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The following first sentence comes from Wikipedia, which 'the' is not used before 'traffic', while the second one comes from BBC, which has 'the' before 'traffic'. I wonder if both usages are correct or not? If yes, is there a difference between these two sentences with and without 'the'? If no, which one is correct ?

  1. For cycling in particular, collisions at intersections (defined broadly as "not only the junction of two roadways, but also points where driveways, sidewalks, or paths meet a roadway, or where sidewalks or paths meet a driveway") while traveling in the wrong direction against traffic has been determined to be over three times more likely for wrong-way cyclists.

  2. The van was then spotted joining the M4 at junction 15 (Swindon east), driving against the traffic towards London on the westbound carriageway.

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Both versions are grammatical. Because the second one is specific (we have an actual van facing oncoming traffic), the article would normally be present - it's not just any traffic, it's the traffic going that way down the M4. In the first one it really could be any traffic, because it's a general statement - in such constructions it's not uncommon to omit the article because no particular traffic is being singled out for reference. –  FumbleFingers Feb 16 '12 at 3:30
    
I will simply cite the American Automobile Association's riding the wrong way against traffic to show that not all Americans are so wedded to use of the article in all contexts. –  FumbleFingers Feb 16 '12 at 3:49
    
@FumbleFingers: I disagree; I would have used "driving against traffic", not "driving against the traffic", in the BBC example. To me the BBC example, as worded, sounds like "driving against {the traffic towards London}", but it's actually "driving {against the traffic} {towards London}". (I imagine this is a U.S./U.K. difference. I'm American.) –  ruakh Feb 16 '12 at 3:51
    
@FumbleFingers: (To be clear, your last comment is based on a misunderstanding of my now-deleted comment.) –  ruakh Feb 16 '12 at 3:52
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@FumbleFingers: Re: US/UK difference: You may well be right. I can remember several times that I've encountered some unfamiliar usage in a British source, and thought to myself, "Weird, I've never heard that before! Must be a U.K. thing . . .", only to start encountering it in everyday conversations, the local newspaper, etc., and realize that it must have been there all along without my noticing. –  ruakh Feb 17 '12 at 0:48

1 Answer 1

If you are talking about traffic in general, as a common scenario, not specific to any road or incidence, then you can ommit "the". Example: "You often spot some people going against traffic on the streets near schools, which is very dangerous"

But when you are talking about a particular situation where the story happened and you want to mention traffic on some road, then use "the" to elaborate the incidence ("The" traffic which you talk about Example: "Police patrol saw the guy when they were passing by George Street. He was seen going against the traffic."

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Seems right to me. You can (but usually don't have to) omit "the" if you've no specific traffic flow in mind, but not otherwise. –  FumbleFingers Feb 16 '12 at 17:55

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