PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Does this sound familiar? You’re driving along just fine, when suddenly traffic comes to a crawl. A few minutes later, it clears up and you’re cruising normally again.
There’s no accident, no construction causing the delay. So, what gives?
PSU professor Avinash Unnikrishnan says we can blame aggressive drivers for the phenomenon.
“Some people are naturally more aggressive drivers than others,” professor Unnikrishnan said. “When you apply brakes and slow down, the driver behind you sees the brake, and he or she also applies brakes to prevent him from hitting you.”
It’s a seemingly minor, common reaction that causes a major ripple effect and often leads to gridlock for miles. And of course, it usually happens at the worst time possible.
I-5 is notorious for these kinds of traffic jams. As it turns out, traffic wouldn’t be so bad if everyone stayed in their lanes and braked gradually, instead of suddenly.
ODOT spokesperson Don Hamilton says we can only expect congestion in Oregon to get worse.
“It’s congestion, it’s capacity, it’s the number of cars on the road,” Hamilton said. “We’re seeing a good economy right now. There’s a lot more drivers on the road, there’s a lot more trucks on the road.”
In ODOT’s Traffic Management Operations Center, Hamilton identified traffic hotspots in our area.
“I-5 north of Vancouver, I-5 around Wilsonville and I-26 around Beaverton,” he said.
Not only do these popular spots experience rush hour traffic, but phantom traffic jams as well.
“It’s not possible to eliminate these traffic jams 100%,” professor Unnikrishnan said.
Although we can’t entirely stop traffic jams from happening, we can reduce them. Professor Unnikrishnan says being less aggressive in terms of braking can make a big difference.
With the rise of self-driving cars, traffic-free commutes could someday become a reality.