Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)

Book - 2008
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Random House, Inc.
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.

Baker & Taylor
An intriguing study of the mysteries of the road analyzes the complex social, physical, psychological, and technical factors that dictate how traffic works, why we drive the way we do, and what our driving reveals about us, discussing the unintended consequences of attempts to engineer safety, why plans to protect pedestrians can lead to more accidents, and more. 150,000 first printing.

& Taylor

Analyzes the complex social, physical, psychological, and technical factors that dictate how traffic works, why we drive the way we do, and what our driving reveals about us, discussing the unintended consequences of attempts to engineer safety.

Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2008
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780307264787
Characteristics: viii, 402 p. ; 24 cm


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Oct 03, 2018

I liked the movie "Traffic" a lot better.

SPPL_János Mar 19, 2018

Vanderbilt peers under the hood of an activity so commonplace we barely think about it: the act of driving. And what he finds is utterly fascinating. It turns out that new safety features inspire us to drive more dangerously, most crashes happen on sunny days to sober drivers, and it's better to wait until the last minute to merge. These are just a few tidbits from this easily readable parade of revelations. Vanderbilt distills a huge amount of research from all over the world, even visiting the Netherlands and India to experience their traffic firsthand. If you liked "Freakonomics", or if you've ever driven a car, you're sure to find yourself caught up in "Traffic".

JohnK_KCMO Dec 05, 2016

This book should be required reading for all driver's ed courses. It radically changed the way I drive and helped me better understand how traffic works and flows. I truly believe this book made me safer behind the wheel.

Oct 14, 2014

I am very surprised at how much this book has improved my understanding of the entire world. From pedestrian traffic and packed elevators to traffic jams and mob mentality.

Its written in the popular "Gladwell" style, so a more technical reader would find it slow.

If nothing else, I no longer rage when I'm stuck in traffic. And that's wonderful.

Nov 29, 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.

Feb 20, 2010

Interesting book. I definitely think about it often while I'm driving.
(It's not as long as it looks, about 100 pages are acknowledgements.)

Oct 06, 2008

Very good book for all drivers; Ministry of Transport should read it too.


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