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.