In the virtual slot model of traffic, cars inhabit a space around them that other cars shouldn't enter. By maintaining the distance between other cars, drivers should experience smoother traffic flow with fewer congested area.

Traffic-jam Prevention

If you want to reduce your contribution to traffic jams, the first thing you should do is take care of your car. Making sure your car is properly maintained can help prevent breakdowns on the road. Maintenance includes regular oil changes, tune ups and tire care. Make sure your tires are kept at the right pressure -- it's safer and can improve your gas mileage by up to 3.3 percent [source: fueleconomy.org]. Keeping your car in good working order will save you time and money and might help keep you out of dangerous situations.

When on the road, try to maintain a safe and steady distance between you and the driver ahead of you. Suddenly speeding up -- only to slow down again -- causes drivers behind you to do the same thing, eventually resulting in a congestion wave (and road rage!).

In an article titled "Vision of Congestion-Free Road Traffic and Cooperating Objects," Ricardo Morla proposes we think of cars occupying virtual slots. Each virtual slot takes up a real space that travels at a specific, continuous speed down the road. As cars approach one another, drivers must adjust the speed of their cars so that the virtual slots don't overlap. Morla admits that this system fails whenever more cars enter a highway than the virtual slots can accommodate. Still, by keeping a safe distance between you and other vehicles, you can help minimize congestion [source: Morla].

Driving at non-peak rush-hour times is another good way to avoid contributing to the congestion problem. If you have flexibility with your schedule, you can travel at non-peak hours. Proponents of the congestion-pricing system say that levying fees on drivers during peak hours would encourage people to drive at off-peak times. Critics point out that this comes close to regressive taxation, meaning that the poor shoulder most of the cost. They say that people with flexible schedules tend to be professionals working in white-collar jobs, whereas people who work in lower-paying positions tend to have set hours and are unable to avoid traffic. The people least able to afford the fee would be the ones footing the bill [source: Arnott].

Carpooling is a great option if you live near people who work near you. Most cities have HOV lanes you can use, and carpooling creates­ less stress on the environment, leading to less pollution. Many people are reluctant to give up the freedom they have when driving their own car. Carpooling means aligning your schedule with other people and scheduling any errands or side trips after you get back home.

Los Angeles' heavy traffic is a significant contributor to its infamous air pollution.

Photo David McNew, Getty Images

If your city has a good public transportation system, you can always use it to reduce your impact on congestion. But just like carpooling, using public transportation means giving up some of your freedom and flexibility.

In the next section, find out what cities have the worst traffic.