• Mar 5, 2011
The Science of Traffic Jams – Click above to view infographic

Nothing will ruin a pleasant drive quicker than the sight brake lights coming towards you on the highway. Miles ahead, someone or something has spooked the bejeezus out of traffic and now you're about to pay for it with your free time. The mighty flow of America's highways is about to be plugged by you and a couple hundred of your closest strangers.

The next time a traffic jam's iron grip has you in its clutch, you can at least take heart knowing that scientists have figured out why they happen and who's to blame. Follow the jump for this latest infographic on the Science of Traffic Jams by our friends at Car Insurance Guide, and tell us in the comments if knowing really is half the battle.

Click to view The Science Behind Traffic Jams infographic...

[Source: Car Insurance Guide] Science of Traffic Jams Infographic
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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 71 Comments
      • 3 Years Ago
      So what's the difference between "science" and what anybody who drives in traffic intuitively knows? Somebody wasted a bunch of money doing a "study" for "science." This graphic is lame: "The problem is saturation." DUH! And the first two theories are pretty much the same thing, and the third is just restating the "problem." And then there's "A closer look." Yeah we get it, we all drive. Next is "Common causes: Heavy traffic." Yeah, you said that already. And the other causes mostly would not be a problem if not for heavy traffic, so they are not causes, but rather catalysts.

      Countermeasures. Despite what danceb thinks, lights do work, if installed properly. The problem danceb sees is due to improper installation, such as lights too close to the merging zone. This is often a compromise situation so traffic does not back up onto surface streets. It's not ideal, but it's better than a column of slow moving cars trying to merge all at once. Not very innovative at this point, LA has been doing this for 30 years, and it has spread across the country. Can't imagine why everybody is doing it if it doesn't work.

      I agree with danceb on bus lanes, (and for me, carpool lanes as well). If limited space is the problem, why waste it by limiting access to only a few? Reversible lanes would help solve the congestion problem, but would aggravate the cross-over collision problem. They have these lanes on bridges, they scare the crap out of me, I cannot drive in the far left lane. I can't see transportation agencies pulling up all the Jersey barriers they've spent millions on so they can have reversible lanes.
        • 3 Years Ago
        The difference is, "What everyone intuitively knows" has not been vetted by any consistent process. Certain questions arise, like, "How do you know everyone intuitively knows?" If not everyone, then someone is unconvinced.

        Therefore, a study is needed, so that people who aren't so good with "intuition", can independently verify the validity of a claim.

        I don't know about you, but I require tangible evidence in order to believe most claims. Being happy to accept "intuition" generally amounts to taking an anti-intellectual approach.
      • 3 Years Ago
      It's hard for me to believe that LA traffic is NOT in the top 10
      • 3 Years Ago
      us23 and I75 merge near flint, not in detroit as the article says.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Supposedly the stretch of 75/23 just north of Flint until Saginaw is the most heavily trafficked in the state. But I can't say I see how the 23/75 merge is worth being #9 on this list. I've never sat in traffic there....ever.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Where do US 23 and i75 meet in Detroit? 23 doesn't go anywhere near Detroit, it meets with 75 in Flint. Am I missing something?
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'd like to see cars have an interlocking system. Using pre-programmed routes, cars that travel long distances or have specific destinations can be grouped together. You can have some of your commute automated and some of your drive manual. You can read, study, eat, or do other stuff while you are in automated mode.
      • 3 Years Ago
      while I too hate those that use exit lanes only to dart back in and cause the rest of us rule abiders to suffer ...

      I do not like all the cluesless drivers (as indicated by comments above) who think it is smart to leave 300 yards between them and the next car ahead. KEEP IT TIGHT people ... if everyone left this much room - the congestion (cars per .. whatever measure you want), would be MUCH worse. Again ... YOUR responsibility is not to WASTE SPACE.

        • 3 Years Ago
        Don't worry... there's plenty of tailgaters around too.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Major traffic is caused by people that don't feel comfortable driving quickly getting into the left lanes as they slow down to say 50 or 60 which now makes the slow driver comfortable, as speeds increase back up to speeds beyond the limit to average around 70 to 75 the slow driver remains because they can no longer negotiate the people who typically drive 70 to 75 going around them because they are going slow to get out of the fast lane. This causes the next lane of slower drives to slow down because they hit their brake when they see a turn signal in front of them to let in a car rather than throttle lift. Honorable mentions are people who can't judge speed and distance and who are unwilling to apply more than 50% throttle when entering the fast lane to bring themselves up to speed once they cut into a fast lane going 30mph less. Solution always pass on the left and always drive on the right, if you aren't passing anyone move Right.
      • 3 Years Ago
      The fact that LA isn't on that list of most congested cities make me question this article. I've driven all over the US quite a bit, and LA is worse than Chicago, New York, or Dallas (where I live).
        • 3 Years Ago
        agree 100 percent. It is almost comical that LA is not on this list. There are more cars in the LA area than some of these cities combined. The 405 freeway at the 10, or the 101 in hollywood, or the 91 east during commute all trump #5 on that list, 80 eastbound. The only time 80 eastbound is congested is an hour or two during evening commute. You hit traffic on the 405 any hour, any day of the week.
        • 3 Years Ago
        agreed. I used to live in LA and trying to get anywhere on the 101 was a complete joke... and the 210 west bound is pretty bad by Pasadena almost anytime after 11am.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Tyipcally i find the main cause is a light colored camry/corolla driving too slow

      • 3 Years Ago
      The only reason there are traffic jams is because of tail gateing. That is it. If we implemented the same rules that the Germans have on the autobaun it would alleviate nearly all traffic. Just paint horizontal lines on the freeway. They should be spaced about 5 car lengths apart, or more. During rush hours it would be illegal to be inside a square with another car. No more accidents (mostly) no more tail gating. No more traffic. I drive in LA traffic all the time and I know this would work. And save millions of gallons of gas too!!!!
      • 3 Years Ago
      The Zen of Commuting (on freeways):

      1. At all times, in all lanes, maintain your distance from vehicle in front (6-7 car lengths, enough room for a semi to pull in front of you), vary your speed;
      2. Drive with your accelerator only: if you brake, you lose;
      3. The longer your distance to travel (and the more comfortable you and your vehicle are with high speed), the farther left you should be, to minimize lane changes, maximize speed;
      4. Never use cruise control in "urban" areas where exits are less than 5 miles apart;
      5. Read en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Goal_(novel), try to understand it;
      6. Maintain your distance - vary your speed. (Then hide and watch.)

      What would help: distance indicator on the car in front; variable brake lights (like download bars) to tell you how hard another driver is braking; front brake lights; 10% of drivers practicing above discipline.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @JZ
        re 6-7 car lengths, this was the conclusion of a Wayne State U business prof applying the ideas in "The Goal" to traffic. "The Goal" is for manufacturing engineers who have to deal with putting physical objects through a constraint (a/k/a bottleneck). I don't pretend to understand the theory; I encourage you to read the book and translate. 6-7 car lengths is hard to estimate, so I used semi's (there was frequently one beside me) as a gauge. Bottom line: it works.

        re which lane, the multiple objectives are to change lanes seldom to minimize opportunity for accidents, be forced to brake seldom, and to travel as fast as possible. These are best optimized in the left lane where there are also no trucks and buses.

        re cruise control, its purpose is unvarying speed, so it is incompatible with maintaining distance in heavy traffic (unless your thumb is very twitchy). It's great for the Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpikes, not so much for I-75 in metro Detroit during rush hour.

        re "you brake, you lose", at 6-7 car lengths at 70+ mph, you can maintain distance by lifting your foot from the accelerator.

        This method provides room for others to change lanes at speed, giving an alternate meaning to "freeway". One negative is VIPigs behind you who believe the pavement ahead is wasted space, but I preferred to think of them as cool, refreshing Wet Wipes.

        Another motto: "Waste space, gain speed". Cheers, -mle



      • 3 Years Ago
      They forgot to add the reason of speed limits reducing for no reason so revenue enforcement bank on our "wrongdoings." Also, poorly thought out consecutive merging lanes that require people to almost stop completely. Both of these are a large part for the Palmetto Expressway congestion in Miami, which is listed at number 10.
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