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World's Worst Traffic Jams

By far the most frustrating driving experience is being gridlocked in a traffic jam. But once you read about the worst jams in the world you’ll be much more composed- if not thankful, when you get delayed by a few minutes in your next traffic hold up.

The worst traffic jam in Australia is probably seven hours. This occurred in April 2010 on the F3 Freeway (Pacific Highway) heading north out of Sydney, when two trucks collided and stranded commuters from 4pm until 11pm when it was finally cleared.

Whilst this one incident created enormous controversy, it pales into insignificance when compared to poor Zang Wei’s experience when travelling from Inner Mongolia into Beijing a couple of months later, where he, and a few thousand others, were held up for an unbelievable TEN DAYS!

So, here’s the ranking for the FIVE world’s worst traffic jams.

1. Beijing-Zhangjiakou Highway August 2010

Whimsically, a set of roadworks intended to alleviate congestion was blamed for the world’s worst traffic jam that lasted a staggering ten days. At its worst, with the jam stretching back 100kms., trucks joining the end of the queue were travelling at 3kp/d (that’s kilometers per day!!)  attempting to reach their Beijing destination. Communist China also spawned the entrepreneurial spirit with roadside sellers sprouting up, selling food and drink at exorbitant prices. Local newspapers also reported many incidents of highway robbery, violence and even divorces (“don’t you believe that I am ten days late getting home- been stuck in traffic, dear?”)


2. Paris-Lyon Autoroute  1980

In 1980, at the height of the winter skiing season, everyone wanted to return to Paris at the same time. According to the Guinness Book of Records this jam tailed back on the Lyon-Paris autoroute some 110 kms. and consisted of around 18 million cars. It was reported that a normally 4 hour journey took up to 20 hours, with many, many cars abandoned by the roadside, bereft of fuel, still awaiting collection several days later. It was not reported as to how the owners got home, though they could have skied home more quickly. By distance it stretches further back than any other recorded jam.



3.Sao Paulo – June 2009

According to Time Magazine Sao Paulo in Brazil has the worst day-to-day traffic jams in the world, but June 10th 2009 surpassed anything they had suffered before with 300kms. of accumulated queues amassed around the gridlocked city. It was very quiet indeed in all the city offices as more than half the commuters never made it to work, going home in disgust. Yet you have to wonder what it would have been like if they hadn’t already instituted a last digit numbering system for peak hour weekday traffic! Whilst it was sorted out within 12 hours it still ranks as an all time high for the number of kms. gridlocked.



4. Houston, Texas- September 2005

The early warning system for Hurricane Rita prompted 2.5 million people to flee Houston, but they didn’t get very far very quickly, all travelling down- or not travelling down Interstate 45. Two days later many were still stranded in the melee. Some made a social occasion out of it-well, there was nothing else to do, chatting, having community BBQ’s, helping stalled cars and trucks out of the way and generally making the best out of it.It seems the impending hurricane took pity on these poor stranded motorists and avoided plonking the eye of the storm in the middle of the congested highway.


5. Patna, India- December 2009

India is not renowned for its traffic interface, and jams are just part of the experience. But the worst one noted was in Patna, a city of nearly six million people, nestled on the southern banks of the Ganges. It is a political centre and a whole number of political activists decided to protest on the same day- the first day of the month in December 2009. Not a good idea….it resulted in what was certainly the world’s most varied traffic jam, embracing gridlocked cars, trucks, tuk tuks, bicycles, scooters, horses and carts and even prams into the equation. The outcome was that hundreds of thousands of mobile Patna residents went nowhere whatsoever throughout the day- and their protests weren’t heard above the hooting horns!


Traffic Jams in Australia

We noted above the longest jam that we know about in Australia was on the Pacific Highway north of Sydney. It’s interesting to note that when the NRMA was established in 1920 its purpose was to lobby the NSW government for road improvements in the state, and its main target was “the Pacific Highway heading north of Sydney”. Over 90 years later the NRMA is lobbying the Government to make good its target of meeting the 2015 Pacific Highway Upgrade! (note: last year the NRMA’s Red Flag survey voted the Coffs Harbour to Macksville section of the Pacific Highway the worst stretch of road in the state).

On the other hand, according to the IBM Commuter Pain Study, Melbourne is the second best city for avoidance of traffic jams in the world, second only to Stockholm- huh, do you believe that?

So what’s changed? Are governments listening? They are certainly not keeping up with the pace of modern traffic.

Where are the worst roads for congestion in Australia? How do they compare with your experiences here and overseas?

We want to know so let’s hear you on our Facebook page now!


  1. jose says:

    The worst road for congestion is the Ring Road in Melbourne it gets to a walking pace every morning and afternoon goin to the city via West gate or going to Tullamarine

    September 14th, 2012 at 11:27 am

  2. Farqhuar says:

    Despite what you may have read in the popular press, the story of the traffic jam on the Beijing-Zhangjiakou Highway is actually a myth. I rode a motorcycle down that same stretch of road in 2008 and I can tell you that the road is permanently bottle necked.

    When I rode it the two lane road was blocked in both directions by a 5 vehicle wide log jam of trucks, with drivers camped alongside their vehicles under make shift tarpaulins and cooking over make shift barbeques. I managed to get through by weaving between trucks, sometimes under the tarpaulins and often by riding through the front gardens of houses adjacent to the road.

    Those of you who watched the ABC Peking to Paris Adventure series will recall that Wozza and his motley crew experienced the same difficulties in 2005.

    The reason the phenomenon is permanent is because it is artificially created. This the major trade route from Mongolia to Beijing and there are a series of government customs checkpoints along the road, ostensibly there to ensure appropriate duties are paid on the individual cargo each truck is carrying. The reality is of course, that it is simply an opportunity for the government officials to perform a little personal extortion. Furthermore, to ensure the truck drivers don’t get too cocky, the officials randomly close down each checkpoint for 12 out of each 24 hours, further exacerbating the jam as vehicles cannot move between checkpoints until the next one opens.

    Sadly, the problem will never go away until someone senior in the Chinese government decides to put an end to it.

    September 16th, 2012 at 12:01 am