The next time a traffic jam materializes in front of you for no apparent reason, think about Japan. That’s where scientists have, for the first time, recreated “shockwave” traffic jams, in which one driver’s slowing down creates a ripple effect that moves backwards through traffic, grinding everything to a halt for miles. They say recreating the phenomenon successfully is the key to finding ways to defeat it.
Their experiment found that human error is a major cause of these most frustrating kinds of traffic jams (there are, of course, other causes). But if driver error is the source of the problem, don’t drivers also have the solution? Clive Thompson points to one idea, the classic “slow down and keep a constant speed” method, which seems to be effective in breaking these shockwaves. Any other solutions?