Simplexity or why traffic jams happen

By Jeffrey Kluger

When traffic on a highway is very light, cars behave like the air molecules in the room, doing whatever they please. When traffic is very heavy, they collect into something closer to the molecule in the frozen carbon, going nowhere at all. It’s chaos at one extreme and robustness at the other – neither one very complex. But things change at the top of the arc, up in the area where average speed ranges between 25 and 45 miles per hour and the volume of vehicles ranges between 5,000 and 6,200 cars, buses and trucks passing a given point in that same hour. There things are precariously balanced, with almost anything able to tip them one way or another. A single driver in a single car reaching for a coffee cup and absently tapping his brakes can trigger a ripple of tail lights that instantly turns into a clot of slowed traffic. A few people exiting the highway can open a clear spot that relieves pressure and increases speed for miles.

I have recently been experimenting with hypermiling – very interesting.

I want a new law – to prosecute behaviour that disrupts traffic flow – using brakes unnecessarily, changing lanes and blocking others, staying in the wrong lane at too slow a speed and similar.

Has no one seen the chaos a lorry overtaking another going uphill causes, added to by an uncertain driver scared of overtaking the juggernauts?

And what is this going up right behind a lorry and then pulling out about?

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