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

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

by Tom Vanderbilt
4.1 36

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Overview

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

Would you be surprised that road rage can be good for society? Or that most crashes happen on sunny, dry days? That our minds can trick us into thinking the next lane is moving faster? Or that you can gauge a nation’s driving behavior by its levels of corruption? These are only a few of the remarkable dynamics that Tom Vanderbilt explores in this fascinating tour through the mysteries of the road.

Based on exhaustive research and interviews with driving experts and traffic officials around the globe, Traffic gets under the hood of the everyday activity of driving to uncover the surprisingly complex web of physical, psychological, and technical factors that explain how traffic works, why we drive the way we do, and what our driving says about us. Vanderbilt examines the perceptual limits and cognitive underpinnings that make us worse drivers than we think we are. He demonstrates why plans to protect pedestrians from cars often lead to more accidents. He shows how roundabouts, which can feel dangerous and chaotic, actually make roads safer—and reduce traffic in the bargain. He uncovers who is more likely to honk at whom, and why. He explains why traffic jams form, outlines the unintended consequences of our quest for safety, and even identifies the most common mistake drivers make in parking lots.

The car has long been a central part of American life; whether we see it as a symbol of freedom or a symptom of sprawl, we define ourselves by what and how we drive. As Vanderbilt shows, driving is a provocatively revealing prism for examining how our minds work and the ways in which we interact with one another. Ultimately, Traffic is about more than driving: it’s about human nature. This book will change the way we see ourselves and the world around us. And who knows? It may even make us better drivers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307264787
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/29/2008
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

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

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Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says about Us) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 36 reviews.
QKelly More than 1 year ago
“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.
PatrickZJD More than 1 year ago
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.
Charlottes-son More than 1 year ago
You didn't know you needed to know all that did you. I took two lessons away from this. The first is, Yes, take the outer lane and fill up those spaces. Second is the more philosophic. I use this lesson to teach patients, even high anxiety waiting skills. I use that lesson to teach short, waiting skills like waiting for that Ativan for my anxiety, to waiting for days or even weeks for your turn. There is more in this book than meets the eye. It is also well written, well documented and easy to read. 
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Guardian105 More than 1 year ago
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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AdvRider More than 1 year ago
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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slimikin More than 1 year ago
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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