2008: “Driving in my car” -Clive Thompson on erasing traffic jams

Having recently rediscovered my postings on the Stirling Behavourial Science Blog, I am finding some interesting (well, to me anyway) posts I wrote and totally forgot. Such as this:

Clive Thompson’s always-interesting blog links to a great video illustrating how traffic jams form:

Thompson writes:

This also puts me in mind of William Beatty, the electrical engineer who — while stuck in traffic in 1998 — figured out a way to hack traffic jams and erase them. Basically, when he was stuck in a jam, he’d slow down until he had a really large amount of space between him and the car in front of him. Then he moved forward in at very slow, uniform speed, so that he no longer stopped and started. Sure enough, the wave stopped at him: Everyone behind him began driving at a uniform 35 mph. “By driving at the average speed of the traffic around me, my car had been ‘eating’ the traffic waves,” he wrote. The only problem, of course, is that he himself was stuck traveling at the average speed of the wave in front of him, which — at 35 mph — is pretty pokey.

I can recommend from recent experience not to try this in Dublin. At least not in the city. There are two many traffic lights which totally ruin the exercise (and attract much ire from one’s fellow drivers) But the concept Thompson describes – that driving in a kind, respectful, letting-the-other-guy-in way reduces traffic and thereby is in all our interests – is an interesting one from the behavioural point of view?

Here’s a video of Beatty describing his technique:

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