After the Department of Transportation’s most recent study, data is still inconclusive as to how most of the nation isn’t dead after every morning rush hour. The study found that on average 6 out of every 7 drivers are either half or entirely asleep at any given moment between 5:00 and 8:00 am. Analysts reviewed close to ten thousand hours of footage from two-way dashcams using specialized software to understand the behaviors of drivers. The film recorded interesting data points, such as Keith from Alexandria, VA who would periodically fall asleep on Interstate 395 and later wake up in a Kmart shopping center. On the opposite end of the country Maria in San Diego, CA is asleep the entire time she drives to work and, later revealed in a follow-up interview, generally doesn’t wake up until lunch.
The leading hypothesis is that the system works by having one awake driver in every cluster of asleep or semi-conscious drivers. The awake drivers then spare no time in honking or yelling obscenities anytime the other drivers are close to colliding or doing something wrong, thus ensuring a steady throughput in the system. Since just about everyone’s asleep, however, the throughput moves at a glacial pace.
One would think such a massive volume of unconscious drivers would lead to carnage all over America but in a way that seems to be what protects it. If you had a lot of sane drivers and a few reckless drivers, the reckless drivers would be very disruptive because the sane drivers are expecting a certain norm of driving behavior, and they’d have difficulty adapting to the reckless behavior. On the other hand, sleeping drivers don’t really expect driving norms from other people, and when there’s primarily chaos on the road it somehow harmonizes; it’s like a double negative that cancels itself out instead of increasing the magnitude of the negative. Kind of like when you have a fraction of the retirement savings that you’ll need but then learn a terminal illness will kill you in 6 months so it all works out.
Researchers still speculate about what’s causing drivers to be tired but the two leading theories are that they’re put to sleep by listening to boring NPR stories about goat cheese, or that they’ve lost sleep the night before by thinking about how their country is currently being run by an angry Dorito.
We look forward seeing the Department of Transportation’s further results from motion tracking analytics and Monte Carlo simulations, but for now we’re simply left in awe as to how we all haven’t murdered each other every day.
(Photo by Nabeel Syed.)