Traffic jams are caused by keeping the wrong distance between cars, maths study finds

  • 18 Sep - 24 Sep, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Mag Files

Traffic jams, they just seem to know, don’t they? It’s almost like they can sense exactly when you’re making an important journey and absolutely have to be somewhere on time. In cases when there might be an accident, traffic jams are bound to happen but when there are build ups for no apparent reason, that’s when it's likely to get motorist's blood boiling. So, where do these traffic jams come from? And what can you do about it? A study on Intelligent Transportation Systems mathematically explains the implications of the larger problem at hand here – and that is the fact that you’re not keeping to the right distance from the car behind you. Now, although this may seem a little strange given that you don’t have much control over how far away you are from the car behind you, the math details that if every car stuck to an equal distance between the cars behind and in front, this would allow traffic to move twice as fast. You see, traffic is an example of ‘emergent property’, meaning that individual things collate and form something more complex together. An example of emergent property in the natural world would be starlings forming a murmuration created by thousands of individual birds. Taking inspiration from this, as you’re driving on the motorway, instead of solely focusing on the car directly in front of you but keeping to equal distances to the front and behind of you, this would be the optimal ideal to ease traffic. This is known as bilateral control.