TBR: Traffic

Ok so it's Thursday not Tuesday, but I wanted to post about this book while I still remember the points I wanted to make.  This week's book is Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), by Tom Vanderbilt.  It's an engaging book, about something that most of us do, but generally don't think much about. 

While there's a bunch of different examples in the book, it mostly comes down to two main arguments:

  • Things designed to keep us safe while driving (divided highways,  signs, seat belts) mostly have the effect of making us FEEL safe, thereby encouraging us to act in more risky ways.  We're probably more safe when we feel a bit less safe, and thus drive slower and pay more attention.
  • There's a huge correlation between risky driving and other risky behaviors.  The people who are mostly likely to speed are least likely to be persuaded to wear a seat belt just because it's the law.

My neighborhood email list has been having endless discussions of traffic calming, with people getting extremely heated about the possibility of speed bumps.  Vanderbilt suggests that the best way to slow people down is to have lots of people walking along the roads, using the median, etc.  And it's certainly true that I slow WAY down when I see the neighborhood kids riding their bikes in the street.   But I'm not real happy about having my kids act as human speed bumps.  (There are no sidewalks in our part of the neighborhood.  And they did in fact come closer than I'd like to getting squashed by a garbage truck while waiting for a school bus the other day.)

So, I thought the book was interesting.  But I'm not quite sure what to do with the information it gave me.

4 Responses to “TBR: Traffic”

  1. kathy a. Says:

    i’m not likely to be very helpful, because [a] i was raised by a father who investigated traffic accidents and such for a living, so i heard just the most awful things, and [b] risky drivers, speedy drivers, speed and heights just freak me the hell out.
    so if you are driving behind a cautious person who is disinclined to go over the speed limit and keeps watching for hazards like YOU TAILGATING ME AND HONKING or YOU CUTTING 3 INCHES IN FRONT OF ME AT 70 MPH, please keep in mind that i’m trying not to hyperventilate and also trying to avoid the accident of doom.
    also, the part of berkeley right by the UC campus is a 40-year experiment in making pedestrians king of the road. i don’t have any stats, but the wandering herds do in fact seem to slow cars down. so do the speed bumps, and the one-way streets, and the roads blocked by giant concrete barriers, many decorated as community projects.
    there is a windy narrow road by my house that is festooned with “slow for children” signs, but i actually think the line of parked cars with broken-off side mirrors and dented sides is more effective.

  2. merseydotes Says:

    We have a friend who is a bit extreme and conservative, and he swears the single thing that government could do to decrease traffic accidents would be to mount a giant spike in the middle of every steering wheel.
    What I took away from the book is that I now am an unabashed late merger.

  3. Jennifer Says:

    In an alternate universe my husband is a race car driver. If certain things in his life had been different, I’m quite sure that’s the career path he would have followed. So I can comment from the other perspective… — He says, over and over, point #1. If people feel safe in a car then they become more careless, they pay less attention, and they get *bored* so they talk on the phone or what-have-you. He would not reverse today’s safety standards but he would outlaw automatic cars and all the comfort features which mask the feel of a car driving. (He drives a 20yo BMW because he says he can feel the road better in it.)
    I would agree with #2 — my husband has a much higher tolerance for risk than I do — but would disagree with the conclusion that speeders don’t wear seatbelts. Careless people don’t wear seatbelts. Speeders are not necessarily careless… People who *really* drive are more likely to want a 5-point harness because it holds them in the seat while they’re cornering!

  4. bj Says:

    “What I took away from the book is that I now am an unabashed late merger. ”
    My husband tries to regulate his speed in “stop and go” traffic to avoid the break.
    PS: I would make a rule that all streets with houses on them have sidewalks. I know it’s not perfect, ’cause what about those rural lanes with long driveways (they can’t have sidewalks). But, I’m deeply opposed to suburban cul de sacs with no sidewalks. I don’t even understand the design decision — I’m guessing they wanted to save real estate.

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