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The Effects of High Traffic Congestion on Fuel Consumption and the Environment

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We live in a country where our cities are dominated by fuel-driven road vehicles of various types. On our daily commute to and from work every day, it’s likely that we’ll experience some form of traffic congestion, despite our best efforts to avoid them.

ecology car concept

Traffic congestion is caused by situations such as too many cars on the road at any one given time, public roadworks, road accidents, road blocks, load shedding, as well as inefficient road systems.

How traffic jams increase CO2 emissions

Driving through congested traffic means you have to shift down to lower gear ratios and keep accelerating at high revs. This stop-and-go situation means more energy is required and in turn more fuel is burnt compared to travelling at a constant and reasonable speed. The result is increased CO2 and pollutants released into the air. This is hard on your pocket and hard on the environment.

CO2 and climate change

We might think of carbon dioxide as a pollutant but it is in fact a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gas is a necessary element to our survival on Earth. In its natural process it absorbs and radiates heat, keeping the Earth from freezing over. A critical function indeed, but currently, there is much more carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere than nature can effectively process. This increase of CO2 is responsible for two-thirds the Earth’s rise in temperature, also known as global warming.

The transport sector currently contributes about 30% of CO2 emissions in the case of developed countries.

More cars = more congestion + more fuel

With a dire lack of public transport in the country, many South Africans have little option when it comes to getting around.

In June ‘22, the inland fuel price in South Africa increased to a hefty R23,94 for 93 octane petrol. Vehicle sales have not significantly slowed in spite of the already high and rising cost of fuel.

According to NAAMSA, total vehicle sales in South Africa rose 2.2 percent from a year earlier to 39.177 units in May of 2022. 

Total Vehicle Sales in SA July ’21 – April ‘22 | Source: NAAMSA

Traffic congestion may not go away any time soon, but there steps you can take to minimise the time you spend and how you drive in peak traffic.

  • Plan your ride – Take a little time to plan your route and times.
  • Treat your car gently – Change your style to be less aggressive on the pedals. Regardless of whether you’re travelling in congested traffic or on a free-flowing highway, drive at a reasonable speed to minimise hard braking and accelerating.

The good news

There is widespread agreement to reduce CO2 emissions from transport by a minimum of 50% at the latest by 2050. Effective measures are being made in the transport sector to address climate change, particularly in vehicle technology and innovations. For example:

  • Catalytic converters and improvements in vehicle engine design and fuel chemistry will contribute to a marked reduction of carbon emissions.
  • Hybrid and electric cars are slowly becoming more mainstream, and the latest on the horizon is the idea of vehicle-to-home charging.
  • The use of sustainable biofuels such as vegetable oil, biodiesel, bio-alcohols and bio gas from sugar plants, crops or animal fats, biomass, algae, etc.
  • New policies such as the Clean Miles Standard in California are helping to push companies like Uber and Lyft to use cleaner vehicles and increase their passenger loads.

These advances in transportation provide many opportunities to meet the challenge of reversing the current trends of increasing emissions.

No doubt, efficient city planning, improved road infrastructure, and accessible public transportation can go a long way to relieve traffic congestion. These improvements will help decrease greenhouse gas emissions while improving the safety of road users.


Traffic congestion wastes your time and your money. It causes stress and anxiety. But in the long-term, a more serious consequence of traffic congestion is the increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Remember this while driving: you can make a difference to the environment by reducing your carbon footprint with these two simple checks: Adjust your speed and adapt your style. Be kind to the planet, save on fuel, be a safer driver, and save money on tyres and car maintenance – now that’s efficiency!

Disclaimer: This content is for informational, educational, or entertainment purposes only. We do not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability, and accuracy of the content.


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