Phantom Traffic Jams: It's Your Own Darn Fault - NBC 10 Philadelphia

Phantom Traffic Jams: It's Your Own Darn Fault

A traffic jam made you an hour late for work and there was no accident? Here's why.



    Phantom Traffic Jams: It's Your Own Darn Fault

    Are you often mystified by sudden traffic congestion and -- when you finally break through to a decent speed -- there are no accidents on the road to give you that, “Well that’s why!” explanation for the mind-numbing crawl you had to endure?

    One Temple University researcher told KYW Newsradio that there is absolutely no reason for these inexplicable highway parking lots. Or as we like to interpret his findings: It’s everybody’s fault.

    These “phantom traffic jams,” in which traffic slows to a maddening creep with no broken-down cars or bloody crashes to show for it, are caused by “any small disturbance in traffic flow,” Temple math professor Benjamin Seibold, who has studied these pointless slowdowns, told KYW.

    This means that any driver distracted by a text message, or yelling at the kids to stop the shenanigans lest they “turn this car right around!,” may suddenly brake and cause a ripple effect of drivers hitting the brakes.

    And this ripple effect can travel back for miles -- all because Johnny is playing the older brother “I’m not touching you” game with Suzie in the backseat.

    “There’s no outside reason for those traffic jams.  There’s no obstacle on the road.  There’s no car in the breakdown lane,” Seibold said.  "They’re an instability in the traffic flow, so they can occur without any visible reasons.”

    Seibold says that this aggravating phenomenon can be prevented if drivers weren’t so aggressive and left a little more distance between them and the cars in front of them.

    Because we all know there’s no stopping Johnny's finger from coming close to -- but not touching -- Suzie's face, at least give yourself enough space to slam of the brakes without disrupting the travels of thousands.