your legs when you can.

"We kept a hula hoop in the back of the trunk on one road trip. We'd stop and the kids would Hula Hoop," she said. "A jump rope works well too."

Keeping Sane When Stuck in Summer Traffic

Okay, but sometimes you do get stuck in traffic. Before you go insane, here are a few handy tips to make the traffic at least bearable.

"Luckily, I had three Laura Ingalls Little House on the Prairie books downloaded onto my iPhone. The kids listened to all three books and never complained," she said. "Families do the same thing with DVD players -- though I really try to avoid using these in the car. Kids get enough TV as it is."

Other suggestions from her: Ramona and Tree House books on tape.

Road Trips With Kids

Sleeping in, grabbing a quick swim and being able to run around means that the whole family will arrive well-rested and in better spirits.

"I always have snack bars in my car," she said, warning against the ones with chocolate because they melt in the heat.

Water is important too, but make sure to moderate consumption.

"Don't let your kids drink too much water, especially if you are stuck in traffic," Frey said. "It won't be worth the whining if you can't get to a rest stop."

"It helps show them that you are making progress, no matter how slow," Frey said, adding that the message can be: "It will be worth it when you get there."

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