Winter in Phoenix: That time of year when the heat leaves, but the visitors come — and so does an increase in traffic.

Drivers here don’t spend as much time in traffic as in other cities — Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia are the three worst in the country in terms of congestion, with Phoenix showing up as the 35th worst. Not too bad for the fifth largest city in the country. Yet if you’re sitting in traffic on one of our congested freeways, it can feel like an eternity.

Phoenix Traffic Patterns

Earlier this year, when we were in the middle of lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, weekday vehicle speeds on freeways averaged more than 10 miles per hour faster than the same time period a year ago. Then, only essential workers were commuting and schools were closed. If you happened to be on the roadways during this time, you were likely pleasantly surprised by all the wide, open roads. 

As restrictions eased in late summer and into autumn, vehicle speeds fell again to nearly what they were a year ago, and average weekday traffic volume increased to hit 92% of normal traffic volume in November. 

Also contributing to traffic? Out-of-towners: Visitors and snowbirds, who are starting to flock to Phoenix again during our cooler months despite the pandemic. 

Whether you’re one of those visitors or you’re a local, here are three challenges to watch for during our high-traffic season. 

The Challenge: More RVs

Arizona is one of the states that doesn’t require a special license to drive an RV or motorhome. We start to see a lot more of these on the roads this time of year, as snowbirds migrate here from Canada and other cold-weather areas. And now that more families and young couples are renting RVs for vacation purposes (with Phoenix being a top destination), even more RVs are hitting the road. 

Although RVs can make for a fun, economical road trip — not to mention keep people out of hotels and restaurants during a pandemic — they do present a  number of challenges when it comes to traffic: 

  • RVs have more blindspots. 
  • They are harder to maneuver. 
  • Braking distance is harder to calculate.
  • Turn radius is a lot wider. 
  • High winds can be dangerous. 
  • They often come with trailers, exacerbating all the above challenges. 

The Challenge: Navigation

Anyone visiting a new place must figure out how to navigate. That can be tricky to do on the fly when you’re faced with a number of different freeway options and what might feel like confusing signage (witness I-10 East, which actually travels mostly south through the city). 

Those who aren’t sure where they are going can cause traffic problems and even crashes. If you are new to Phoenix or visiting, take some time to get familiar with local roads, local driving ordinances and to learn where the congested areas are and when our peak traffic times are, so you can successfully get to where you’re going. 

The Challenge: Freeway Driving

Two of our freeway intersections were ranked among the 2020 Top Truck Bottleneck List: the intersection of I-17 and I-10, and that of I-10 and the U.S. 60. 

Driving on freeways where the traffic flow can go from driving at or above the speed limit, to stop-and-go, to a complete standstill, takes concentration and skill. Especially when there are several lanes of traffic, constant lane changes, merges, and drivers exiting. It’s enough to make someone’s head spin and their heart race if they’re unfamiliar with those driving conditions. 

Driving Safely in Challenging Traffic

Despite these challenges, it is possible to safely arrive at your destination, even if you have to drive through bad traffic to get there. Remembering and practicing these tips can help: 

  • Enter the freeway safely by accelerating to a safe speed that is close to the flow of freeway traffic. 
  • Always leave a safe distance between you and the car in front of you, so you have time to react. 
  • Always use your signal before a lane change or other lateral maneuver.
  • Don’t make sudden maneuvers. 
  • Be patient with other drivers. 
  • Scan far ahead for slowing traffic, as well as for obstacles and hazards. 

Improve your driving skills in all kinds of traffic and road conditions. At Stop and Go Driving School, we specialize in helping you learn to drive safely. Contact us to learn more about our classes and instruction.