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

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Driving is a fact of life. We are all spending more and more time on the road, and traffic is an issue we face everyday. This audiobook will make you think about it in a whole new light.

We have always had a passion for cars and driving. Now Traffic offers us an exceptionally rich understanding of that passion. Vanderbilt explains why traffic jams form, outlines the unintended consequences of our attempts to engineer safety and even identifies the most common mistakes drivers ...

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

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Driving is a fact of life. We are all spending more and more time on the road, and traffic is an issue we face everyday. This audiobook will make you think about it in a whole new light.

We have always had a passion for cars and driving. Now Traffic offers us an exceptionally rich understanding of that passion. Vanderbilt explains why traffic jams form, outlines the unintended consequences of our attempts to engineer safety and even identifies the most common mistakes drivers make in parking lots. Based on exhaustive research and interviews with driving experts and traffic officials around the globe, Traffic gets under the hood of the quotidian activity of driving to uncover the surprisingly complex web of physical, psychological and technical factors that explain how traffic works.

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Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Yardley
Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic—engagingly written, meticulously researched, endlessly interesting and informative—is one of those rare books that comes out of the depths of nowhere. Its subjects are the road and the people who drive it, which is to say Traffic gets about as close to the heart of modern existence as any book could get, yet what's truly astonishing is that no one else has done it, at least not on the scale that Vanderbilt has achieved. We've had road novels (On the Road) and road movies ("Two for the Road") and road songs ("On the Road Again"), but nonfiction studies of "why we drive the way we do and what it says about us"—to borrow Vanderbilt's subtitle—have been almost entirely limited to dry, impenetrable engineering and psychological treatises…Read it and you're likely to come away a better driver, more cautious and more alert. Certainly I like to think it's made me a better driver, but then as Vanderbilt says, we all think we're better drivers than we really are.
—The Washington Post
Mary Roach
Traffic jams are not, by and large, caused by flaws in road design but by flaws in human nature. While this is bad news for drivers—there's not much to be done about human nature—it is good news for readers of Tom Vanderbilt's new book. Traffic is not a dry examination of highway engineering; it's a surprising, enlightening look at the psychology of human beings behind the steering wheels…My solution to the nation's vehicular woes would be to make this good book required reading for anyone applying for a driver's license. Though you could then be sure that some percentage of car crashes in America would be caused by people trying to skim Traffic while stuck in a bottleneck on their way to the D.M.V.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Vanderbilt looks at the psychology of driving and the many false impressions drivers use to operate their vehicles. He also looks at other subjects potentially unconsidered by the average driver, such as traffic control centers and smart technology that improves driving decisions. David Slavin's diverse application of tone and personality make him a great choice for this production. Vanderbilt's writing is accessible, but it changes in tone depending on the context (ranging from life-and-death issues of accidents to reflecting about traffic controllers protesting during the Academy Awards). Slavin balances these shifting thoughts and maintains an overall energetic personality throughout the production. The big challenge of this audiobook is how much drivers who listen to audiobooks will adjust their habits while listening to it. A Knopf hardcover. (Reviews, May 19).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Everyone gets stuck in traffic at some point, and here freelance journalist Vanderbilt (Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America) provides a fascinating look at the whys and hows of the traffic we confront on a daily basis. Deeply researched and rich in facts, his sociological study of driving habits and traffic patterns could not come at a better time. Rising fuel costs, deferred road maintenance and construction, increasing populations, and growing congestion mean that traffic is not going to get better. Among the findings here are that traffic increases by one third when parents ferry kids to school; most car crashes happen on clear, sunny days; men honk more than women; and highways can handle more cars at 55 mph than at 80 mph. In researching the book, Vanderbilt consulted government documents, behavioral journals, census and demographic data, engineering studies, and local, state, and federal transportation reports. He even provides a comparative study of traffic in other countries. Anyone who drives will not be surprised overall but may be shocked at some of the analysis that is presented here for the first time-and may become a safer driver because of it. Even pedestrians are affected by traffic and should read this book. Recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ4/1/08.]
—Eric C. Shoaf

Kirkus Reviews
Traffic emerges from chaos, and chaos emerges from traffic. There's too much of both, and entirely too little honesty-a quality that has much to do with travail on the roads. Say what? Well, writes I.D. and Print editor Vanderbilt (Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America, 2002), the nations of the world that are the least corrupt "are also the safest places in the world to drive," such that Sweden "practically oozes safety." France, once a place of much roadside carnage, got safer once it installed speed cameras and started doing Breathalyzer tests, while New Zealand has eminently safe roads. Americans aren't quite so lucky, on either the corruption or the traffic-safety front, but at least we beat out Russia, which accounts for some two-thirds of all road deaths in Europe, and China, a veritable slaughterhouse. Vanderbilt's book is a trove of such information, but also a fine study in what works and what does not. What does not work, for instance, is speeding along the interstate, weaving in and out of traffic, and popping a cork when a slow vehicle gets in the way. As he notes, in experiments along the New Jersey Turnpike, that great bane of drivers, the weaving, honking speedster arrives at his (almost always his) destination only a few minutes ahead of the driver who maintains an even rate of speed and stays in one lane. What does work, as their designers intended, are on-ramp meters: Having sussed out "the basic parameters of how highways perform" and determined that the key factor is volume, those designers put in place a metering system that in some places has doubled highway productivity. And why are highways mowed ten-odd yards on either side? Because mostcars come to rest within that zone once they've flown off the road-though, one General Motors experiment indicates, a "crash-proof" highway would have 100-foot clear zones, which would be particularly useful come the evening rush hour, which is twice as deadly as the morning one. Fluently written and oddly entertaining, full of points to ponder while stuck at the on-ramp meter or an endless red light. Agent: Zoe Pagnamenta/PFD New York. First printing of 150,000
From the Publisher
Traffic gets about as close to the heart of modern existence as any book could get . . . Engagingly written, meticulously researched, endlessly interesting and informative, [it] is one of those rare books that comes out of the depths of nowhere.”
–Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World

“A surprising, enlightening look at the psychology of human beings behind the steering wheels . . . Jammed with delicious you’ve-got-to-be-kidding moments . . . My solution to the nation’s vehicular woes would be to make this good book required reading for anyone applying for a driver’s license.”
–Mary Roach, The New York Times Book Review

“Smart and comprehensive . . . A shrewd tour of the much-experienced but little-understood world of driving . . . A balanced and instructive discussion on how to improve our policies toward the inexorable car . . . Vanderbilt’s book is likely to remain relevant well into the new century.”
–Edward L. Glaeser, The New Republic

“A delightful tour through the mysteries and manners of driving.”–Tony Dokoupil, Newsweek

“A breezy . . . well-researched . . . examination of the strange interaction of humanity and multiton metal boxes that can roar along at . . . 60 m.p.h. or sit for hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic.”
–Patrick T. Reardon, Chicago Tribune

Traffic will definitely change the way you think about driving, which also means changing the way you think about being human.”
–Michael Agger, Slate

“[A] joyride in the often surprising landscape of traffic science and psychology.”
–Abigail Tucker, Smithsonian Magazine

"Tom Vanderbilt is one of our best and most interesting writers, with an extraordinary knack for looking at everyday life and explaining, in wonderful and entertaining detail, how it really works. That's never been more true than with Traffic, where he takes a subject that we all deal with (and worry about), and lets us see it through new eyes. In the process, he helps us understand better not just the highway, but the world. It doesn't matter whether you drive or take the bus—you're going to want to read this book."
—James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds

"A great, deep, multidisciplinary investigation of the dynamics and the psychology of traffic jams. It is fun to read. Anyone who spends more than 19 minutes a day in traffic should read this book."
—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author The Black Swan

"Fascinating, illuminating, and endlessly entertaining as well. Vanderbilt shows how a sophisticated understanding of human behavior can illuminate one of the modern world's most basic and most mysterious endeavors. You'll learn a lot; and the life you save may be your own."
—Cass R. Sunstein, coauthor of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness

"Everyone who drives—and many people who don't—should read this book. It is a psychology book, a popular science book, and a how-to-save-your-life manual, all rolled into one. I found it gripping and fascinating from the very beginning to the very end."
—Tyler Cowen, author of Discover Your Inner Economist

“Fascinating, surprising . . . Vanderbilt’s book will be a revelation not just to us drivers but also, one might guess, to our policy makers.”
–Alan Moores, The Seattle Times

“A well-written, important book that should hold the interest of anyone who drives a car.”
–Dennis Lythgoe, Deseret News

“An engaging, sociable tour of all things driving-related.”
–Joel Rice, The Tennessean

“Manages to be downright fun.”
–Dennis Simanaitis, Road and Track

Traffic changes the way you think about driving. For that reason alone, it deserves your attention.”
–Dan Danbom, Rocky Mountain News

“Intriguing . . . Somehow manages to plunge far more deeply than one would imagine a meditation on travel possibly could. Perhaps without intending to, Vanderbilt has narrowed in on the central question of our time . . . His book asks us to consider how we can persuade human beings to behave more cooperatively than selfishly.”
–Elaine Margolin, The Denver Post

“Vanderbilt investigates . . . complexities with zeal. Surprising details abound.”
The New Yorker

"Fresh and timely . . . Vanderbilt investigates how human nature has shaped traffic, and vice versa, finally answering drivers' most familiar and frustrating questions."
Publishers Weekly

"Fluently written and oddly entertaining, full of points to ponder while stuck at the on-ramp meter or an endless red light."

"This may be the most insightful and comprehensive study ever done of driving behavior and how it reveals truths about the types of people we are."

"Tom Vanderbilt uncovers a raft of counterintuitive facts about what happens when we get behind the wheel, and why."

"Fascinating . . . Could not come at a better time."
Library Journal

“Brisk . . . Smart . . . Delivers a wealth of automotive insights both curious and counterintuitive.”

“A literate, sobering look at our roadways that explains why the other lane is moving faster and why you should never drive at 1 p.m. on Saturday.”

“An engaging, informative, psychologically savvy account of the conscious and unconscious assumptions of individual drivers–and the variations in ‘car culture’ around the world . . . Full of fascinating facts and provocative propositions.”
–Glenn Altschuler, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“An engrossing tour through the neuroscience of highway illusions, the psychology of late merging, and other existential driving dilemmas.”
–Michael Mason, Discover

“Funny . . . Enlightening . . . Want to spend 286 pages having a good time and learning a whole lot about something you do every day for an hour or two? Buy this book.”
–Ben Wear, Austin American-Statesman

“I’m very glad I read this book . . . It tells you a lot about traffic. But of course it does more than this. It’s really a book about human nature.”
–William Leith, Evening Standard (UK)

“A richly extended metaphor for the challenge of organising competing human needs and imperfect human judgment into harmonious coexistence.”
–Rafael Behr, The Guardian (UK)

“Automobile traffic is one of the most studied phenomena in advanced societies . . . Mr. Vanderbilt has mastered all of it. Arresting facts appear on every page.”
–Christopher Caldwell, Financial Times (UK)

The Barnes & Noble Review
From the moment I heard about it, I couldn't wait to get my hands on Tom Vanderbilt's new book about traffic. I'm sure I wasn't the only one. Haven't we all pondered the mysteries of traffic endlessly (at least, it feels endless when you're stuck in it)? After all, traffic is as pervasive as the common cold, except bigger, more relevant. Even the sickliest among us comes down with colds only intermittently.

And it's not as if traffic jams are all that intuitive. Does it really make sense that if I slow down just a teeny, tiny bit to glance, ever so fleetingly, at the site of an accident in the other direction, a traffic jam is likely to ensue in my wake? My rubbernecking was so trifling -- how could it possibly cause so much trouble? A book that explains this, and all the other seemingly insoluble questions that arise on the not-so-open road -- one that would distill all the technical research and studies and god knows what else into prose one could get through -- struck me, in the abstract, as sheer genius.

It turns out, however, that traffic is not all that interesting.

That said, Vanderbilt, a journalist, is an intelligent and wry writer, and he offers up some cocktail party-worthy nuggets of information. Who, for example, would have guessed that "late merging" is good for everyone? That is, what do you do when you see a sign that says the lane you are in will end in one mile? If you are like the old Vanderbilt, the pre-Traffic Vanderbilt, you "notice an opening in the right lane and quickly move over." All is well until, "as the lane creeps to a slow halt, you notice with rising indignation that the cars in the lane you have vacated are continuing to speed ahead, out of sight." The instinct of many people is to view those "late mergers" as "arrogant louts" who are cutting ahead in line, but it turns out they may be doing something right. This counterintuitive finding is explained to Vanderbilt this way: "The full capacity of the road is being used, rather than a bunch of people merging early and trying to create an artificial one-lane road earlier than necessary." In Pennsylvania, where traffic engineers formally adopted the late-merge concept, traffic flow improved by 15 percent, Vanderbilt writes.

One is likely to come away from Traffic with an action plan. (In that, it's like a self-help book.) It's not just about vowing henceforth to merge late. Expect also to be newly committed to cautious driving in general -- as well as convinced of the evil, evil, of talking on your cell phone while driving. Even the most hardened critics of the "nanny state" are likely to come away from this book ardent that something be done about such recklessness. "In 2006," Vanderbilt tells us, "a Chicago driver reaching for a cell phone while driving lost control of his SUV, killing a passenger in another car.... The driver was fined $200." That's because the law typically treats anything except for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs as an "accident," no matter how egregious or irresponsible the behavior that led to it.

You may be wondering: what do the dangers of talking on one's cell phone while driving have to do with traffic? It's a good question, since the link is somewhat tenuous. Vanderbilt's explanation is a bit schoolmarmish: "Rather than build more lanes, the best congestion for people to get in fewer crashes -- which...would happen if drivers simply paid more attention to their driving," Vanderbilt tells us. He's surely right, but it seems a bit sneaky, something of a bait-and-switch. Who would have been eager to read a book about how to be a safer driver?

In fact, at least a third of the book is devoted not to traffic but to the danger inherent in driving. Incidentally, that's not as boring as it sounds, in large part because Vanderbilt has some surprising things to say -- reminders of our tendency to act irrationally (or at least in ways that confound experts). A "study in Finland...found that adding reflector posts to a curved road resulted in higher speeds and more accidents than when there were no posts," he writes. "Other studies have found that drivers tend to go faster when a curve is marked with an advisory speed limit than when it is not." As Vanderbilt spends a chapter explaining, this is largely because drivers are likely to "feel" safer with such things in place -- and hence drive more dangerously.

As it turns out, there are a lot of things related to driving that are more interesting than the hows and whys of traffic jams -- and Traffic discusses many of them, from free street parking (bad from a traffic perspective, as all the cars circling as they looking for parking jam the streets; besides, what a waste of valuable urban real estate -- lending it out to cars for no fee!) to the relationship between driving culture and political norms (the more corrupt a society, the more harrowing its streets are likely to be -- and that's only partially because unqualified drivers pay bribes to get driver's licenses).

But the very breadth of topics covered suggests the problem with Traffic the book, which ironically is similar to the problem with traffic the phenomenon. It is unpredictable; you never know what you will find when you go around the bend. The next section may be about ants (who commute very efficiently); or it may be about the way our driving behavior is influenced by feeling anonymous in our cars; or it may be about all the near-crashes we that we experience but barely notice, let alone learn from. There is no logical progression, no buildup to any unified theory.

Traffic is also repetitive. By book's end, Vanderbilt sounds a little bit like the hectoring driver's ed instructor -- the one who makes it sound as if every time you drive to the market, you have a 50 percent chance of dying. (In fact, Vanderbilt tells us that over 50 years of driving, you have a 1-in-100 chance of dying in a car crash.) But how many times can we be told that we are irrational and drive recklessly?

As for the rubbernecking phenomenon that I was so eager to get to the bottom of, it turns out there's not much to say. Vanderbilt dispatches with it in a single paragraph, writing "that when each driver slows to look at an accident for ten seconds, it does not seem egregious because they have already waited ten minutes. But that ten minutes arose from everybody else's ten seconds."

Somehow I expected the explanation to be more satisfying. But the fault is surely mine. It's just traffic, after all. --Adelle Waldman

Adelle Waldman has written for The New York Times Book Review, Slate, and The Village Voice. She is working on a novel.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781415956090
  • Publisher: Books on Tape, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/19/2008
  • Format: MP3
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Ships to U.S.and APO/FPO addresses only.

Meet the Author

Tom Vanderbilt writes about design, technology, science and culture for Wired, Slate, The New York Times and other publications. He lives in Brooklyn and drives a 2001 Volvo V40.

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Read an Excerpt

Why I Became a Late Merger
(and Why You Should Too)

Why does the other lane always seem to be moving faster?

It is a question you have no doubt asked yourself while crawling down some choked highway, watching with mounting frustration as the adjacent cars glide ahead. You drum the wheel with your fingers. You change the radio station. You fixate on one car as a benchmark of your own lack of progress. You try to figure out what that weird button next to the rearwindow defroster actually does.

I used to think this was just part of the natural randomness of the highway. Sometimes fate would steer me into the faster lane, sometimes it would relinquish me to the slow lane.

That was until recently, when I had an experience that made me rethink my traditionally passive outlook on the road, and upset the careful set of assumptions that had always guided my behavior in traffic.

I made a major lifestyle change. I became a late merger.

Chances are, at some point you have found yourself driving along the highway when a sign announces that the left lane, in which you are traveling, will close one mile ahead, and that you must merge right.

You notice an opening in the right lane and quickly move over. You breathe a sigh, happy to be safely ensconced in the Lane That Will Not End. Then, as the lane creeps to a slow halt, you notice with rising indignation that cars in the lane you have vacated are continuing to speed ahead, out of sight. You quietly seethe and contemplate returning to the much faster left lane--if only you could work an opening. You grimly accept your condition.

One day, not long ago, I had an epiphany on a New Jersey highway. I was having a typical white-knuckle drive among the scenic oil-storage depots and chemical-processing plants of northern Jersey when suddenly, on the approach to the Pulaski Skyway, the sign loomed: LANE ENDS ONE MILE. MERGE RIGHT.

Seized by some rash impulse, I avoided the instinctual tickle at the back of my brain telling me to get in the already crowded right lane. Just do what the sign says, that voice usually counsels. Instead, I listened to another, more insistent voice: Don't be a sucker. You can do better. I plowed purposefully ahead, oblivious to the hostile stares of other drivers. From the corner of my eye I could see my wife cringing. After passing dozens of cars, I made it to the bottleneck point, where, filled with newfound swagger, I took my rightful turn in the small alternating "zipper" merge that had formed. I merged, and it was clear asphalt ahead. My heart was beating faster. My wife covered her face with her hands.

In the days after, a creeping guilt and confusion took hold. Was I wrong to have done this? Or had I been doing it wrong all my life? Looking for an answer, I posted an anonymous inquiry on Ask MetaFilter, a Web site one can visit to ask random questions and tap into the "hive mind" of an anonymous audience of overeducated and overopinionated geeks. Why should one lane move faster than the other, I wanted to know, and why are people rewarded for merging at the last possible moment? And was my new lifestyle, that of the late merger, somehow deviant?

I was startled by the torrent of responses, and how quickly they came. What struck me most was the passion and conviction with which people argued their various cases--and the fact that while many people seemed to think I was wrong, almost as many...

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Table of Contents

Prologue: Why I Became a Late Merger (and Why You Should Too)

Ch. 1 Why Does the Other Lane Always Seem Faster? How Traffic Messes with Our Heads

Ch. 2 Why You're Not as Good a Driver as You Think You Are

Ch. 3 How Our Eyes and Minds Betray Us on the Road

Ch. 4 Why Ants Don't Get into Traffic Jams (and Humans Do): On Cooperation as a Cure for Congestion

Ch. 5 Why Women Cause More Congestion Than Men (and Other Secrets of Traffic)

Ch. 6 Why More Roads Lead to More Traffic (and What to Do About It)

Ch. 7 When Dangerous Roads Are Safer

Ch. 8 How Traffic Explains the World: On Driving with a Local Accent

Ch. 9 Why You Shouldn't Drive with a Beer-Drinking Divorced Doctor Named Fred on Super Bowl Sunday in a Pickup Truck in Rural Montana: What's Risky on the Road and Why

Epilogue: Driving Lessons



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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 32 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 32 Customer Reviews
  • 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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  • 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

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    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.

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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! 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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