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The research says that many of the traffic jams are 'phantom' bottlenecks which appear for no apparent reason and then disperse.
Eddie Wilson, from Bristol University reckons that he has solved the riddle of stop-and-go waves of traffic. He has developed a “string stability analysis" in order to devise a computer model to explain why traffic suddenly builds up and then dissipates just as quickly.
It takes one road user to get to close to the car in front and hit the brakes. The driver behind does the same thing, as do hundreds of motorists in succession, and within few minutes there"s a ripple which can stretch miles.
"The stop-and-go waves are generated by very small events at the level of individual vehicles," says Dr Wilson.
He says that the small events like the bad lane changes have much bigger impacts on the whole. In certain situations, a tipping point is reached that magnifies small effects to create large changes which can trouble hundreds of people or the vehicles which may be a couple of miles long, continues Dr Wilson.
"We've seen individual phantom jams that have traveled over 50 miles down the motorway and on Bank Holiday Fridays, the entire M6 from Birmingham to the Lake District is often stop-go the whole way," he added.