This Is The Reason Traffic Jams Seem To Start For No Reason

If you’ve ever been stuck in stop-and-go traffic, then you can definitely understand the infuriating feeling when things come to a screeching halt! It’s so frustrating when it seems like a traffic jam has come out of nowhere. Well, sometimes there doesn’t need to be an accident or bad weather for a traffic jam to appear.


By using complex mathematical calculations and various other methods, researchers have come to the conclusion that it is possible for a traffic jam to start for no reason at all. The simple reason this can happen is because of a “wave.”

You’ve seen the wave at football and basketball games, haven’t you? Well, this is the same concept. Researchers say that even the slightest braking by a car unleashes a chain reaction of braking by all of the cars behind it. This disruption of the traffic flow creates a steady chain of slowing, which is why it seems that there is a traffic jam out of thin air.

A mathematician from Temple University explained that “These traffic waves arise from small perturbations in a uniform traffic flow, like a bump in the road, or a driver braking after a moment of inattention.” In other terms, it’s just really bad traffic cause-and-effect.

The real reason why the braking wave stays for so long, and that traffic seems to never disappear, is that when the cars leave, the wave doesn’t. These waves of traffic, which are actually called jamitons, have a very sudden drop in velocity, and a very slow gain of acceleration again. Cars have a harder time reverting the effect of the wave.

American researchers are not the only ones who are investigating the presence of traffic waves. Japanese researchers have come to the same conclusions using real-life experiments showing that even when 22 drivers were traveling at the same speed, and at the same distance apart, a wave of traffic was created nonetheless.

Just who is to blame for these jams and how can we avoid them if possible?

The cause of these waves is people jamming on the brakes. So in theory, slowing down gradually should help the problem. If all of the drivers on the road were capable of driving at a moderate speed with very few sudden halting stops, there would be less of a chance of a random traffic jam developing.

Lines of cars are pictured during a rush hour traffic jam on Guo

However, as we know, most drivers won’t stop speeding or tailgating the vehicle in front of them. If people start giving adequate room in front of their vehicle, and don’t speed, it wouldn’t start such an extreme chain reaction. Although we can’t know for sure, most researchers believe that no matter how fast the majority of vehicles are traveling, these frustrating waves of random traffic jams are simply inevitable.