Traffic on roads consists of road users including pedestrians, ridden or herded animals, vehicles, , buses and other conveyances, either singly or together, while using the public way for purposes of travel. Traffic code are the laws which govern traffic and regulate vehicles, while rules of the road are both the laws and the informal rules that may have developed over time to facilitate the orderly and timely flow of traffic.
Organized traffic generally has well-established priorities, lanes, right-of-way, and traffic control at intersections.
Traffic is formally organized in many jurisdictions, with marked , junctions, intersections, interchanges, , or traffic sign. Traffic is often classified by type: heavy motor vehicle (e.g., car, truck), other vehicle (e.g., moped, bicycle), and pedestrian. Different classes may share and easement, or may be segregated. Some jurisdictions may have very detailed and complex rules of the road while others rely more on drivers' common sense and willingness to cooperate.
Organization typically produces a better combination of travel safety and efficiency. Events which disrupt the flow and may cause traffic to degenerate into a disorganized mess include road construction, car accident, and debris in the roadway. On particularly busy freeways, a minor disruption may persist in a phenomenon known as . A complete breakdown of organization may result in traffic congestion and gridlock. Simulations of organized traffic frequently involve queuing theory, stochastic processes and equations of mathematical physics applied to traffic flow.
As a general rule, drivers are expected to avoid a collision with another vehicle and pedestrians, regardless of whether or not the applicable rules of the road allow them to be where they happen to be. Davies v. Mann, 152 Eng. Rep. 588 (1842)see legal doctrine of Last Clear Chance
In addition to the rules applicable by default, and must be obeyed, and instructions may be given by a police officer, either routinely (on a busy crossing instead of traffic lights) or as road traffic control around a construction zone, accident, or other road disruption.
These rules should be distinguished from the mechanical procedures required to operate one's vehicle. See driving.
In the United Kingdom, the rules are set out in the Highway Code, which includes not only obligations but also advice on how to drive sensibly and safely.
In the United States, traffic laws are regulated by the states and municipalities through their respective . Most of these are based at least in part on the Uniform Vehicle Code, but there are variations from state to state. In states such as Florida, traffic law and criminal law are separate, therefore, unless someone flees a scene of an accident, commits vehicular homicide or manslaughter, they are only guilty of a minor traffic offense. However, states such as South Carolina have completely criminalized their traffic law, so, for example, one is guilty of a misdemeanor simply for travelling 5 miles over the speed limit.
Signs, signals, markings and other features are often used to make priority explicit. Some signs, such as the stop sign, are nearly universal. When there are no signs or markings, different rules are observed depending on the location. These default priority rules differ between countries, and may even vary within countries. Trends toward uniformity are exemplified at an international level by the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, which prescribes standardized traffic control devices (signs, signals, and markings) for establishing the right of way where necessary.
Crosswalks (or pedestrian crossings) are common in populated areas, and may indicate that pedestrians have priority over vehicular traffic. In most modern cities, the traffic signal is used to establish the right of way on the busy roads. Its primary purpose is to give each road a duration of time in which its traffic may use the intersection in an organized way. The intervals of time assigned for each road may be adjusted to take into account factors such as difference in volume of traffic, the needs of pedestrians, or other traffic signals. Pedestrian crossings may be located near other traffic control devices; if they are not also regulated in some way, vehicles must give priority to them when in use. Traffic on a public road usually has priority over other traffic such as traffic emerging from private access; rail crossings and drawbridges are typical exceptions.
Intersections have no signals or signage, and a particular road at a busy intersection may be dominant – that is, its traffic flows – until a break in traffic, at which time the dominance shifts to the other road where vehicles are queued. At the intersection of two perpendicular roads, a traffic jam may result if four vehicles face each other side-on.
This will usually mean that turning traffic must stop and wait for a breach to turn, and this might cause inconvenience for drivers that follow them but do not want to turn. This is why dedicated lanes and protected traffic signals for turning are sometimes provided. On busier intersections where a protected lane would be ineffective or cannot be built, turning may be entirely prohibited, and drivers will be required to "drive around the block" in order to accomplish the turn. Many cities employ this tactic quite often; in San Francisco, due to its common practice, making three right turns is known colloquially as a "San Francisco left turn". Likewise, as many intersections in Taipei City are too busy to allow direct left turns, signs often direct drivers to drive around the block to turn.
Turning rules are by no means universal. For example, in New Zealand (a drive-on-the-left country) between 1977 and 2012, left turning traffic had to give way to opposing right-turning traffic wishing to take the same road (unless there were multiple lanes, but then one must take care in case a vehicle jumped lanes). New Zealand abolished this particular rule on 25 March 2012, except at or when denoted by a Give Way or Stop sign. Although the rule caused initial driver confusion, and many intersections required or still require modification, the change is predicted to eventually prevent one death and 13 serious injuries annually.
On roads with multiple lanes, turning traffic is generally expected to move to the lane closest to the direction they wish to turn. For example, traffic intending to turn right will usually move to the rightmost lane before the intersection. Likewise, left-turning traffic will move to the leftmost lane. Exceptions to this rule may exist where for example the traffic authority decides that the two rightmost lanes will be for turning right, in which case drivers may take whichever of them to turn. Traffic may adapt to Social norm that rise naturally rather than by force of authority. For example, it is common for drivers to observe (and trust) the turn signals used by other drivers in order to make turns from other lanes. If several vehicles on the right lane are all turning right, a vehicle may come from the next-to-right lane and turn right as well, in parallel with the other right-turning vehicles.
In the United Kingdom, priority is generally indicated by signs or markings, so that almost all junctions between public roads (except those governed by traffic signals) have a concept of a major road and minor road. The default give-way-to-the-right rule used in Continental Europe causes problems for many British and Irish drivers who are accustomed to having right of way by default unless otherwise indicated. A very small proportion of low-traffic junctions are unmarked – typically on or in rural areas. Here the rule is to "proceed with great care" i.e. slow the vehicle and check for traffic on the intersecting road.
Other countries use various methods similar to the above examples to establish the right of way at intersections. For example, in most of the United States, the default priority is to yield to traffic from the right, but this is usually overridden by traffic control devices or other rules, like the boulevard rule. This rule holds that traffic entering a major road from a smaller road or alley must yield to the traffic of the busier road, but signs are often still posted. The boulevard rule can be compared with the above concept of a major and minor road, or the priority roads that may be found in countries that are parties to the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals.
Perpendicular intersections Also known as a "four-way" intersection, this intersection is the most common configuration for roads that cross each other, and the most basic type.
If do not control a four-way intersection, signs or other features are typically used to control movements and make clear priorities. The most common arrangement is to indicate that one road has priority over the other, but there are complex cases where all traffic approaching an intersection must yield and may be required to stop.
In the United States, South Africa, and Canada, there are four-way intersections with a stop sign at every entrance, called four-way stops. A failed signal or a flashing red light is equivalent to a four-way stop, or an all-way stop. Special rules for four-way stops may include:
In Europe and other places, there are similar intersections. These may be marked by special signs (according to the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals), a danger sign with a black X representing a crossroads. This sign informs drivers that the intersection is uncontrolled and that default rules apply. In Europe and in many areas of North America the default rules that apply at uncontrolled four-way intersections are almost identical:
The actual appearance of pedestrian crossings varies greatly, but the two most common appearances are: (1) a series of lateral white stripes or (2) two longitudinal white lines. The former is usually preferred, as it stands out more conspicuously against the dark pavement.
Some pedestrian crossings accompany a traffic signal to make vehicles stop at regular intervals so pedestrians can cross. Some countries have "intelligent" pedestrian signals, where the pedestrian must push a button in order to assert his intention to cross. In some countries, approaching traffic is monitored by radar or by electromagnetic sensors buried in the road surface, and the pedestrian crossing lights are set to red if a speed infringement is detected. This has the effect of enforcing the local speed limit. See Speed Limits below.
Pedestrian crossings without traffic signals are also common. In this case, the traffic laws usually states that the pedestrian has the right of way when crossing, and that vehicles must stop when a pedestrian uses the crossing. Countries and driving cultures vary greatly as to the extent to which this is respected. In the state of Nevada the car has the right of way when the crosswalk signal specifically forbids pedestrian crossing.
Some jurisdictions forbid crossing or using the road anywhere other than at crossings, termed jaywalking. In other areas, pedestrians may have the right to cross where they choose, and have right of way over vehicular traffic while crossing.
In most areas, an intersection is considered to have a crosswalk, even if not painted, as long as the roads meet at approximate right angles. The United Kingdom and Croatia are among the exceptions.
Pedestrian crossings may also be located away from intersections.
To enforce speed limits, two approaches are generally employed. In the United States, it is common for the police to patrol the streets and use special equipment (typically a radar unit) to measure the speed of vehicles, and pull over any vehicle found to be in violation of the speed limit. In Brazil, Colombia and some European countries, there are computerized speed-measuring devices spread throughout the city, which will automatically detect speeding drivers and take a photograph of the license plate (or number plate), which is later used for applying and mailing the ticket. Many jurisdictions in the U.S. use this technology as well.
A mechanism that was developed in Germany is the Grüne Welle, or green wave, which is an indicator that shows the optimal speed to travel for the synchronized green lights along that corridor. Driving faster or slower than the speed set by the behavior of the lights causes the driver to encounter many red lights. This discourages drivers from speeding or impeding the flow of traffic. See related traffic wave and Pedestrian Crossings, above.
In the United Kingdom and Canada, notably on extra-urban roads, a solid white or yellow line closer to the driver is used to indicate that no overtaking is allowed in that lane. A double white or yellow line means that neither side may overtake.
In the United States, a solid white line means that lane changes are discouraged and a double white line means that the lane change is prohibited.
On roads that have multiple lanes going in the same direction, drivers may usually shift amongst lanes as they please, but they must do so in a way that does not cause inconvenience to other drivers. Driving cultures vary greatly on the issue of "lane ownership": in some countries, drivers traveling in a lane will be very protective of their right to travel in it while in others drivers will routinely expect other drivers to shift back and forth.
Designation and overtaking
The usual designation for lanes on is the fastest lane is the one closest to the center of the road, and the slowest to the edge of the road. Drivers are usually expected to keep in the slowest lane unless overtaking, though with more traffic congestion all lanes are often used.
When driving on the left:
When driving on the right:
Countries party to the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic have uniform rules about overtaking and lane designation. The convention details (amongst other things) that "Every driver shall keep to the edge of the carriageway appropriate to the direction of traffic", and the "Drivers overtaking shall do so on the side opposite to that appropriate to the direction of traffic", notwithstanding the presence or absence of oncoming traffic. Allowed exceptions to these rules include turning or heavy traffic, traffic in lines, or situation in which signs or markings must dictate otherwise. These rules must be more strictly adhered to on roads with oncoming traffic, but still apply on multi-lane and divided highways. Many countries in Europe are party to the Vienna Conventions on traffic and roads. In Australia (which is not a contracting party), traveling in any lane other than the "slow" lane on a road with a speed limit at or above is an offence, unless signage is posted to the contrary or the driver is overtaking.
Many areas in North America do not have any laws about staying to the slowest lanes unless overtaking. In those areas, unlike many parts of Europe, traffic is allowed to overtake on any side, even in a slower lane. This practice is known as "passing on the right" in the United States and "overtaking on the inside" and "undertaking" in the United Kingdom. When referring to individual lanes on dual carriageways, one does not consider traffic travelling the opposite direction. The inside lane (in the British English sense, i.e. the lane beside the hard shoulder) refers to the lane used for normal travel, while the middle lane is used for overtaking cars on the inside lane. The outside lane (i.e. closest to oncoming traffic) is used for overtaking vehicles in the middle lane. The same principle lies with dual carriageways with more than three lanes.
In some US states (such as Louisiana, Massachusetts and New York), although there are laws requiring all traffic on a public way to use the right-most lane unless overtaking, this rule is often ignored and seldom enforced on multi-lane roadways. Some states, such as Colorado, use a combination of laws and signs restricting speeds or vehicles on certain lanes to emphasize overtaking only on the left lane, and to avoid a psychological condition commonly called road rage.
In California, cars may use any lane on multi-lane roadways. Drivers moving slower than the general flow of traffic are required to stay in the right-most lanes (by California Vehicle Code (CVC) 21654) to keep the way clear for faster vehicles and thus speed up traffic. However, faster drivers may legally pass in the slower lanes if conditions allow (by CVC 21754). But the CVC also requires trucks to stay in the right lane, or in the right two lanes if the roadway has four or more lanes going in their direction. The oldest freeways in California, and some freeway interchanges, often have ramps on the left, making signs like "TRUCKS OK ON LEFT LANE" or "TRUCKS MAY USE ALL LANES" necessary to override the default rule. Lane splitting, or riding motorcycles in the space between cars in traffic, is permitted as long as it is done in a safe and prudent manner.
In order to increase traffic capacity and safety, a route may have two or more separate roads for each direction of traffic. Alternatively, a given road might be declared one-way.
In large cities, moving from one part of the city to another by means of ordinary streets and avenues can be time-consuming since traffic is often slowed by at-grade junctions, tight turns, narrow marked lanes and lack of a minimum speed limit. Therefore, it has become common practice for larger cities to build roads for faster through traffic. There are two different types of roads used to provide high-speed access across urban areas:
Motor vehicle driving wishing to travel over great distances within the city will usually take the freeways or expressways in order to minimize travel time. When a crossing road is at the same Grade separation as the freeway, a bridge (or, less often, an underpass) will be built for the crossing road. If the freeway is elevated, the crossing road will pass underneath it.
Minimum speed signs are sometimes posted (although increasingly rare) and usually indicate that any vehicle traveling slower than should indicate a slower speed of travel to other motor vehicles by engaging the vehicle's four-way flashing lights. Alternative slower-than-posted speeds may be in effect, based on the posted speed limit of the highway/freeway.
Systems of freeways and expressways are also built to connect distant and regional cities, notable systems include the Interstate highways, the German Autobahn and the Expressway Network of the People's Republic of China.
In measured traffic data, have been found that are qualitatively the same for different highways in different countries. Some of these common features distinguish the wide moving jam and synchronized flow phases of congested traffic in Boris Kerner three-phase traffic theory.
In the United States and Canada, several expressways have a special lane (called an "HOV Lane" – High Occupancy Vehicle Lane) that can only be used by cars carrying two (some locations-three) or more people. Also, many major cities have instituted strict parking prohibitions during rush hour on major arterial streets leading to and from the central business district. During designated weekday hours, vehicles parked on these primary routes are subject to prompt ticketing and towing at owner expense. The purpose of these restrictions is to make available an additional traffic lane in order to maximize available traffic capacity. Additionally, several cities offer a public telephone service where citizens can arrange rides with others depending on where they live and work. The purpose of these policies is to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads and thus reduce rush-hour traffic intensity.
Metered freeways are also a solution for controlling rush hour traffic. In Phoenix, Arizona and Seattle, Washington, among other places, metered on-ramps have been implemented. During rush hour, traffic signals are used with green lights to allow one car per blink of the light to proceed on to the freeway.
During emergencies where evacuation of a heavily populated area is required, local authorities may institute contraflow lane reversal, in which all lanes of a road lead away from a danger zone regardless of their original flow. Aside from emergencies, contraflow may also be used to ease traffic congestion during rush hour or at the end of a sports event (where a large number of cars are leaving the venue at the same time). For example, the six lanes of the Lincoln Tunnel can be changed from three inbound and three outbound to a two/four configuration depending on traffic volume. The Brazilian highways Rodovia dos Imigrantes and Rodovia Anchieta connect São Paulo to the Atlantic coast. Almost all lanes of both highways are usually reversed during weekends to allow for heavy seaside traffic. The reversibility of the highways requires many additional highway ramps and complicated interchanges.