How Much Does Traffic Cost?

Traffic - MAT Foundry

The true cost of traffic jams

Traffic jams are the scourge of drivers everywhere. Indeed there is seemingly no escape from congestion nor the retrieval of hours frittered away to queues and tailbacks. But can our frustration be monetised? How much are standstills truly costing the British taxpayer? Fortunes, it transpires.

Indeed research conducted by data analysts INRIX show that the UK lost a staggering £37.7 billion to traffic jams last year.

A figure accounting for diminished productivity, squandered fuel and indirect measurements – including freighting fees being passed onto consumers -  the numbers are eye watering. And what’s more, they’re rising.

Britain currently ranks third in a list of Europe’s densest roads, trailing only Russia and Turkey. Those unfortunate enough to contribute to such placement spend an average of 31 hours a year sat stationary.  To further compound their misery they have now learnt they lose £1168 for the privilege.

Depressing? The statistics turn uglier when the focus shifts to London. Our nation’s capital has the dubious honour of boasting the second most congested roads in Europe – behind only Moscow. The result... 74 hours lost to traffic jams during peak hours. INRIX calculate that as a £2430 loss per individual and £9.5 billion to the city as a whole.

Remarkably, 23% of London’s traffic moves at less than 5mph during peak times.

It could be worse of course. Los Angeles may be the city of Angels but its roads are devilish – the most congested in the world, actually. 102 hours per driver are lost annually to traffic jams there during peak hours.

Thailand meanwhile remains the slowest country in which to drive. An average wait of 56 hours a year awaits their beleaguered motorists.

Returning to these shores, the populations of Manchester, Lincoln, Birmingham, Braintree, Aylesbury and Aberdeen respectively have lost more than 30 hours per driver to built up traffic.

The report, though damning, is not wholly surprising given 70% of the country’s work force commute during peak times.

Indeed an earlier study by INRIX (2014) – this time in conjunction with the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr) – predicted the UK would lose £307 billion by 2030. Frighteningly, that figure now looks optimistic.

Traffic - MAT Foundry


All in all traffic jams are bad news for the global economy, environment and sanity of us drivers. So what, if anything, can be done about them?

These recent findings have prompted the government to implore highway chiefs to reduce motorway closures, the biggest cause of tailbacks. Such urgings follows hot on the tail of Transport Minister Jesse Normal writing to Highways England in October to suggest improvements, including the adoption of slip roads as contra flows whenever shutdowns prove unavoidable.

For what it’s worth Mel Clarke, customer service director of the aforementioned Highways England, leapt to the defence of her employers – stating that a two year target to clear 85% of incidents within an hour had been met. Moreover, the government owned company cited figures detailing that 97% of lanes had been kept available in 2016 to help the flow of traffic.

Yet more is required to prevent British drivers losing the equivalent of 18 working days a year to traffic by 2030.

We can all do our bit. Convincing vast numbers to explore other forms of transport  - the likes of rail or cycling – is perhaps a thankless task but adopting other routes into major cities will relieve pressure points, if only  slightly.

If getting behind the wheel is your only option taking greater consideration over braking can make a world of difference. Slowing down when queues emerge is common sense but hitting the brakes too frequently creates an unhelpful accordion of irritable road ragers. Consequently everyone grinds to a halt – exasperating the problem. If possible, it is best to slow enough so as to avoid braking every few seconds.

By the same token, we are advised never to surge ahead when small gaps appear. What do motorists actually gain from doing so? Speeding up for a matter of seconds only to slam on your brakes again eats gas and sets a pointless pattern others will foolishly mimic.

Elsewhere tailgating is nonsensical at the best of times but utterly stupid in the midst of a traffic jam. Give yourself room.

Researching alternative routes can also prove fruitful. If your journey is plagued by long queues or road works take the long way around. At least you’ll be moving.

Finally, resist the temptation to stop and stare. Accidents and/or incidents make spectators of us all but your eyeful is at the expense of those who trail. You were in their very position moments before so move on.

In truth road users are more dependent on developments such as the new £92m bypass planned for Birmingham and £7.1 billion worth of funding making its way to local councils to alleviate congestion by 2021.

Undeniable is the importance of such action working. Failure to reverse the trend will spell trouble for the world’s environment and economies alike.  We’re already counting the cost...


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