Another Reason to Loathe Tailgaters

Researchers at MIT say U.S. roadways would have fewer 'phantom traffic jams' if motorists maintained equal distance between cars.

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That motorist riding your bumper isn't just being a jerk. Turns out, tailgating makes traffic worse.

Researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory recently showed that there would be fewer "phantom traffic jams" that pop up with no apparent cause if drivers stopped tailgating. 

Keeping an equal distance between cars on either side of you could let drivers get where they're going twice as fast, versus the traditional model of following the cars in front of you, according to the MIT team. 

“It might seem counterintuitive to look backwards,” said MIT professor Berthold Horn, who co-authored an article with postdoctoral associate Liang Wang. “But driving like this could have a dramatic effect in reducing travel time and fuel consumption without having to build more roads or make other changes to infrastructure.”

Given drivers are unlikely to change their habits anytime soon, Horn suggests auto manufacturers outfit their adaptive cruise-control systems and add sensors to rear and front bumpers, as opposed to just the latter.

According to Horn, traffic would get noticeably better even if just a small percentage of all cars were outfitted with such systems.

Horn said looking at how flocks of starling birds move in tandem inspired the research. 

“Birds have be [sic] doing this for centuries,” he said. “To program this behavior, you’d want to look at the birds all around you and not just the ones in front of you.”