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A Visual Explanation of Traffic Jams

by Travis Korte
A visualization of traffic waves

One of the most frustrating aspects of traffic jams is how they can arise seemingly out of thin air, with no accident or lane closure to explain them. Scientists have long known that the underlying cause of this phenomenon is the domino-like braking effect known as a traffic wave.

But even though we understand these dynamics on paper, seeing them happen can help give a better intuition. A visualization published in November 2013 gives a stark illustration of  traffic waves, letting users hit the brakes on a simulated car and watch as the traffic stacks up behind it. The accompanying article explains how this effect results largely from humans’ slow reaction times, meaning that the adoption of autonomous vehicles with rapid reaction times could help alleviate traffic problems.

Take a look.

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