Faster to ride through traffic or pull over for a bit?
April 30, 2010 10:20 AM   Subscribe

If you are stuck in traffic on the highway and you have a choice to pull off the highway into the rest stop and then go back on your way later or keep on going with the traffic (with intention to stop after you get through the traffic) which one will be faster?

Also, does it matter if the traffic is caused by an accident or normal rush hour traffic?
posted by D Wiz to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total)
 
I'm a bit confused about the scene you've set up. If your goal is to make it from point A to point B the earliest, it is obviously better to keep going in the traffic, because once the traffic has cleared, the car that was in the traffic is ahead of the cars waiting behind the traffic.

If your goal is to make it from point A to point B the fastest (least actual travel time), it is obviously better to wait until the traffic has cleared, because then you won't have to wait in traffic.

What scenario are you asking about here?
posted by brainmouse at 10:26 AM on April 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


i think there will be an added delay caused by attempting to merge into the jam, so it is better to wait
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:27 AM on April 30, 2010


I think it would definitely depend on the manner of the traffic jam, time of day, where you are, etc. etc. There are far too many variables for this to be predictable.

If I recall, I enjoyed playing with this traffic simulator at one point in time - I can't download the plugin right now so I can't confirm if its the one I'm thinking of.
posted by Think_Long at 10:28 AM on April 30, 2010


Staying in traffic. The only way to do better is to get in front of the jam and getting off doesn't do that.
posted by rbs at 10:29 AM on April 30, 2010


Do you mean you will stop for the same amount of time either way, you're just asking if the timing of the stop matters? Then yes, it can matter.

If you're stopped for a constant amount of time, then the total amount of time spent depends purely on speed, and if traffic actually clears up during the first hypothetical stop, then you'll save time overall. Though who knows, traffic could get worse.

However, if you're talking about taking a break versus not taking a break at all, that will always be slower.
posted by kmz at 10:29 AM on April 30, 2010


Not stopping is faster than stopping.
posted by rhizome at 10:29 AM on April 30, 2010


i think there will be an added delay caused by attempting to merge into the jam, so it is better to wait

There are scenarios, different from the one describe above, where getting off without stopping can be advantageous. Namely, if there's a frontage road with light traffic and/or few stop lights. In those cases, you can certainly get ahead of where you had been in the jam.
posted by kmz at 10:32 AM on April 30, 2010


I am referring to the scenario that kmz has stated. Sorry that my question was unclear. You will stop for a constant amount of time either way, the question is whether it makes sense to pull over now or later.

However, I think the question also applies to stopping vs. not stopping (which is why I phrased the question the way I did). If one stops, the traffic (which may be moving 5-10 mph) may clear and then when one gets back on the road they will be able to drive at the speed limit (50-70mph) making their travel time equal (or possibly shorter) than it would have been. The benefit to this is that the person is able to get out and stretch/eat/use bathroom without any increase in travel time. Is this likely?
posted by D Wiz at 10:35 AM on April 30, 2010


The absolute best case scenario will mean that pulling over and stopping will get you to your destination at exactly the same time as you would have gotten there without stopping, but that is, in practice, not going to happen.

This about your car splitting in two, one stays on and one gets off. For the one that got off to arrive at your destination sooner it would have to pass the one that stayed on and since you're driving both cars you aren't going to drive one faster than the other under the same conditions.
posted by magnetsphere at 10:36 AM on April 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


So you saying you are making a trip from point A to point B, and at some time before reaching point B you are going to stop for exactly 30 minutes, no matter what. Right?

And then you hit major traffic at some point, traffic you know will clear up soon. The question is would it be better to stop and take the 30 minute break then, or after getting through the jam.

If the traffic jam is going to clear, it would be better and quicker to take the break and wait out the traffic. The distance covered over 30 minutes of driving would be greater later (and you're going to cover zero distance at some time anyway.)
posted by Some1 at 10:38 AM on April 30, 2010


It will always be quicker to stay in the jam, unless there is some shortcut involved in stopping that will leapfrog part or all of the traffic jam. The only way to get through a jam efficiently is to keep your place in it. Any cars you let in front of you will get through quicker than you will.

You will only ever potentially reduce your driving time (ie time in the car) by stopping while the jam clears. It would be impossible to reduce your overall journey time.
posted by Brockles at 10:40 AM on April 30, 2010


when one gets back on the road they will be able to drive at the speed limit (50-70mph) making their travel time equal (or possibly shorter) than it would have been.

It will never, ever be shorter than not stopping. When you get back on the clear road after stopping, the 'you' that didn't stop is x minutes (= to the amount of time you stopped for) up the road and also doing 50mph now the blockage is over. It's nonsensical to stop as a means of trying to save time.
posted by Brockles at 10:42 AM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think either way it's the same as making a bet - you have no way of knowing if you're going to win. The driver who stops and waits it out is making a bet that the traffic is going to ease up sufficiently for him to be able to catch up with the other driver who stays in the traffic and that this will happen later rather than sooner. The driver in the traffic is making a bet that the traffic will ease up sooner rather than later, while the resting driver is resting, sufficient to give him a head start. They will both have to use the information at hand about that particular jam to make their decisions. Rush hour traffic usually has predictable start and end times, whereas accident traffic is unpredictable in length, start time, and distance.
posted by amethysts at 10:43 AM on April 30, 2010


This question can not be answered. There are too many unknown factors.
posted by HuronBob at 10:58 AM on April 30, 2010


What Brockles said.

Also, keep in mind that "faster" can be a subjective experience. You could spend an identical time actually in the car, but because you pulled over and relaxed, the overall journey could feel faster and less stressful.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:01 AM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks for all the great answers!
posted by D Wiz at 11:07 AM on April 30, 2010


If one stops, the traffic (which may be moving 5-10 mph) may clear and then when one gets back on the road they will be able to drive at the speed limit (50-70mph) making their travel time equal (or possibly shorter) than it would have been.

I know the speed here is seductive, but look at it a different way: which option will put fewer cars between you and your destination? You may be able to get back on the freeway at freeway speeds after waiting for the traffic to clear, but you will have everybody in front of you that has passed by since you pulled off. How much faster do you think you will be going than the car that was right in front of you when you pulled off? How much further ahead do you think they'll be once traffic clears and you decide to get back on the road?
posted by rhizome at 11:10 AM on April 30, 2010


This is one reason why people argue in cars. I think it might also matter where the epicenter of the blockage is located (which is often a soul-crushing unknown) and how long the offramp-frontage road-onramp is (which is sometimes an unknown). I'd go for the road less traveled and try to make the most of the time...you have to live through it either way, but spending it staring at trees vs. the bumper back can be rejuvenating.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:18 AM on April 30, 2010


I'll tell you this much - if you were real low on money (say you could barely afford enough gas to get to your destination) but had no time constraints, then you would DEFINITELY want to pull off and stop and wait until the traffic cleared.

Your fuel efficiency at a constant 55-65 mph is exponentially greater than your fuel efficiency at an average 5mph in stop and go traffic.
posted by de void at 11:35 AM on April 30, 2010


If you will definitely spend time stopped, then the best time to do that in order to minimize the total trip time is at the point in your trip when traffic is moving the slowest. Regardless of what traffic does, you cannot do worse than being stopped at the slowest point, assuming you will definitely stop at some point. Whether or not you could gauge this point accurately is open for debate.

If the choice is between stopping and continuing, your travel time will always be shorter if you stay on the road. However, the difference could be quite small. For example, if traffic is down to 10mph and you stop for 30 minutes, during which time traffic increases to 60mph, your total travel time will only be five minutes longer than if you had stayed on the road.
posted by Nothing at 1:23 PM on April 30, 2010


And to answer the last part of your question: I think it would make a difference if the traffic was normal rush hour traffic versus traffic caused by an unexpected event such as an accident. This is because, in the first scenario where you know you are going to make a stop but are trying to decide when, you will better be able to decide when the best time to be off the road is if it is normal rush hour traffic.

If it is 4:30, you probably want to stop near the end of the trip, as rush hour traffic is going to get worse. If it is 7:30, you want to stop as soon as possible, because traffic is going to be much better after a short break.
posted by Nothing at 1:27 PM on April 30, 2010


For example, if traffic is down to 10mph and you stop for 30 minutes, during which time traffic increases to 60mph, your total travel time will only be five minutes longer than if you had stayed on the road.

You would have to average 60mph when you got back on the road for the rest of your journey to only be 5 minutes behind, assuming the traffic you were then in remained at 60, as did the traffic to your destination. Any variations of traffic speed (that being 30 minutes later on the road would likely cause) would affect the time lost - always for the worst. The time taken to slow down and speed back up again would have to be included in the 30 minute break, too. In addition, the traffic would have to have been exactly at 10mph for every single minute of the time you were stopped (including deccel and accel) and be instantly capable of 60mph when you restart to make your 5 minute example valid. In addition, your destination would have to be more than 5 miles away for you to keep the time loss down to 5 minutes (ie not enough time at 60mph otherwise to 'make up' the time of the jam).

The answer is misleading and as such is inaccurate in a real world situation. Any variation from the mathematical ideal of your example (that gives such a small, 5 minute, delay) would increase the extra time significantly. I think it's a more accurate conclusion from your example that it will take you a minimum of 12 minutes of driving at the higher speed before you can reduce your advantage down to only 5 minutes even in a mathematically perfect situation. In reality, you'd need a greater distance (or by speeding, perhaps) to get the loss down to the minimum, and I think it'd be more than 5 minutes at a minimum in real applications.
posted by Brockles at 2:42 PM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


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