A Question About Traffic Flow

Semi-relevant pic for your time:

When my wife and I were in Iceland this past October, we were in a bit of shock when we arrived. The previous day we had been at a wedding where it was sunny and 70. We had a lot of fun, and therefore were exhausted when we took the red-eye flight to Iceland the next day; on top of that we were barely able to eek out 2 hours of sleep on the plane.

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We were lashed by 40F air with 35-50mph winds and icy cold rain as we loaded up our rental manual Jimny to drive into Reykjavic at I guess 7:00 am, in semi-darkness (2:00am our time?) It was so windy that a box truck I nervously passed on the road was leaning, like a LOT, with the wind, even as it was going 100km/h.

But as we came into the populated area around Reykjavic, we kept going in and out of a series of roundabouts, with small backups leading into them, queues, if you will, although the Icelandic word is probably more like ikaelottefjordsjordokkull, pronounced, “ahfuck” But I noticed something after a few of these small traffic backups, whatever you want to call them.

This is the whole point of my stupid story, right here. As we approached a line of cars going up over hills and around corners, leading into an intersection or roundabout, there were hardly any brake lights. And there was no “stop-and-go” nature at all; rather, everyone crawled along in just about the perfect speed for first gear, maybe second. In most cars, first gear can get you down below 5mph and up to around 20 pretty comfortably. If you stay in one gear, you can creep along without having to shift, and not only do things move along better, but it’s easier on your car - whether manual or not. This is how traffic should work, and I bet there aren’t any fender benders when every is magically crawling along together like this, as opposed to the stop-go-look at facebook BAM traffic we have here in the US.

It was absolutely magical, and I said then, it’s because everyone is driving a manual. Now I know there are congested cities in Europe where no matter what percentage of manuals there are, you’re going to sit in traffic. But something about Iceland’s traffic was just the smoothest thing I’d ever seen in what I would have called a traffic jam. And in the US, we would have been creeping along, stopping, going a little, stopping, etc. I have no doubt. Even in my tiny little town, there’s a roundabout, and if there are more than 4 cars waiting to get into it, all four are stopped, with no more than the width of a watermelon between any two of them. 

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So what gives? Why was everyone creeping along so perfectly, and how? Iceland’s culture? Dominance of manuals plus only moderate traffic... ? I’ve been meaning to ask this, and only just now am I getting around to it.

What say, you, Oppo?

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