Like many Forsyth County residents, I commute on Ga. 400 almost every weekday. It’s frustrating most days, but we all suffer through it.
While recent construction has improved things, traffic is almost certainly doomed to get worse again. That leaves us with a choice: accept our fate as a rural county evolving into another crowded suburb or do something to fight the daily congestion.
There is hope! Traffic can be improved by us drivers alone without waiting for government funding, lengthy state approvals or additional orange barrels. If we simply change our collective behavior to use the available pavement more efficiently, we can reduce the amount of wasted time staring at brake lights through our windshields.
While I could write a novel on the ways we could all be better drivers, I’ll start with four simple changes we can all make to help traffic flow more smoothly and safely.
First, let’s take in the big picture of what our commutes are and what they are not. Getting to work and home is not a race. It’s not a competition. It’s not a line. It’s not us verses them. We are all people. We all have somewhere we want to be. And we’d all rather be anywhere else if we could. Driving on 400 and other highways is simply a necessity of modern life.
So my first tip is patience. Driving aggressively and trying to beat the crowd might save you a few car lengths on your average commute, and it might even save you a minute on occasion. But is it really worth a measly few hours over the course of a year to put yourself through the stress of trying to beat the crowd?
But it’s not just patience. My second recommendation is confidence. If you don’t feel confident driving with the flow of traffic and following a reasonable distance for the conditions, maybe the highway during rush hour isn’t for you. There are many alternate routes on other roads that will get you where you want to go. Ga. 400 is there to get you where you want to go faster. If you don’t need or want to keep up, then it helps everyone if you take an alternate, albeit slower, route.
My third tip is essential for reducing congestion: anticipate the behavior of those around you. Use that gut feeling to watch for cars that might cause problems. Use that anticipation to plan ahead: accelerate when able and avoid braking if unnecessary.
If you’ve ever wondered why traffic has come to a complete stop with no sign of a cause, it’s because braking waves travel faster through traffic than acceleration waves. If your brake lights flash, every car behind you will brake harder than you did and so on until traffic comes to a stop for no good reason. Meanwhile, the initial driver that caused the braking wave saw no traffic at all and is none the wiser that they just created a traffic jam out of nothing.
Instead of braking, try simply taking your foot off the gas. This will slow your car down smoothly without activating the brake lights. Many times that is all that is needed — with enough anticipation — to make changes in speed without sparking a rolling wave of braking.
On the other side, when traffic starts to move again, don’t dawdle getting up to speed. Look ahead of just the car in front of you and see when traffic is starting to move. Maintain a 2-3 second following distance and don’t leave excessive gaps in stop and go traffic. Every needless car length you leave in front of you extends traffic by two to three cars behind you.
The final and most important lesson is learning the rules of the road. If they are followed, traffic flows smoothly and efficiently, and backups are less likely.
The most common rule not followed in free-flowing traffic is that the right lane is the driving lane. The middle lane is not the driving lane. The middle lane is for passing the right lane. The left lane is not the fast lane. It is for passing the middle lane. When you are done passing, return to the right lane as soon as practical.
Impeding traffic doesn’t stop speeders; it stops everyone. Sadly, the GA Code § 40-6-184 (2015) only recognizes the furthest left lane (excepting HOV or toll) as a passing lane, but keeping far right except to pass is still the best way to keep the road flowing.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. If we all cooperate and focus on working together, we can reduce congestion, stress, and commute times. I look forward to working with you out there to commute better.
Daniel Fleck is a resident of Forsyth County, engineer and driving enthusiast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.