Advertising
Advertising

The Science of Traffic and How it Could End

The Science of Traffic and How it Could End

Sitting in traffic is an unavoidable part of life. Even if you live out in the country, commute during odd hours in the day, or opt to take the bus, you’re still bound to find yourself stuck in commuter traffic sooner or later. Some estimates report the modern driver will spend up to three months of their lives sitting in traffic. That means you likely have plenty of time to sit and think about traffic.

A common thought during these times of boredom and frustration is: if only everyone drove just like me, then we wouldn’t have these issues. While that’s not exactly the truth, it’s not exactly far off either. Dr. Eddie Wilson of Bristol University cracked the code after becoming increasingly fascinated with the traffic jams he was subjected to on his daily drive home from work. Wilson’s research found that indeed if we all drove at a uniform pace, the common traffic jam would simply not exist.

Advertising

In part, it’s the speed demons weaving out in and out of traffic that are to blame. But they share the blame equally with the timid drivers that are too quick to tap the brakes at the slightest of surprises. Some research suggests that one vehicle’s sudden braking on a moderately populated highway can send waves of slow traffic as far back as twenty miles. So now we know the secret to traffic-free highways, and yet it seems like heavy congestion on roadways is here to stay. There’s just no realistic way to ensure every motorist will keep the same constant speed.

One of Dr. Wilson’s experiments involved 15 cars driving around in one connected circle with the instructions of keeping a pace of 15 MPH. He found that even in this controlled environment some drivers would inevitably go a mile or two over the “limit”, and then compensate by hitting the brakes. After just a few minutes, one side of the circle had cars coming to a complete stop while they waited for the vehicles ahead to catch up. To see it in action, it almost defies logic. It’s human nature, and human nature doesn’t always make sense.

Advertising

So what can you do to reduce the risk of traffic jamming? Don’t hit the brakes prematurely, and try to keep yourself moving at a standard pace. The easiest way to do this is by staying in the right lane until you’re ready to pass people on the left. Once you’ve passed, simply pull right back into the right lane until the time comes for you to pass again. Unfortunately, that’s the best you can do as an individual. Otherwise we have to rely on the tactics of other drivers to keep things moving, which to many feels like a long shot.

And yet, life without congested roadways may be possible someday. If self-driving vehicles become the standard, freeways that look like parking lots could quickly become a relic of the past. Many researchers agree that if every car were self-driving, even stop lights would become unnecessary. Instead, slight variations in speed could allow every car on the roadway to sail through intersections at the same time, whizzing right by each other without ever touching.

Advertising

Beyond relieving the annoyance and tediousness of rush hour commutes and construction back-ups, a world without traffic congestion would drastically reduce emissions. In addition, it would also reduce individual fuel consumption. Without any significant difference between ‘highway miles’ and ‘city miles’ vehicle lifetimes would likely see radical improvements. Traffic-free cities would also allow firetrucks, ambulances, and other emergency vehicles to ride easy without ever facing the risk of an unclearable congested road.

While the implementation of a regulated speed for every driver is impractical and unfeasible, the resulting un-jammed roads are likely coming regardless. Most experts and futurists agree self-driving cars are the wave of the future, and in my state of Illinois, so-called “Smart Highways” (which communicate traffic information to smart phones and vehicles) are already being implemented. So to many, it’s not a question of if we’ll see the end of traffic, it’s just a question of when.

Advertising

Featured photo credit: pixaoppa via pixabay.com

More by this author

4 Automotive Life Hacks That Will Change Your Life Five Tips to Keep Your Car from Icing Over this Winter The Science of Traffic and How it Could End

Trending in Science

1 Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science 2 Science Says Screaming Is Good For You 3 Weighted Blanket for Anxiety and Insomnia: How to Make It Work 4 Scientists Discover Why You Should Take Off Your Shoes Before Entering Your Home 5 Science Says Piano Players’ Brains Are Very Different From Everybody Else’s

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on September 10, 2018

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

We thought that the expression ‘broken heart’ was just a metaphor, but science is telling us that it is not: breakups and rejections do cause physical pain. When a group of psychologists asked research participants to look at images of their ex-partners who broke up with them, researchers found that the same brain areas that are activated by physical pain are also activated by looking at images of ex-partners. Looking at images of our ex is a painful experience, literally.[1].

Given that the effect of rejections and breakups is the same as the effect of physical pain, scientists have speculated on whether the practices that reduce physical pain could be used to reduce the emotional pain that follows from breakups and rejections. In a study on whether painkillers reduce the emotional pain caused by a breakup, researchers found that painkillers did help. Individuals who took painkillers were better able to deal with their breakup. Tamar Cohen wrote that “A simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.”[2]

Advertising

Just like painkillers can be used to ease the pain of a broken heart, other practices that ease physical pain can also be used to ease the pain of rejections and breakups. Three of these scientifically validated practices are presented in this article.

Looking at images of loved ones

While images of ex-partners stimulate the pain neuro-circuitry in our brain, images of loved ones activate a different circuitry. Looking at images of people who care about us increases the release of oxytocin in our body. Oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” is the hormone that our body relies on to induce in us a soothing feeling of tranquility, even when we are under high stress and pain.

Advertising

In fact, oxytocin was found to have a crucial role as a mother is giving birth to her baby. Despite the extreme pain that a mother has to endure during delivery, the high level of oxytocin secreted by her body transforms pain into pleasure. Mariem Melainine notes that, “Oxytocin levels are usually at their peak during delivery, which promotes a sense of euphoria in the mother and helps her develop a stronger bond with her baby.”[3]

Whenever you feel tempted to look at images of your ex-partner, log into your Facebook page and start browsing images of your loved ones. As Eva Ritvo, M.D. notes, “Facebook fools our brain into believing that loved ones surround us, which historically was essential to our survival. The human brain, because it evolved thousands of years before photography, fails on many levels to recognize the difference between pictures and people”[4]

Advertising

Exercise

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce our perception of pain. When our body is high on endorphins, painful sensations are kept outside of conscious awareness. It was found that exercise causes endorphins to be secreted in the brain and as a result produce a feeling of power, as psychologist Alex Korb noted in his book: “Exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, neurotransmitters that act on your neurons like opiates (such as morphine or Vicodin) by sending a neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief.”[5] By inhibiting pain from being transmitted to our brain, exercise acts as a powerful antidote to the pain caused by rejections and breakups.

Meditation

Jon Kabat Zinn, a doctor who pioneered the use of mindfulness meditation therapy for patients with chronic pain, has argued that it is not pain itself that is harmful to our mental health, rather, it is the way we react to pain. When we react to pain with irritation, frustration, and self-pity, more pain is generated, and we enter a never ending spiral of painful thoughts and sensations.

Advertising

In order to disrupt the domino effect caused by reacting to pain with pain, Kabat Zinn and other proponents of mindfulness meditation therapy have suggested reacting to pain through nonjudgmental contemplation and acceptance. By practicing meditation on a daily basis and getting used to the habit of paying attention to the sensations generated by our body (including the painful ones and by observing these sensations nonjudgmentally and with compassion) our brain develops the habit of reacting to pain with grace and patience.

When you find yourself thinking about a recent breakup or a recent rejection, close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations produced by your body. Take deep breaths and as you are feeling the sensations produced by your body, distance yourself from them, and observe them without judgment and with compassion. If your brain starts wandering and gets distracted, gently bring back your compassionate nonjudgmental attention to your body. Try to do this exercise for one minute and gradually increase its duration.

With consistent practice, nonjudgmental acceptance will become our default reaction to breakups, rejections, and other disappointments that we experience in life. Every rejection and every breakup teaches us great lessons about relationships and about ourselves.

Featured photo credit: condesign via pixabay.com

Reference

Read Next