You're driving home from work when the cars in front of you start hitting the brakes. Red lights flash everywhere, and you slow down. You think it must be a one-lane construction zone ahead, as you slow to five miles per hour, or a serious wreck. You sit in that traffic for 20 minutes before it slowly starts to speed back up and thin out, and you figure you'll see the cause of the delay any minute.
But you never do. There are no lines of traffic cones blocking off a lane. No one has rolled their car into the median, drawing in the emergency crews. It's just empty road.
You've probably wondered why these traffic jams happen, as they don't seem to have any cause. While there are numerous potential reasons -- people hitting their brakes as they go into a curve or a car accident that got cleaned up before you reached it -- one real consideration is simple: supply and demand.
Roads and Drivers
You know the population is increasing exponentially every year, but have you thought about the impact that has on cars? One report looked at the two-decade period between 1980 and 1999, and it found that the amount of miles people drove in a given year went up by a staggering 76 percent. Now, almost 20 years after that study, the numbers are even higher. As the population grows, the amount of people old enough to get behind the wheel naturally goes up with it.
Here's the problem: The amount of roadway for all of these drivers to share doesn't change very much. During the same timeframe from that study, the total distance went up by a mere 1.5 percent. That's almost no change.
Obviously, cramming 76 percent more drivers onto the existing roads, with barely an increase in roadway miles, means they all have to share roughly the same space. There's bound to be more congestion. Cars may have been nicely spread out decades ago, but now they're crammed in bumper to bumper.
Congestion and Accidents
Congestion is problematic, and it goes beyond just disrupting your commute. It can also lead to road rage and car accidents, and it's important to know if you can seek compensation after a crash.
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