21 December 2007

University of Exeter Mathematicians Say Women Drivers Are to Blame for Traffic Jams

How many times have you been caught in traffic slowed to a standstill...you wait...stop and go...wondering all the while about the cause of the jam...and finally traffic speeds up to normal, but you never see any reason for the slowdown. No construction, no accident, no vehicles broken down on the road--nothing! Mathematicians at the University of Exeter have modeled the problem and finally have an answer.
Many traffic jams leave drivers baffled as they finally reach the end of a tail-back to find no visible cause for their delay. Now, a team of mathematicians from the Universities of Exeter, Bristol and Budapest, have found the answer and published their findings in leading academic journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.

The team developed a mathematical model to show the impact of unexpected events such as a lorry pulling out of its lane on a dual carriageway. Their model revealed that slowing down below a critical speed when reacting to such an event, a driver would force the car behind to slow down further and the next car back to reduce its speed further still. The result of this is that several miles back, cars would finally grind to a halt, with drivers oblivious to the reason for their delay. The model predicts that this is a very typical scenario on a busy highway (above 10–15 vehicles per km). The jam moves backwards through the traffic creating a so-called ‘backward travelling wave’, which drivers may encounter many miles upstream, several minutes after it was triggered.

...According to the model, heavy traffic will not automatically lead to congestion but can be smooth-flowing. This model takes into account the time-delay in drivers’ reactions, which lead to drivers braking more heavily than would have been necessary had they identified and reacted to a problem ahead a second earlier.

... “When you tap your brake, the traffic may come to a full stand-still several miles behind you. It really matters how hard you brake - a slight braking from a driver who has identified a problem early will allow the traffic flow to remain smooth. Heavier braking, usually caused by a driver reacting late to a problem, can affect traffic flow for many miles.”
UExeter via primidi

Women drivers who do not give their full attention to the traffic around them are slow to react to an unexpected event, such as a slow truck pulling into their lane up ahead, or another driver accidentally swerving into their lane, etc. The bandwidth of human consciousness at its best is around 40 bits per second--not very good. When the attention is divided by putting on makeup, talking on a cellphone, lighting a cigarette, texting a message, changing the radio station, looking in the backseat at the baby, etc., there is not enough conscious bandwidth left to react in a timely fashion to anything unexpected.

Okay, men drivers do the same things (except perhaps putting on makeup), and similarly divide their consciousness while driving. Bad driving is no respecter of gender.

Is it dangerous to use the cellphone while driving? I have personally observed some extremely erratic driving by drivers using cellphones. Lately, if I notice a driver doing something particularly stupid, I assume the driver is using a cellphone. So contrary to the title of this post, it is not about women drivers. It is about people engaging in a life-threatening activity, without taking proper caution and paying proper attention.
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Blogger Audacious Epigone said...

Tailgaiting creates fertile ground for these infintely frustrating ghost jams. Maintaining several car lengths between drivers allows for minimal disruption in lane merges and switches, which (often brought on by the distractions you mention) are the culprits.

Wednesday, 26 December, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

Very true. The problem is, in a rush hour situation, with a variety of drivers desiring an optimum speed between 55 and 85--with only 3 or 4 lanes, something has to give. What always gives is the following distance.

Until you see drivers at the Daytona 500 allowing safe distance, you probably will not see it happen on your freeway.

You yourself can allow sufficient distance, but likely as not, it will fill up promptly, unless you are behind a truck going 45 mph uphill.

Wednesday, 26 December, 2007  

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