There is a growing body of research finding that an individual driver, by preventing bottlenecks and maintaining a steady speed, can sometimes single-handedly ease or break up a traffic jam.
Seattle engineer William Beaty, a leading proponent of jam-busting techniques for individual drivers, illustrated some of them on a ride through rush-hour traffic.
...As Mr. Beaty merges onto a crowded stretch of Seattle’s I-5, he drives at a steady speed, keeping a space of several car lengths in front of him. “As merging cars come in, I don’t have to slow down, which means that nobody behind me has to slow down,” he says. As he nears an exit, two drivers on his left merge smoothly into the lane in front of him and exit without hitting the brakes.
Meanwhile, the car behind him is just a few feet away. “That’s the tailgating philosophy,” he says. “You push ahead, and you think if everybody would just push ahead, then everyone would go faster,” he says. In fact, “it just turns the road into a parking lot.”
As Mr. Beaty approaches a left-hand exit into downtown Seattle, the center lane is backed up as a few cars struggle to cross over to the exit. “This jam is created by just a few drivers’ getting trapped,” he says. “This is one of the places where an individual driver can wipe out a gigantic jam” by allowing cars to accelerate freely into your lane, he says....
....Mr. Beaty stresses that his observations about traffic aren’t new. “These are things that traffic experts and long-haul truckers have known forever,” he says. Formerly afflicted with road rage himself, he began experimenting with jam-busting techniques years ago, during his 40-minute commute to his job as an engineer on the support staff at the University of Washington’s chemistry department. (His traffic research is unrelated to his day job.) He noticed that traffic congestion forms in waves, like sand or water, and the smallest obstruction, such as one driver swerving or slowing briefly, could trigger a chain reaction of drivers hitting the brakes.
By trying various maneuvers, he found he could sometimes have the opposite effect, allowing backups to drain away. “I saw the jams evaporate,” he says.
.....His techniques won’t work if you’re already locked in bumper-to-bumper traffic and can’t find anywhere to open a gap, Mr. Beaty says. Also, some congestion is irreducible, when the volume of traffic exceeds the capacity of the road.
....Experts agree, however, that lane-weavers—who force others to slam on the brakes—rubberneckers who pause to gawk at roadside distractions and tailgaters can single-handedly back up traffic for miles. “These are some of the really stupid reasons for traffic being bad,” says Steven Shladover, a manager at the Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology program at the University of California, Berkeley.
Driver-education schools try to train students to stop tailgating, leave wide gaps between cars and take turns when merging, but “people have to unlearn what they’ve been taught” about standing in line, says Dave Muma, president of the Driving School Association of the Americas, a trade group.
“Kids are trained at a very young age that they have to get in line and not let people cut in front of you”—rules that work well on the playground but cause gridlock on the highway, says Mr. Muma, owner of a Holland, Mich., driver-education company.
Mr. Beaty says seeing oneself as a jam-buster has its own rewards. “You’re above it all,” he says. “If you maintain big empty spaces, all these options open up, and you’re actually the superior driver,” free to “be the person who holds the door open for others.”
And here is a video presentation with Beaty:
And another link: