Have you ever been rolling on the highway only to be stuck in a sea of taillights on the road where there is no accident? Then, after you get out of that traffic, you notice there was no cause. There was no accident and no roadway changes that could be why everyone was stopped for so long on the road. So what caused the standstill traffic?
Phantom Traffic: What Is It?
What we just described is phantom traffic. The term refers to traffic seemingly without reason. These traffic jams can last long periods and throw you off your schedule.
How Does It Form?
Under normal conditions, a highway with many cars will not be a problem if each vehicle maintains the same consistent speed and following distance. Unfortunately, any minor change in this traffic can throw off the rest of the drivers. For example, if one driver touches the brake lightly, each of the following drivers may brake stronger and stronger. As more drivers come in behind, the original light brake touch will create a wave that grows and can even stretch up to miles.
Phantom traffic occurs with many cars on the road. If there are fewer cars, they can adjust better for these minor disturbances. However, once the number of drivers rises, so does the probability of any traffic jam.
How Can You Avoid One?
Many drivers fail to realize that to avoid a traffic jam, they need to break far in advance. When you break hard, others behind you will only break harder, creating the wall we talked about earlier. Give yourself plenty of following distance, go the speed limit, and keep your foot ready to break should you need it. Another way to prevent a backup is to maintain a safe speed when you get out of one. Many want to accelerate after they get out of the traffic jam quickly. This acceleration could make them brake hard for another traffic jam, creating a feedback loop of more traffic.
The best thing you can do in this situation or any other on the road is to drive defensively and educate yourself on phantom traffic. Learn more about how self-driving vehicles are helping to detect and prevent these buildups HERE.