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What Causes Traffic?

  • By Ryan Skidmore

Speeds, Always Changing Changes in speed. That’s what causes traffic. One car. Many cars. Even the slightest change by any of them could cause traffic. The chief of speed changes, above accelerating and decelerating, is braking. Whatever the reason, braking causes a following vehicle to also brake. As the current vehicle starts to speed up again, another following vehicle starts to brake and a rolling slowdown is created. Traffic is born. Even vehicle slowing down without braking can cause the following vehicle to brake, starting the chain of braking and a rolling slowdown. Lastly, a vehicle moving faster than the vehicle in front of it will need to brake once it get too close. Any vehicle moving faster than the vehicles around it can trigger traffic.

Too Many Cars Roads are designed to accommodate only so many cars. The more cars on road, the closer they will drive to one another. This is call Traffic Density. At high Traffic Density, even tiny changes in speed by one vehicle can cause a slowdown. (Too many cars cause traffic jams) As more and more vehicles come on the road, the chances of exceeding the max capacity of any given stretch of road gets higher along with the chances of a monumental slowdown.  As younger kids become of driving age, it means more vehicles on the road, and since more people are living longer now a days, it means that there are more new drivers than retiring drivers.

Lingering Slowdowns Slowdowns remain long after first vehicle has left. Each vehicle must slow down because the vehicle in front of it did, creating a wave like effect. (Too many cars cause traffic jams) Over time, the wave effect disperses, but the drivers’ time has already been wasted. On a side note, slowdowns have been known to move up the highway from their originating point because vehicles see a slowdown ahead and begin to brake early. (trafficwaves.org)

How to Fix it? The simplest way to make a difference as a single driver is to keep enough follow distance to avoid braking over small slowdowns, stopping the wave of braking.  (Too many cars cause traffic jams) However, a permanent solution for unnecessary speeding up and slowing down would be driverless cars. This new technology is starting to become a reality.  Many companies are already testing vehicles that can drive themselves.  It wouldn’t be a shock if in ten years or so, we will be seeing driverless vehicles on the road.  In the future that could lead into a huge increase in efficiency, minimal accidents, and reduction of fuel consumption.  But in the mean-time, thankfully a fleet management solution can help business owners keep a closer look into the hard braking, hard accelerating, and speeding.  With this monitoring, owners can improve driver behaviors and significantly reduce fuel costs.  Don’t wait until driverless cars are available in order to improve productivity and driving behavior.  Implement a fleet management solution now and you can experience the benefits right away.

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