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Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says about Us)

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  • Posted March 4, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What This Says A

    “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What This Says About Us)” by Tom Vanderbilt is ostensibly a book about traffic, but it is really a (very fascinating) book about why people act the way they do. Traffic is merely used as a behavioral prism. Many overarching themes come to the forefront, themes such as humans are social animals and what is more dangerous may actually be safer and that safety measures make something more dangerous.

    Humans as social animals: cars and many traffic setups don’t foster socialization. That’s why many people’s personalities change when they’re behind the wheel. The roads are flat, uniform, charmless, choked with signs, impersonal. People are not seeing these other drivers again, so, sure, cut in front, give the finger, yell curses. Knock yourself out. And how dare that pedestrian or cyclist try to mess with the system? I’m trying to get somewhere, and these people are streaming across the crosswalk! Oh, the humanity.

    Which do you think is more dangerous: a wide, straight road where all buildings and sidewalks are set way back from the road OR a narrower, jostling street where children and pets play near the road’s edge? How about an intersection versus a roundabout? The answer to both questions is the second choice. Why? Humans are AWARE of the risk and so act more safely. They must socialize with other drivers/pedestrians/cyclists to maneuver the road or roundabout.

    Basically, humans have a risk threshold. Safety measures sometimes backfire because they then lead drivers to feel safer and therefore, drivers act less responsibly (examples: talk on cellphone, drive faster). Also, signage often isn’t necessary. People in fancy department stores don’t need signs telling them not to spit, so let’s give ourselves a little credit and follow the example of these localities that cut down on signs and therefore, on traffic wrecks and fatalities.

    The book offers a neat parallel of the risk concept to climbers of Alaska’s Mount McKinley. There were no fatalities in the first ten years of the 20th century among the mountain’s 47 climbers. What happened after climbing went high tech and climbers knew they could be rescued if they got into a pickle? Yep. Dozens of deaths each decade.

    A false sense of security is dangerous. Our brains need to work. They need to be engaged. Otherwise we’re just gonna speed up, put makeup on, pop large bubblegum bubbles, babble on our cellphones and fumble for a magazine. BAD IDEA.

    This is a book all drivers should read as a condition of getting their licenses. (Whether/how to evaluate if people actually read the book is a different matter, but some people reading the book is better than none.)

    Other interesting aspects of this book discuss late merging (good), driving and culture/country and fatalities/accidents as they relate to a country’s GDP and/or corruption index. (The more corrupt a country, the more likely it is to have bad accident and fatality numbers.)

    The book’s writing style is engaging. The concepts are easy to grasp and eye opening.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 8, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Interesting, but really only a primer

    Not as comprehensive as the title would make the work sound, this book nevertheless offers very sound insights, through the author's detailed research, interviews, and personal experiences, into the reasons traffic works, both how jams form and the countless, often seemingly-contrary ways that traffic engineers propose to eliminate jams. The book suffers a little bit from the latter, in fact, often drifting into unnecessary social policy and sometimes referring too much to passenger safety (admittedly an important thing!) while not paying attention to the dynamics and mechanics of traffic flow, attention the subject matter cries out for. This is why, despite the voluminous endnotes Mr. Vanderbilt offers in support of many of his quotations and statements, the book often comes off more as a detailed introduction or primer for a layman but doesn't offer anything much of its own in terms of either solutions or even mere insights, just the author's own observations. At the end of the day, though, you have to give the author credit for working on a subject that the average reader (and for that matter, commuter) often rails at and curses but probably never truly ponders. Thus, while not as satisfying a read as I would have hoped, Tom Vanderbilt's treatise is still a very good effort indeed.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2014

    Jason

    Puts his hand to his face and felt blood, he then put Kirk in a tight headlock. "Only a minute till youre on the ground."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2014

    Not sure if...

    Want to be rescued or rap*d

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2014

    Kirk

    Falls to the ground.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2014

    A mute

    Walks around looking for some food.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2014

    Shrek

    Cya nerd

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2014

    Haley

    She tried to run back further into the alley, hiding at result two in a dark shadow. Her green eyes shine with fear.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 22, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Social Engineering Class in Layman's Terms

    I never thought I woulds ever enjoy a book of traffic, that puckey most Southern California residents have to deal with on a regular basis. Nearly everything in the San Fernando Valley revolves around traffic: How long will it take to get there? Are there alternative routes in case of traffic? How much earlier should we leave in case there is traffic? Not only is this book a fascinating insight, it is also written so that you do not need a degree in Social Engineering in order to understand it. If you have ever wondered just WHY people will suddenly screech to a stop to look at some sparkly litter on the side of the road, this book has your answer.

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  • Posted January 8, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Surprising insights into a topic we rarely think about

    While inevitably a bit heavy with statistics, this book describes how and why we behave the way we do driving vehicles. Many of the most common "I wonder why" thoughts we all have while driving are explained with fact-based information. In the last chapter, the author presents risk evidence that makes you re-think many of our "safety" policies. A good read to understand and potentially change your views on what constitutes safety in driving.

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  • Posted April 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    An unusual subject and some really fascinating discoveries

    I love to drive. And sometimes I really, really hate to drive. So it's probably no surprise that a book like Traffic, that targets how and why we behave while we drive, caught my interest. And a very engaging read it is! Tom Vanderbilt offers a carefully researched, concisely written exploration of driving behaviors, misconceptions, and even cultures. He questions our assumptions about the way we drive and definitely made me think twice about some of my own behavior on the road. I'm not sure how long my newfound caution will last, but I think the lessons about merging late and pulling to the side of the highway will stick with me for the rest of my driving lifetime. And I definitely think I'll be paying a lot more attention to any traffic research I may stumble upon in the future!

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  • Posted January 11, 2010

    Traffic Review

    Tom Vanderbilt's novel "Traffic" is a breath of fresh air. Reading this book from the author's perspective allowed me to realize, I'm not the only driver with road rage. Vanderbilt's condescending attitude towards drivers, other than himself, allows the reader to feel like they are on a simulation of the road- with honking drivers and how you always manage to somehow get the red light.
    However, by the title of the book I assumed that it would elude more towards interactions with drivers out on the road and there be a clear understanding of "why we drive the way we do". Not saying that Vanderbilt does mention these topics, but there is mainly a focus on the history behind it all. Unfortunately, that is not necessarily my cup of tea to read, so about halfway though the book I would skip around for something to catch my eye.
    Yes there were certain aspects of this book that I did not like, however I did enjoy the humorous writing style and would find myself chuckling as I read. Tom Vanderbilt's eloquent writing style allowed me to laugh, even at myself, after reading the things we do as drivers. You most likely will never see fellow drivers again in your lifetime, yet for that time your on the road; you are making hundreds of enemies. The gestures we make as drivers and how others may interpret your wave different is also prevalent in the book. One thing I will remember; everyone thinks that they are the best drivers; all those people, are trying to beat the traffic. If you think everyone, besides you of course, on the read is a complete and utter idiot, this is defiantly a book to read.
    P.S. Remember that there is history of cultures and the origination and background of the traffic system in the book. It is possible to find yourself falling asleep mid-read, I know I did. It is not because I didn't enjoy the book, but rather it was not as exciting as I expected.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Thank God someone writes these books

    This is one of those social science books that describe human behavior. why we do what we do and how it measures up worldwide and against university studies. when you think seat belt laws and safety regulations, think this book. these are the people you want making those decisions for us. for me, it was a bit too much "science" and too little "human". i'm glad people think of these things and study them, but i'm not so sure i'm glad i spent the time reading it. if you like these sorts of books, it's excellent - well written, engaging and enlightening. if you don't enjoy these books you'll be somewhat bored. makes for rating it hard. i don't like these types of books so i give it a poor rating; but if you liked this type of book it would be a 5 star rating. so in this case the rating system just isn't fair to the author! but i thought i'd share my opinion.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2009

    Very relevant and current. Also written very accessibly.

    I've really enjoyed this book. It has been quite interesting and made me much more aware of what is going on while driving as well as in day-to-day life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2008

    I am a parking barn owl

    Interesting!! I have asked the question 'Who ARE all these people?' and the sad-but-true answer is...me! The psychology of human nature and the supreme effort it takes to move about efficiently in the modern world are examined here. Enjoyed this one!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2008

    Very interesting!

    I commute every day and have spent hours in my car cursing the fickle nature of traffic. I bought this book hoping to find out why it happens and what I can do to avoid it. Traffic is packed with information. While it didn't give me any pointers on how not to get stuck (outside of not drive), I did learn more about the process and my fellow drivers.

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    Posted September 30, 2011

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    Posted June 27, 2010

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    Posted June 25, 2009

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    Posted February 2, 2010

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