Column By Nathaniel Sheidlower

Everyone hates traffic. Or they don’t. It has become very unclear to me as it seems to always occur. Last time I checked, when you hate something you work to remove that thing from your life. Many seem to think that traffic is an unavoidable and unexplainable phenomena.

I disagree … mostly.

For the record, traffic occurs because one person slows down, then the next and the next. The time between when the first person begins to speed up again and the next and the next is not consistent. Therefore every time a driver slows down, the overall flow of traffic behind them automatically slows down as well. If they slow down enough or too often in a short period of time, a stand-still begins. Before I start know that I do understand sometimes slowing down is necessary for safety.

There are two causes of traffic: road closures, and idiots slowing down.

When there are workers who block off a lane there is obviously nothing we can do and when you force two lanes of traffic into one, the pace will automatically slow. Of course when there is a major accident that closes off a lane, the traffic from that is also unavoidable. I would like to focus more on the other cause.

The reason these idiots slow down is curiosity. Curiosity is a very complex idea, but one aspect is very concrete: it causes action only after it prevents action.

Curiosity is defined as the desire to learn or increase ones knowledge. However it also produces worry, as people naturally attempt to predict outcomes of situations because they are curious and impatient. Predictions take time. When you are driving, the amount of time you have before encountering a situation decreases fast and if you need more time to finish predicting, you slow down. And when you slow down…

Mergers are the most common location where this type of traffic occurs. Think of a merger as a zipper on a jacket – when each piece is in place the zipper zips at whatever speed you pull it. Similarly if we all placed our cars in the position to be behind one car and in front of another, before the merge, the merge could take place at any speed. But we don’t. We are too curious as to what the other drivers will do so we slow down to make predictions. And when you slow down…

I argue that if we all just PAY ATTENTION and trust each other on the road, this situation will not yield a traffic jam.

Just because it popped into my head, YIELD means YIELD the right of way to oncoming traffic. It does not mean STOP. If there is no oncoming traffic you don’t even need to slow down, you can treat the intersection as if the sign wasn’t there, but that is for another day.

Another example: when you drive by an accident, even if all lanes are open, drivers slow down because they are curious. They want to see what happened. Why? If the accident affects you personally I am sure you will receive a phone call. If you want to see what a car wreck looks like, Google it. If you want to see police go to a police station. If you want to see a tow truck park in front of a hydrant. There is no reason to slow down while passing an accident that does not block the road, except for curiosity. And seeing as how any knowledge you would acquire from viewing the accident can be acquired elsewhere, what is the purpose of slowing down? Because when you slow down…

One last note on idiots. There are intersections where majority of cars coming from one direction will make a left turn. The local government realizes this and creates TWO left-turn-only lanes to prevent these cars from blocking the other cars going straight or making right turns. Why then does only one of these left-turn-lanes fill up? I have approached intersections like this, seen so many cars in the right left-turn-only lane creating a line so far back that, if one is following the lines, cars cannot occupy the left left-turn-only lane. So I cross the double yellow for a moment and move myself past all the others to the front. No one follows me. I look in my rear-view and I see people continue to pile onto the line, backing up all traffic on the road and putting them in a position where they may not make it through before the light turns red. I will never understand why both lanes are not used.