When the sun comes out and the weather improves, a lot of folks hit the road. Although driving conditions might be better than they were in the winter, this means there will likely be much more traffic to contend with as well. You might not be dealing with ice and snow, but a buildup of vehicles can be just as dangerous as a stretch of slippery pavement. Here are a few tips to help you stay alert and safe when driving in heavy traffic:

Slow Down a Bit

If you run into a little (or a lot) of traffic, slow down a bit. Zigzagging along, while trying to find the fastest-moving lane, really won’t save you much time. By slowing down, you can avoid potential collisions with jittery drivers who just don’t have the patience to deal with traffic delays.

Maintain a Buffer Zone Between Vehicles

Driving a tad slower will also help you keep a better buffer zone between you and the vehicle in front of you. If you maintain a reasonably sized buffer zone, you’ll have time to react to sudden braking by the cars ahead of you, or any erratic driving you might encounter. Sadly, you can’t dictate the buffer zone with the vehicle behind you (that’s up to the other driver), but any extra cushioning you manage to find will give you a few extra seconds to react to the unexpected—even in slow-moving traffic.

Pay Attention to Your Situational Awareness

Buffer zones, car mirrors and a general awareness of the traffic ahead of and behind you will help you build a mental picture of the driving conditions on your particular stretch of road or highway. By keeping track of your blind spots, and watching changes in the driving patterns of others, as well as road signs indicating detours, construction work or other obstacles in your way, you’ll be building up your situational awareness. A better situational awareness will let you prepare for surprises down the road.

Communicate Your Driving Intentions

You have turn indicators and lights, and it’s a good idea to use them in order to communicate your driving intentions to those around you. While this is true all the time, it’s especially true in congested traffic. Letting other drivers know what you’re about to do helps them prepare their own course of action, and reduces the risk of getting into trouble. You can also use your lights to flash and signal other drivers, warning them of potential problems, while increasing the visibility of your own vehicle.

Stay Cool

Traffic jams can be maddening, but still, try to stay as cool as you can. Aggressive driving should be saved for the racetrack (and 'Mad Max' movies). By yelling at other drivers and driving with anger, you’ll only end up damaging your own car or truck, and possibly your body too. The high blood pressure and stress you’ll pile on just isn’t worth it. Zen is the name of the game in heavy traffic. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out …

Brake Smoothly

Stop slamming on your bakes. Drive slower, maintain a buffer zone between vehicles, and brake smoothly. By stopping and starting your car without jerky motions, you’ll avoid knocking into bumpers, and help traffic flow along at a better pace.

Take an Actual Break

If you find it’s too hard to be a considerate driver in a traffic jam (we've all had our bad days), try and leave the road for a spell. Take an actual break. Have cup of coffee, a donut, go for a walk, or just nap in your car for a few minutes. If the desire to slam into other vehicles and choke other drivers is overwhelming, get off the road. Save yourself—and others—a lot of grief. Once you’ve calmed your nerves down some, you can rejoin the rat race.

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