After a recent conversation at work about driving, traffic jams, the lingering effects of excessive braking and stopping, a colleague sent me a link to this
article that purports to have finally solved a mystery of traffic jams mathematically.
To me, this was nothing new or exciting. I recalled reading this much better set of pages years ago. The author made many of the same observations, and reached many of the same conclusions, that I (and I’m sure many others) had done independently.
The basic idea is that the efficiency of the flow of heavy traffic can be dramatically affected by sudden stops and blockages, and these can have long-lasting effects (the wave of stopped cars often grows from the back faster than it shrinks from the front…). If even a fairly small percentage of drivers would change their driving habits to leave more room in front of their cars and slow down more gradually, to reduce complete stops and allow others to change lanes more smoothly, we would see much better traffic flows.
I think that this is yet another case of people’s intellectual laziness preventing them from making a simple change to their behaviors that would improve things dramatically. In this case, we can create a huge positive externality (save people’s time, gas, stress) with no real cost to ourselves (other than changing how we drive).
Many people will never do this. I know people (and have observed many others) who drive as though it’s a race that they will lose if they don’t pass other cars, or if they let someone in front of them. So, they make abrupt lane changes that causes others to brake, they follow too closely and have to brake quickly and cause those behind them to do likewise, they refuse to let others into their lane which causes people to stop to make their change, and/or to let a car in. Not only is this stupid, and dangerous, and stressful; but it also makes life worse for everyone else. These people are exacerbating the situation that made them enraged in the first place.
I certainly don’t expect to get enough readers of this blog to change their driving habits and make a noticeable change to traffic congestion. But, perhaps if each of you who agrees will not only change your habits, but will also encourage others to do likewise (and so on, and so on…), perhaps it might help.
And even if that doesn’t happen, just changing your own habits will help traffic to some extent. And, you’ll be beating most other drivers in a more important dimension than being further ahead in traffic: living intelligently.