Traffic jams occur because of accidents, distractions on the side of the road, vehicle breakdowns, roads in disrepair, and other obstacles. But “phantom accidents” also contribute to their share of slow-downs. According to Berthold Horn, an MIT computer scientist, all it takes is one driver to create a traffic jam. It is similar to the ripples of tossing a stone into a lake, and the science of nonlinear dynamics refers to this as “emergent phenomenon.”
But Horn notes there may be a way to prevent phantom accidents. Horn says trying to maintain a distance halfway between the car ahead and the car behind you can ease traffic somewhat and produce improvements in commuting time, though everyone on the road needs to do his part for this to work.