Traffic. It happens. For some, it’s a daily morning and evening ritual. For others, it’s an unexpected delay usually attached to road work or an accident. No matter what type of traffic we find ourselves in, it’s always a frustration…even if we don’t have to be anywhere. And we always find ourselves asking that age old question, “Why is there so much traffic?”
Luckily, science has the answer to yet another seemingly unsolvable mystery. While knowing the cause of traffic won’t get you to your destination any sooner, understanding the science behind a traffic jam can prevent frustration when you’re bumper to bumper.
The answer to your questions can all be found in the Science of Traffic Jams infograph created by Car Insurance Guide. We’ll give you the gist here, but be sure to check out the creative infograph for a full yet easy-to-understand explanation.
While weather, road work, and traffic accidents certainly slow things down, traffic jams most commonly begin with you and all the strangers with whom you share the road. Traffic is the result of saturation, or when the demand for space on the road is greater than the road that’s available. When traffic flow gets disrupted, lack of road space means that everyone has to decrease their speed in a sort of ripple effect.The infograph presents three theories on how this disruption happens:
- Butterfly Effect: Small disturbances, such as a driver changing lanes, creates a sequence of events that slows everyone down.
- Invisible Waves: The initial issue, such as road work, forces several cars to stop, creating an invisible wave of congestion. Traffic stays like this until everyone can move at the same pace at the same time.
- Tragedy of Commons: Most roads are free to use, so people use them as much as they like, which causes congestion, since the initial problem is saturation.
Now that you know a little more about why traffic occurs, we hope that you’ll find traffic jams a little less stressful. Ok, they’re still frustrating, but at least we’ve eliminated that burning question, right? Drive safe!