One Driver Can Prevent a Traffic Jam

Oct. 11, 2016 12:54 p.m. ET

When you’re held in a trade jam, we feel powerless. What we might not know is that we can indeed have a vast outcome on a trade around you.

There is a flourishing physique of investigate anticipating that an particular driver, by preventing bottlenecks and progressing a solid speed, can infrequently single-handedly palliate or mangle adult a trade jam.


The techniques are simple, yet some of them—such as withdrawal a vast opening between your automobile and a one in front and openly vouchsafing other drivers cut in—feel counterintuitive to many drivers.

Seattle operative William Beaty, a heading proponent of jam-busting techniques for particular drivers, illustrated some of them on a float by rush-hour traffic.


Commuters in Seattle spend an normal 66 hours a year stranded in traffic, creation it one of 10 U.S. cities with a misfortune traffic, according to INRIX, a travel analytics company. Traffic overload is removing worse in many cities, even as unfortunate drivers take some-more active stairs to equivocate it with apps such as Waze and Google Maps.

As Mr. Beaty merges onto a swarming widen of Seattle’s I-5, he drives during a solid speed, gripping a space of several automobile lengths in front of him. “As merging cars come in, we don’t have to delayed down, that means that nobody behind me has to delayed down,” he says. As he nears an exit, dual drivers on his left combine uniformly into a line in front of him and exit though attack a brakes.

Meanwhile, a automobile behind him is only a few feet away. “That’s a tailgating philosophy,” he says. “You pull ahead, and we consider if everybody would only pull ahead, afterwards everybody would go faster,” he says. In fact, “it only turns a highway into a parking lot.”

Keep a opening open in front of we so that when a highway rager races to fill it, we won’t even need to daub your brakes. This prevents assertive lane-changers from triggering jams.

As Mr. Beaty approaches a left-hand exit into downtown Seattle, a core line is corroborated adult as a few cars onslaught to cranky over to a exit. “This jam is combined by only a few drivers’ removing trapped,” he says. “This is one of a places where an particular motorist can clean out a enormous jam” by permitting cars to accelerate openly into your lane, he says.

Mr. Beaty, a 58-year-old electrical engineer, has honed his techniques by hearing and error, contrast several maneuvers on his commute. But researchers during 3 Chinese universities tested Mr. Beaty’s methods, that they labeled “jam-absorption driving,” and found they can forestall waves of overload from combining in relocating traffic, according to a study published in August. A apart study published final year by Japanese researchers also found Mr. Beaty’s techniques could forestall jams underneath some conditions.

Mr. Beaty’s recommendations, that he has posted on a website,, have been cited in 5 peer-reviewed educational studies. Seattle residents who have seen his YouTube videos frequently stop him in a travel and ask, “Aren’t we a traffic-wave guy?”

Encourage other drivers to combine into exit lanes in front of you, so they won’t have to delayed down and retard adjacent lanes watchful to merge.

Conducting experiments in physics, holography, biology and other fields is a favorite entertainment for Mr. Beaty. A former science-exhibit operative who has built robotic dinosaurs and trembler simulators for museums, he has combined his possess lab, a rented space filled with half-assembled gadgets, nearby his home in a musty Georgetown area of Seattle. Mr. Beaty says he has gotten as many as 410,000 hits a week on his categorical website, Science Hobbyist. His work is a renouned source of plan ideas among production students and teachers, says Dan MacIsaac, an associate highbrow of production during Buffalo State College, partial of a State University of New York.

Mr. Beaty stresses that his observations about trade aren’t new. “These are things that trade experts and long-haul truckers have famous forever,” he says. Formerly cheerless with highway fury himself, he began experimenting with jam-busting techniques years ago, during his 40-minute invert to his pursuit as an operative on a support staff during a University of Washington’s chemistry department. (His trade investigate is separate to his day job.) He beheld that trade overload forms in waves, like silt or water, and a smallest obstruction, such as one motorist swerving or negligence briefly, could trigger a sequence greeting of drivers attack a brakes.

By perplexing several maneuvers, he found he could infrequently have a conflicting effect, permitting backups to dull away. “I saw a jams evaporate,” he says.

When entering a undiluted section where lanes are merging, stop pulling forward Instead, open a far-reaching opening and concede other drivers to combine into your line  though stopping.

His techniques won’t work if you’re already sealed in bumper-to-bumper trade and can’t find anywhere to open a gap, Mr. Beaty says. Also, some overload is irreducible, when a volume of trade exceeds a ability of a road.

It takes a while for his techniques to feel natural, Mr. Beaty acknowledges, and some drivers never see a point. He has been flamed on YouTube and his possess website by drivers who insist his techniques are wrong. On a highway, assertive drivers infrequently competition around him and fill a spaces he creates. “Your tummy tells we you’re ostensible to pull ahead,” he says.

Some scientists contend Mr. Beaty’s observations are too close to be useful. When a motorist tries to say a opening between his automobile and a one ahead, “there’s no approach to envision accurately what will occur in a subsequent minute, so we don’t know how many space we need,” says Martin Treiber, chair of a traffic-modeling, econometrics and statistics dialect during Germany’s Dresden University of Technology and a developer of traffic-flow models illustrating causes and solutions for congestion.

Experts agree, however, that lane-weavers—who force others to impact on a brakes—rubberneckers who postponement to look during roadside distractions and tailgaters can single-handedly behind adult trade for miles. “These are some of a unequivocally foolish reasons for trade being bad,” says Steven Shladover, a manager during a Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology module during a University of California, Berkeley.

William Beaty.

As trade overload gets worse, some supervision regulators are embracing traffic-control collection formed on a same beliefs as Mr. Beaty’s techniques. On-ramp stop-and-go lights on some state highways force drivers to leave spaces in front of their cars, for example, and “zipper-merge” manners need drivers in construction zones to open gaps in front of their cars so others can take turns merging smoothly.

Like many trade experts, Dr. Shladover uses some of Mr. Beaty’s techniques intuitively to well-spoken trade flow, though he’s doubtful that many other drivers could be swayed to do a same. “Selfishness takes hold, and people don’t indispensably consider many about a common good,” he says.

Eventually, if vast numbers of self-driving cars versed to say uniform speeds and distances between cars take a road, he says, “hopefully many of that nonsense will go away.”

Driver-education schools try to sight students to stop tailgating, leave far-reaching gaps between cars and take turns when merging, though “people have to unlearn what they’ve been taught” about station in line, says Dave Muma, boss of a Driving School Association of a Americas, a trade group. “Kids are lerned during a really immature age that they have to get in line and not let people cut in front of you”—rules that work good on a stadium though means gridlock on a highway, says Mr. Muma, owners of a Holland, Mich., driver-education company.

Mr. Beaty says saying oneself as a jam-buster has a possess rewards. “You’re above it all,” he says. “If we say vast dull spaces, all these options open up, and you’re indeed a higher driver,” giveaway to “be a chairman who binds a doorway open for others.”

Write to Sue Shellenbarger during