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Yes, 'phantom' traffic jams are real. How can you avoid them in DFW?

Stuck in a sea of brake lights with no crash or construction in sight? Engineers say a 'phantom' traffic jam may be slowing you down.

DALLAS — There are times you know you're going to get caught in traffic around North Texas.

Whether you are on your way to work or maybe around a big construction project – that’s normal, right?

But what about those times where it's a sea of brake lights, and nothing is going on?

Traffic engineers call it a "phantom traffic jam" and a single driver can make it happen. 

Traffic is flowing along just fine when a single car slows just a bit. 

It can happen because of something as simple as the sun hitting the driver in the eyes.

The next car in line taps the brakes, another driver isn't paying attention and must hit the brakes a little harder.

It starts a wave of brake lights that can travel backward for miles. 

Typically, the drivers at the front of the jam recover faster than those in the back, so the wave keeps moving.

Now if you're thinking, “I know a place where this happens all the time," there may be a reason!

Engineers say when drivers hit an incline that can be as slight as a three percent grade, it can cause them to slow enough to start that ripple of brake lights.

Even though it's called a "phantom traffic jam,” when you're stuck in it – it's very real. 

If you want to avoid being the culprit, try easing off the gas in traffic instead of hitting the brakes.

TALK TRAFFIC TO ME: If you have a traffic concern you’d like me to look into, send an email to tparker @ wfaa.com

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