Home U.K Why traffic jams that seemingly come out of nowhere are our fault

Why traffic jams that seemingly come out of nowhere are our fault


In some cases there may have been an accident leading to traffic building up but when there are queues for no apparent reason, it can cause frustration for drivers.

So, where do these traffic jams appear? And what can you do about it?

A study in IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems mathematically explains the implications of the larger problem at hand and the answer may be a little closer to home. The reason is the fact that you’re not keeping to the right distance from the car behind you.

Seeing this may seem a little strange given that drivers don’t have much control over how far away they have from the cars behind them but maths details reveal that if every single car stuck to an equal distance from the cars both behind and in front, this would allow traffic to move twice as fast.

Traffic is an example of ‘emergent property’. This term means that individual things collate and form something more complex together. An example of this is in the natural world where starlings form a murmuration created by thousands of individual birds.

If you were driving on a motorway, instead of keeping an eye on the distance you are from the car in front of you, it is a good idea to keep an equal distance between both the car in front and behind you. This is ideal to ease traffic delays and is known as bilateral control.

Study co-author Berthold Horn from MIT said: “This is what happens when you have a control system that is simply trying to keep up with the vehicle in front. And its job is not to make the world better, to have hundreds of cars moving in unison. It’s very myopic.”

This aside, it is true that a human behind the wheel doesn’t have the capacity to continually calculate both distance in their mind whilst operating a vehicle but technology may be able to help with this.

More and more cars are featuring adaptive cruise control, a feature that tells the vehicle to follow the car ahead at a safe distance. If such vehicles also possessed the same technology to the rear of the car then we would be able to make a real difference to the future of traffic jams.

Horn continued: “To get the full benefits of this, a significant fraction of the cars would have to have this.

“In terms of societal implementation that’s a big factor, because even if it’s relatively cheap, people who implement it will question whether the first car that gets it is worth that investment, because until other cars get it, it doesn’t do a whole lot of good.

“It sounds pretty drastic, but the benefits are huge. We’re talking about a potential doubling of throughput, huge decreases in CO2 emissions, a lot of aggravation reduced and fuel used.”

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