How Not To Get Stuck In Traffic

There are four billion hours of travel delays
in America each year, contributing to pollution, fossil fuel waste and costing us all money;
an estimated $87.2 billion dollars! Not to mention traffic is just plain annoying! But
is there a solution to your traffic woes? Traffic is often due to construction, an accident,
or bottlenecks created by on-ramps and tunnels. But do you ever feel like congestion seems
to appear for no reason? You aren’t imagining it! In a 2008 experiment, drivers were instructed
to drive along a circular road, following the car in front of them while trying to maintain
a constant speed. As the participants drove, they started to have fluctuations in speed.
These fluctuations increased, eventually causing cars to stop completely which broke the free
flow and led to traffic jams without any added factors. Researchers compare traffic jams
to the particles in a liquid and a solid; moving cars are like the free flowing particles
in a liquid, but can undergo a ‘phase transition’ to that of a compacted solid. Once the particles/cars
reach a critical density, gridlock happens. One of the key reasons gridlock happens is
our inability to maintain a constant speed. When a traffic break happens, most accelerate
to catch up to the vehicle ahead, resulting in eventual braking, that forces the drivers
behind to slow down, cause the jam to grow. When you’re in a traffic jam, you’re part
of the problem. Studies show that 80-90% of drivers think they’re better than the average
driver, which is…impossible. Additionally, as humans our attention is selective, and
we tend to forget that other drivers are people too – kind of like commenting online, we can
dehumanize other drivers in ways we wouldn’t face-to-face. This leads to jerks on the road
– following too closely or constantly changing lanes – which contributes directly to the
congestion that creates traffic jams. Thankfully, as a good driver, you can make
a difference! Pay attention to the car ahead and behind you to keep a buffer of space around
you. This way, if the driver in front of you brakes, you have room to slow down and won’t
pass the braking tension along the chain of traffic. Drive slower. Set your car to cruise
control or try driving at a consistent speed. In Belgium and the Netherlands, there’s
a technique implemented at times of high volume known as ‘block-driving’ where a chain
of cars drive at a consistent speed to help others keep pace. Police have also used this
strategy for 15 years, driving at an appropriate pace in groups to keep the flow of traffic
moving. Of course, the advent of autonomous self-driving
cars will see automobiles that are able to connect and communicate with one another,
vehicle-to-vehicle, and is expected to reduce traffic jams significantly. Additionally,
researchers are using biologically inspired algorithms to reduce travel times. In one
study, researchers applies a model based on ant travel behaviour as a way to route traffic.
Changes in infrastructure work too; recently LA became the first city to synchronize every
street light, causing lights to make automatic adjustments based on flow, which has reduced
travel time by 14%. Traffic aside, another solution is taking
public transit when possible. An MIT study of Boston traffic found that if 1% of current
drivers took transit, everyone’s commute would be reduced by 18%. Of course, companies like Toyota – who supported
this episode – are finding new ways to address mobility challenges, developing future technologies
to interconnect drivers and vehicles with road infrastructure. Toyota is launching their
new Corolla iM Hatchback with the Toyota Safety Sense technologies like pre-collision systems,
automatic high beams, and lane departure alert – all of which will be standard and launching
across Canada this September. They also have a goal to produce vehicles with zero emissions
by 2050 which is something we really support! So, special thanks to Toyota for supporting
our channel, and being a leader in the science and technology space! And subscribe for more weekly science videos!

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