'Jerks' can reduce traffic jams? Who knew? - East Valley Tribune: News

'Jerks' can reduce traffic jams? Who knew?

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Posted: Saturday, August 8, 2009 6:57 pm | Updated: 12:30 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

This just in: Eating Oreos by the dozen can help you lose weight.

That's most likely not the case, of course, but I thought it was an apt comparison when my e-mail inbox received the following message: "Jerks actually reduce the risk of traffic jams."

A group of Swedish physicists reached this conclusion after examining computer models of a road where some drivers drive safely and others don't. Apparently, traffic flows best when two-fifths of your motorists ignore the rules of the road - with limits.*

Think of it this way: You're driving the speed limit on Interstate 10 from the Valley toward Tucson, and so is everyone else. What happens? All the vehicles bunch up, and neither passing nor changing lanes can take place.

But what can break up this moving traffic jam are "jerks" speeding and passing on the right. When enough of that happens, the pack spreads out.

Before everyone starts driving 90 mph and swerving onto the shoulders for passing, it should be noted that the study and previous research have found a few dangers associated with these jerks.

First, while the scientists learned that the sweet spot of traffic was at a 3:2 ratio of safe drivers to the maniacs, to either side of that mix was mayhem. And that makes sense, as too many jerks will cause chaos, while one lunatic in the midst of calm might create a panic.

Also, it has been learned the one type of unsafe driving that should not be engaged in is tailgating.

The problem with that driver glued to your back bumper is that usually, another tailgater is behind that one, and another behind that, and so on. Eventually, the highway looks like a NASCAR superspeedway when the vehicles' performance is limited by restrictor plates: a pack of speeding cars with the margin of error reduced to nothing.

So the next time you're safely minding your business on the road and some jerk passes you on the right going well above the speed limit, let him know you think he's No. 1 by raising a finger. No, not that one (please remember that the middle finger is a privilege and not a right).

* A news report of this study was forwarded to the Tribune by Daryl Colvin of Gilbert, who is the Arizona chapter coordinator for the Best Highway Safety Practices Institute. Thanks much, Daryl.

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