Officially, Passing Through the Tail Impairs Movement, Jerking

If you’ve ever experienced “phantom traffic” or slow motion that doesn’t seem to have an obvious cause, it was probably some kind of cart chasing someone. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found that following your tail not only won’t get you anywhere faster, but it also creates traffic jams that shouldn’t be there.

Running in the backseat , or driving so close to someone that you can write “wash me” in the mud on their rear window, has always been rude (not to mention unsafe). At best, the car ahead of you will speed up a bit for fear of being killed by the road rage, but chances are you’ll just look like an impatient jerk. And even worse, you make things less comfortable for yourself and everyone else in your lane, ” say MIT professor Berthold Horn and researcher Liang Wang . Horn says that in order for traffic to continue smoothly, cars must be evenly spaced on the road:

“Our work shows that if all drivers maintain an equal distance between cars on either side of them [front and rear], such ‘disturbances’ will disappear as they drive in the lane, rather than intensify, creating a traffic jam. … “

Here’s a great animated image explaining what’s going on:

Basically, when you open the tailgate, you lose the ability to gradually slow down if the vehicle in front slows down. Since you have less time to react and avoid getting hit in the back of the vehicle ahead of you, you hit the brakes hard and instantly lose all of your vehicle’s momentum. All cars behind you should also slow down quickly while you pick up speed again. This sets off a chain reaction that eventually turns traffic into crawls – or causes accidents – for no good reason.

Of course, Horn and Wang understand very well that people won’t stop chasing them and pay more attention to the space between themselves and other vehicles, so they hope that adding features to future cars can solve the problem. By incorporating what they call “two-way control” into adaptive cruise control systems, phantom traffic jams can be a thing of the past. They estimate that drivers can even get somewhere almost twice as fast. In the meantime, leave as much space as possible between you and the car in front. It benefits everyone on the road.

Better Traffic – With Less Omission | Massachusetts Institute of Technology


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