Phantom traffic jams can be caused by just one driver

April 3, 2010 | by | 0 Comments

Thousands of drivers could find themselves stuck in miles of Bank Holiday traffic this weekend – due to the actions of just ONE driver, new research revealed yesterday.

‘Phantom’ traffic jams bring motorways to a halt for no apparent reason and cause enormous tailbacks before inexplicably clearing.

Experts analysed driver behaviour on one of Britain’s busiest stretch of
motorways and found that bad driving can affect traffic up to 50 miles away.

Sharp braking, unnecessary lane changes and lorries overtaking one another are the most likely causes for congestion.

Researchers at the University of Bristol studied a 10 mile stretch of the M42 near Birmingham and found a series of driver events conspire to create the ‘perfect storm’ and lead to ‘traffic chaos’.

Dr Eddie Wilson, of the Engineering Mathematics, whose to use the data to create a mathematical model predicting phantom traffic jams, also known as ‘stop and go waves’.

He hopes this will help drivers plan their journey better and reduce traffic on Britain’s busiest routes.

Dr Wilson said: ”The stop-and-go waves are generated by very small events at the level of individual vehicles.

”In certain situations a tipping point is reached that magnifies small effects to create large changes that can involve hundreds of vehicles and which may be a couple of miles long.

”The record phantom jam was about 50 miles long – the entire M6 from
Birmingham to the Lake District was stop-go the whole way.”

Dr Wilson has looked at existing traffic models using the ‘string instability’ theory, which analyses how a column of grows and shrinks.

The research considers a single lane of traffic in a car-following model, with identical vehicles going in the same direction, and looks at position, speed and distance between the vehicles.

It is hoped the findings will predict how traffic flows and queues build up and dissipate, leading to more accurate forecasting of traffic flow.

Dr Wilson added: ”What is important here is not necessarily shortening journey times, but making the journey time more reliable and consistent so people can more accurately forecast the time it will take to get from A to B.

”We hope that by identifying an individual’s bad driving, we can accurately predict the traffic tsunami which can affect traffic up to 50 miles away.

”If there is just one error than this can usually be absorbed by the
surrounding vehicles, but if others are forced to swerve, brake or change lanes suddenly this has a ripple affect.

”Then when drivers travel through the jam, they are confronted by open road and are on their way again.”

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