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Traffic
Cover of Traffic
Traffic
Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)
Borrow Borrow Borrow
A New York Times Notable Book
One of the Best Books of the Year
The Washington PostThe Cleveland Plain-DealerRocky Mountain News
In this brilliant, lively, and eye-opening investigation, Tom 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 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. Traffic is about more than driving: it's about human nature. It will change the way we see ourselves and the world around us, and it may even make us better drivers.
A New York Times Notable Book
One of the Best Books of the Year
The Washington PostThe Cleveland Plain-DealerRocky Mountain News
In this brilliant, lively, and eye-opening investigation, Tom 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 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. Traffic is about more than driving: it's about human nature. It will change the way we see ourselves and the world around us, and it may even make us better drivers.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book 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 rearwindowdefroster 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 seemed to think I was right. Rather than easy consensus, I had stumbled into a gaping divide of irreconcilablebelief.The first camp—let us name it after the bumper sticker that says practice random acts of kindness—viewed early mergers as virtuous souls doing the right thing and late mergers as...
About 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.

    www.howwedrive.com

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    July 28, 2008
    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).

  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 19, 2008
    In this lively and informative volume, Vanderbilt (Survival City
    ) investigates how human nature has shaped traffic, and vice versa, finally answering drivers' most familiar and frustrating questions: why does the other lane always seem faster? why do added lanes seem to intensify congestion? whatever happened to signaling for turns? He interviews traffic reporters, engineers, psychologists studying human-machine interactions and radical Dutch urban planners who design intersections with no pavement markings, traffic signs or signals. Backed by an impressive array of psychological, sociological, historical, anecdotal and economic research, the author's presentation is always engaging and often sobering: his findings reveal how little attention drivers pay to the road and how frequently they misjudge crucial information. Sections on commuting distances and the amount of driving done by women versus men (guess who runs more household errands?) feel fresh and timely. Referring to traffic as “an environment that has become so familiar we no longer see it” and a “secret window onto the soul of a place,” Vanderbilt heightens awareness of an institution and its attendant behaviors that are all too often taken for granted.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from June 15, 2008
    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 timeand 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, "LJ" 4/1/08.]Eric C. Shoaf, Brown Univ. Lib., Providence, RI

    Copyright 2008 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    June 1, 2008
    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. The author tackles some of drivings most persistent unanswered questions (Why does the other lane always move faster? Why do we turn into other people when we drive? Is it better to merge early or late?) and offers, if not definitive answers, at least sensible, plausible, and well-argued ones. Vanderbilt shows how road engineering and human nature sometimes clash and sometimes work in harmony; how most of us arent as safe on the road as we think we are (and why this is so); dispels some common myths (talking on a cell phone doesnt noticeably affect our concentration; dialing does); and makes us take a long, hard look at our own driving habits. The author, a technology and design writer, has a clear, unadorned style andbacks up his observations with information derived from studies conducted by a variety of researchers around the world. Of particular interest are the numerous comparisons between American driving rules and habits and those of various foreign countries and some of the experimentation being done to find ways to make the roads safer (such as ways for drivers to receive feedback about their performance from their fellow drivers). Definitely written for a general audience, the book is both informative and engaging. Expect off-the-book-page attention.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2008, American Library Association.)

  • Christopher Caldwell, Financial Times (UK)

    "A surprising, enlightening look at the psychology of human beings behind the steering wheels . . . Required reading for anyone applying for a driver's license." --The New York Times Book Review"Engagingly written, meticulously researched, endlessly interesting and informative." --The Washington Post Book World"Smart and comprehensive. . . . Vanderbilt's book is likely to remain relevant well into the new century." --The New Republic"Traffic will definitely change the way you think about driving, which also means changing the way you think about being human."--Slate"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"An engaging, informative, psychologically savvy account of the conscious and unconscious assumptions of individual drivers.... Full of fascinating facts and provocative propositions."--Pittsburgh Post-Gazette"An engrossing tour through the neuroscience of highway illusions, the psychology of late merging, and other existential driving dilemmas."--Discover"Manages to be downright fun."--Road and Track"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"A well-written, important book that should hold the interest of anyone who...

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