2015-08-25

(Traffic) Signal Versus Noise

I have a fairly long daily commute, and accordingly, I've spent a lot of time observing traffic patterns and behavior. Every city that I've ever driven in has its own unique "driving personality," i.e. sets of behaviors that are more common within that city than outside of it. I'm sure you've noticed the same thing, and maybe you've also noticed that if you spend some time acquainting yourself with a city's "driving personality," you can often guess what a fellow motorist will do long before they do it - maybe even before they know they'll do it. This isn't a special or unique skill, it's just part of being an attentive driver.

I often get a kick out of motorists on a busy freeway who dart between lanes in an attempt to travel as quickly as possible. Many of them will change lanes as soon as they see a spot in traffic that might enable them to pass a small subset of cars. They change lanes, pass a few cars, and then wait for their next opening to pass the next subset.

This is funny to me because a lot of these vehicles must be well accustomed to driving these routes at that time of day on a regular basis. They're responding to the "noise," i.e. the momentary traffic patterns that might enable them to pass a few other cars, but they're ignoring the "signal."

In this case, the "signal" is the long-term trend. I drive more or less the same route every day. I don't need to dart between lanes and pass a few cars at a time because I'm already familiar with which lanes are, on average, faster than the others at which point on the road.

I've occasionally surprised people by how quickly I commute on the route I choose to drive. People assume I'm speeding most of the time, but I'm not. I simply pay attention to which point on the road is usually the best time to change lanes. On average, I easily cruise past the drivers who are constantly changing lanes because they make a wrong move that holds them back. Meanwhile, while I seldom make a "winning move," I never choose wrong.

On any given day, another motorist driving the same route might make it faster to my destination than I do. But, on average, I always save time compared to others, and especially compared to hastier drivers who are always trying to pass the next car ahead of them.

What's your favorite traffic trick?