Why does the other lane always seem faster? Why ants don’t get into traffic jams, and humans do? Why more roads actually lead to more traffic? And why, contrary to common sense, “safe” roads are more dangerous?
These are just some of the interesting questions that Tom Vanderbilt (who blogs here) explores in his illuminating book published in August 2008: Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). Below is an excerpt:
You may suspect that getting people to merge in a timely fashion, and without killing one another, is less of a traffic problem and more of a human problem. The road, more than simply a system of regulations and designs, is a place where many millions of us, with only loose parameters for how to behave, are thrown together daily in a kind of massive petri dish in which all kinds of uncharted, little-understood dynamics are at work. There is no other place where so many people from different walks of life–different ages, races, classes, religions, genders, political preferences, lifestyle choices, levels of psychological stability–mingle so freely.
What do we really know about how it all works? Why do we act the way we do on the road, and what might that say about us? Are certain people predisposed to drive certain ways? Do women behave differently than men? And if, as conventional wisdom has it, drivers have become progressively less civil over the past several decades, why is that so? Is the road a microcosm of society, or its own place with its own set of rules?
The dynamics of traffic and the human phycology of commuting are discussed in great detail, supported by statistics, surveys, and common observations by traffic engineers, urban planners etc. Every once in a while I stumbled across some factoids that were unnecessarily elaborative. But for the most part, the details are eye-opening, quite informative and entertaining. Thanks to Tom for this meticulously researched book about a subject/phenomenon that has tremendous impacts on our daily lives but the phycology behind it was not explored much before this comprehensive study of traffic. I recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about the curious oddities about traffic… to anyone who wants to be a better driver!
You’re not stuck in a traffic jam. You are the traffic jam. [advertisement in Germany]