Simple trick everyone should follow to avoid creating traffic jams

The solution to traffic jams, a professor says, is to not tailgate.
The solution to traffic jams, a professor says, is to not tailgate. Photo credit: Audi AG

If you live in Auckland, it's highly likely you've experienced the blood-boiling frustration of being stuck in a traffic jam. But one simple trick could help to ease our roads, a science professor says.

In an interview with, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) computer science professor Berthold Horn talks about a phenomenon he calls "phantom traffic jams", referring to jams that form with no apparent cause. 

These "phantom traffic jams" occur when a vehicle in heavy traffic slows down which causes the vehicle behind to slow down, and eventually leads to a domino effect of vehicles slowing down until the queue comes to a standstill. 

The solution to these traffic jams, Prof Horn says, is to not tailgate. 

This may not seem like a revolutionary idea, but as he explains, by splitting the difference between the vehicles in front and those behind, the increased spacing between the vehicles in a stream of traffic can help to improve gridlock. 

But for this method to be successful, all drivers need to stick to the rule. To do this, Prof Horn says drivers can use adaptive cruise control technology to maintain their speed. Using sensors, radar and cameras, the technology enables a vehicle to keep a constant gap to the one in front, regardless of its speed. 

If your vehicle has adaptive cruise control then you could use it in heavy traffic to make sure you don't drive too close to the vehicle in front. The technology first started appearing in the 1990s and became mainstream in the 2000s, so many Kiwi cars will have it by now. 

The average speed on Auckland's main motorways is around 43km/h, and it's even worse on arterial routes, so it would seem Prof Horn's advice is worth taking note.