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

Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt
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's review
Aug 25, 2009

really liked it
Read in August, 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.
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