Most gridlock strikes when the quick braking of one driver ripples rapidly down a string of cars. “There is no accident, there is no bottleneck—it is a phantom blockage,” says Berthold K. P. Horn, a computer scientist at MIT. Horn recently developed an algorithm that shows traffic can flow more smoothly when people follow certain rules. Here’s what you can do to help:
Pay attention to the car behind you, and maintain an equal distance between it and the car ahead. With a buffer, if the driver in front briefly brakes, you won’t pass the hiccup along.
Drive at the same speed as the cars around you. Accelerating to catch up to the vehicle ahead will result in braking or switching lanes, which may force another driver to slow suddenly.
Buy a car with an adaptive cruise-control system to automatically sync your speed with surrounding traffic. Or, save up for when a self-driving car hits the market.
This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Popular Science.