March 1, 2005

Changing lanes isn’t any faster, study says

Toronto, Ontario – Is traffic in the next lane moving faster when you’re stuck in a jam? According to a study by two University of Toronto researchers, the answer is no.

The study also concludes that not only will weaving back and forth between lanes not get you to your destination any sooner, it can put you and your passengers at risk.

Changing lanes “gets you there in about the same time, but lane changes can cause car accidents,” said Dr. Robert Tibshirani, who co-authored the study with Dr. Donald Redelmeier. The pair used computers to simulate two lanes of stop-and-go highway traffic that were travelling at the same overall average speed.

“The simulation showed that if you looked over to the other lane, you would see more cars passing your eyes than you expect to see,” Tibshirani said. “It’s sort of an illusion. The other lane looks faster when in fact it’s not.”

The illusion is created by the fact that if you’re not moving, you’re watching cars pull away from you. “You’re looking over at a random time and if you happen to see a car that goes by you, you assume that the lane is going faster,” Tibshirani said. “The only way to really know how fast the lanes are moving is to stand on the side of the road.”

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