Image edited to widen Southern California freeway

CLAIM: Photo shows 19 lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic on Interstate 405 in Los Angeles, with an additional frontage road holding more lanes.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Altered photo. This image has been edited to add lanes and cars to the freeway. The 405 has a total of 12 lanes in the part of Los Angeles where this photo was taken, not 19.

THE FACTS: It’s no secret that traffic congestion is a major problem in Los Angeles — but an image shared nearly 7,000 times on Facebook this week makes it look worse than it is.

The image appears to show a packed Interstate 405 from above, facing north, just north of Sunset Boulevard, with 10 lanes of northbound traffic and nine lanes of southbound traffic.

“Until you’ve sat on the 405 in LA, you haven’t experienced ‘traffic,’” a Facebook user wrote alongside the image.

“Just seeing that gives me anxiety,” one commenter wrote. Others rejoiced that they didn’t live in Los Angeles.

However, a reverse-image search finds that the picture, which has been circulating for more than a decade, is manipulated. The original photograph captured in 1998 shows just five lanes of traffic on each side, and far fewer cars.

In the years since then, a high-occupancy vehicle lane has been added to the freeway in each direction. Therefore, anyone traveling on the 405 freeway today would see six lanes of traffic going north and six going south, for a total of 12.

The false image “has been bouncing around for years,” according to Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA.

“It’s a bit of obvious hyperbole to (I assume) make a point about continually widening freeways to address growing traffic levels,” Taylor told The Associated Press in an email. “The idea that someone would take this seriously is, well, alarming.”


This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: