Fixing traffic flow…a utopian idea…

I spend a certain amount of time thinking about the ebb and flow of traffic (generally when I’m sitting in a gridlock wondering why we’re stopped). Often, a slow traffic situation is caused simply by some scaredy cat going 10 or 15% below the flow of traffic. Obviously, an accident is a whole different story, but theoretically those could be avoided too. As the population increases and the auto driving population increases with it, congestion becomes a more and more serious issue, and just the volume of traffic forced more and more of these stop and go driving stretches. About 5 years ago I could drive from downtown Vancouver to say Langley in about 35 minutes. Now it takes 35 minutes to get out of the city and another 40 on the highway to get there. So what causes the problem and how can we fix it?

As I said at the start, often the slowdown to halt of traffic on a busy highway or freeway is caused simply by some bonehead with a confidence issue, or just plain bad driving skills. I’ve always been of the mindset that the safest and most efficient way to drive in traffic is to go at the pace of the other traffic. Even if the speed limit is 60, if everyone is driving 80, you should drive 80 because if you don’t, you become the biggest hazard on the road. The other big issue is people who go slow in the fast lane (nothing brings me closer to road rage than this…except maybe non shoulder checkers). So my utopian plan has a couple solves for this. First…it has to be legislated that speeders aren’t the only people getting tickets. Yes, speeding can be dangerous (again…flow of traffic…if you’re going twenty percent faster than everybody, you are a hazard), but slow drivers are just as dangerous. So the police speed traps should include ticketing those that don’t go fast enough as well. Re-configure the traffic laws so that the posted speed limit is a guideline that should be followed, but not a set in stone ceiling. If a person is holding up traffic, give them a ticket. Enough tickets and maybe these people will learn.

Second, ticket ANYONE who goes in the passing lane and gets passed on the right. This is possibly the most dangerous thing, especially on a 110km/h highway. These idiots not only cause a hazard for the person right behind them (since they may have to slow down in a hurry), but far behind them they create very serious hazards as people jockey to pass others. How many times i’ve driven down the highway and some buttmunch 20 cars ahead slows down enough that the cars a ways back have to slow down even more… The guy coming up to the tail of this little train comes around a corner and has to nail the brakes, or pull into the other lane which is also congested. This is a very very dangerous situation, and I believe that more rush hour accidents are caused by this than anything else. Even the classic rear ender because of a lapse of attention is ultimately caused by that retard 60 cars ahead that forced EVERYONE to slow down.

So how else to fix this besides ticketing everyone?? We all know our police are definitely busy enough as it is, and sitting on a highway stopping the intellectually lightweights doesn’t do the guy getting robbed any good… Well I’ve come up with a system. What if we had a two tiered licensing system? People who are capable of passing a much more intensive driving test and who are willing to pay a higher insurance and licensing fee structure get a different color license plate or something. The people with this plate get right of way, and on a three lane road one lane is only for them. These higher tiered drivers would also be given a 20% speed cushion, but only when they are in their lane. Any non high tier driver gets a massive fine if they go into the high speed lane, and if they don’t give right of way they get a fine as well. The test could include defensive driving skills, emotional stability levels, willingness to let people pass, all those things. Oh, and a car that meets slightly higher maintenance requirements. This could not only work very well, but it would be a massive revenue generator for the governments that adopted it. Make just taking this elite test a certain expense, and it becomes even more of a financial bonus to the government. The only downside is the added policing costs…but we have the technology to deal with that as well.

With todays “smart highways” one could quite easily work out a sensor system. When a person gets licensed, a small electronic box could go in the car much like toll paying devices that are available now for people who regularly use toll highways. Sensors inside the road at the lane crossover (just one sensor wire would be plenty) would read these sensors as cars crossed the line. If a car sent the wrong signal, a redflag goes up in the computer locked to the subscriber code in that cars electronic box. Obviously, the subscriber code is linked to the car’s owner, and a ticket gets sent if that car does not leave the high speed lane within a certain distance (say 400 meters…that’s plenty of time for someone who needs to pass or something). This system could be a relatively inexpensive solution that would probably pay for itself quite quickly. Remember most city’s don’t have a huge overabundance of 6 lane roads, and this would only be needed in those places. The cost of the box could be built into cars price or insurance prices and it could be a requirement for getting insured.

The next logical step to this would be speed control via the smart highway. If a person goes a certain speed for a certain distance (again based on the flow of traffic around them), tickets could be sent for this as well. Obviously, more technology would be needed than just the line sensor, but it could be built in. This would eventually save municipalities money due to lower policing needs on those roads. Obviously, you still need some police presence just to chase down dangerous drivers, drunks, etc (another related thing would be to have breath analysis in all cars so that someone who’s drunk would not be able to start their car at all. That would be cool). The next step past the velocity monitoring would be velocity control…if a vehicle is moving at a speed that’s too much of a variance over or under the general flow, a system will increase or decrease that car’s speed remotely. This would obviously take substantially more technology than we presently have to be made safe. Wouldn’t it be cool tho…the highway sets your cruise control automatically…woooooo.

I’m sure that eventually the car itself will do most of the driving based on mapping, GPS, proximity sensors and other future tech, but these solutions will help in the meantime. Of course, it probably would never happen; too many people would complain about this or that aspect of it. Hence the title of this post.


4 comments so far

  1. Chris Bond on

    Clay man, you’re usually pretty on the ball, but this idea stinks. This sounds to me not like a utopia but a post-apocalyptic dystopia of highway mayhem. The last thing our already-complicated traffic system needs is an entirely new set of arcane restrictions and allowances for people who are willing to pay more for insurance. (Also, why are people who pass a more strict driving test subject to _higher_ fees? Aren’t these people less likely to be involved in accidents?)

    Seemingly inexplicable jams are thoroughly explained at

    Also, the vast majority of drivers would no doubt opt for inclusion in the fast lane, rendering it subject to the same problems the other lanes have–congestion, mainly–and so accomplishing nothing more than imposing a pointless tax on drivers already burdened by skyrocketing fuel costs.

    Automatically ticketing people based using a machine that they own and can disable with the cut of a wire is obviously fraught with so much potential for disaster that the idea may as well have been conceived by Wile E. Coyote. Have you thought about integrating a rope and pulley system?

    Of course, this doesn’t compare to the homicidal idiocy of trying to remotely control the speed of vehicles on the highway. What about unforseeable weather and road conditions? Would this thing have me careening down the highway at 110km/h in the middle of a stage 5 blizzard?

    You can’t legislate away bad driving or solve it with gimmicky technology.


  2. twitchy67 on

    Well Chris, I must say that I agree with some of your comments, but some of them…well…not so much. First off, it’s not a question of paying higher fees because you’re a better driver…it’s paying higher fees because you’re a good driver who’s impatient. Plenty of very good drivers have no problem puttering along at the speed limit…and let em, I say. No, what I’m getting at here is more like the “Nexxus” line at customs or the “Prestige Frequent Flyer” lines at airports. You would pay for the right to have exclusivity of the lane, not pay for your driving abilities. What the stricter test is for is to make sure that 21 year old punks with riced up mustangs and no skills don’t drive in those lanes and cause accidents. 😛 (inside joke there people…)

    Would the vast majority of drivers opt for inclusion? I don’t think so…to use your own argument, with rising fuel prices and insurance costs, I believe the vast majority of drivers would opt NOT to use this. Remember, by the way, that this is a UTOPIAN idea; as in “In a perfect world, this would work”.

    I agree that an easily disabled machine machine for ticketing would be a problem; I was thinking more something embedded right into a license plate. Again; this is Utopian…I know the technical issues involved.

    The “homicidal idiocy of trying to remotely control the speed of vehicles on the highway” is a poorly thought out argument. For 40 years people have been speaking of creating a “proximity aware” car, and I believe we are pretty much there. Warning sensors for impending danger are not uncommon in cars that cost more than your typical american made bellybutton, and they’ve been putting governors on engines since the 70’s…it’s a pretty short step to meld the two. Obviously this type of control causes it’s own unique set of issues, but 110kmh in a stage 5 blizzard isn’t one of em…we already have the smart hiways, and it wouldn’t be all that complicated an algorithm to base the control settings on certain road condition factors.

    Of course, having my car controlled by a computer in a building somewhere doesn’t really appeal to me, and the opportunities for very dangerous vandalism would be there…but again…it’s a perfect-world-fantasy kind of idea.

    I agree that you can’t legislate out bad driving; but neither can you fix it in the present system.  Limit the bad drivers’ ability to be in a dangerous situation and you limit their danger to others.  And that you CAN legislate…it’s policing it that’s difficult.

    The other factors this doesn’t take into consideration are human condition factors…I may be able to ace the driving test at certain times of the day, but make me do it at 5:30 AM or after a rough night or when the boss is down my neck (which as you know never happens…) (yeah right) and it brings a whole new element of concentration and reaction times into it.  That’s why I called this a UTOPIAN idea…I know that in the real world it is fraught with logistical issues.

    BAM back.

  3. neil on

    hey clay

    check out some of jane jacob’s stuff. she wrote a lot about this:


  4. Cage on

    More government control, loss of privacy (like EZ Pass, the government will know where you are at all times); sounds like Communism is getting it’s foot in the door to me. Be careful what you wish for :-).

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