The Mystery of the Traffic Jam: Could You Be the Cause?

No one likes traffic. Being stuck in a car for ample amount of hours with very little movement or progression can tend to be extremely frustrating. But in my opinion, there are definitely two different types of traffic. There is the kind that is man made (caused by a car accident, road work, etc), and then there is the mysterious kind that comes out of nowhere, often occuring when a lot of vehicles are on the road. There is no kind of "good"  kind of traffic, but personally I'd pick the man made over the mysterious kind any day. If there is an accident or roadwork occurring, you eventually get around the problem area and continue on your way, but the same cannot be said for other traffic. What I don't understand is if there is no direct obstacle causing a traffic jam, then why does traffic still occur? How can you be on a highway that does not have stop lights or stop signs, and still end up stopped behind numerous cars?
A study performed by a team mathematicians from the University of Exeter, Bristol, and Budapest explains that it only takes one person to cause this type of traffic jam. In order to validate their statement, the mathematicians developed a mathematical model which aimed to show the impact of unexpected events on the highway, such as cutting each other off or switching lanes. The results showed that although the car that produced the unexpected event was unaffected and did not come to a complete stop, cars behind it were forced to slow down. In turn, the event proceeded to affect cars several miles back, who had no idea why they were stopping.
When reading the results of this study, I became extremely surprised. The idea that one car suddenly breaking or changing lanes can affect all other cars is so simple, yet so true. It is interesting to learn that any of us could potentially be the cause of a traffic jam, without ever knowing it. The study also validates my assumption that this type of traffic happens more frequently when there are a lot of cars on the road. These two ideas go hand and hand, which makes complete sense due to the fact that when there are less cars, there is more room to break. Although this is only one study and it is unclear if this is the official reason behind traffic, numerous other people also believe that one car can create a ripple effect on other cars, which can further validate this study.
Even after researching this study, it did not explain how to prevent this type of traffic from occurring. My idea? Create more lanes on the highway, so that there is more room and leeway for each car. But then again, road work will just create more traffic...hmmm...
Works Cited:

"Traffic Jam Mystery Solved by Mathematicians." Traffic Jam Mystery Solved by Mathematicians. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2013. <>

"What Causes Traffic Jams? You." Freakonomics RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2013. <>


Good topic! It looks like you did your research and can relate to this topic! No one likes traffic and I'm from New Jersey and being by New York City and D.C. I understand traffic. It is a pain and will happen to everyone. Obviously there will be car accidents and construction that needs to be done but it's the people that are impatient. They cause a more stressful situation when they beep and yell and could lead to accidents and create more traffic ironically. I'm not sure there will ever be an alternative to traffic but I can say that if everyone just accepts it and is patient then it will be a less stressful process.

I only have my permit but I hope to take the driving test either over winter break or in the summer so this article gave me some great insight! That would be terrible to be the person who caused the traffic jam, especially during rush hour traffic or something. There are lots of articles on ways to prevent traffic jams. I guess I'll have to read up before I get my license!

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