Can Social Media Help To Reduce Traffic Congestion?

Social media may be the future of the internet, but may it one day stop traffic jams? As car companies increase the technology that is inside each of their cars, social media is being added as well. Facebook and Twitter may be the next way you find that I-5 is closed.

We use social media to inform our friends about getting engaged. We use social media to tell our followers about a special event in town. Will we soon be using social media to warn other drivers of an accident?

According to the experts, this is the future. Having social media available in cars will allow for more advanced traffic information. The future has already started to become reality; Ford’s Sync as well as the newly announced Toyota Entune will be implementing car mobile apps that will include many social media apps. Not to be out maneuvered General Motors OnStar has announced one upcoming feature on their latest model will be read aloud Facebook and Twitter updates.

Leading GPS service companies, such as TomTom and Garmin, rely on historical traffic data and do not take into account real time traffic conditions; this is a major issue for many drivers. Having a traffic service that intertwines historical traffic information with Facebook updates or Tweets can revolutionize traffic congestion. One company who is taking strides towards this future is Inrix. Inrix is a traffic service company that provides traffic information based on historical tracking mixed with real time traffic information. Inrix uses information gathered by clients on Android phones, the iPhone, as well as Microsoft’s Sync, used by Ford. Inrix also collects information on traffic congestion from over 3 million trucks, delivery vans, and other fleet vehicles that are equipped with GPS.

Inrix is unique in the way in which the company studies traffic analysis. Within the wealth of information gathered each day, Inrix tracks historical traffic data and weather conditions just as many other GPS traffic companies do, but Inrix goes a few steps further. The company includes statistics such as school bus routes, concerts, sporting events, even taken into account the legislative calendar in Washington D.C. Inrix is able to use all of this information to gather a clear picture of what a driver should expect to see on their commute.

While Inrix may be able to inform their users of what should be coming up on their drive, social media users will be able to tell companies such as Inrix what did come up on their drive. A school bus route may be predictable as well as a major sporting event, but what about the three car accident on the freeway? Having social media available on the in car console will allow drivers to pinpoint a new spot of congestion. Users of this new social media will be able to redirect their route to steer clear of traffic. Having an ever evolving map of your routes allows drivers to be more informed and less likely to cause further congestion by inducing another accident or rubbernecking.

While many experts believe that social media will help decrease traffic congestion in the future, there are others who might disagree, including Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us.) Vanderbilt believes that “any kind of real-time distributive mechanism can certainly help, but people are not Internet packets – they generally have their optimal travel times, travel patterns.” Vanderbilt also stated “The classic issue is if everyone is told road A is suddenly not congested, everyone shifts to road A, and it becomes congested. Past a certain point, when roads reach the sort of capacities that spill into stop-and-go traffic, route information isn’t going to matter much.” Simply put, having more information on traffic congestion only helps if there is a clear alternative. If everyone has to be at work at 8:00 am, than the alternative route is just as congested as the direct route.

While the critics of social media solving traffic congestion may be slow to accepting the concept, it does not mean social media will not have an effect. Having a city of traffic updaters will allow for each street and freeway to be Facebook updated or Tweeted up to the minute offering drivers at home a new route to avoid the current traffic jam. While each new driver is made aware of the oncoming traffic, drivers 30 minutes away will be able to alter their routes. While social media may not be able to end traffic jams it will indeed decrease the amount of time a traffic jam plugs a main artery of a city.