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Traffic Jams Mostly Caused By Complete Assholes

The science is settled:

Deep in your heart you know it: there are like two drivers out there on the road that are causing all the traffic jams and one of those assholes is the guy right in front of you. Well, new information collected from hundreds and hundreds of drivers’ cellphones actually backs that up. Sort of. It turns out that it takes very few jackasses to screw things up for everyone.

In a study conducted by MIT and Berkeley, 680,000 Boston commuters were tracked along their commutes—anonymously—as their cellphones jumped from tower to tower. The resulting data gave a better picture of commuter habits than any old-fashioned survey had in the past. During rush hour, a massive 98 percent of roads were below peak capacity. But the two percent that were over capacity were enough to cause traffic jams that spiraled out into the less crowded roads. Granted, not all cities are the same, but it goes to show the potential power of just a few crowded streets.

And a few jerks behind the wheel.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. rudderpedals says:

    It said deferring some of those trips would help congestion in general. Maybe those people could be rewarded for their patience with a small credit on tolls?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. John Burgess says:

    I believe research will show that this same category is responsible for most traffic accidents, too.

    Of course, we need to come up with a clear definition of “driving asshole”. To me, that’s 90% of the other drivers.

    It absolutely includes all New Jersey drivers and those trailing campers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  3. Neil says:

    Lately I have more problems with people driving too *slowly* and going under the speed limit. This must cause some back ups. Are a growing number of drivers becoming just too timid on the road??

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. CSK says:

    Boston has a lot of very old, narrow, twisting streets that were never meant to bear the kind of traffic that they do, which adds a lot to the problem.

    The late Robert B. Parker once observed that he couldn’t understand why midday traffic in Boston was as bad as rush hour traffic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  5. JKB says:

    That certainly explains why DC has such bad traffic.

    Well, that and hills. Must be all the liberal arts majors but I could never understand why when people top a hill that then dips to another hill, they couldn’t comprehend that the traffic going up the distant hill was piled up by perspective like clouds on the horizon. Instead, they slam on their brakes and send that through the following traffic. Till they get down the hill and can’t see it anymore then they take off…again. Happens on curves as well. The Beltway has a couple good ones of those.

    But it is not just DC. Seattle has the same effect southbound as you cross the ship canal on I-5.

    I’ve always thought they should put up sight barriers stacked. Like they do on shooting ranges to capture high shots so they don’t jump the berm.

    But it only takes one or two to start the wave going through traffic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  6. MarkedMan says:

    Having lived and held drivers licenses in Illinois, New York, Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland and CT, and worked in NJ for 9 years, I can say that a) everyone says their drivers are the worst and, b) Louisiana drivers are the worst.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  7. Greg says:

    It goes the other way too, one person can have a positive impact.

    Years ago I read an article about smoothing out stop and go traffic. You try to figure out the average speed and do that. It becomes like a game: when traffic starts up you let them race ahead while you putt along at a slower speed, and you try to time it juuust right so they take off again exactly when you catch up so you don’t have to stop. It takes a little bit of practice to get right but what else are you doing? Also, people don’t dart into the opening as much as you might think. I did this once when I was stuck in stop and go traffic on the highway, and sure enough when I looked in my rearview mirror I could see one lane of smooth consistent traffic between two lurching lanes going back for miles. It was neat, and it only took one person.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. Chris Berez says:

    People driving like assholes???? In Massachusetts????!!!!

    Look at me, I’m making my “shocked” face.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. Ralph Nader says:

    So am I the azzhole for trying to stick to the speed limit as everyone passes me and flips me the bird or rides my bumper? Or is it ya all driving like maniacs!?!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  10. David says:

    @Ralph Nader: Yes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  11. Argon says:

    Note that this ‘news’ report of the study uses the term ‘asshole’ to mean those who drive on overly congested streets.

    In any case the work supports the notion that pinch points or small disruptions of traffic can cause traffic to gel over a wider area.

    Of course, the milk tanker that jackknifed earlier today on Rt. 128 outside of Boston and blocked traffic for almost two hours didn’t help much either.

    IMHO we can’t get automated highways and driving soon enough. Forget the flying car, I just want an auto-driving car.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. al-Ameda says:

    @Ralph Nader:

    So am I the azzhole for trying to stick to the speed limit as everyone passes me and flips me the bird or rides my bumper? Or is it ya all driving like maniacs!?!

    If you’re the guy who insists on driving the speed limit, and you stay in the ‘fast lane’ while drivers in the ‘slow lanes’ are rocketing past you – then you’re part of the problem. Get out of the way!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  13. Ralph Nader says:

    @al-Ameda: If I’m driving the legal speed limit I’ll drive in any lane I please. Get Bent!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 11

  14. Ralph Nader says:

    @al-Ameda: If you’re the guy who insists on driving the speed limit,..then you’re part of the problem.

    Where do you live that obeying the law is “part of the problem”?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 7

  15. Tsar Nicholas says:

    It’s a good thing we spent so many stacks of public dollars on “The Big Dig.” Otherwise Boston might have a problem with traffic and such.

    Speaking of which, it would appear to me that looking at a study of traffic patterns in Boston and then trying to glean therefrom a broad principle is analogous to reviewing a study of sexual preferences at the Exotic-Erotic Ball and then presuming they’d be similar elsewhere.

    As for what to do about the nation’s long-term traffic problems, it would be nice if the government had the ability to invest wisely in our own infrastructure, but alas when you’re broke you’re broke and when for decades you’ve had loopy spending priorities and poor governance they do have real world consequences.

    Imagine for a moment if 20 years ago we for example had disengaged from the failed quagmire of the “war on poverty” and instead funneled the same amount of money into public infrastructure. But not into corrupt union boondoggles such as “The Big Dig.” Imagine if it was managed competently. Or even semi-competently. Where would we be today in terms of such items as productivity, unit labor costs, savings and spending rates, etc.? We’d be a helluva lot better off, obviously.

    Governance matters. Spending priorities matter. Politics matters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  16. sam says:

    Reminds me of George Carlin’s question:

    “Why is that when I’m driving on the freeway, everybody going faster than me is a fvcking maniac, and everybody going slower than me is a fvckfing moron?”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  17. sam says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    It’s a good thing we spent so many stacks of public dollars on “The Big Dig.” Otherwise Boston might have a problem with traffic and such.

    Believe me, dickwad, I lived there before the Big Dig and after the Big Dig. After is way better.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  18. Rob in CT says:

    The quoted portion of the article doesn’t back up “assholes.” It backs up 2% of the roads are over-burdened at rush hour and cause lots of problems.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  19. Mikey says:

    @Ralph Nader: The left lane is for passing. If you’re not passing anyone, MOVE TO THE RIGHT.

    That IS the law, and it doesn’t matter if the people in the left lane are speeding. It’s not your job to police the highway, it’s the police’s job to police the highway.

    Also, if you are traveling at 10-15 MPH below the average speed of traffic on the highway and you insist on staying in “any lane you please,” you aren’t just being a jerk, you’re creating a hazard.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  20. rodney dill says:

    I’ve come to say ‘Stupidity Collaborates.’ If you’re driving on a road with 2 or more lanes going the same direction, 2 or more idiots will find each other and drive side by side under the speed limit.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. rodney dill says:

    @Mikey: Agreed. I don’t see may people moving to the right when someone is behind them, even when they aren’t passing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  22. rodney dill says:

    @Ralph Nader:

    If I’m driving the legal speed limit I’ll drive in any lane I please. Get Bent!

    Hah… legal or not, you’ve given evidence that there are assholes out on the roadways.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  23. Ralph Nader says:

    @Mikey: That IS the law,..

    Since some of you fine citizens believe you an pick and chose the laws you want to obey, like violating the speed limits, then I can too. Like driving in any lane I choose at the legal speed limit.
    If you have evidence that I am driving 10-15 miles below the limit, please present it. Otherwise kindly refrain from speculating that I am.
    Also I would suggest that drivers who speed are the hazzard. Not me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Ralph Nader:

    If I’m driving the legal speed limit I’ll drive in any lane I please. Get Bent!

    Here in MO, we have signs that say, “Slower Traffic Keep Right”. In some states it is illegal to pass on the right. In most places you are begging for an ass whupping… or at least a handful of ball bearings thru your windshield. And when it does finally happen? Don’t complain, You asked for it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  25. Mikey says:

    @Ralph Nader:

    If you have evidence that I am driving 10-15 miles below the limit, please present it

    I didn’t say below the speed limit, I said below the average speed of traffic on the highway.

    Whether you like it or not, nearly everyone exceeds the posted speed limit a lot of the time. It’s simply a fact of American driving. And someone like you, who chooses to make a point by driving in the passing lane at a speed much lower than the average flow of traffic, is creating a hazard. Because it isn’t speeding per se that’s a problem, it’s speed DIFFERENTIAL.

    If you choose to drive exactly at the posted speed limit while everyone else is driving faster, go right ahead. Just do it in the legally-prescribed lane and don’t worry about what the other guy is doing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  26. John Burgess says:

    @Mikey: Alas, this is not the law in most states. In fact, it seems there are only 10 states that mandate staying out of the left lane unless passing.

    http://www.mit.edu/~jfc/right.html

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. deathcar2000 says:

    It seems that Ralph Nader has been pissing everybody off for a long time now and it dosnt stop at presidental politics. Hey ralphie boy, yer gonna end up pissing someone off who dosent give a rats ass about your interpretation of the “law”. I hope that day dosen’t involve a dentist visit.

    Oh and, Ralph Nader is now possibly unsafe at any speed??

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  28. Mikey says:

    @John Burgess: From the linked page:

    Most states follow the Uniform Vehicle Code and require drivers to keep right if they are going slower than the normal speed of traffic (regardless of the speed limit; see below).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. Ralph Nader says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I have spent a lot of time working in and travelling through Misery over the years. You can’t drive too fast because the roads are in such bad shape they will tear up your truck.
    ——–
    Glad to see you are advocating for the proud tradition of vigilante justice in the Show Me State.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/16/us/16bully.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. @John Burgess:

    “In fact, it seems there are only 10 states that mandate staying out of the left lane unless passing.”

    Too bad that in the absence of a mandate, we can not rely on common sense, innit?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  31. Jeremy says:

    That only applies outside of DC. In DC, the headline would read “Traffic Jams Mostly Caused By Everybody And Their Sister.”

    Because, you know.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. Rob in CT says:

    Dennis Leary had this sorted some time ago:

    I drive really slow, in the ultra-fast lane
    while people behind me are going insane. I’m an asshole!

    Within the law (at least in most states), but definitely an asshole.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  33. J-Dub says:

    If 99.9% of people are breaking a law, is it really a law anymore? Referring to tickets as a speed tax is more appropriate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. al-Ameda says:

    I drive about 3 hours each day and there are many people who drive slower than the flow and they are in the fast lanes. This screws up the flow. The uniform code has it right, if you’re driving at a speed that is less than the flow, and you’re in the fast lane, just … move … to … the … right … safely, get out of the way.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  35. Drew says:

    First: ever been in a bottling plant?

    Second: I spend a lot of time in Boston. Every driver should be put in jail and the key thrown away. Every gd one of them……

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  36. grumpy realist says:

    Part of the problem in Bahston is that there is too little road and too many drivers. Then you have the layout (on paths trodden by drunken cows.) Then there’s the, erm, tendency of the local regulators to do silly stuff like changing the one-way direction down Charles St. overnight. AND not coordinating with the regulators that dealt with the intersection at the head (now foot) of Charles St. which meant that for 2.5 years the bloody traffic light cycle wasn’t upgraded and all traffic was halted on all sides for one minute while the traffic light shone green down Charles St…..down which no cars now ever came.

    Am not kidding. Lived on Beacon Hill for the first year of all of this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. Barry says:

    @Ralph Nader: “So am I the azzhole for trying to stick to the speed limit as everyone passes me and flips me the bird or rides my bumper? Or is it ya all driving like maniacs!?! ”

    Going at the speed limit? In Michigan the only question would be if such criminals are smashed off the road by angry pick-up drivers, or pulled over by the police as obvious drunk drivers/drug couriers/people with bodies in their trunks………………

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  38. grumpy realist says:

    (I do find it hilarious when any experiment on traffic behavior uses Boston traffic and draws supposedly universal conclusions from it. Have none of you heard any of the jokes about Boston drivers?)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  39. Davebo says:

    Ralph, does the term “Dick with Ears” ring a bell?

    If you’re driving at the speed of light in the left lane and a vehicle pulls up behind you, get out of the way.

    What kills me is those who are speeding yet speeding below the rate of the flow of traffic in the left lane (read most of them). It’s OK with them to speed, just don’t speed faster than I’m willing to speed!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  40. al-Ameda says:

    @Davebo:

    What kills me is those who are speeding yet speeding below the rate of the flow of traffic in the left lane (read most of them). It’s OK with them to speed, just don’t speed faster than I’m willing to speed!

    Exactly, Dave. It just galls me.

    Almost as bad are those egotistical bozo’s who, on single lane country highways, drive below the limit and hold up a line of cars behind them, then when a passing lane comes up they speed-up and refuse to let anyone pass them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0