There are far too many drivers on the road who view other vehicles simply as slow-moving obstacles to be passed as quickly as possible in order to save a precious minute or two. Those drivers aren’t just endangering themselves and everyone around them, but also leading to slower traffic according to a new study. We’ve all been tailgated on the highway, and admit it: we’ve all tailgated other drivers at some point. It’s far too tempting to drive closely to try and send a message to slower vehicles when we’re in a hurry. However, researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have found that drivers who tailgate create traffic jams which should not exist.
These so-called “phantom” traffic jams can be caused by a single car following too closely. The researchers argue that individual drivers can do their part to eliminate these traffic jams by maintaining what they call “bilateral control,” or maintaining an equal distance to vehicles both in front and behind. If all drivers can keep an equal distance between one another, traffic can flow up to twice as quickly as when drivers tailgate or otherwise follow too closely.
MIT professor Berthold Horn says the same theory is used intuitively by birds as they fly in close formations. According to Horn, drivers could solve the issue of phantom traffic jams altogether by simply maintaining consistent distances between the vehicle in front of and behind them:
Our work shows that if drivers all keep an equal distance between the cars on either side of them, such ‘perturbations’ would disappear as they travel down a line of traffic, rather than amplify to create a traffic jam. We humans tend to view the world in terms of what’s ahead of us, both literally and conceptually, so it might seem counterintuitive to look backwards. But driving like this could have a dramatic effect in reducing travel time and fuel consumption without having to build more roads or make other changes to infrastructure.
Remember, jerks: you’re not in traffic, you’re causing traffic. Slow down. The time you save speeding isn’t that significant. Before you want to passive-aggressively tailgate to display your driving ability and dominance on the road, remember that the whole reason traffic is slow is because of short-sided cretins like yourself.