This Tiny Change In The Way We Drive Could Eradicate Most Traffic Jams

This is why phantom traffic jams actually exist.

We all hate traffic jams, this is a universal fact. Yet a vast number of them are known as ‘phantom traffic jams’ - seemingly caused by absolutely nothing.

Now though a team of researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have discovered not only what’s causing them but what we can do to stop them and the results aren’t what you’d call promising.

Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

You see many of the phantom traffic jams we experience are actually caused by us tailgating. Or to put it another way, our impatience to get somewhere faster is actually slowing us down.

So how do you solve this? “Our work shows that, if drivers all keep an equal distance between the cars on either side of them, such ‘perturbations’ would disappear as they travel down a line of traffic, rather than amplify to create a traffic jam,” explains MIT professor Berthold Horn.

By exercising what they refer to as ‘bilateral control’ professor Horn believes that we could actually halve journey times.

Self-driving cars could hold the answer to solving the phantom traffic jam.
Self-driving cars could hold the answer to solving the phantom traffic jam.
Aaron Josefczyk / Reuters

“We humans tend to view the world in terms of what’s ahead of us, both literally and conceptually, so it might seem counter-intuitive to look backwards,” says Horn “But driving like this could have a dramatic effect in reducing travel time and fuel consumption without having to build more roads or make other changes to infrastructure.”

Unfortunately relying on humans to drive calmly and rationally just isn’t realistic.

Instead the cars themselves could solve this problem through the self-driving features they already have such as cruise-control. By adapting cruise control systems so that they look behind them as well as in front, the car can make sure it’s safely positioning itself in between the surrounding traffic.

With more and more vehicles now offering advanced autonomous driving there’s even the opportunity for something known as ‘platooning’ to take place.

This would involved all the vehicles communicating to each other as part of a major network with human drivers being almost entirely removed from the process.

To see just how realistic this could be Horn’s next step will be to start planning some wider studies and even some real-world tests to see if mass-controlling vehicles is not only faster, but also safer too.

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