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Research shows a way to minimize traffic jams and accidents

You're sitting at the corner of Montgomery and San Mateo waiting for the lights to change. A line of cars sits ahead, idling and waiting, too. When the light turns green, the line surges ahead. But as you follow along, you see a car ahead hit its brakes and then the nearly instant reactions of the braking vehicles behind it: a succession of red brakelights glow and then fade as drivers slow and then hit the gas again, hoping to reduce their commutes as much as possible.

This ebb and flow of stop-and-go traffic plays out across the city hundreds of times a day. Recent research shows that if even one of those vehicles in the line drives in a steady fashion rather than the surge-brakes-surge style so common in rush hour, the likelihood of traffic jams, motor vehicle crashes and resultant injuries drops.

Research from the University of Michigan shows that when one driver hits the brakes, the following driver will hit their brakes, too - likely harder. And the person behind that second car does the same, as do all the vehicles in line. "That can lead to cascading effects where everyone is braking a little harder, eventually all traffic comes to a halt," the lead researcher writes.

So an experiment was designed in which an autonomous vehicle was programmed to lead a string of eight cars around. Rather than slamming and surging, the car's computer was programmed to brake early and only as much as needed, so that its forward progress was smooth rather than herky jerky.

The result: traffic followed the lead car's example. Vehicles didn't get bunched up. Traffic jams did not materialize. The cars also used less fuel (sudden braking and then hitting the accelerator hard burns a lot of fuel).

Something to think about the next time you're waiting to hit the gas pedal (and then the brakes) at an intersection. If you drive more steadily and safely, those behind you are likely to follow your example.

No matter how smoothly and safely you drive, of course, you can be involved in a traffic crash caused by a distracted, impaired or otherwise reckless driver. Contact an attorney experienced in personal injury litigation to learn more about maximum compensation for damages.

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