Ask anybody how they feel about the inevitable driverless car revolution, and you’ll get a variety of answers.
Some welcome the change, feeling like they could use the time they used to spend driving to do other things like talk to a friend, catch up on work, or relax and watch TV. Others laugh and say it’s ridiculous to trust an artificial intelligence with your life. Still others insist that they love driving, and anyway, no one could ever program a car to drive better than they can.
According to a new study, driverless cars are so well programmed that even just one may have the power to break up a traffic jam.
Phantom Traffic Jams
You’ve probably been sitting in traffic before, wondering what obstacle is in front of you preventing traffic from moving, only to have the cars in front of you begin to move forward with ease. The longer you drive, the more convinced you are that there was no obstacle to begin with. No accident to avoid, no construction crew to be mindful of, no unexpected lane closures—a traffic jam for, seemingly, no reason at all.
Those traffic jams are called phantom traffic jams, and they happen all the time. It’s just a function of driving. A car in front of you hits their brakes for seemingly no reason, which causes you to hit your brakes, which causes the car behind you to hit their brakes, etc. This ripple effect causes cars to become tightly packed, even though there is nothing technically obstructing their way.
But before you grab your pitchforks for the individual driver whose unnecessary braking caused this whole mess, you should know that, according to the experts, these ripples will still arise naturally.
How Driverless Cars Get Everyone Moving Again
Benjamin Seibold, Associate Professor of Mathematics at Temple University, studies “jamology,” or the study of traffic jams by use of mathematics. He claimed that even with perfect drivers, phantom traffic jams can still occur.
It was Seibold (along with researchers from Yale, Penn State, University of Illinois, Rutgers University, University of Arizona, and University Grenoble Alpes in Frace) who conducted the study that showed that a self-driving car would help with traffic jams.
The experiment involved a closed circular track and twenty cars. At first, all twenty cars were driven by humans. The drivers were tasked with the goal of driving the same speed while maintaining a safe distance from the car in front of them. It didn’t take long for the cars to lose their rhythm and for “jamitons” (waves caused by traffic starting and stopping) to occur.
But then one of the cars switched to self-driving and increased its speed, and the jamitons ceased. Researchers estimate that the presence of the driverless car reduced the differences in everyone’s speeds by 80.8 percent. One driverless car reduced braking events from 8.58 per vehicle per km to 0.12 per vehicle per km. Fuel consumption also decreased by 40 percent.
The driverless car acts as a controlling force on the rest of the cars. Even though the driverless car is outnumbered, the nineteen cars with human drivers all followed its lead and were better able to maintain their desired speed.
The Dangers of Traffic Jams
Phantom or not, traffic jams are prime opportunities for accidents. Unpredictable traffic patterns and the continuous starting and stopping of vehicles make it easy for drivers to wreck. Not only is it easier to hit other cars, but it can also be difficult to spot a motorcycle or escape a semi truck’s blind spot.
Until driverless cars make traffic jams a thing of the past, accidents will continue to occur in traffic. If you’ve been injured in a car accident during a traffic jam, Hensley Legal Group can help. Call us today or contact us online for a free case review.