Where do all the spontaneous traffic jams come from?

Vehicles are stuck in a traffic jam as motorists try to pay at a toll station. PHOTO | AFP

What you need to know:

  • How did the spontaneous traffic jam come from? As the cars went round the field, one of the drivers must have got distracted momentarily and eased off the accelerator thus slowing down.
  • The driver behind noticed this, and tried to avoid a crash by stepping lightly on the brakes. The third one in the circuit saw this and also stepped on his brakes, but harder than the second one.
  • This successive braking propagated along the queue and eventually, one driver had to press his brakes hard enough to stop his car. The traffic jam formed at that moment.

In 2008, some scientists at Japan’s University of Nagoya did a crazy experiment. They marked out a 230-metre circular path on an open and level field. Then they placed 22 cars in this circle and asked 22 drivers to drive them around the circular path at 30km/h.


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