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Then when drivers travel through the jam, they are confronted by open road and are on their way again.

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This process, Dr Wilson and his team discovered, create 'stop and go waves', where by huge sections of motorway traffic are forced to travel slower than they should. We are finding that if you slow cars down you get better fuel economy and faster journey times.

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In certain situations a tipping point is reached that magnifies small effects to create large changes that can involve hundreds of vehicles and which may be a couple of miles long.

This very small difference in speed is magnified as each vehicle behind the original car slows down a little more.

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Under the right conditions, any one of these innocuous events can create the 'perfect storm' which Dr Wilson said can lead to 'traffic chaos'. He found that a minor event such a car's lane change can cause the all the vehicles around it to slow down slightly.


They are the 'phantom traffic jams' and they have the power to completely ruin a bank holiday. Most watched News videos. Dr Eddie Wilson, from the University of Bristol, unveiled research showing that, under the right conditions, one individual's bad driving can create 'a traffic tsunami which can affect traffic up to 50 miles away'.

While accidents did cause tailbacks, the researchers found that the major cause of congestion was nothing more sinister than sharp braking, unnecessary lane changes and lorries overtaking one another.

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One motorist's bad driving can cause a 'traffic tsunami' They appear from out of nowhere, cause chaos for hours on end then disappear without a trace. Dr Wilson, from Bristol's Department of Engineering Mathematics, used the M42 data to create a mathematical model of traffic flow.

Working with a team of fellow mathematicians, Dr Wilson analysed driver behaviour on a mile stretch of the M42, which is one of Britain's busiest stretches of motorways.

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Yesterday it was revealed that phantom traffic jams - queues of stationary cars that develop for no apparent reason - can be caused by the actions of just one driver.