The problem of bumper-bullying is in the news and I’m disappointed this scandal hasn’t been described as ‘Tailgate’. It’s a story of people ‘getting too close’.

This crisis creates an open goal for problem-solving IoT creatives.

Today’s traffic jams could be unclogged with cheap, simple hardware and software upgrades to existing vehicles, according to the Massachusetts Institution of Technology (MIT)

We have to find a way to stop tailgating each other, say researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

It’s all about ‘bi-lateral control’ says MIT professor Berthold Horn, co-author of the report on Intelligent Transportation Systems.

Time to look behind

“Humans view the world in terms of what’s ahead of us, so it might seem counter-intuitive to look backwards,” says Horn. “But driving like this could have a dramatic effect in reducing travel time and fuel consumption.”

Since drivers won’t readily change their forward-looking ways, Horn suggests that car companies update their adaptive cruise-control systems and add sensors to both their front and rear bumpers. Most of today’s systems only have front sensors.

Isn’t looking backwards a bit impractical? Looking ahead of ourselves, as well as sideways, is confusing enough. Now we’ve got to look over our shoulders too? How will we get time to check our status and Tweet our accident pictures? Do these boffins ever think things through?

Meanwhile in Virginia, scientists have identified another human behaviour that needs modifying. It’s widely accepted that the closer you are to a traffic light, the better your chances of getting through before the light turns red again. So, when the lights go red, we are likely to get our jalopies in a bunch as we jostle for position.

This conventional traffic tactic is wrong, say professors and students who researched this at Virginia Tech College of Engineering.

Drone video evidence

Drone helicopters filmed cars accelerating through a traffic light on the Institute’s Smart Road, while the packing density of the cars was systematically varied. Analysis showed that the advantage of being close to the light was neutralised by the need to give the car a head start before drivers could accelerate.

Tailgating can cause more rear-end collisions. By contrast, being patient and widening the bumper-to-bumper spacing – even by a factor of 20 – made no difference to the time it takes to get through a green light.

Researchers used the thermodynamic concept of latent heat, the energy that a system loses during melting or evaporation, to describe what happens to cars stopped at a traffic light.

Again, they failed to take account of the influence of the mobile phone on tailgating drivers.

Bi-lateral control and thermodynamics both give these respective theories some weight. But I can’t help feeling they are over-complicating things. There’s a simple solution in there somewhere. Maybe public shaming of drivers will work. We’ve got the video evidence: let’s name and shame the modern day Nixons of the Tailgate Scandal.

The author is Nick Booth, freelance telecoms and IoT writer

Nick BoothNick Booth spent many years in IT departments, striving to translate tech jargon into the lingua franca of hospitals, banks and London’s Metropolitan Police traffic division. This skill has since been applied to explain technology to readerships ranging from The News of the World to Network Reseller, taking in every level of technical enthusiasm and understanding in between. He has helped telcos to explain their strategy to their dealers, helped global software vendors to explain to their channel partners that ‘It Takes Two To Tango’ and helped UK regulator, OFCOM to gain popular acceptance for new regulations. A veteran of the early days of mobile data, he provided comms support to deeply suspicious SIM card connected Traffic cops. As a result, he is particularly sympathetic to the challenges faced by Transport IoT installers.