Accomplishments and Records

The Worst Traffic Jam Lasted 12 Days

No one likes to be tied up in traffic. It doesn’t matter whether the slowdown is caused by construction, a patch of ice, or an accident; when sitting in tangled traffic, every lost minute feels like an hour.

Although we can’t do anything to save you from future traffic jams, we might be able to make them seem less imposing. The next time you find yourself in bumper-to-bumper traffic and start to get stressed about being an hour late to your next appointment, take that time to consider your good fortune that you didn’t have to sit through the worst traffic jams in history.

Longest traffic jam in the world
China National Highway 110 Traffic Jam

What is the longest you have sat in standstill traffic? A couple of hours? That’s nothing. The traffic jam that started on August 14, 2010, in China puts your worst traffic nightmare to shame.

It happened on China National Highway 110 on August 14, 2010. Well, that’s when it started, anyway. It wasn’t until 12 days later that the traffic flow returned to normal. For nearly two weeks, thousands of cars came to a virtual standstill over a 100-kilometer (62-mile) stretch of the road. Cars moved at the glacial rate of less than 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) per day.

What was the cause of this transportation debacle? Ironically, it was triggered by efforts to ease another traffic jam. A sudden influx of construction vehicles bringing material to ease traffic congestion at the Beijing exit sent the already-overburdened roadway into utter disarray.

During this unprecedented traffic jam, quick-thinking entrepreneurs created a fascinating microeconomy. Water, noodles, cigarettes, and gasoline were traded freely — and expensively — in the otherwise controlled economy.

When traffic resumed to its normal flow, any hopes for avoiding a repeat of the situation were soon dashed. Five years later, in October 2015, the 50-lane G4 Beijing-Hong Kong-Macau Expressway was tied up for over 10 days, due to the placement of a checkpoint. The ill-timed venture coincided with a holiday in which 750 million people were on the road.

Lest you think mega-traffic jams are unique to China, the rest of the world is no stranger to the phenomenon. August 15-18, 1969, saw a 20-mile stranglehold on the New York Thruway as a result of the Woodstock Music & Arts Festival. The mess became so bad that many motorists simply abandoned their vehicles and walked through the rain and mud.

While the 2010 China traffic jam is recorded as the worst and longest in terms of duration, there is another that holds the record for the longest in distance. In February 1980, vacationers returning to Paris ran into a nasty mess of inclement weather. The resulting traffic jam between Lyon and Paris covered a distance of 175 kilometers (109 miles). No doubt, many of the frustrated occupants of the cars contemplated pulling out their skis to get home a lot quicker.

The 3-day traffic jam on Highway M-10 between St. Petersburg and Moscow triggered an interesting government response. When weather tied up all vehicles from November 30 to December 2, 2012, the government jumped into action by sending emergency food and blankets to the travelers. They also provided psychological counseling to anyone who wanted it.

Given the number of road rage incidents that occur even in the best of traffic conditions, we can’t help but wonder if drive-through counseling stations should be set up along all roadways.

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