Most Traffic Jams Are Caused By Just a Handful of IdiotsS

Deep in your heart you know it: there are like two drivers out there on the road that are causing all the traffic jams and one of those assholes is the guy right in front of you. Well, new information collected from hundreds and hundreds of drivers' cellphones actually backs that up. Sort of. It turns out that it takes very few jackasses to screw things up for everyone.

In a study conducted by MIT and Berkeley, 680,000 Boston commuters were tracked along their commutes—anonymously—as their cellphones jumped from tower to tower. The resulting data gave a better picture of commuter habits than any old-fashioned survey had in the past. During rush hour, a massive 98 percent of roads were below peak capacity. But the two percent that were over capacity were enough to cause traffic jams that spiraled out into the less crowded roads. Granted, not all cities are the same, but it goes to show the potential power of just a few crowded streets.

Now, in their defense, these troublemakers aren't necessarily doing anything bad besides being in the wrong place at the wrong time with too many of their buddies. And as such, there's not much to do to alleviate the issue right now aside from trying to get them to take alternate routes. But detailed information like this could prove invaluable to the urban planners of the future, and could help minimize congestion while we wait for cars that drive in a smart-swarm.

For the time being, that guy you're tailgating very well may be one of the couple of jerks who are making the roads total hell. But if he is, chances are that you are too. [Boston Globe via Ars Technica]

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