How to Prevent Traffic Jams

Traffic Jam If you’ve driven at all you’ve probably been in a traffic jam at least once in your life. If you live in the Northeast or around any major metropolitan area such as Chicago, Dallas, or Los Angeles you may feel like you are in one almost daily. Sometimes there is a visible cause such as a car accident or roadwork, but other times a traffic jam seems to appear for apparently no reason at all. Scientist and engineer have been studying this phenomenon for years. In 2007 ScienceDaily published an article explain how this can easily happen using a truck switching lane and therefore cause the traffic behind them to slow down below a critical speed. The traffic around the incident clears and moves forward however the problem rolls back like a wave creating the traffic jam. There is a good graphical representation of this at SmartMotorist

So Scientist have known what happens in a traffic jam for awhile, the question is how can they be prevented. There are three types of traffic flow. Free flow, where traffic is flowing at the maximum speed allowed. Synchronized flow where because of the traffic density the vehicles move at a slower but still constant speed. Finally there are jams where speed drops to zero when traffic density reaches a certain unknown threshold. So how do you prevent the third circumstances. One possible solution is to have vehicles to talk to each other through an automated system. If you have been in a traffic jam you will quickly recognize that most people have one of two reactions the first are the defensive drivers who leave more space between them and the vehicle in front of them then necessary. The second group are offensive driver, the  kind that drive up so close behind you that you can see the spinach they had for diner. What you want is for vehicles entering the traffic jam zone to act more defensively and enter the problem zone slower and those in front to leave the jam quickly causing the traffic jam to dissolve.  What is the best way to do this, one possible solution is to have cars talk to each other. They could share their speed and position to the cars around them. As cars in front of them slow down this would hopefully convince the cars coming up to the area to slow down also. Meantime the cars in front of the congested area would leave faster, keeping the flow going.  This is the idea that is discussed in a Technology Review article published by MIT.

There are of course several problems that need to be resolved for this to work. First is security you want to make sure you have a system that can’t be hacked. Second at this point it is unclear how many cars need to have a system installed for it to be effective. Also systems that are manufactured by different companies need to be able talk to each other. Finally people have to actually use the information that they are provided in the way they are suppose to. As more and more cars enter our highways both in the United States and around the world developing technology like this becomes increasingly important. This type of technology is still in its infancy, but if it becomes reality, it will have far more impact on productivity and the economy, then any social network.