Driven to despair: History's 5 worst traffic jams

With files from Y! UK
Yahoo! Autos Canada

Earlier this year, Vancouver got the nod as the worst Canadian city for traffic congestion. (Seriously, worse than Toronto, birthplace of the Sunday-afternoon, dear-God-all-I-wanted-to-do-was-go-to-Ikea traffic episode?) But even callous Vancouverites, uttering oaths at 5 p.m. on Lougheed Highway, will pity the Russian drivers caught recently in a queue stretching back 200 kilometers, or the distance from Vancouver to Seattle.

The mammoth jam on a motorway northeast of Moscow saw some drivers stuck for three days, as heavy snow caused total gridlock outside the Russian capital. The Russian traffic queue might sound like the world's longest jam, but compared to some of history's worst it is comparatively minor.

Here are five of the worst ever. Let them brighten your heart when you're next stuck in traffic. 

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MAY 9, 2008
292 KM

The giant snarl-ups in Brazil's largest city are so widespread and commonplace they are known as 'engarrafamentos' (literally, 'jams' in Portugese) and regularly top 160 kilometers.

In May 2008, a logging truck tipped over on one of the city's already heaving major roads.

The resulting tailback went back 292 km, setting a then record for the longest traffic jam ever.

Motorists in the city can spend up to four hours a day battling through traffic, and in the rush hour a tailback of merely 80 km is considered average.

A year after this jam, Sao Paulo set another world record when it amassed combined traffic queues of 292 kilometers across the city--over a third of Sao Paulo's roads.

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AUGUST 14, 2010
100 KM (11+ DAYS)

On the China National Highway 110, a traffic jam developed which was so huge it lasted for almost two weeks.

A combination of roadworks which reduced road access by half, along with a spike in lorries heading into Beijing, caused a 100-km jam which blocked some motorists in for five days.

Drivers were forced to sleep in their cars, and street vendors exploited the stricken road users by selling them water at ten times the normal price.

Although it was feared the jam might last into September, it eventually eased up at the end of August - but only after Chinese authorities stepped in to unclog the roads.

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FEBRUARY 16, 1980
175 KM

A legendary snarl-up developed outside the French capital in 1980 due to a combination of bad weather and highway congestion.

Thousands were returning from skiing holidays in Lyon and the surrounding areas, another factor in the mega jam.

The eventual queue of up to 18 million cars went back 175 km--roughly a third of the distance between the two cities--which was then a world record for the longest ever traffic jam.

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160 KM

As Hurricane Rita approached and Americans did their best to flee the impending category 5 chaos, a mammoth jam developed which saw motorists going just 16 km in nine hours.

Most of the traffic chaos accumulated around Interstate 45, the officially designated evacuation route, and things only got worse when drivers started to break down and run out of fuel.

Some motorists became so tired of the queues they turned round back to their houses--reasoning they would be safer there than out in the elements in their cars.

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AUGUST 14 1969
32 KM

The roads around any major music festival are always chaotic, but throw in unprecedented demand coupled with hapless policing and the jams quickly become nightmarish.

Around half a million music fans descended on Woodstock in 1969--ten times the anticipated 50,000--New York State police refused to introduce alternative traffic plans recommended by concert organizers.

The resulting jams lasted for the entire three-day festival--performers had to be helicoptered in and many fans abandoned their cars just so they could get in.