"Jerks" Keep Traffic Flowing

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
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jerks keep traffic flowing

Physics Central’s Buzz Blog reports on a study which shows that breaking the rules can be the best way to help keep traffic flowing. The study by Sweden’s Umea University modeled traffic composed of “normal” pedestrians and “rule breakers,” finding that when over 60 percent of traffic consists of “rule breakers” things actually move more efficiently. “The interesting finding is that if most of the people are law-abiding, and you have a certain amount of people who are breaking the rule, then you are actually getting the minimum chance of a [traffic] jam,” says one of the study’s authors. Exactly following the rules of the road can cause traffic to build up behind a single negligent driver (who hasn’t seen that happen), and often the jam is only relieved by a driver breaking the speed limit to pass. Of course, there are other studies coming out which indicate that higher speed limits lead to higher death rates, but death only hurts for a few seconds. The pain of being stuck in a jam of mindless motorists can feel like an eternity.

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

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  • Niky Niky on Aug 01, 2009

    Title needs more specificity. "Breaking the speed limit to clear an obstruction helps reduce congestion." It's not exactly identical to "Jerks reducing congestion." The Shanghai study has it spot on. Asian drivers are already complete assholes. If larger percentage of drivers break lane laws to clear obstructions, you eventually end up with four lanes of traffic going one way, and none coming back the other. Or, even better... four directions of traffic bottled up at an intersection because eight idiots have tried to cross at the same time. I've heard of the experimental "zero-rules" areas in Europe... and I'll admit... that might work if all of your drivers have an EQ equivalent to Mother Theresa... or are already used to driving in the manner prescribed by strictly enforced traffic laws, but otherwise, it's a hopeless task.

  • Stuki Stuki on Aug 01, 2009

    For the above described temporary chokes to be pain free, requires people to temporarily, during the choke, stop adhering to whatever they normally consider "safe following distance." Otherwise, once someone merges into your lane, you slow down, requiring the guy merging in behind you to slow even more etc. etc. So, instead of maintaining the same distance as before, recognize that the choke is temporary, drive closer, and compensate by being extra alert. Fat chance having a driving instructor teach kids that, though. Or our public school indoctrinated kids understanding a word of it even if he did. For extra credit, and to flaunt one's mastery of higher order, non immediate, reasoning, it impresses to choose a low car with a low beltline and no pimp tint on the windows. The easier your car is to see through front to back, the easier you are to follow closely. Miatas are kings, and Motorcycles outright heroes. But I suspect anyone sentient enough to follow the above are already aware of that.

  • U mad scientist U mad scientist on Aug 01, 2009
    The Shanghai study has it spot on. Asian drivers are already complete assholes. If larger percentage of drivers break lane laws to clear obstructions, This only further illustrates the point that it's important to maximize flow. The shanghai/nyc problem is that drivers dive (accelerate and brake) for open spaces just to get ahead of a car or two. Again, if we enforced smooth driving and revoked licenses for hectic and unpredictable drivers, the better and safer the streets would be for everyone.
  • Obbop Obbop on Aug 01, 2009

    I am forced to admit I am a mere speed-bump upon the highway of love