Whether you’ve owned a car, bummed a ride or taken the bus at some point in your life, you’ve likely experienced the teeth-grinding, soul-sucking frustration of a traffic jam. Like drive-through fast food and tree-shaped air fresheners, traffic is a core part of the automotive experience, one that’s loathed by drivers and passengers alike. But what causes it? And more importantly, is there a fix?

In simple terms, traffic occurs when the demand for space on a road is greater than the capacity available. While a huge proportion of traffic is simply a result of the sheer quantity of vehicles on the road, much of it is caused by factors ranging from accidents, to roadwork, to human error.

“A highway can accommodate right around 2,000 vehicles per hour per lane, with an optimum speed between 63 to 72 kilometres per hour. Until somebody sneezes,” said Tim Payne, principal at Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates.You’ve experienced this: somebody taps their brakes because somebody pulled in front of them. Then, the next person taps their brakes a little harder, and the next person. Down the road, traffic is dead stopped simply because someone tapped their brakes a half mile in front of them. That’s what happens when the space between cars starts to get too close—human reaction and, eventually, overreaction starts to take effect.”

Traffic jams often happen in waves, caused by human error.

A domino effect of human error

This cascading domino effect is sometimes referred to as a shockwave traffic jam. In 2008, Japanese researchers replicated the phenomenon on a test track using 22 vehicles driving on a 230-meter single-lane circuit. Drivers were asked to go a steady 30 km/h and for a while, the traffic flow moved smoothly. But as minor fluctuations in following distance compounded, the flow broke down. Eventually, several cars were forced to a standstill. The researchers found that the shockwave traveled backwards through the loop at around 20 km/h—a number that roughly aligns with observations in the real world.

Why not start a jam in the traffic?

When you’re stuck in gridlock, sometimes sweet relief is way closer than you think. With the comfy interior of your Ford, you have a virtual music listening room all around you—and what better way to beat the traffic blues than with a sing-along powered by a great sound system and Sync?

Ford’s voice-activated system allows you to cue up all your favourite tunes via Bluetooth from your smartphone or optional satellite radio. It’s a great way to make the musical most out of the time you spend in your Ford while you keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.