Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Traffic" by Tom Vanderbilt

It likely wouldn't have been predicted to sell well, but "Traffic" by frequent magazine writer Tom Vanderbilt reached into the Top Ten on the New York Times Best Seller list. Having just finished reading it, I can see why as it had some very interesting points to make about something that affects many people each and every day... traffic.

Some of those insights are below:

- Late merging onto a freeway: Rather than simply being selfish driving, it's the most efficient usage of the road as it means the largest portion of available space is being utilized for the longest period of time.

- Cell phone usage: While it probably is safer to use a hands-free device than to not, the safest thing to do is not use a cell phone at all while driving. The reason has to do with attention... studies of driver's gaze while on a cell phone shows them picking a fixed point directly in front of them and keeping focus there. This is as opposed to experienced (i.e. good) drivers not talking on a cell phone who are continually scanning the path ahead to adjust to any obstacles that may arise.

- We miss seeing things we don't expect: Accidents often result from outliers in traffic that they're not used to seeing. Cars frequently collide with police and emergency responders parked alongside the road and a main reason why is that the drivers of those cars don't expect to see anything parked there and when they do, the processing of that information often isn't done quickly enough to take the right course of action driving.

- Roundabouts and shared spaces are safer for all: It's really two different but related points... roundabouts are a good thing in traffic because they slow everybody down and make them be aware of their surroundings (similar idea to not talking on a cell phone) and shared space between cars and pedestrians accomplishes the same end. The alternative to this is simple four-way stops and lights... where accidents often occur when people don't expect either the other car or pedestrian to enter "their space".

Related to both of these concepts is the idea that the most dangerous roads are the most boring ones. Rumble strips on highways help reduce this danger, but what occurs is driving are lulled into a false sense of security (or sleep) and reduce their attention... which is never good on the road.

There's definitely some other interesting concepts (around commute times, parking and building more roads, for instance) out of the book and even though it's a bit dry (it is an entire book about traffic for gosh sakes), I'd definitely recommend it to anyone interested in the concepts.