Wednesday 20 July 2005

Lighting the Way to a Better Traffic Flow

It occurred to me as I travelled down the Monash Freeway. The traffic at the time was not too heavy, and I was doing my best to achieve exactly 100kph - the magic point between attracting the eternal fury of my fellow driver by moving too slowly and the eternal fury of the police by travelling too fast.

A brown Holden was moving beside me, at precisely the same speed. Now we were both doing something quite dangerous, since by driving side by side we robbed ourselves of a potential escape route in case of trouble. However, this did give me an idea.

I realised it was quite easy for me to monitor my speed with this guy beside me. I was precisely aware of the smallest discrepancy between my speed and his. Any change in speed soon meant that I edged ahead or fell behind.

Contrast this with the difficulty in meeting the speed limit. Too fast and the law's long arm grabs me in a half Nelson. Too slow and I am chased for 45 minutes through the back streets of Glen Iris by irate commuters seeking to dislocate my limbs sequentially. If only it were so easy to drive at the speed limit. However to do so requires taking one's eyes off the road frequently to check the speedometer. Going up and down hills only makes this more difficult.

If only there were something moving beside me at the speed limit! This would instantly give me the ability to monitor my speed precisely using a standard negative feedback loop. Too slow, and I start to drop behind; too fast and I move ahead. Simple! In addition, the excuse that my speedometer is poorly calibrated disappears, and one more avenue for the chronic speed abuser is removed.

This may sound far-fetched, but it is not necessary for pace car drivers to be hired to drive along the freeway every 10 metres. The same effect could be achieved using lights on the side of the road. These could flash on and off like dots on a TV screen, giving the impression of a moving light going at the speed limit. People driving along would know the moment they began to speed or drop off the speed.

Not only would this reduce the incidence of speeding on our Melbournian roads, but it would also lead to greater discipline in the traffic, as people who were travelling too slowly would be reminded of it constantly. In my opinion, people travelling too slowly are as much a cause of accidents as people travelling too fast.

So what do you think? I think this idea is gold. I don't know how much it would cost, but given the vast number of lights and electronics on the roads at the moment, I have to believe it would prove feasible.

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