2017-08-23

A Driving Paradigm Shift

I know none of you ever feel frustrated on the road, but sometimes when I'm driving, believe it or not, my patience wears a little thin. But my commute is pretty long, and so I've had a lot of time to think about driving calmly, quickly, and efficiently - what works, and what doesn't.

Well, I've discovered two things and between the two of them they have completely revolutionized the way I think about driving. So I'm passing along the info in case you find it useful.

First: "Queue versus Flow"

I think most people view traffic as a queue. In fact, in the UK, they use the word "queue" in place of the phrase "traffic jam." The problem with conceiving of traffic as a queue, though, is that it biases you into believing (erroneously) that every car in front of you is delaying your arrival at your destination. 

Of course, that's silly. If you're traveling 45 mph down the road, you will travel 45 miles over the span of an hour whether there are 3 cars ahead of you or 300. 

Knowing this, I starting conceiving of traffic as a flow. What matters in a flow is not how many particles there are, but how fast they're all going, on average. Most traffic events that we all experience only set us back a total of, say, 2 or 3 minutes. It's tempting to lose your patience if someone cuts in front of you and slows you down, but this doesn't really impact your average speed in most cases. You might arrive a few seconds later, but if traffic is a flow and not a queue, then who cares? 

Second, my Eco Display

My car has a really cool feature called "Eco Display," which tracks how much energy you save based on the way you drive. It has three separate meters: One tracks energy savings captured by making light use of the accelerator; One tracks energy savings captured by how much you coast, rather than using the brake; And the third tracks energy savings captured by maintaining a relatively constant speed, rather than speeding up and slowing down repeatedly. 

It looks like this:
Image result for Mercedes Eco Display

In light of the fact that I see traffic as a "flow" now, I make really good use of the Eco Display. I accelerate slowly and leave lots of space between myself and the next car, so that I can minimize use of the brake pedal and maintain as close to a constant average speed as possible, given traffic conditions. 

It's amazing to see how many cars will angrily pass me as I accelerate, only to slam on their brakes a few seconds later as they catch up to the next car, and then within seconds I've caught up to them. And since I have more space in front of me to see traffic, I can usually anticipate slow-downs, change lanes, keep my constant average speed, and pass the people who thought they were passing me.

It's like a whole new paradigm. It's totally changed the way I drive. I love it.