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MIT mathematicians model traffic jams like detonation waves

Most drivers have been stuck in a traffic jam at one point or another. Some of the jams are caused by an accident or closed lanes. Other traffic jams crop up with seemingly no reason.

A group of mathematicians at MIT is working on the development of a new model to explain how and why these so-call phantom traffic jams form. According to the researchers, these types of phantom traffic jams form when there are a lot of cars on the road and small disturbances like a driver hitting the brakes too hard or getting too close to another car. These little disturbances can escalate into a self-sustaining traffic jam.

The model developed by the team of researchers may help road designers build roads to minimize the possibility of phantom traffic jams. The key to the study is the discovery that the mathematics of these jams called jamitons are very similar to the equations used to describe the detonation waves produced by explosions.

The discovery of the jamitons allowed the researchers to solve traffic jam equations first theorized in the 1950's. The equations are reportedly similar to those used in fluid mechanics and model traffic jams as self-sustaining waves. The equations allowed the researchers to calculate the conditions that case a jamitons to form and how fast the jamiton will spread.

According to the researchers, once this type of jamiton forms it is nearly impossible to break up and a driver’s only choice is to wait the jamiton out. The researchers say that the new model can help road designers to determine speed limits that are safer and find stretches of road where accidents are more likely.

One of the researchers, Aslan Kasimov, said, "We wanted to describe this using a mathematical model similar to that of fluid flow." Kasimov and his team say that they discovered that jamitons have a sonic point that separates traffic flow into upstream and downstream components. Communication of the cause of the jamiton to drivers it the downstream segment of traffic is impossible say the researchers.

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Biggest problems I encounter
By callmeroy on 6/10/2009 2:38:04 PM , Rating: 2
I work in a different state than where I live so I see plenty of bad driving.

Here are some of the most frustrating and most common issues (in fact I'm sure I'll see them today!):

1) Frequent lane changes in heavy traffic. A lane change for a reason , like coming up to your exit or because the lane ahead is blocked by an accident is fine....but when ALL lanes are moving 5 mph why on earth do some folks insist on changing lanes every 5 minutes?

2) The can't make up his mind type. You've been behind this person before I sure --- he's driving 10 mph under the speed limit when you are behind him then when you go to make your move to pass he suddenly speeds up to match your speed, so you think ok I'll stay here then -- you stay there and now the guy's back down to just at the speed limit or below it again. It might be an amusing game to you -- if you do this, but I just was trapped in an office for 10 hours, I'm tired and I'm hungry and I'd like to get home you selfish prick....

3) What lane is my lane again? I see this more and more frequently -- folks that look like they are drunk, tires skirting along the lines in the road that divide up the lanes, some times dipping into one lane a few inches and then going back into another. This is annoying as hell --- first don't drink and drive and second if you are too stupid to figure out what lane you should be in, you really need to burn your license...like now.

4) The cheaters. Folks stacking up on the shoulder because they are too good to wait for their exit like the rest of us, meanwhile I'm thinking "that would really suck if an emergency happened right now with no shoulder available".
Also in this group are the line butters.....often on my final exit before my house the line to the exit is about a mile or two long -- sometimes someone will drive by on and squeeze into the front of the line. These people should be drug from their cars and beat to death. Apparently they think they are better than the rest of us and only their time is important not ours.

5) People who don't know how merge/exit a highway properly. I've seen folks come to dead stops as if a red light was at the ramp and then they try merging, I've seen people ride the full length of the "merge lane" even when they have plenty of time to get over before the merge....and i've seen jack asses speed out like a bat out of hell to merge at the same time I'm driving by and I nearly have to lock up my brakes to make sure I don't hit him because there was no sign of him coming when I passed the point of the exit.

I generally curse up a storm to myself every night I'm caught in traffic. So yeah MIT or whoever -- please improve this traffic situation. :)

By Mojo the Monkey on 6/10/2009 6:51:09 PM , Rating: 2
Too bad their "discovery" that overzealous braking causes slow-downs is nothing new. Wake me up when you find out something we all didnt figure out on our own after 6 months of driving in our teen years.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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