the mathletes figure out traffic jams

Recently, some math nerds got together and solved the greatest of human mysteries: why do traffic jams happen for no apparent reason?

You can read this article for a more thorough description of their research. It basically comes down to the fact that when one car slows down, the one behind it then slows down even more, and the next even more until cars eventually have to stop and wait before they can move again. One of the mathematicians says,

“Our model shows that overreaction of a single driver can have enormous impact on the rest of the traffic, leading to massive delays.”


“When you tap your brake, the traffic may come to a full stand-still several miles behind you. It really matters how hard you brake – a slight braking from a driver who has identified a problem early will allow the traffic flow to remain smooth. Heavier braking, usually caused by a driver reacting late to a problem, can affect traffic flow for many miles.”

It’s interesting to me how one car can have such an enormous affect on those behind it. I can’t help but think how this rule applies to our lives in general. What I say and do has an influence on my family, coworkers and friends.

I wonder how many “traffic jams” we cause for other people because of how we react and live out our lives?

Author: erik

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