Why I cannot stand rush-hour traffic

For a nice primer on traffic, see CGP Grey’s Video on it.

On Monday morning, January 30, I had to leave early in the morning to meet up with a friend. I had just moved into my brother’s house, so I was unfamiliar with the terrain.

I rarely drive for more than 30 minutes, let alone during rush hour. I was going through an unfamiliar place and merging on several different highways to get to my desired destination.

That experience was intensely unpleasant.

Far too many drivers behave like toddlers or vindictive parents. By extension, far too few drivers act like adults and drive defensively by default.

I had to follow cars who were taking their sweet time accelerating on the ramp, forcing me to go slower as well. I had cars tailing 4 feet behind me at 80 mph, presumably to enjoy the “tailwind effect.”

I had to deal with drivers who would not yield even when that is the safest and most reasonable option. Drivers who drove erratically, changing lanes 4 times over the course of 30 seconds. An uncooperative Google maps who would tell me to swerve across four lanes at the last second rather than giving me at least 10 seconds notice.

I had to take several detours thanks to accidents on the road or unexpected slowdowns in traffic.

And all this happened during a time people are most prone to road rage: Monday morning rush-hour traffic.

I got unmitigated road rage at so many points during this time (especially towards Google Maps and its non-specific direction giving). The only thing that kept me remotely sane was singing at the top of my lungs to various tunes on my iPod.

Here’s the fundamental problem with driving: we have sub-optimal reaction times, and all too often we behave judgmentally and irrationally.

Combine that with urban planning that promotes (sub)urban sprawl and discourages effective public transportation systems, and you’ve got a problem where wide availability of drivers’ licenses are necessary, but not everyone with a driver’s license can drive safely on the road (contrast that with Europe, where driver’s licenses are much harder to obtain, and where robust public transportation systems are established).

Whilst I am concerned about the impact of driverless cars on employment (NPR notes that the most common job in many states is truck driver), driverless cars also have the potential to minimize accidents and fatalities, stop DUIs, and navigate traffic much more efficiently.

Until then, I will just have to live a brisk 15–20 minutes away from my workplace.


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