The Longest Traffic Jams in the World

October 17, 2021

Traffic jam in the city

No one wants to be stuck in a traffic jam, but just imagine a traffic jam that lasts days and not minutes or hours and stretches over a hundred miles. Here are some of the longest traffic jams that have happened throughout the world that took a long time to get through or stretched for mile after mile.

China National Highway and Beijing-Tibet Expressway, 2010

This first traffic jam probably takes the record for being the longest duration traffic jam. The jam started on August 14, 2010, on a heavily traveled stretch of the China National Highway 110 and the Beijing-Tibet Expressway going toward Beijing, China. The roadway had been known for being chronically congested, but trucks going from the Inner Mongolia coal fields along with trucks that were taking supplies for road work on this highway pushed the capacity 60% above what the road was designed to handle. 

The road construction had already caused the road capacity to be reduced by 50%, and what resulted was a traffic jam that grew to over 60 miles long (100 km) and ended up lasting ten days. Some drivers were stuck in the jam for five days and reported only moving their cars about 0.6 miles per day (1 km).

With the drivers stuck in traffic, villagers along the route began selling them food and beverages, though price-gouging was reported. A bottle of water normally sold for 1 yuan (15 US cents) but sold for 10 yuan ($1.50 US), and the cost of a cup of instant noodles had tripled.

Lyon-Paris, France, 1980

The traffic jam that occurred in February 1980 in France as vacationers returned to Paris holds the title of the longest traffic jam in history. The throngs of people returning to Paris after vacationing and inclement weather along the route caused a traffic jam 109 miles long (175 km).

East-West German Border, 1990

A traffic jam took place on April 12, 1990, between the border of East and West Germany that holds the record for the most vehicles in a traffic jam. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, and Germans began traveling across the border that had been in place for over 40 years. 

By April, the number of vehicles had increased so much that a traffic jam developed over the first four-day Easter weekend without an internal German border which involved 18 million vehicles. Four-hour backups resulted on roads that were only designed to handle 500,000 vehicles per day.

Other Notable Traffic Jams

Houston, Texas, 2005

When Hurricane Rita was predicted to make landfall in Houston, Texas, in November 2005, drivers took to the roads to evacuate the city. About 2.5 million vehicles clogged the roads at one time leading out of the city with Interstate 45, a major north-south route, getting the most traffic. Backups were almost 100 miles (160 km), and some people were stuck on the road for 20 hours, making it dangerous that some would be caught in the hurricane. The congestion lasted almost 48 hours. The full force of Hurricane Rita didn’t hit the city, however.

Bethel, New York, 1969

The Woodstock Music Festival in 1969, held 107 miles (172 km) northwest of New York City, outside the town of Bethel, New York, was originally expected to have only 50,000 attendees, but 500,000 people showed up. What resulted was a traffic jam 20-miles long (32 km) on the New York Thruway. Many vehicles were abandoned along the road as attendees gave up on waiting and walked the distance to the festival instead.

Moscow, Russia, 2012

A traffic jam occurred on November 30, 2012, on a highway in Russia in what is probably the longest traffic jam because of weather. Three feet of snow buried Highway M-10, the link between Moscow and St. Petersburg, and caused traffic to back up for a reported 125 miles (201 km). The main obstruction of snow blocking the road was a quarter of the distance from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Some drivers were stranded for three days before the snow was cleared.

Sao Paulo, Brazil, 2009

On June 10, 2009, Sao Paulo, Brazil, had its worst congested traffic day throughout the city. The traffic jams totaled 182 miles (293 km) of jammed highways going in and out of the city, and 522 miles (840 km) of city streets were blocked.

Sources: Forbes, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Stevens Point Journal, Guinness World Records, The Courier-Journal, New York Times, Time, World Atlas

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Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium, our ad-free subscription sites (you can find out how to join below). I hope you find things here to annoy those around you with your new found knowledge.

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