Friday, September 14, 2012

Thoughts on traffic jams

One of my favorite joke of all times is carry bread while driving, you never know when you will find (traffic) jam. We have all crossed intersections. I am talking specifically about the no traffic lights, no traffic police kind. Sometimes they are so smooth that we don't even notice. But sometimes when everyone wants to go first, no one ends up moving. For a long time my take would oscillate between two point of views:
  • People don't have driving sense (They don't know what they are doing) 
  • People are mean (They are doing with intention)
Lately I have been thinking may be something else it as play here. And that something is "lack of information".  What I mean by that is that we only know what is "going on" for a distance of 20-30 meters in light traffic and may be next 3-5 meters in bumper to bumper traffic. That is all we know. That is all the information that we have at our disposal to judge "driving behavior" of other people. This is too less to be correct. 

Here is a simple hypothetical test case. Stand at any intersection and wait for other to stop before you cross the intersection. Ensure that it is always possible for the others to cross without bothering about you. My understanding is that you can wait for hours without getting to cross. And I guess the reason is the other drivers just get few seconds to "see" you waiting. They don't know how long you have been waiting. And if later you try to cross the intersection, I am sure you will still get honks, people trying to squeeze in, so that they can cross first. Hopefully you will cross without being cussed, but nevertheless being judged as not having driving sense and being mean. As social animals, we learn correct behavior by imitating what we see.  But if what we "see" is skewed, we will judge that skewed behavior to be correct. At least that is what I feel what I have been doing for most of my driving life.

If somehow it was possible to communicate and let everyone see the correct facts, may be the way we react and judge would change. One of things that comes to mind is a simple "wait counter" installed above the car which counts the time you have been waiting and displays it for others to see.  Not that this would magically cause deadlocks to go away, but at least everyone will know if what they and others are doing is fair or not.  At least instead of always learning people are mean or people don't have driving sense, we will possibly learn most people are not mean and most people have driving sense or vice-a-verse.

It gives people a fair chance to be fair.

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