Shockwave traffic jams -- the kind where you slow down and speed up (with others behind you doing the same thing) -- have finally been recreated in a controlled environment (woo-hoo!). Theories about the causes of traffic jams have been computer modeled before, but here hasn't been a live demonstration of how a body of traffic goes from highway speeds to a dead stop -- for no apparent reason -- until now.
A team of Japanese scientists put 22 cars on a circular track and told them to drive about 20-MPH. Sure enough, a few laps in, uneven gaps appeared between the cars. Then a group of cars got bunched up. The people at the back of the bunch sometimes had to come to a stop. The car at the front of the bunch would lurch away... only to rejoin the back of the bunch on the other side of the circle.
Now that the phenomenon has been recreated in "lab" conditions, the greatest minds of our generation can get to fixing it. Or, not really, since the cause of shockwave jams is conclusively shown to be -- tada! -- human error. Some folks just can't go with the flow when traffic needs it most. So while fixing human error might not be on the cards, at least there's some hope now for traffic jams. Watch video of the artificial shockwave traffic jam after the jump. Thanks for the tip, Ben!
[Source: New Scientist]