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Channel 19

Todd Dills

Traffic blows up

| June 17, 2009

Mathematicians at MIT have built a model to describe “how and under what conditions” so-called “phantom traffic jams,” those without any obvious cause like a wreck or disabled vehicle, form on the roadways. An article about the research into “jamitons,” as the researchers dub traffic jams of this type , appeared at the MIT news site here after the researchers reported findings in the Physical Review E online.

“Key to the new study is the realization that the mathematics of such jams … are strikingly similar to the equations that describe detonation waves produced by explosions,” the explanation runs, lending new meaning perhaps — or at least confirming the appropriateness of — the somewhat common use of the figurative language of war to describe traffic jams, and vice versa. (For instance, how often have you heard about troops “bogged down” or peace negotiations “at a standstill” in insurgent-rife territories in Iraq and elsewhere in recent years?) The discovery of the relationship between equations describing detonation waves and models of jamitons led to the researchers solving “traffic jam equations that were first theorized in the 1950s.”

For a visual representation of the equations, see the video below. For further reading for the math- and science-savvy crowd, check out this site.

  • Anonymous

    I reckon the same idiot, at 6;42am every morning puts his foot on the brake pedal to slow for his exit 1km away. Every dickhead behind him then slows to have a look to see why he slowed down, whammo, 4 or km back traffic is ata standstill

  • Anonymous

    This theory is correct, I have learned that from 15 years as a car driver, and going through 1/2 a million backup /br /it is the so called quot;tailgating effectquot; as one driver hits their brake pedal, and then the next car hits the brake more, and so on until the traffic is at a /br /and the reason why the slow lane moves fastest is truck drivers leave their stopping distance from the vehicle in front, so they don#39;t have to slam on the brakes. the only reason why that lane ends up going slow is because of cue jumpers. which in turn slows the whole motorway down. strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.