Nautilus

Traffic Ghost Hunting

Few experiences on the road are more perplexing than phantom traffic jams. Most of us have experienced one: The vehicle ahead of you suddenly brakes, forcing you to brake, and making the driver behind you brake. But, soon afterward, you and the cars around you accelerate back to the original speed—and it becomes clear that there were no obstacles on the road, and apparently no cause for the slowdown.

Because traffic quickly resumes its original speed, phantom traffic jams usually don’t cause major delays. But neither are they just minor nuisances. They are hot spots for accidents because they force unexpected braking. And the unsteady driving they cause is not good for your car, causing wear and tear and poor gas mileage.

So what is going on, exactly? To answer this question mathematicians, physicists, and traffic engineers have devised many

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus10 min readPsychology
He Gave Away $30 Million Because It Felt Good: James Doty just may embody the altruism he studies.
James Doty is not a subject under study at the altruism research center that he founded at Stanford in 2008, but he could be. In 2000, after building a fortune as a neurosurgeon and biotech entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, he lost it all in the dotcom
Nautilus10 min read
Only Street Dogs Are Real Dogs: Purebreds don’t satisfy the biological definition of a species.
What is a dog? Many people often think of dogs as kennel club creations. The purebred dog is man’s best friend, not the street dog. Man’s best friends live ubiquitously in the United States, Europe, and other developed countries and, in these countri
Nautilus5 min read
The Problem with Using the Term “Fake News” in Medicine
Here’s one way to rid society of “fake news”—abandon the term altogether. That’s what a U.K. committee recommended that Parliament do last fall. It argued that the concept has lost any clear meaning, since it has been used to describe everything from