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‘Selfish’ driving habits are making your commute slower

Taking the scenic route to work may seem counter-productive, but a study has found it may actually help reduce congestion.

Just a slight change to your usual route could make the busiest roads less, well, busy, allowing everyone to get work that faster, according to research from the University of Birmingham in old Blighty and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US.

In a report titled ‘Understanding congested travel in urban areas’, researchers Serdar Colak, Antonio Lima and Marta C Gonzalez looked at how drivers travel between the US cities of Boston and San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Lisbon and Porto in Portugal.

Millions of journeys were analysed using a mixture of OpenStreetMap and local authority road data, allowing the researchers to keep tabs on the average journey and the routes drivers commonly choose.

The data revealed an average of 15 to 30 per cent of the total minutes lost due to congestion were caused by “selfish routing” – between 12 and 18 minutes on an hour-long journey.

Using a software model that assumed motorists in cities took more socially-aware routes, marginal time improvements of between one and three minutes on short journeys were seen.

Not exactly going to help you get back in time for Coronation Street, then, but the researchers said cities would benefit from 30 per cent less congestion across an entire city, which would significantly speed things up, reduce pollution and lower fuel bills.

Even the slightest adjustment in “selfish routing” made a great difference to the cumulative economic cost of congestion, adding that ‘the number of drivers who benefit outnumber those who sacrifice’.

Sadly there are two main issues. Firstly, the benefit is achieved at the expense of a few drivers who make the sacrifice in the first place, which leads to the second problem: persuading drivers to take a different route.

One solution could involve giving motorists incentives such as vouchers or points within navigation apps, researchers noted. Already cities where the Waze navigation app is used has resulted in different driver habits.

Navigation apps like Waze and cleverer sat navs that provide multiple routes home based on different criteria (most eco-friendly, for instance) could help the situation, an accompanying report titled ‘Recalculating! By not driving the optimal route you’re causing traffic jams’ said.

Taking a slower route may not be an option all the time, especially when certain routes will be restricted by a bottleneck of some sort, doing it once in a while may just make a difference – and with an increasing number of cars on the road any improvement is a good thing.

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