Monday, August 6, 2012

Phantom traffic jams - why you shouldn't use your brakes

Both in my blog and on my site I've long complained about the inappropriate use of car controls - people driving with a foot on the brake, unnecessary braking, lack of use of indicators etc. And for the longest time I've known about phantom traffic jams - where traffic comes to a stop for (seemingly) no reason. I've written about this elsewhere on my site but it's never for no reason - it's because of someone being inattentive, or not understanding that taking your foot off the accelerator causes your car to slow down without using the brakes. The explanation is simple, but I recently came across the youtube video below that demonstrates it perfectly. One person - just one - uses their brakes, and that's all it takes to turn a smooth-flowing road into a jammed-up nightmare. The person behind the initiator has to brake, and they do so just a little harder than the person in front. That effect ripples backwards through the traffic until finally, someone ends up coming to a complete stop, and from there, the phantom traffic jam appears. The M25 around London is a classic example of this, and the idiotic variable speed limits they put don't help traffic flow, they hinder it because now people have a proper reason to brake - speed cameras - and the rest is self-explanatory. Enjoy the video and think about it next time you're on the motorway. Can you moderate your distance simply by paying more attention and taking your foot off the accelerator instead of knee-jerk reacting and hitting the brake? (I know they can't do this here in Utah :-) )

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Silas said...

My policy on freeways is to drive as if I don't have brakes. I don't go faster than I can see, and I aim to do all my speed control with the throttle. It's a lot harder to do this if I'm borrowing the wife's car, because that has a drive-by-wire throttle which gives me no feedback at all (whereas the old-school cable throttle on mine tells me exactly what the engine's doing just by how it pushes back) but it's perfectly doable so long as you're paying attention.

Chris said...

I think the key to that comment was "so long as you're paying attention". People just don't bother any more. They want the car to save them from themselves.

Paul said...

Pay attention to the road!!?? What??? When do I have the time to pay attention to the road when I have to text, drink, eat, do my hair, put on makeup, pop a zit, make a VERY important call, tell the kids off (turning around to do so), read the paper, watch TV/a DVD and make notes on a pad.

All of which I've seen people do while driving both on the highway and around town.