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Our Own Worst Enemy: Traffic Jams

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On: Thu, Jul 31, 2014 at 2:43PM | By: Karen Cook

Our Own Worst Enemy: Traffic Jams

I hate to drive on interstates. I never know when traffic will come to a standstill. I will brave the interstate that lies between home and Walt Disney World, but only because that destination is my favorite on earth. I go often, but it seems to happen pretty regularly that there will be traffic problems either coming or going. An accident will close a lane or two and vehicles will trickle through, adding an hour or more to the drive on occasion. But it really can’t be helped. Or can it?

Tom Vanderbilt has written a book called “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We do (and What It Says About Us)” which contains some interesting information on ye olde traffic jam. To begin with, traffic slows in both directions when there is an accident. The Dutch did a study on this and found that due to rubbernecking traffic slowed by 11%, even in the lanes going the opposite direction which weren’t blocked at all.

Then there’s the issue on the side with the crash. If only one lane is open cars begin to merge far back in the line, which I admit is what I do. According to Mr. Vanderbilt, this is the wrong way to approach the problem. In Europe drivers practice “the zipper” in this circumstance. Both lanes are used all the way up to the merge point where cars take turns continuing past the accident. This reduces the backup by 40%. I also have to admit that I do not willingly let cars in from the blocked lane. I mean, why should they fly up the blocked lane and cut in front of me when I’ve been waiting my turn patiently? But I see the point.

The book also touches on the future of traffic issues with self-driving automobiles and says that these will reduce accidents by 80% and could eliminate traffic jams altogether. Autonomous vehicles will be able to maintain a constant speed and a steady distance between themselves, which are two things that contribute to non-crash related back-ups.


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