Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt
Yes, another book that might have you thinking “Really? A book about that?“ Yes. It’s a book about traffic. It’s a long book about traffic. But it is filled with fascinating tidbits of information that may forever change the way you look at the traffic around you.
It may also cause you to annoy your friends and relatives by quoting some of those factoids as you’re driving (or not driving) in traffic. So, be aware that the temptation may be there to quote liberally, and remember to share the info wisely.
I loved the section on “psychological traffic calming” and the discussion on the effectiveness (or non-effectiveness) of traffic signs that has led to experiments in the Netherlands where NO traffic signs are provided.
Unexpectedly compelling, don’t be put off by the length. It’s very readable.
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.
To see all the books featured in 31 Days of Great Nonfiction, go to the series page.
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