Ford teamed up with researchers at Vanderbilt University to take a look at what causes traffic jams and how they can be avoided.
Have you ever driven down a busy highway and gotten stuck in a traffic jam. While a traffic slowdown or stoppage that’s caused by construction that reduces the number of available lanes or a collision that must be cleared is easy enough to understand, other traffic jams aren’t. Sometimes, the worst enemy to our driving habits is the fact that we’re in control of the speed and follow-distance of a vehicle. A traffic jam that proves this is one in which there’s no construction or accident, just drivers that aren’t capable of maintaining a smooth and even distance from each other.
Automation Research Can Open Our Eyes
You’ll see some of the results of this partnership in the video that’s linked below. The project was put together to show how a so-called “phantom traffic jam” was caused and how it could be avoided in the future. Unfortunately, if you’re driving on roads filled with other people, you’ll have to rely on them to help you avoid a traffic jam.
Using 36 drivers and a closed Ford oval test track, the team simulated highway driving in two different ways. One test was performed while using the adaptive cruise control system that makes use of sensors and radar to maintain a consistent distance from the vehicle in front and another test that was performed without the technology, causing drivers to have to maintain the speed on their own. The results of the two tests might surprise you, but they certainly shouldn’t because it’s really no secret that the main contributor to actual traffic jams is the human element.
The Tests Performed by Ford
Once the vehicles were put on the track, they were driven at sixty mph and then slowed to forty mph to mimic a traffic disturbance on the road. This change in speed when the vehicles were driven without the adaptive cruise control caused the drivers to slow, change their follow distance and eventually cause a backup that looks a lot like a musician playing the accordion. Even though there wasn’t construction or a traffic accident, the backup got worse and worse and when the drivers were in control, the traffic jam became one in which the vehicles slowed below forty mph.
In the other test, with the adaptive cruise control active, the vehicles were programmed to keep a safe and consistent follow-distance. This meant that when the slowdown was activated and the vehicles were brought from sixty mph to forty mph, they didn’t lose their space or bunch up at all. Instead, they slowed together like a symphony and then sped back up again at a consistent rate. Unfortunately, not every vehicle on the road uses this technology, but Ford is showing you why all vehicles should have it installed and should make use of it when driving, especially on busy highways.