Traffic Idioms In English

I was over at my friend’s house the other day and at around 4 o’clock I decided to leave. “I want to beat the traffic,” I said. I meant that since rush hour starts around 5 P.M. I wanted to leave early to avoid this heavy traffic.

So, rush hour is the time in the morning and the evening when people are going to work and leaving work. This means that at those times there are more cars on the road. The traffic is very heavy and thus it tends to move very slowly. Therefore, a lot of traffic jams occur during rush hour. If you’re like me, you absolutely hate getting stuck in a traffic jam.

Creeping along for hours in bumper to bumper traffic is not how I like to spend my time. Lots of times, there are accidents and then the traffic is even slower because of rubberneckers.

There we have six common traffic idioms and some other associated idioms. These idioms do tend to be used in groups of two or three, if not more. They are very common and you may be able to use them today! Let’s go over them one by one.


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Rush Hour Meaning

As stated above, rush hour is the period in the morning and evening when people are going to and from work. Therefore, on a daily basis, this is when there are the most vehicles on the road. It’s when people are ‘rushing around.’

Where I live, rush hour is around 8 to 9 am and 5 to 6 pm. Since there are too many cars, the traffic tends to move very slowly.

Beat the Traffic Meaning

Most of us try to avoid driving in rush-hour traffic whenever we can. So, we want to ‘beat the traffic.’ This means we want to leave and be on the road before rush hour begins and hopefully be at our destination before the traffic gets heavy.

If you are going on a trip to the beach, you might get up early to beat the traffic.

If you are forced to drive in rush hour traffic, you might get stuck in a traffic jam.

Traffic Jam Meaning

A traffic jam is when all the vehicles on the road come to a standstill and then barely move forward at all. When they do move, it’s just a few feet at a time.

When traffic moves like this we often describe it in one of several different ways such as:

  • to creep along
  • to inch along
  • to move at a snail’s pace

Everyone hates creeping along in bumper to bumper traffic.

Traffic jams are caused by very heavy traffic, as during rush hour, but also by accidents on the road, road work, and other impediments. Sometimes, they happen for seemingly no reason at all.

When we are in a traffic jam we often use the phrase ‘stuck in a traffic jam’ meaning we cannot move forward. We are stuck.

You can also just say ‘stuck in traffic’ without the word jam. In this version it is understood that the traffic is heavy or there is a traffic jam for some reason, causing you to get stuck.

Traffic jams are also called traffic snarls or tie-ups.

Bumper to Bumper Traffic

During a traffic jam, the cars usually jam very close together so that the front bumper of one car is very close to the back bumper of the car in front. We call this bumper to bumper traffic. It means the same as heavy traffic.

When the traffic is heavy the most accidents tend to occur. Accidents can ‘tie up traffic’ or ‘hold up traffic.’ The same is true of road construction or repair.

Examples:

Traffic was tied up because of an accident.
Road construction had traffic held up all day.

Rubbernecker Meaning

An accident can cause traffic to move slower even after the vehicles involved have been moved off the road and the accident is on the opposite side of a divided highway. This is because of rubberneckers.

Rubberneckers are people who slow down to try to see what has happened in the accident and whether anyone got hurt, etc.

Rubbernecker is a pejorative term, not only because they slow down traffic, but because of the connotation that they are perversely fascinated by the accident and the prospect of someone being badly injured or killed. Despite this negative connotation, most of us can’t help ourselves and at least steal a glance at the carnage.

We might want to see what kind of accident it was. Was it a fender-bender, a rear-end, a side-swipe, or worse, a head-on collision?

Did a hit-and-run occur? Who ‘ran into’ whom?

Maybe someone cut someone off or there was a DUI involved.

Of course, during rush hour, a common cause of accidents is to tailgate or, as many people say, ‘to ride someone’s bumper.’

Always maintain a safe distance!

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