How to win at traffic

Date:18 October 2016 Tags:, , ,

In a traffic jam, is it better to constantly move into the lane that seems to be moving fastest, or to pick one and stick with it?

This is actually a bit of a philosophical question and, as such, each of us must answer it for ourselves. Consider the word better. Better for whom? Better how? If you subscribe to the “every man for himself” principle, weave away, baby. Slam that Beemer back and forth like Iceman’s on your six. They don’t call you Maverick for nothing. Conversely, if you’re the sort who frets over things like shared sacrifice in service of the greater good, pick a lane, any lane, settle in with a fresh bowl of Borkum Riff and enjoy that folk music on your cassette deck.

Anecdotal observation suggests that most of us tend to split the difference – in life as in traffic. As for the latter venue, experts discourage willy-nilly lane-hopping, arguing that any time you might pick up is negligible, while your actions actually slow everybody else down. “When you switch lanes, you’re taking up two spaces,” observes Henry Liu, a professor at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. “Before you switch, you stay in your lane, you take your space. Then you have to find a space in the other lane so you can switch.” Moreover, whipping around from lane to lane increases the risk of a fender bender, which isn’t exactly the sort of thing that speeds you on your way. In short, says Liu, “If everyone follows each other and stays in the same lane, we have the highest throughput. It’s really for the collective benefit.”

But what if it is all about you, you selfish so-and-so? The folks from MythBusters ran some tests, and their anecdotal results showed that weavers beat the straight-and-narrow crowd over a 74-kilometre course by margins ranging from two whole, entire minutes to a positively epochal 17 minutes. Is it worth the bother, to say nothing of the bad karma? That’s up to you.

This article was originally published in the April 2016 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.