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Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do and What It Says About Us

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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 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.

402 pages, Hardcover

First published July 29, 2008

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About the author

Tom Vanderbilt

12 books136 followers
Tom Vanderbilt writes on design, technology, science, and culture, among other subjects, for many publications, including Wired, Outside, The London Review of Books, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Wilson Quarterly, Artforum, The Wilson Quarterly, Travel and Leisure, Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, Cabinet, Metropolis, and Popular Science. He is contributing editor to Artforum and the design magazine Print and I.D., contributing writer of the popular blog Design Observer, and columnist for Slate magazine.

His most recent book is the New York Times bestseller Traffic:Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K. and territories, and by publishers in 18 other countries. He is also the author of two previous books: Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America (Princeton Architectural Press, 2002; published in PB by the University of Chicago Press in 2010), an offbeat architectural travelogue of the nation’s secret Cold War past; and The Sneaker Book (The New Press, 1998), a cultural history of the athletic shoe (published in Italian and Swedish editions). His early writings for The Baffler have been collected in two anthologies, Commodify Your Dissent and Boob Jubilee (W.W. Norton, eds. Thomas Frank and Matthew Weiland), and he has also contributed essays to a number of books, including New York Stories: The Best of the City Section of the New York Times (New York University Press); Supercade: The Visual History of the Video Game Age (The MIT Press), Else/Where: Mapping (The University of Minnesota Press, 2006),Quonset Hut: Metal Living for a Modern Age (Princeton Architectural Press, 2005), The World and the Wild (The University of Arizona Press), and The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup (Harper Perennial, 2006).

He has consulted for a variety of companies, from ad agencies to Fortune 500 corporations, and has given lectures at a variety of institutions around the world, from the Eero Saarinen Lecture at Yale University’s School of Architecture to the Australasian Road Safety Conference in Canberra. He has appeared on a wide variety of radio and television programs around the world, including NBC’s Today Show, ABC News’ Nightline, NPR’s Morning Edition, Fresh Air with Teri Gross, the BBC’s World Service and The One Show, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Fox Business, and CNN’s Business Today, among many others. He is a Visiting Scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, and has received fellowships from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visiting Arts, the Design Trust for Public Space, and the Canadian Centre for Architecture. He is also a member of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Cold War Advisory Committee, a group studying the identification of sites and resources significant to the Cold War.

Courtsey : http://www.tomvanderbilt.com/bio/

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,205 reviews
Profile Image for Craig.
Author 1 book95 followers
November 21, 2008
I really wanted to like this book. I have long held a fascination with traffic -- probably because of all hours I've spent stuck in it wondering why it behaves the way it does. I remember having weird traffic discussions with co-workers about traffic like: pretend you left the office to go home at 5:00 and it took you 1 hour to arrive in your driveway. Leaving at 5:30 on the other hand, because of the lighter traffic, you would roll into your driveway in only half an hour. If you and your housemate left at these times is it possible that you'd arrive at home at the same instant, despite having left work a half hour apart. Yes, a clinically strange thing to talk about on coffee break but, like I said, traffic fascinates me.

When I saw this book, and especially when I started to read it, I thought I was in Heaven. A book that spoke to this bizarre side of me that I never knew was shared by anyone else. As I made my way through the book a lot of that hope and promise vanished however.

Aside from the fact that about a third of the book is taken up with acknowledgments and references (seriously!) I never really felt that it used all that research all that effectively. The conclusions that were drawn never really clicked with me. For example, the author goes on at length about why it's a good idea to be a "late merger" on the highway when there's an upcoming lane drop. He prattles on about late mergers just being economical about the road -- using as much as there is instead of choking up another lane by merging early. I never really understood that and the argument fell short of being convincing. Another example was that the courtesy wave -- letting someone pass, turn ahead of you, or merge into the lane -- was some evolutionary carryover from caveman days that has roots in being nice to people for reasons of not wanting to be wonked over the head with a club. In other words, it's an instinct that bears no relevance in today's world but is merely an echo of a time and has no bearing on present situations like, you know, just being nice or something. These are merely two examples in pretty long line of unconvincing and poorly supported conclusions.

By the end my worst fears about the book were realized when I had to admit that it was really not much more than an extended magazine article. Like the immortal Ambrose Bierce said: "The covers of this book are too far apart".
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 4 books25 followers
May 2, 2008
Vanderbilt gets 5 stars for scaring the hell out of me every time I sit in the driver's seat. TRAFFIC is a compelling, curious read that makes you feel like you shouldn't be sitting in a car, much less driving one. You'll learn that there's such a thing as a "traffic archeologist," find out what was killing all the pedestrians in New York before cars, learn about the illusions that plague you as a driver, and hopefully a few things that will change your driving style. Most importantly, you'll learn who is right: the late merger or the early one.
Profile Image for Ken.
132 reviews17 followers
March 10, 2009

I live in Los Angeles, and my daily commute subjects me to this city's infamous traffic. So why in the world would I want to read a book about traffic? After all, I live it every day. Well, whether you live in a crowded city or a small town off the interstate, Traffic turns out to be an interesting, worthwhile look at humans and their machines, what happens on the road, and why.

Traffic hooked me right off the bat with its provocative starting point: you're on the freeway in the right hand lane. A sign indicates that the lane is ending and you should merge left. Do you merge at the first safe opportunity and get mad at the drivers who keep zooming past on the right until the last possible merge point? Or are you one of the drivers who waits until that endpoint, where you have to stop and wait for your turn to merge? Tom Vanderbilt used to be an early merger, but then he changed his ways. Once you read the facts behind his decision, maybe you'll change your ways too.

Vanderbilt explores this and other conventional wisdom of the road. He also looks at traffic from an engineering point of view. For instance, how much good do all those speed limit, caution and warning signs actually do? What would happen in a busy, urban environment if we just took those signs away and let people figure things out for themselves? (It's been tried and the results surprised me.) Have we collectively done the right thing by widening our roads, adding bike lanes, crosswalks and protected turn arrows?

By the time I reached the end of this book, I had plenty of food for thought. It's quite possible that all the traffic planning and road engineering in our major cities has been misguided in some major ways, resulting in the disruption of neighborhoods and increased danger to driver and pedestrian alike. How do we make traffic flow more quickly on our crowded roads – or is "faster" the wrong goal in the first place?

Although Traffic may leave the reader with more questions than answers, fascinating studies and tidbits are scattered throughout the book, and Vanderbilt writes in an easygoing, humorous style. If he occasionally dwells too long on a particular point (I found some of his writing about safety a little plodding), he can be forgiven this minor sin in a book otherwise packed with information that speaks to our everyday lives.

One final note: although it was not the author's intent, reading Traffic actually had an impact on the way I drive. I had become an angry driver, and after reading this book, I find myself much more philosophical behind the wheel, and I've cut way back on the pointless aggression. I will try and make that a lasting change.

202 reviews8 followers
April 30, 2021
I had high hopes for this book after it sat unpurchased on my Amazon wishlist for three years...and once I finally got around to buying it, boy was I disappointed. To start with, Vanderbilt is the worst kind of modern nonfiction writer: the know-nothing cherrypicker who did some research on the internet and thinks he's an expert now, despite a total lack of objectivity which comes through on every page of his text. Vanderbilt smugly grabs research - any research - to justify his own pre-existing view of how things are, only bothering to evaluate the studies he's read that HE doesn't personally agree with. Most of the data in this book is just that: data, and while some of the data are interesting, the key to writing a book like this is not just data but what you do with them. Vanderbilt clearly has no background in interpreting data (as so few people who write these kinds of books actually do), so to him, a study from New Zealand is as valid as a study from New Jersey, despite vastly different methodologies, confidence intervals, and populations, and the two can be freely combined if it justifies a conclusion that HE has already drawn. For anyone who has actually taken a class in research methods, it's as lazy as it is amateurish.

Worse, however, is Vanderbilt's habit of pushing his own assumptions upon the reader in a way that is simply irritating. The more than occasional "you have done this while driving" or "you were/weren't thinking that while driving" is almost comically presumptuous and moves him from merely being a hack to being an offensive one - the best one, for me, was "you have encountered a traffic light that was stuck on red". Well, um, no, actually. I've been driving for 10 years, have lived in six states in three time zones, including three major metropolitan areas and two minor ones. I've driven in 30 other states in addition to those and stopped at many, MANY traffic lights. None was EVER stuck on red. This is what makes Vanderbilt's book so disappointing - his failure to take the vastly, vastly different regional experiences of drivers into consideration as anything other than a justification for his own stereotyped New York worldview.

Someday someone will write a great book about traffic in the United States that takes regional identity into consideration. Unfortunately, this is not it.
Profile Image for Nicholas Karpuk.
Author 4 books65 followers
October 29, 2008
You suck at driving.

That's the message I walked away from with this book. And it was a message that made me sit up and pay attention. Non-fiction is something I read sparingly. Something about long spans of data makes my mind drift off, so I'll realize I've read an entire page without actually absorbing anything. The fact that this book hooked me was rather surprising. A big part of it is the fact that Vanderbilt keeps the topics so pertinent to the nature of how we actually drive. It's an entire novel that seems to be addressing how you, yes YOU drive.

The entire thing is chocked full of data indicating that safe, efficient vehicular transportation involves reasoning counter-intuitive to how most people handle their time spent on the road.

It points out that roundabouts are statistically vastly safer than intersections, which is annoying to anyone whose dealt with the wacky things. It indicates that safety features and excessive street signs are either worthless or lull us into dangerous over confidence. It observes that driving is a massively complex act with an amazing number of points of failure that we treat as a casual, forgettable part of our day.

There were so many interesting facts in this book that I felt like I should be taking notes. At some point I'll probably have to reread this book just to pick up on the finer points I missed.

My only complaint is that Vanderbilt often points out a name given to a phenomenon, then never references it again. He'll say something like "This is what we call the 'Black Swan' effect." The "Black Swan" effect was never brought back into the conversation. Don't try to make me remember specialized terms if it's not relevant to the rest of the discussion! It seems more like he mentions the terms because they amuse him.

Otherwise, a highly readable book with a value that can't be overlooked in our vehicularly choked age.
Profile Image for Matt.
362 reviews11 followers
January 27, 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!
Profile Image for Coleman.
293 reviews17 followers
March 6, 2017
I am glad I read this book (or more accurately, listened to it while sitting in traffic, which was indeed a strange, almost out-of-body experience as the reader called out mistakes and assumptions I make as a driver while I was making them. I highly recommend reading the book this way). Despite the large amount of freedom riders driving across the seemingly empty pages of this great nation, Vanderbilt indicates that many a driver is a stranger to himself, acting and reacting in ways that may seem normal or safe, but actually cause the ills and congestion of traffic. And every mother's son, (including John Barleycorn), is a victim of traffic.

The book is filled to the brim with interesting statistics and factoids, so let me just provide a smattering of the ideas that I found most interesting:

-Parking spots are too cheap and too plentiful in U.S. cities, and thus encouraging more people to drive instead of walking or biking or using transit, causing more traffic.
-As cities expand outward into suburbs, public transit has trouble reaching people, thus causing people to drive more often, thus causing fewer people to use public transit, thus driving up public transit prices, thus causing even fewer people to use public transit, thus causing more traffic.
-Bicyclists are actually safer riding on the street than on the sidewalk, even though sidewalks feel safer.
-Men are almost twice as likely to get into fatal car crashes, but women are more likely than men to get into nonfatal car crashes.
-Truck and SUV drivers speed and drive more aggressively for a multitude of reasons. They feel safer within their vehicles, and their positions high above the road make it look (to their eyes) like they are moving more slowly.
-Roundabouts are far safer than traffic light intersections.

I could go on and on, which is actually one of the weaknesses of this book. It's so dense with information, and its thesis is so broad that it is hard to synthesize all these statistics after having listened to it. What should I take away from it? Is there more I could be doing to change laws and regulations to make traffic safer and less congested? Or should I just stop driving altogether? Still, the tidbits I picked up and some of the statistics expanded upon have made me more cautious and more aware of my surroundings as a driver. If nothing else, this book will make you safer and more observant on the road, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.
Profile Image for Derek Wolfgram.
86 reviews3 followers
November 30, 2010
I expected to enjoy Traffic quite a bit - as a person with a psychology degree who loves to drive, I really looked forward to some interesting insights into human behavior behind the wheel. However, I only read about 60 pages into the book before I put it down.

One element I disliked was the narrative voice. Much of the book is written in the first person plural, and many of the sentence structures are awkward. To wit: "So whether we're cocky, compensating for feeling fearful, or just plain clueless, the roads are filled with a majority of above-average drivers (particularly men), each of whom seems intent on maintaining their sense of above-averageness."

While I do like the evidence provided for some twists on conventional wisdom (for example, that cell phone use while driving is not significantly worse than any of a hundred other ways drivers distract themselves), I was left unsatisifed by the explanations in the chapter "Why Does the Other Lane Always Seem Faster?" While the book is clearly carefully researched and the author enjoys the material, Traffic just doesn't ever get up to speed.
Profile Image for Jason.
114 reviews629 followers
August 31, 2009
Tom Vanderbilt has written an original, enlightening, and--considering the current political and financial maelstrom around automakers--a timely study of human driving characteristics and the universal factors influencing vehicle operation. The book is 286 pages with a remarkable addition of 100 pages of notes. There isn't a page in the book without a reference, a majority coming from national government studies and automobile industry safety reports. Overall, the content is highly-researched, international, and leaves the reader feeling he just read a book sui generis on why we drive the way we do.

I drive a light, compact, 2-door commuter car and use it primarily on large interstates. I know people who will not ride in my car for fear of being in a crash. They view my car as a 'tin can of death,' as if its size automatically portends substandard driver skills and inferior automobile performance. Vanderbilt's book tears apart, argument by argument, prejudice by prejudice, these kinds of unfounded social myths. Physics can tell you that my compact car will crumple in an accident, but by sheer rate, compact cars are less likely to be in accidents, and much less likely to result in fatalities! The factors are too numerous to list here, but, in highlight, Vanderbilt's analysis explores reasons of culture, physics, anthropology, urban planning, psychology, civil & mechanical engineering, sociology, transportation policy, government corruption, human nature, optics, and much, much more. Each has a unique story to tell. And each, ironically, goes against the prevailing conventions in their societies.

The reader (like I did) will learn that they nurture incorrect views of vehicle operation. Despite a preponderance of evidence around the world and from history, there are still mysteries of traffic behavior. Most interesting are sections on the trouble with traffic signs, the psychology of commuting, and the fatal flaws of traffic engineering. Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do will undoubtedly be the go-to book for journal and paper articles about traffic in the near-term.

4 stars for being comprehensive, easy to read, and informative on a topic that invisibly touches every person's life, daily. Could have had 5 stars, but there was so much information within each chapter that the author should have had a summary page highlighting the main points. I fear that, despite being such a good book, I will forget many conclusions since they weren't underscored time and again throughout the book.
Profile Image for Valerie.
2,022 reviews165 followers
January 29, 2019
This book sparked many interesting math thoughts. And I really do love interesting math thoughts that make me want to break out a pencil and the back of an envelope.
Profile Image for MRM.
10 reviews5 followers
September 12, 2008
Well-written and entertaining look at the psychology of drivers (i.e. most of us). I would have preferred more about urban streets and cyclists (as I am a bike commuter), especially since Vanderbilt lives in my own borough of Brooklyn. But of course Traffic is wide-ranging, as it should be -- always good to learn about what's happening in other countries, particularly China and India.

The most depressing chapters for me were in the first part of the book, when Vanderbilt describes the various unavoidable ways that people engage in self-defeating behavior on the road. "Vehicles are moving at velocities for which we hvae no evolutionary training -- for most of the life of the species we did not try to make interpersonal decisions at speed." (p. 37) The distraction, the cellphones, the falling asleep at the wheel...And we're not getting any better. And every close call reinforces our idea that we're a good driver because we avoided getting in an accident.

Speaking of which, I wanted to cheer Vanderbilt in the passage about the word "accident" (which he points out that the British Medical Journal stopped using seven years ago because it implies, falsely, that such an incident is both unpredictable and unpreventable). "The word accident[...:]has been sent skittering down a slippery slope, to the point where it seems to provide protective cover for the worst and most negligent driving behaviors. This in turn suggests that so much of the everyday carnage on the road is mysteriously out of our hands and can be stopped or lessened only by adding more air bags (pedestrians, unfortunately, lack this safety feature)." (p. 66)

Similarly, the most inspiring chapter for me was "When Dangerous Roads Are Safer," which discusses the ways that traditional traffic-calming measures (speed bumps, lots of signs, etc.) aren't the best ways to improve driver behavior and reduce crashes. I made a list of the people and concepts I want to research further -- Joost Vahl, Hans Monderman, the Shared Space movement...I loved how anarchism (not "anarchy" as it's misused, as a synonym for chaos) reigned in the Laweiplein crossing in Drachten, the Netherlands, after traffic engineer Hans Monderman redesigned it without signs or lights. "The responsibility for getting through the intersection was now up to the users, and they responded by communicating among themselves. The result was that the system was safer, even though the majority of users[...:]felt that the system was more dangerous!" (p. 200)
Profile Image for Bill Keefe.
305 reviews4 followers
August 5, 2010
Confession: I couldn't take more than three chapters.

Tom Vanderbilt should sue his editor. Mr. Vanderbilt obviously has voluminous knowledge on this subject but this is an endless ramble of facts, studies, insights and observations that not once; really, not one single time; is boiled up to a conclusion, an important trend or even a clear summary.

Believe me; I was eager to read this book. I drive ALL THE TIME and am very interested in why and how we perceive things on the road and what motivates me to make the good - and often the extremely embarrassing - judgments I make. But this was a ramble, a directionless stroll through everything there is to know which, unfortunately, leads the reader nowhere.

For a comparison, take a reading of "The Flamingo's Smile," by Stephen Jay Gould, where you wade through very detailed scientific explanations and descriptions of biological phenomena. This stuff inundated me with details on subjects about which I knew very few generalities. But, it was great reading (and great writing). All along the way, Professor Gould tells you why what you are reading is important and how it all ties together at a higher level.

No, not everyone is a writer of the caliber of Mr. Gould but Mr. Vanderbilt doesn't even come close - and doesn't seem to try. He just goes on and on, slipping from one potentially interesting topic to another, from one isolated study to another.

I couldn't take it. I got off the first exit and headed to a more rewarding reading experience.
Profile Image for William Cline.
71 reviews152 followers
July 11, 2016
Well researched and engaging. Distracted driving is a hobbyhorse of mine, along with motoring in general, so I’m pre-disposed to enjoy a book like this. Still, I think everyone who drives a car would take something away from this and ought to read it.

Driving enthusiasts, among whom I count myself, will find some challenging ideas in here. For instance, regarding the oft-repeated notion that speed variance, not speed itself, is a greater source of highway crashes, Vanderbilt supplies the missing context showing that this doesn’t mean exactly what we think it means.

On the other hand, Traffic isn't full of the knee-jerk anti-car disparagement often found in writings about street safety. (I'm looking at you, Streetsblog.) Nor does Vanderbilt claim that the answer is to rely on technology to absolve us from responsibility for our own behavior:

“Whether advanced driver training helps drivers in the long term is one of those controversial and unresolved mysteries of the road, but my eye-opening experience at Bondurant raises the curious idea that we buy cars—for most people one of the most costly things they will ever own—with an underdeveloped sense of how to use them. This is true for many things, arguably, but not knowing what the F9 key does in Microsoft Word is less life-threatening than not knowing how to properly operate antilock brakes.”
Profile Image for Donna McCaul Thibodeau.
897 reviews20 followers
April 15, 2019
I read this for my in person book club. The blurb made it sound much more interesting than it actually was. I wouldn't recommend it.
Profile Image for Jeff.
635 reviews42 followers
February 26, 2015
This is the perfect example of 4.5 stars for me. I don't want to say it was AMAZING but it was significantly better than "really liked it." The writing's not especially wonderful, but the information is great. It's my kind of topic. It's delivered in a non-preachy tone though the author's "bias" is apparent at times. It's not trying to be too clever (as i usually feel when reading Oliver Sacks or David Sedaris) nor is it afraid of being interesting (as seems to be the case with most Important Biographies i've tried to read).

Not many people THINK deeply about traffic. We have strong feelings about it and it can ruin our day, but considering it in the abstract or viewing it as an index of culture (as telling as one's language or religion) probably doesn't even occur to most of us as something worth trying. This book covers the topic incredibly thoroughly. Sometimes redundant, but i suspect that's because the author wasn't so arrogant as to expect every reader to start on p.1 and plow through to the last page of the index without stopping.

The first chapter or two had me thinking it should be mandatory reading for student drivers. The majority of the book, though, is really about sociology and psychology, so it's not worthwhile to students. The final chapters and the epilogue return to appropriate topics. Of course, i don't expect many young teens would dig this stuff much: non-fiction books ain't typical American Cool.

This should make it onto the syllabi of undergrad courses across the country. I hope the students appreciate it. And i really hope the blurb in Entertainment Weekly about it helps get a few thousand more people to read the damned thing (rather than just buying it, a la Oprah's magic).

Extensive notes (i didn't read them; normally would, but it's a 14-day loaner from the lieberry) in the backmatter are probably very useful and informative. I didn't need the index, but i love me a non-fiction book with a good index: indispensable for somebody who needs to study it.

Finally, i'd like to thank the smarties at Powell's Bookstore in Portland, OR, for their excellent newsletter and its oft-terrific recommendations. I have not given them credit before now, but they consistently have good ideas for what to read next.
Profile Image for Alicia.
6,221 reviews124 followers
July 16, 2018
It's a behemoth all right. There is so much going on in the book that Vanderbilt builds skillfully but it is a lot to take in, especially if one is sitting on the couch drinking tea on a very cold day for the entire day. My eyes went a little sideways every now and then with the amount of data he pulls in, scientific studies, comparisons and visits to other countries, and just plain explaining traffic. Yes-- "traffic was as much an emotional problem as it was a physical and mechanical one".

And I can see myself in "yet still we get visibly mad, to an audience of no one. Katz argues that we are engaging in a kind of theatrical storytelling, inside of our cars, angrily 'constructing moral dramas' in which we are the wronged victims- and the 'avenging hero'- in some traffic epic of larger importance."

He uses explanations about traffic and the increase for it ultimately being more women in the workforce. And how building more roads just makes them busier. He shares a hatred for parking lots and how a roundabout is a fabulous transportation invention but does not work in the gridded-out metropolitan areas. He dives in to moving objects and our brain. How many decisions are made per minute while driving. And he doesn't even really get in to cell phones because they were just starting to become fashionable appendages when he published the book in 2008 though he does reference iPods/music playing in cars. He talks about the increases in deaths and attributions. He talks about types of cars and engineering. There is literally no stone unturned in this tome because "traffic is like a language. It generally works best if everyone knows and obeys the rules of grammar though slang can be brutally effective."

Stirling Moss (racer) is quoted as saying "there are two things no man will admit he cannot do well: drive and make love."
Profile Image for Mirkat.
477 reviews3 followers
December 24, 2017
You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.

Most drivers are not nearly as proficient as they think they are. Many drivers, based on their inflated sense of their own skills, think they can drive just as well, even if they divide their attention between their driving and their phones. But they are (at times catastrophically) wrong.

Measures designed to make driving safer can actually make it more dangerous, since they facilitate faster driving and less attention to surroundings.

Individual drivers make choices based on their own self-interest, but those choices are often detrimental to the entire driving system, with the cumulative effect of slowing down traffic flow.

I found this book, overall, interesting and informative. Certain facts were downright counter-intuitive. At times, I felt I was being bogged down somewhat with the density of some of the data, but I think it's a worthwhile read/listen.

Still skeptical that roundabouts are safer for pedestrians. My own personal example is a roundabout at an intersection that is part of one of my favorite running routes. Several years back, the roundabout replaced traffic lights. In my experience, the traffic lights provided a clarity that has been removed. The road that I have to cross now has a crosswalk meant to stop westbound drivers entering the roundabout and another for eastbound drivers who have just exited it. There is signage indicating that drivers must stop to allow pedestrians to cross. I can't even tell you how often drivers roll right through, apparently not even considering the possibility of stopping for lowly on-foot travelers. Usually, my only hope of crossing is if no drivers are close enough to be a problem.
Profile Image for Kate.
256 reviews
June 23, 2019
Felt mixed about this book. I’d wanted to read it for a long time and was a bit disappointed. There weren’t as many concepts or statistics that blew my mind as I’d expected. There were a handful of really interesting tidbits, and it helped to have a reminder of the fundamentals of traffic that we never think about, but it really dragged for me. I didn’t look forward to listening to it.

This continues my several month stretch of finding it hard to get all the way through books. 😏
Profile Image for Mitchell Friedman.
4,690 reviews175 followers
January 15, 2020
A fascinating and hopefully useful look at driving and parking and roads. Now to get all the other drivers in the world to read this. Certainly will add to my continuing to teach my youngest to drive - I wish I had read it before I taught my oldest. Lots to think about. Definitely worth owning a copy.
Profile Image for YITING.
143 reviews8 followers
November 8, 2021

p. 114
博物學家羅伯.文克勒(Robert Winkler)指出,老鷹等生物之所以能邊從高空用一百六十公里的時速俯衝而下,邊追蹤小型地面獵物的動向,是因為牠們的眼睛擁有高於人類眼睛的閃爍融合率(flicker fusion rate)。

p. 118
人們誤判車速的方式不計其數。一般認為,我們對自己的移動速度和移動方向——假如我們的確正在移動的話——的知覺,主要源自所謂的「整體光流」(global optical flow)。當我們開車(或走路)時,必須參考水平線上的某個固定點,亦即「標定」,來引導我們的行進方向。我們必須隨時校正這個標定的位置,以便讓它成為所謂的擴展焦點(focus of expansion),亦即本身靜止不動,但所有視覺影像以其為源頭,依著輻射擴散的模式,朝我們不斷湧來的定點——請想像《《星際大戰》(Star Wars)中的千年鷹號進入曲速後,周遭的星星變成一條條自行飛行軌跡中央往後迅速退去的線條時的情景。「位移流線」(locomotor flow line)——或者你我所謂的道路——是光場中對駕駛車輛而言最關鍵的一個部份,而往後掠去的事物所具有的「質地密度」(texuaral density),則會影響我們的速度感。



p. 319

p. 355
大多數駕駛人會先煞車,然後再改變方向。即使在某些測驗中,改變行車方向才是避免車禍的唯一方法,人們仍會堅持煞車。這或許是由於煞車(應該是改變行車方向吧)看來會使駕駛人陷入更危險的處境,或是因為駕駛人不了解車輛本身處理危機的能力,或是單純地出於某種「操作制約」(operant conditioning)——就和將行車方向維持在同一車道上一樣,煞車通常都是處理緊急狀況的正確方法,久而久之它便成了人們所知的唯一方法。



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p. 287
因此,就像剛開始習慣英國溫熱啤酒的遊客,社會神經靈敏的駕駛人,很快便能習得某個地方獨特的駕駛習慣,例如「匹茲堡式左轉」(Pittsburgh left) 等。匹茲堡(以及北京)的駕駛人,往往會將綠燈視為「非正式」的左轉燈號,並在綠燈亮起時,以有如弓箭般的速度,當著對向來車的面迅速左轉。


P. 288
在交通號誌前動彈不得的駕駛人,必定會發現機車不斷地填滿車陣前方的空隙,有如玻璃球往下飄落的塑膠雪花。「他們應該遵守和汽車一樣的規則,」義大利汽車協會的保羅.柏哥尼(Paolo Borgogne)提到羅馬的機車大軍時表示。「但由於某些原因,大家覺得他們不需如此…舉例來說,他們往往將交通號誌視為杵在路邊轉角的家具。」但情況已經有所改變:多年來,機車騎士一直不需要駕駛執照,但現在他們則必須持有「輕型車輛駕照」(patentino)。


p. 321
這種根據血液酒精濃度判斷人們行車風險的作法是否準確,當然得視每個人的不同狀況而定。一九六○年代時,研究人員在密西根州大急流市(Grand Rapids)進行一項研究,後來成為許多國家制定合法行車酒測值時的參考標準。研究人員在路邊隨機攔下駕駛人,並發現酒測值介於百分之零點零一至百分之零點零四之間的駕駛人,反而比酒測值為零的駕駛人,更少發生車禍。這種被稱為「大急流沉降」(Grand Rapids dip)的現象,使得有些人認為,上路前「喝點小酒」的駕駛人, 較能意識到行車的風險,或被警察攔下的機率,因此往往比較注重行車安全;其他人則主張,較常飲酒的駕駛人,較能「處理」少量酒精產生的影響。


p. 352

這個觀點尚未得到科學證實,但在邦杜蘭特的試車跑道上,賽車選手的座右銘「眼到車至」,卻屢屢得到印證。我鑽進一輛後頭裝著輔助輪的龐帝亞克(Pontiac) Grand Prix。只要扳動開關,駕訓教練就能抬起車尾,模擬原本在更快的車速下才會出現的打滑動作。正當我邊繞著跑道行駛,邊練習如何處理轉向過度打滑問題的同時,我發現假如我不要注視自己即將撞上的橡膠輪胎防撞牆(老實說,這並不容易做到),反倒將視線移至自己想要到達的角落時,的確比較容易矯正車身打滑的現象。
Profile Image for Robyn.
387 reviews16 followers
November 17, 2019
Please take this 4 star rating with a grain of salt! Glad to have found this book for 2 bucks at the Saskatoon Symphony book sale or it would likely have never crossed my radar.

I hate driving. I hate cars. I own a car and I drive it, but I consider it not much more than a necessary evil in order to conduct my life in the place I choose to live (but oh, how I fantasize about living in a city where cars aren't the primary form of transportation). I walk/bike/bus when I can to avoid driving, because I find it mentally draining and am aware of how unsafe cars and driving are. This realization that I hated driving was one thing that led me into an interest in active transportation and more generally, urban design for livability, and the info in Traffic fit in nicely with what I've been learning so far.

This book is over a decade old so I was a bit worried that it might be out of date. I read the chapter about how hard it is to design self-driving cars because of the human factors involved, wondered if technology had solved the problems since, and literally the next day saw a headline about a self-driving car killing a pedestrian for exactly the reasons described in the book. This happened again after reading the chapter on whether realtime congestion data will be able to solve congestion; the next day (again! It was getting spooky at this point) I saw an article on CityLab about how realtime congestion data is actually making things worse.

So, this book has not aged poorly by any stretch; if anything it shows us that it is very, very difficult to separate out the human side of traffic. As a human factors nerd and armchair urbanist I find this all VERY VERY INTERESTING! Also, confirmed that I am right to feel the way about driving that I do - driving is absolutely dangerous, and absolutely a major mental strain. (If you think it's not, maybe you need to read at least a couple chapters of this book.) So I am giving this book 4 stars because this topic is my jam and I learned a lot.

That said, unless this topic is also your jam, you probably will feel differently. I did not find the writing especially entertaining, and absolutely loathed the citation style, which was essentially a repetition of the phrase "studies have shown" over and over and having to flip to the back of the book to find the reference. What is it with pop sci books not using footnotes? I find this citation style endlessly frustrating. Some chapters were more interesting than others in terms of the writing, I thought. Overall most chapters were about 25 pages which is a doable length for an evening (I couldn't imagine reading more than a chapter a day since the information was so dense), but a couple were slightly longer. I wasn't "excited" to pick up this book and read it; it borderline felt like a chore but at the same time I knew it was information I wanted to know. Does that even make sense?

I'm very glad to have read this book. It was very well-researched, but not quite as well-written, and thus I can't recommend it to just anyone. If you are very interested in the topics it covers you will probably enjoy it, but if you only feel a passing interest, I would maybe just recommend reading some longer-form reviews of this book to get the general summary.
Profile Image for Elizabeth K..
804 reviews40 followers
August 20, 2013
Holy cow, this book was awesome. Pop science in which the author puts together a lot of studies about how driving actually works (like the physics and technology of how cars move) and ways this gets translated by people driving cars. It was the kind of book where every single paragraph contained at least one amazing fact. Like so amazing that everyone I know is really lucky that I wasn't calling you at 2 AM on a Wednesday to tell you that up to 20% of the earth's surface can be covered in insect swarms in a given moment. TWENTY PERCENT, PEOPLE. If you're wondering how that relates to traffic, apparently it came up in a conversation he was having with someone who was comparing information about insect swarming behaviors to traffic congestion models. I should point out that most of the amazing facts were more directly about driving, but the fact that the author was compelled to wedge this one in there makes me feel like he's a kindred spirit.

This is also the kind of book that makes me wish I had a better guidance counselor in high school, in terms of career planning. Or I don't know, maybe the guidance counselor wouldn't even have had a chance, given that a basic description of how engineers can use systems analysis to make recommendations about public policy sounds like a terrible job. It sounds like the most boring thing ever, until you get to the actual examples of engineers and other scientists playing around with traffic flow and then it sounds like the best job ever.

Of course this was a winner with me right out of the gate, because the very first section is an explanation of why the zipper merge is more efficient for everyone than the early merge. THE ZIPPER. Be still my heart.
Profile Image for Gwen.
99 reviews
December 30, 2008
I actually listened to the audiobook in the car, which made "reading" this quite ironic. Half of the time, I was in the process of doing exactly what the author was talking about. Overall, I found this book pretty fascinating -- the statistics and logic surrounding safety and danger in the car and on the road seemed so backward (like how freeways and open roadways that appear safe are actually more dangerous than busy city streets with lots of action) -- until they were explained. One of the most interesting parts for me was that there are more pedestrians in NYC, but the streets are still designed for the driver.

The last chapter summarized a lot of everything else in the book, and started to get kindof dull -- since it didn't pack the same punch without all the stats and dramatic information.
13 reviews
August 22, 2019
Traffic advertises itself as a fun, light read, which is what I was looking for having just finished a deep and complex book, but it's nothing like that.

It is written almost like an academic journal at times, with a huge emphasis on research over opinion. It is dry, disengaging and lacks humour. There are over one hundred pages of acknowledgements and citations, demonstrating this is basically a list of research studies linked in some way to driving.

I was bombarded with a series of stats and facts, but I doubt I will remember a single one in a few days' time because they are delivered in such a flat way with little narrative to tie them together.

The whole book is basically: "We have all been in the situation when something dangerous happens on a road. One study revealed this thing happens more when we get distracted, and this occurs because we are human, or it might be because you are a man, inexperienced, or young and stupid."
Profile Image for Elaine Nelson.
285 reviews36 followers
November 15, 2010
An exploration of the psychology of traffic, mostly in the US, but with some travels abroad (particularly to the UK, the Netherlands, India and China). Amazing stuff. Basically, unless you're a brain surgeon, driving is the most mentally complex thing you will ever do. And of course most of the issues that make traffic so insane are psychological. We're just not designed to go that fast. Also, lots of little nuggets of wisdom to save for future conversations. I hope our governor and state/local transportation folks read this book!
Profile Image for Ben Renz.
19 reviews
January 16, 2013
Could have been so much better. He focused on a handful of topics and dragged them out to an extent that made actually sitting in traffic seem more enticing. Some things were insightful and might stick with me for a while, but as a whole I'm gonna give it two stars for disappointment. Traffic can be fascinating, and this was nearly the opposite.
Profile Image for rivka.
904 reviews
June 13, 2010
Highly recommended by a friend who works in traffic statistics and research.

While at times somewhat dry, mostly presented very well, with amusing asides and oft-frightening realizations. A book every driver should read!
Profile Image for Daniel Frank.
269 reviews35 followers
September 12, 2016
Interesting subject matter, but this book provides nothing new. The author isn't very curious/knowledgable, and ignores a lot of the traffic adjacent topics. I can't imagine that there's any audience that I would recommend this book to.
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