The Mathematical Way You’re Probably Driving Wrong

Just trust the math geeks on this one.

The-Mathematical-Way-You’re-Probably-Driving-Wrong_561735016_Dmitry-Kalinovsky-ftDmitry Kalinovsky/Shutterstock

Consider this: It costs you an average of $1,400 every year to sit in traffic. That’s nearly $300 billion for commuters in the entire United States, researchers say. And if that doesn’t fill you with (road) rage, what if we told you that those wasted dollars are—partly—your fault?

Sure, it’s possible that you have a perfect driving record, as well as zero accidents or speeding tickets. (Maybe you used the magic phrases to avoid getting a ticket!) But as it turns out, you’re causing a traffic jam just by keeping the wrong distance from the car behind you, new research has found. If you’re looking to improve upon this, better your mental math with this advice.

This traffic problem seems counterintuitive, right? You can’t control how close you are to the car behind you, after all. But ideally, you’d keep an equal distance between yourself and the car in front of you, as well as yourself and the car behind you—also called bilateral control. According to mathematical models developed by researchers at MIT, if everyone kept an equal distance between the cars ahead and behind them, traffic would move almost twice as quickly. These confusing driving rules make traffic even more difficult.

This is easier said than done, of course. For most of us sitting behind the wheel, perfectly spacing ourselves is a virtually impossible task. So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get it down pat. “This is what happens when you have a control system that is simply trying to keep up with the vehicle in front,” Berthold Horn, study co-author and MIT professor, told Wired. “And its job is not to make the world better, to have hundreds of cars moving in unison. It’s very myopic.”

Just one more reason for self-driving cars to become the norm—stat. In fact, we’ll be crossing our fingers that they are one of the technology trends you can expect to see dominate 2018.

[Source: Wired]

Brooke Nelson
Brooke Nelson is a researcher at PBS FRONTLINE in Boston, Massachusetts, and writes regularly about travel, health, and culture news for Reader’s Digest. Previously she was a staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her articles have also appeared on MSN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance, among other sites. She earned a BA in international relations from Hendrix College. Follow her on Twitter @BrookeTNelson.