The Worst Traffic Jam In History

“Time is the mercy of Eternity; without Time’s swiftness Which is the swiftest of all things, all were eternal torment.” —William Blake, Milton

In A Nutshell

While cities all over the world struggle with traffic issues, Beijing, China holds the title of having the worst traffic jam to date. In 2010, the China National Highway 110, which runs from Beijing to Yinchuan was clogged for an astounding 12 days over a 100-kilometer (62 mi) stretch of road. Travelers were stuck in their cars for up to five days, and a mini-economy of overpriced food, water, and cigarettes sprang up instantly.

The Whole Bushel

Virtually every large, highly populated city is plagued with traffic problems, with the biggest offenders being places like Bangkok, Beijing, Sao Paulo, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. In these places, folks often have to budget several hours per day just for their commutes. Even the average American in an ordinary city spends nearly an entire work week per year sitting in traffic. With automobile congestion being such a common issue, it’s easy to see how even a minor hindrance on a roadway can lead to major gridlock. This is exactly what happened in 2010 when roadwork created a 12-day, 100-kilometer traffic jam in Beijing, China.

This mega-jam spanned the China National Highway 110 and, ironically, formed from road construction that was intended to relieve traffic congestion. However, these highly trafficked streets couldn’t handle even a temporary reduction in capacity, and the increased maintenance trucks along with the roadwork quickly brought cars to a standstill. Making matters worse were the resulting fender benders and overheated cars. These setbacks left some motorists stuck in their cars for up to five days.

Of course, no matter how dire the situation, there are always those who can find a way to make a profit. As such, opportunistic vendors showed up offering instant noodles, other food items, water, and cigarettes to the stranded drivers at prices as much as 10 times their ordinary rates. Those who refused to buy from the price gougers were sometimes threatened with car damage, and there were multiple incidents of modern-day highwaymen stealing money and siphoning gas. Still, things stayed relatively calm, as 400 police officers were sent in to constantly patrol the road.

This dragged on for nearly two weeks with cars moving at the enormously sluggish pace of 3 kilometers (2 mi) per day. Travelers passed the time by playing cards and chess or napping on the hoods of their cars. Although most of us would never willingly enter such a debacle, apparently some truckers deliberately took the clogged route (when they could have taken a detour), because they wanted to travel longer distances and increase their prices. Obviously this didn’t help the situation.

Amazingly, the traffic jam vanished out of nowhere on the 12th day, which was actually a shorter time than some officials predicted. Seemingly overnight, local authorities had dispersed the congestion, and cars began moving at the ordinary speed—which wasn’t exactly breakneck on this forever traffic-heavy, accident-prone highway.

Incidentally, while Beijing might hold the record for the longest-lasting case of gridlock, the record for the longest traffic jam (in terms of distance) goes to Sao Paulo, Brazil. This city regularly has traffic jams up to 295 kilometers (183 mi) long.

Show Me The Proof

The Atlantic: The American Commuter Spends 38 Hours a Year Stuck in Traffic
HowStuffWorks: How Traffic Works
NBC News: Worst traffic jam ever? Gridlock spans 60 miles
The Guardian: Chinese drivers stuck in the longest traffic jam
CBC News: 100-km Chinese traffic jam enters Day 9
BBC News: Sao Paulo: A city with 180km traffic jams

  • oouchan

    One day, I hope to ride nothing but a bicycle. Sitting in traffic is frustration and stress I don’t need or want. Could not imagine being stuck for 5 days. That’s just crazy.


    • P5ychoRaz

      I willingly take low pay, just so I have the opportunity to ride to work. Driving blows.

    • Joseph

      I’d do a “Falling Down” around hour 5! I don’t want instant noodles, I want change for the pay phone! Where’s my bag full of guns that I got from the gang members that tried to kill me in a drive by?

    • percynjpn

      You no doubt mean “hover bikes”.

      • oouchan

        Hover ‘anything’ would be awesome!

        • lonelydisco


          • oouchan

            That would solve any “mess” issues. 😀

          • lonelydisco

            As I don’t know how the female body works … how?!

          • oouchan

            Well….if you equate it to “bathroom” necessities, you can fill in the gap with your imagination. 🙂

          • lonelydisco

            It’s wonderful … and not in a good way. Not at all.

  • Hillyard

    I can imagine some poor schmuck trying to explain to his wife that he was stuck in traffic for 5 days.

    • Good opportunity for some back seat fucky sucky right there, loads of bored humans what else can one do?

    • percynjpn

      Probably wouldn’t be hard if they had a TV.

  • Clyde Barrow

    Being stuck in traffic sucks. I fought the L.A. freeways for years, wasting 4 hours a day in traffic to and from work. A little common sense says it’s not worth the money, hassle, and health issues, so I quit and moved away from that scene.

    At least when the New York State freeway was closed for 3 days with traffic blocked in all directions for the Woodstock concert in ’69, they could walk to the free concert and chill to good music and take good drugs until things cleared up.

  • need a car, Get a job, buy a car to get to job, work to pay for car, petrol and maintenance, the cycle of bullshit city life.