We have all been there, sitting in traffic for an hour only to finally get to where traffic is flowing again and realize there is no reason for the jam. A pair of researchers from the MIT Computer Scientists and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has recently shown that we could have fewer of these phantom traffic jams if we just stopped tailgating.
According to the researchers, maintaining an equal distance between cars on either side of you, something that the researchers call “bilateral control” will get you where you are going twice as fast. If you think an end to tailgating is unlikely to happen, you aren’t alone. Self-absorbed drivers don’t easily change their habits and even the researchers admit this won’t change anytime soon.
Rather researcher Berthold Horn believes that most of this change is going to be on the automotive manufacturers to roll out effective adaptive cruise control systems. These systems will allow oblivious drivers to maintain distance from other vehicles and help eliminate phantom traffic jams.
Horn says that if only a small percentage of cars were fitted with adaptive cruise systems with sensors in the front and rear bumpers, it could noticeable improve traffic. Currently, adaptive cruise systems have sensors only in the front bumper.
Similar techniques called platooning have been tested, but that technique requires detailed coordination and a large network of connected vehicles. The approach the CSAIL team has devised only requires new software for adaptive cruise systems and some inexpensive hardware changes. The team thinks this method is much more easily implemented and can have a big impact on traffic conditions.