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Switching lanes to beat traffic: The illusion of getting ahead

Stay in one lane to get ahead, experts say.

Stay in one lane to get ahead, experts say.

By Rachel Schoutsen
Presenter, The Weather Network
Thursday, June 27, 2013, 2:23 PM

The summers are meant for travelling, and thankfully, many of our wonderful Canadian holidays occur in the summertime; gracing us with fantastic three-day weekends. However, in most Canadian cities, combining great weather with long weekends only means one thing, traffic!

I’m sure we have all experienced long weekend mayhem on the roads. The entire family squished into the car, the kids wondering if you’re there yet, and all you can see in front of you is bumper-to-bumper traffic into the horizon. Whether you’re on the 400 North in Ontario, the Sea-to-Sky Corridor in BC or the Deerfoot Trail in Alberta, one thing remains consistent, holidays are a killer for traffic congestion.

British Columbia residents gravitate to places like Vancouver Island, the Okanagan Valley and the Kootenay Rockies regions for some R&R on the long weekend. Michelle Jefferson, Manager at Tourism Services for the city of Vernon suggests to take the road less traveled, “long weekends are busy everywhere so research alternate routes to your destination. This can not only help you deal with delays or closures but it can provide opportunities to explore.”

Jefferson also mentions Visitor Centers that can be found along major highways in BC, where motorists can stretch their legs and take a break from driving, as fatigue can be a danger on the roads.

A popular summer destination among Ontarians are the Northern region of the Muskokas. With only one major highway providing access to the region, traffic is notoriously difficult to manage. The sheer amount of volume is one of the main culprits of the long drive to the cottage. Sergeant Kristine Rae from the Ontario Provincial Police agrees. “In the summer there is a rise in traffic linked directly to leisure and outdoor activity.”

She comments that, “OPP areas across the province see summer population increase by multiples of double to ten times the ‘winter’ populations.”

If you do plan to brave the traffic, Rae suggests a few things to think about before getting in the car.

-- Use a GPS or map to guide you on your route

--  If you see dangerous driving report it to officials when safe to do so 

-- Bring water for yourself, passengers and pets in the car 

-- Do not exceed your capacity behind the wheel, fatigue is dangerous 

-- Put the cell phone down

Always drive according to the conditions

Always drive according to the conditions

Driving behaviors can also play an integral part in increasing travel times. Drivers looking to save that extra minute might speed, tailgate, or rapidly change lanes. 

A study by Donald Redelmeier and Rob Tibshirani ("Are Those Other Drivers Really Going Faster?” Chance 2000, 13(3), pg. 8-14) suggests that rapidly changing lanes may not be the best decision. Because of “roadway illusion” we are often tricked into thinking we are in the slow lane, but many times this may not be the case!

Sticking to a single lane can be positive when stuck in these long weekend delays as it decreases the chances of a crash and also avoids disrupting traffic flow. 

Veteran traffic reporter, Tom Reynolds, has his own plan for beating the long weekend traffic. He always sticks to a back route as it guarantees him the least amount of traffic delays. 

Canadians have their own opinions when it comes to avoiding delays on the roads.

Michelle Jefferson offers this advice: "If all else fails and you find yourself caught in the rush of holiday traffic, just smile, crank up the summertime tunes and remember that it could be worse…you could be working!" 

Fun Facts:

-- Length of Canada's roadways: 1,042,300 km

-- Number of registered passenger vehicles in Canada: 17,920,000

-- Increase in Canada's roadways over the last 20 years: about 20%

-- Increase in the number of passenger vehicles over the last 20 years: about 60%

-- Increase in Canada's population over the last 20 years: 16%

-- City with the longest average commute time: Toronto (79 minutes)

-- Cities with the largest increases in commute times over the last 15 years: Calgary and Montreal 

Sources: Statistics Canada & Transport Canada

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