Game Theory of Traffic

For those of you who have ever argued with me, you would know how I ascribe the traffic conditions on Indian roads to low IQ. That obviously is hyperbole but, this is my attempt to coherently put down my thoughts on it. Arguing that it essentially is a failure to solve a repeated prisoners dilemma game.

Driving on a road can be modeled as a game. I can choose to cooperate and be stuck behind the car in front of me, or I can choose to not cooperate and not cooperate and overtake the car. Now, let us break this down.

Round 1: If I am new to a city/country/planet and am only going to be there for a day. I see that I am stuck behind a car whereas the opposite lane is completely empty. I have every incentive to not cooperate and switch to the opposite lane. Thus saving time and I win.

Round 2: Other people see this and see that it is in their interest to not follow lane rules and decide to not-cooperate. Which brings us to a situation where it is a loosing strategy to cooperate and everyone loses out due to the sub-optimal Nash equilibrium.

Hence, it can be argued that the chaos that is driving in India is essentially a sub-optimal Nash equilibrium.

Now, things get interesting. the way around this dilemma is to repeat the action of the opposing player i.e. if he cooperates, you cooperate in the next round, if he does not cooperate, you punish him by not cooperating in the next round. This is helpful if one of the players is illogical and there is some amount of randomness in the choices he makes. If on the other hand, everyone is logical (as economist are wont to argue) one bad move or initial condition, and the system again gets stuck in a sub-optimal equilibrium. The solution to this problem is “altruism” i.e. you need to forgive the other player after a certain number of moves. If everyone is logical then at some point, an optimal equilibrium will be achieved.

In 70 years, Indian drivers have failed to solve this basic problem hence my argument that the sub-optimal driving conditions result from either a low-IQ or a lack of social capital. The development of social capital is beyond the scope of this post so let us leave it here and assume that it has been achieved.

At some point in the future, let is imagine that India becomes like Germany and everyone chooses to cooperate every time. Now let us play the game again. Do I cooperate or not? If I choose to not cooperate, I have an empty lane to take advantage of whereas all the lemmings follow the rules! Oops!


About Roy

Ce n'est pas moi
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