It's a dangerous combination, but it's not unique to us as massive holiday exoduses and reentries to mega cities happen all across the globe. Every time this happens, all the expressways get clogged and with higher traffic volumes, come, higher traffic accidents. Over here, the days before the weekend holidays are the ones to watch for; Christmas season, Holy Week, May 01 and November 01.
Nose to the grinding tail
In hindsight, its easy to analyze why most of the expressway accidents are usually nose-to-tail chain collisions of mostly new and nearly new cars, full of holiday making families, at the hottest times of the day.
These shunts are caused by a combination of the change in routine. Regular expressway users are unaccustomed to the thicker traffic and slower speeds. Urban dwellers, on the other hand, are not used to traveling nose to tail at speeds faster than the urban crawl. The cadence of slow and slower then speed up to fast is totally unfamiliar and out of synch to the stop-go-stop cycle of the urban rush hour.
Inexperience and the chain gang bust ups
Not used to the faster speeds, the urban driver is not also used to the faster braking response times needed on expressways. They are also not used to applying stronger force on the brake pedal. Herein lies the difference of making a braking maneuver unscathed or smashed. And if one happens to avoid hitting the rear bumper of the car ahead, there is no certainty that the guy behind will apply his brakes in time too.
Step on it! Racing improves the breed
Without a doubt, applying the brakes with somewhat more force than usual is uncharted territory for many drivers. That's why at race driving clinics and motorsports schooling, the first driving course, after being taught the right way to sit and hold the steering wheel, is to learn how to brake. This teaches the driver the absolute power of his right foot. And it teaches him to trust it in a way that he can stop far shorter and quicker than he never knew.
Oops, there goes safety in favor of timidity
Another hindrance as to why drivers fail to exploit the full braking force of their car to avoid an accident is an in-built reflex to protect the inattentive or dozing passengers of the car who may surprisingly wake up, launched into the windshield or front seat back. The only way to take this useless worry from the driver is to require all passengers to wear their seat belts. This way, a driver in an impending accident need only think about braking hard to avoid it.
Distancia, por favor!
Naturally, all this severe braking force need not be deployed if drivers kept distance. Herein lies the problem. Majority of drivers that crowd the expressways on exodus/reentry days are urban dwellers. They're used to slower speeds and closer gaps. Moreover, they are trained to fill in the gaps lest some aggressive driver cuts into their path. These one dimensional reflexes are carried on into the expressway, which is an entirely different environment and with devastating results.
Fines, the great behavior modifying incentive
To discourage bunching, French and Chinese expressways have sections that mark out 100m, 200m and 300m gaps and/or 3 to 6 car length gaps. These follow on distances are enforced by video cameras and stiff fines are mailed to violators who "bunch" too close to the lead car's rear bumper. The best local example of this practice was when Leighton was rehabilitating the NLEx in 2004. At the construction zone, they imposed a 60km/h speed limit. More importantly, they also imposed a 6-car length car-to-car distance. This meant that one's view of the car in front was comfortably far that even if one dozed off with the slow speed limit, especially after a high carbohydrate lunch, there was plenty of time and space for the co-driver to alert you to the impending danger. But since there were no monetary penalties for violating it, not too many had the chance to practice this international practice and appreciate why keeping long distances between cars is more relaxing than battling for every inch of urban space.
Another cultural problem that even the so-called educated and frequent foreign traveler suffer is the failure to use maps. Many take routes by memorizing landmarks, landmarks that can change over the years, covered by billboards, demolished by a stray truck, closed for business or taken down by a typhoon.
Convoy of the extended families
Many also have this annoying and illegal habit of traveling on convoy where the other family vehicles follow the leader. These convoys are also guilty of appropriating the overtaking lane for themselves, as if turning on the hazard flashers grant them immunity from the law. The same convoys also drive bumper to bumper to prevent others from interfering into their private space and for fear of losing sight of the lead vehicle and thus getting lost. Now if only these drivers had a clear plan where to go, read the signs and follow the map, there is no need to do this dangerous and selfish convoy. After all, any impromptu change of route, stops and plans can easily be relayed by cell phone, to the passengers who can relay the new instructions to the driver.
Look where you're going
Admittedly, to make drivers realize that its more relaxing and safer to look far beyond their hood ornament and enjoy driving as far behind the lead vehicle's tail pipe is going to take heavy penalties and draconian policing. Lately, some expressway operators have opened the emergency shoulder as an extra slow moving traffic lane, a practice done in England. Our expressways are congested as it is, thus it makes sense to stretch road capacity by extending the exodus and reentry days by the old practice of declaring extra holidays attached to long weekends as intended in the former Executive Order on Holiday Economics. Through it all, it pays to look where you're going, so don't be obsessed staring at that rear bumper. You may just end up paying for it and more.