You’re Stopping at Traffic Lights Wrong!

Do you line up bumper-to-bumper when approaching a traffic light? Though driver training groups say it’s a no-no likely to increase one’s risk of a collision, researchers at the Virginia Tech College of Engineering say it’s a “widely accepted” practice based on the idea that “the closer a car is to a traffic light, the more likely that car will be to pass through the intersection before the light turns red again.”

The science behind that: Well, there isn’t any.

After recording footage of 10 volunteer drivers at traffic lights, researchers say in a release that those who stopped close to cars in front of them, and therefore closer to traffic lights, gained no advantage over drivers who stopped at a distance of up to 25 feet, because the former group had to establish space before accelerating once the light turned green.

The research, published in the New Journal of Physics, also confirmed that tailgating leads to more rear-end collisions. “When my father was teaching me how to drive, he told me that to prevent an accident, you should stop so you can easily see the rear bumper of the car in front of you at a traffic light,” says researcher Farzad Ahmadi. But “I’ve never done that until I analyzed the data of this experiment.” It shows “there’s no point in getting closer to the car in front of you when traffic comes to a stop,” adds study co-author Jonathan Boreyko.

In other cases, it does pay to get close, however. A similar experiment performed using pedestrians found “the closer people got to each other, the faster they could empty the line” since humans can accelerate “very quickly,” Boreyko says.

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