The 4th Humour
uninfluential words from an uninfluenced man
Bile humour Apathetic hemetic Fluent indifferent Emetic Phlegmatic

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Monday, June 07, 2004
Highway Cooperation

Traffic is a favorite example of those discussing cooperation and defection. If only everyone went the speed limit, if only truckers only drive at night, if only people merged more readily during construction, if only--well, there wouldn't be traffic.

On the expressways just outside Grand Rapids, Michigan, an extraordinary traffic phenomenon has evolved, though it may be happening in other places, too. Here is what I witnessed:

Cruising along, I noticed cars merged into the right-hand lane as far as I could see. The left lane was entirely clear, save a black pickup-truck, rolling alongside at the same slow speed as the right-hand lane. Another car had just passed it on the left shoulder. I suspected what was going on, but since I don't live in the area, figured I'd defect and see what was going on (as I wouldn't have to face the iterative consequences of my actions).

I drove in the left-hand lane, passing everyone until I got to the truck. Shortly afterwards, the truck decided to merge into traffic (without problems, I add), and I took off again. Suddenly out of the right-hand lane, some other car starts to pull out in front of me to stop me! I didn't let up my speed, though, and he decided to merge back before I crashed into his car. When I finally made it to the obligatory merging site--where the construction cones were--the first person there waved me in! Amazing.

Before long, the left-hand lane opened up again, but only briefly. The impatient car ahead of me (the one who passed the black truck before me) pulled into it, only to be blocked by the car in front of him. He shouted out his window and waved his arms in fury, wondering what-the-hell this car's problem was. This happened more than once.

I later told my friend from the area about this, and he confirmed how crazy it seemed. Sometimes, he said, two cars will crawl along in the left-hand lane to prevent people from passing in the shoulder.

I have no doubts that this made my passage through construction more efficient (even without my defection). The irony I did witness, however, is that the lack of impatient tailgating prevented traffic from picking up (as it SHOULD) once it was merged. Instead, it choked until it finally split into two lanes again, crawling along as if there were an accident at the end of the bottleneck (there wasn't).

This cooperation surely evolved as an iterated case, where many people on the route were locals who took it day by day and saw the value in upholding this new driving code. I felt like a prick, being the defector, but hey, it was purely academic interest I tell you.