Study Suggests Tailgating Actually Prolongs Travel Time

Atheer – External Sources

Research has shown that refraining from tailgating would cause phantom traffic jams, which commonly arise without any apparent cause, to cease.

According to Science Daily, researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory suggest that we would encounter fewer such traffic jams with this one small change to the way in which we drive.

The researchers argue that if we all kept an equal distance between the cars in front of us and behind us, known as bilateral control, we would all get arrive at our destination in half the time.

“We humans tend to view the world in terms of what’s ahead of us, both literally and conceptually, so it might seem counter-intuitive to look backwards, but driving like this could have a dramatic effect in reducing travel time and fuel consumption without having to build more roads or make other changes to infrastructure,” says MIT professor Berthold Horn, who co-authored the article with postdoctoral associate Liang Wang.

Horn concedes that drivers themselves are unlikely to change their forward-looking ways anytime soon, so he suggests that car companies update their adaptive cruise-control systems and add sensors to both their front and rear bumpers. Most of today’s systems of course only have front sensors.

According to Horn, traffic would become noticeably better even if only a small percentage of cars were outfitted with such systems. In future work funded in part by Toyota, he plans to carry out simulations to test whether this method is also safer for drivers as well as faster.

The team’s work was initially inspired in part by how flocks of starling birds move in tandem.

“Birds have been doing this for centuries,” says Horn. ” To program this behavior, you’d want to look at the birds all around you and not just the ones in front of you.”

According to the CSAIL team, for decades there have been hundreds of academic papers looking at the problem of traffic flow, but very few about how to actually solve it.

One proposed approach is to electronically connect vehicles together to coordinate their distances between each other. But so-called “platooning” methods require detailed coordination and a massive network of connected vehicles. In contrast, the CSAIL team’s approach would simply require new software and some inexpensive hardware updates.

Horn first proposed the concept of bilateral control in 2013 at the level of a single car and the cars directly surrounding it. With the new paper, he has taken a more macro-level view, looking at the density of entire highways and how miles of traffic patterns can be affected by individual cars changing speeds, which his team refers to as perturbations.

“Our work shows that, if drivers all keep an equal distance between the cars on either side of them, such perturbations would disappear as they travel down a line of traffic, rather than amplify to create a traffic jam,” adds Horn.

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