Make Waves in Traffic Jams

Lines. Nobody likes waiting in them. Well, almost nobody. Most of us try to rush through lines, making them move as fast as possible so that we can get on with our days. Traffic jams are no different. The minute the car in front of you starts moving, you let off the brakes to move a few feet (or inches) forward.

But did you know that you’re actually making the traffic jam worse by quickly closing the gap between you and the car in front of you? It’s a phenomenon called traffic waves, and University of Washington research engineer Bill Beaty has some valuable advice on how to combat traffic jams — resist the urge to step on the gas.

How Traffic Waves Work

Think of that rainbow colored parachute that was the signal of the best day ever in gym class. When you sent small ripples through the parachute, it took one ripple a lot longer to reach the other side. By contrast, a big wave would reach the other side in a much shorter time.

Traffic waves work the same way. When we inch forward into the backs of other drivers, our moves are amplified to the traffic behind us. Everyone moves a little bit in an unstable way, and the jam lasts seemingly forever. But according to our parachute strategy, lengthening the distance between the car in front of us can even out the movement of traffic and cause cars to get from one end of the jam to the other in a shorter amount of time.

How to Stop Traffic Jams

According to a team of very smart guys from several universities, certain traffic jams are just unavoidable. But in the case of our parachute traffic jams, you can help alleviate the problem by resisting the urge to hit the gas as soon as a few feet of space open in front of you. Whenever you find yourself in a frustrating traffic jam, go to your happy place and think of parachute day in gym class.