Infographic Category Education

The Science Behind Phantom Traffic Jams

By | source:Here Mar 24th, 2019

Traffic caused by rush hours, accidents or construction is a well-known problem for commuters. But the traffic jams that don’t seem to have a set cause are what frustrate and confuse drivers the most.  Is it strange traffic laws at work?
These stand stills are known as Phantom Traffic Jams, and while their causes seem to be unknown, there is some science behind why these back-ups occur. 
The Zebra took a look at the causes of these jams, safe driving tips and the future of traffic in this animated infographic.

There are three main types of traffic jams that lead to this phenomenon. The Wide Moving Jam is caused by erratic acceleration and deceleration of cars across all lanes of major roads and highways. The Butterfly effect is a minor disruption caused by a car changing lanes, as nearby cars slow to accommodate, causing backups across all affected lanes. The final type of jam is The Bottleneck, accounting for 40% of all traffic congestion. This happens when the road suddenly narrows and cars are forced to merge from multiple lanes into one lane.

Keeping a four second gap, consistent speed, and only changing lanes with necessary are some of the top ways drivers can help combat this issue. The widespread movement of new technology such as V2V and V2I can help alleviate this problem as well, but many cities are years from acquiring these new options. However, some cars have new settings that help drivers implement healthy driving habits automatically. Adaptive cruise control, for example, can help drivers keep a safe following distance relative to their speed, and even automatically apply the breaks based on the movement of nearby vehicles. Read on to see what the future of the highway looks like and how science helps us better understand these urban issues.   For the world’s strangest traffic laws, have a look here.