Hi-tech ways around traffic headaches
Computers and the Internet offer some new options for ducking jams.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- A long weekend is a great time to take your family on a road trip. Unfortunately, it's also a great time for everyone else to take their family on a road trip and there are only so many roads to go around.
About 35 million people will travel by car this weekend, according to the motorists' organization AAA. That doesn't make it the most traveled weekend of the year - more people drive around Christmas, New Years and Thanksgiving - but it's up there.
That's why holiday weekend traffic is so miserable. Fortunately, there are more ways to find out about traffic jams and, if possible, avoid them, using modern technology instead of just your AM radio.
As you're leaving, just before you turn off the computer, connect to a traffic Web site like Traffic.com or Metrocommute.com. There, you can see a map of your area with "trouble spots" marked. Click on the marks and you can get more details about what the problem is. Colors indicate the seriousness of the delay.
Wireless Internet devices now make it possible to use sites like these when you're in the car but, please, have a passenger do the checking for you. Otherwise, you're likely to become a "trouble spot" yourself
Telematics is a word that describes, among other things, services like General Motors' On-star. Other car companies offer similar services, however.
It's sort of like having a "phone-a-friend" option for your traffic problem. You're sitting there stewing in a seemingly endless jam. Press a button and you can ask a friendly voice what's causing the problem and how to get around it. The degree of helpfulness may depend on the company and the kind of rate plan you have.
You can always find traffic reports on the radio. Unfortunately, those usually run only every 10 minutes, every report may not cover your route and if you happen to get distracted during the part when they're talking about the bridge you're about to drive over, well, then you have to wait another 10 minutes.
Both XM and Sirius satellite radio systems have channels that do nothing but repeat traffic and weather information all day long for most major metropolitan areas. It's not exactly scintillating entertainment, but you'll find out right away, and then again right after that, what the traffic and weather in your area are like.
It's not a widespread feature, by any means, but a few cars these days - some Acuras and Cadillacs, for instance - have navigation systems that draw traffic data from silent satellite radio feeds and display trouble spots on the screen along with your planned route.
You can then request a change to the route.
Paper and a brain
Of course, you can still do it yourself the "old fashioned way."
Listen to the traffic on your local AM news station and use your paper maps and intimate knowledge of local traffic patterns. Those should still work.
The hard part will getting the map folded back up so it fits into your glove compartment.