Driving despair around the world – 5 of the worst traffic jams ever

Picture the scene, you’re all set for your dream holiday, you leave plenty of time to get to the airport, then suddenly you hit a traffic jam on the motorway.     Your brow starts to perspire as you nervously clock watch and try to find the local travel news on the radio.  Blind panic takes over as you realise you might not make your flight.    I’m sure we’ve all been in a similar situation!

When preparing to drive abroad, there are certain things you can do beforehand in preparation to ready yourself for driving in a foreign country.

No matter how much preparation you do however, one thing that can be unavoidable when driving is traffic jams.

Being stuck in traffic certainly isn’t the most enjoyable experience, whether it’s on the daily commute to work or if you’re trapped in a line of cars on your way to a seaside resort.

However, after reading about the following traffic jams – which are among the worst to have taken place – the thought of not moving for a few minutes while being stuck in traffic may not be quite as big a deal as you might have originally thought.

French Autoroute, 1980


One of worst traffic jams to have ever occurred took place in France in 1980. On February 16th, the motorway from Lyon to Paris became heavily congested with vehicles stretching back for some 109 miles, around one-third of the distance between the two cities.

The gridlock was largely attributed to the presence of hundreds of drivers attempting to make their way back to the French capital after returning from skiing holidays in Lyon and the surrounding areas. It is also believed that the poor wintry weather at the time led to many motorists being stuck on the road for hours on end.

Not only was this one of the world’s worst traffic jams, but it also holds the Guinness World Record for being the longest to have ever taken place!

Patna, 2009


A particularly bad case of road congestion was also seen in the city of Patna in India in December 2009.

A number of organisations decided to take to the streets on the first day of the month in order to hold public demonstrations against the government. The sheer number of protestors meant that the main roads of Patna, which is situated on the southern bank of the Ganges River, were quickly filled up with motorists experiencing hours’ worth of delays.

However, it wasn’t just cars that were held up by the protests as bicycles, tuk tuks, scooters, lorries and motorcycles were also affected.

More than 5.7 million people are believed to live in Patna, so while some levels of high traffic could normally be expected by motorists this was an especially extreme case.

With the demonstrations taking place throughout the course of the day, lots of drivers faced delays that were at least several hours long.

Interstate 45 Houston, 2005


In the United States, one of the worst traffic jams to have ever occurred in the build-up to Hurricane Rita hitting in September 2005.

With the hurricane deemed a category five (the highest and most dangerous rating) authorities in Texas imposed a mandatory evacuation of Houston in order to get residents away safely before the storm hit the city.

However, there had initially been a relatively slow response to this until on Wednesday 21st, Bill White, who at the time was the mayor of Houston, claimed that “the time for waiting is over”. This led to a mass exodus of people attempting to make its way out of the city and into a number of evacuation zones in surrounding parts of Texas, which soon led to the state’s highway system becoming gridlocked.

Much of the traffic jam was concentrated on Interstate 45 – the officially assigned evacuation route – as drivers had to put up with temperatures as high as 38 degrees Celsius, with many also experiencing breakdowns as well as running out of fuel.

With more than three million people trying to escape Houston at once, the authorities eventually decided to open up a contraflow lane on the highway, which allowed traffic on both sides of the road to go in a single direction.

At the peak of the traffic jam, some motorists were only able to progress about ten miles in the space of nine hours, with the problems getting so bad that some opted to turn around and return to their homes, as they thought it would be safer to be inside a property rather than being caught out in the open in their cars when the hurricane did strike.

Eventually, the traffic jam subsided on the following Friday with the vast majority people able to escape from the city before the devastating hurricane, which reached speeds of some 185 miles per hour, hit.

Beijing-Tibet Expressway, 2010


In August 2010, a mammoth traffic jam hit China’s Beijing-Tibet expressway, leaving motorists stuck on the roads for more than a week.

Vehicles between Jining, Inner Mongolia and Huai’an in the Hebei province were stalled in a queue that lasted for some 62 miles.

The route is mainly used by lorries transporting coal from Inner Mongolia to the Chinese capital, with the authorities partially attributing the jam to the need to carry out repairs for damage to the road caused by the increasing number of cargo vehicles travelling on it.

A spate of breakdowns also took place over the course of the nine-day traffic jam, with motorists forced to buy food and drink from local shops while they were waiting for congestion on the road to clear up. However, it is thought that roadside vendors significantly marked up their prices in order to boost profits.

City of Sao Paulo, 2009

Sao Paulo is commonly regarded as one of the world’s worst cities for being stuck in traffic jams.

According to figures published by the Traffic Engineering Company, on Wednesday June 9th 2009 queues stretching back a total of 293 kilometres were recorded on the Brazilian city’s 835-kilometre road network.

While blocked roads have been a problem in Sao Paulo for some time, this particular peak in traffic problems was attributed to the city being in the midst of Corpus Christi celebrations, which is a public holiday in Brazil. The rise in motorisation to have taken place since 2003 is also believed to have been behind such growth in traffic problems, with around 1,000 new cars being bought in the region on a daily basis.


Of course, these are just some of the most severe traffic jams to have ever taken place but it is always a good idea to make adequate preparations before you set off in your hire car just in case the worst should ever happen.

What’s the worst traffic related delay you’ve experienced?


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