Matt's Reviews > Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do

Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt
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's review
Jan 26, 2010

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Read in January, 2010

I read mostly nonfiction and tend to have a taste for the abstruse, so I was surprised to find myself getting annoyed at the length of this book. Upon further reflection, I realize that this feeling results from my perception that the author provides a lot of details and cites a lot of studies but does not shape them into an interpretive paradigm or offer cogent conclusions. Thus it's just a mass of details--though often very interesting details!

A couple of salient points, for me, are the ideas that we are not evolutionarily adapted to travel at high speeds in cars, and thus road engineers have to "fool" us into making us think we're moving slower, for instance, by painting the dashed, white traffic lines 10' long and including 30' gaps. Second, a major difficulty in traffic is that it removes the "sociality" from human interactions. We cannot see each others' faces and we're not making eye contact as we relate in a very dense environment. Further, an overpollution of traffic signs can cause people to disengage from the social world around them (e.g., that they are driving through a neighborhood where kids play) and only pay attention to the artificial world of traffic laws and signs. In other words, we stop paying attention to the unanticipated and instead assume that if we just follow the posted signs, we'll be fine no matter what, not recognizing that we are social actors interacting with other social actors with potentially lethal consequences.

There are some great nuggets in this book, but you've got to dig for them through a lot of dross!
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