New Book Explains Why We Do What We Do In Traffic

August 20, 2009
Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt

Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt

It all began, explains author Tom Vanderbilt, when he finally became a "late merger". Instead of meekly getting into line while those [fill in epithet here] zoomed past him to merge just before the end of the lane...he joined them.

His wife cringed. He wondered what this would do to his self-image. Was he really that kind of person? And, more deeply, why do we behave the way we do in traffic? Is it true that late merging actually makes traffic move faster on average?

And that's how this unexpectedly compelling book starts. Face it, if someone said they wanted you to read a fascinating book on ... traffic ... you'd politely nod and try to change the subject, right?

Well, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) is a rare exception to the rule that says discussions about the interplay among cars, technology, and human behavior are better left to doctoral students.

Turns out, in fact, that the problems with how we behave in traffic stem from how cars are designed. They violate the ways we're wired to behave as humans.

When we interact, for instance, we look each other in the eyes. We gesture. We watch for subtle signals and body language. And we make decisions on how to proceed based on all those cues.

None of that is possible if we're locked into 2 tons of vehicle, staring at the back of the next driver's head. That anonymity lets us view other drivers not like members of our human community, but like aggressive predators. And respond by treating them that way.

There's much more to the book. Flipping through a few chapter titles and headings is rewarding all by itself:

  • Why You're Not as Good a Driver as You  Think You Are (doesn't apply to us, of course)
  • Why Ants Don't Get Into Traffic Jams (and Humans Do)
  • Why More Roads Lead to More Traffic (and What to Do About it)
  • When Dangerous Roads Are Safer
  • Why You Shouldn't Drive with a Beer-Drinking Divorced  Doctor Named Fred on Super Bowl Sunday in a Pickup Truck in Rural Montana: What's Risky on the Road, and Why (our favorite)

We'll save you the spoilers from the rest of the book, but note that it's fairly rare for us to recommend books. (We'd rather you read your content, preferably most of it High Gear Media sites, on these durn Interwebs.)

In this case, though, even if the book doesn't change your behavior, it'll let you understand it a bit better. And in our book, that's always a good thing.

The Car Connection
See the winners »
The Car Connection
Commenting is closed for this article
Ratings and Reviews
Rate and review your car for The Car Connection
Review your car
The Car Connection Daily Headlines
I agree to receive emails from The Car Connection. I understand that I can unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy.
Thank you! Please check your email for confirmation.