Though I've had trouble finding the original source, it seems that the consensus on the web (see here for example) is that Americans waste 2.3 billion gallons of motor fuel in traffic jams annually. Another figure that seems to be well accepted is that Americans use about 100 billion gallons of fuel. So approximately 2.3% of the motor fuel in the United States is wasted in traffic jams.
This is truly awful, but is it significant? As noted in a previous post a barrel of oil produces 19 gallons of motor fuel, so we waste the gasoline from 2.3 X 10^9 / 19 = 121 million barrels of oil per year in traffic jams. We use about 21.9 million barrels per day or 7.9 billion barrels per year. Thus, fossil fuel wasted in traffic jams represents about 1.5% of our annual fossil fuel usage. Of course, the barrels of oil producing the 19 gallons are actually 42 gallons each. The remainder goes to various other uses and thus this figure of 1.5% overestimates the reduction in oil usage that could be achieved by the elimination of traffic jams. Figure about half of that or so.
In an earlier post I noted that the United States could save almost 29% of our personal transportation motor fuel if everyone implemented the measures I have undertaken to save fuel. Of course, I have also explored the likelihood that all, most, or even a significant portion of the population of U.S. drivers would take these measures. In the current vernacular: I'm sure we'll do it..... NOT!!
Still, if a way could be found to motivate Americans to take up these driving habits, to avoid unnecessary car trips by telecommuting, carpooling, combining trips, etc. I believe we could cut our use of fossil fuel for personal transportation by 50% and our overall fossil fuel usage by upwards of 20%. Increasing the so-called "CAFE" (corporate average fuel economy) requirements could increase this further still.
But in order to accomplish anything like this, a general awareness of the urgency of the situation would have to be generated. These things could be done at one time, the sacrifices of World War II come to mind, but in today's completely fragmented society, I am more than skeptical. The facts of our spiralling trade deficit, increasing population, and diminshing availability of cheap and easy fossil fuels will have to hit us on the head.
It will not be painless.