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on 21 October 2008
Tom Vanderbilt is a great author. He has managed to write a book about one of the most mundane, boring, simplistic topics and turn it into an exciting, interesting and informative piece of work. Every single sentence backed up with years of studies from experts in the field of traffic (yes...experts on traffic) makes for an incredibly interesting read. I won't got too much into detail but Vanderbilt cites many examples of how our eyes can easily deceive us on the road, and also talks about 'risk homeostasis' where we tend to adjust are our behaviour relative to the risks involved e.g. Wearing seatbelts = Faster driving etc. This part at the end was most interesting.

All in all, after reluctant to read it, as it was given as a present, I have learnt never to judge a book by its topic, not matter how boring or dull it may sound. It's a truly enjoyable read.
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on 19 April 2010
In this book, Tom Vanderbilt looks at the subject of traffic from an eclectic range of perspectives. Covering driving psychology, social-anthropology, economics and traffic engineering, among others, he gives a comprehensive and original view of this uniquely human phenomenon. He shows the picture on the world's roads as it truly is, not how drivers, politicians or transport planners would want it to be.

In one chapter he covers the cognitive process of driving, based on the fact that humans did not evolve to travel at speeds of 60+ mph and so our sensory organs are not designed to work at such speeds. In another he covers calculations of risk, both ours and the insurance industry's. In another he shows how driving norms have evolved differently in different countries. And he achieves all this with an entertaining wit and a lot of useful pub facts.

Books about driving are often either testosterone-fuelled rants or so bogged down in finger-wagging minutiae they make The Highway Code look exciting. Despite being full of information, this book is an easy and enjoyable read and takes a warm and personal view of people on the move in all their wonderful irrational multiplicity.

I bought this book because I work in the industry. I would recommend it because it is really good!
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If you've ever been stuck in traffic alone (and who hasn't been?), all kinds of thoughts have occurred to you about how poorly the highways are designed, why drivers are so inconsiderate, what else you would like to be doing, and how to get out of this mess! Since cell phones have arrived, I regularly receive calls from my wife and children while they are stuck in traffic hoping that I'll have some suggestions for them. Tom Vanderbilt takes that vague reactions and tests them out.

It turns out that driving isn't so natural for humans, and we don't always do it right. While we are unhappy about what others are doing, we overestimate the quality of our own driving.

Even though it's very difficult for a machine to learn to drive effectively, humans get to the point where they drive without paying attention. There's a price to pay: Make the road too boring, and some people will fall asleep until awakened by a rumble strip or they crash into an immovable object such as a tree.

It turns out we lose a lot of our humanity when we drive on good roads at high speed. It's all about us then. Slow things down enough and surround us with easy ways to hurt other people, and we look people in the eye and act like a good neighbor.

The most amazing parts of the book explore ways that attempts by traffic engineers to make roads safer and to carry more traffic have backfired. The engineers, it seems, think we are rationally moving objects rather than people who like to drive around a little to get a change of pace in our lives.

He also tests out some basic subjects where there's wide disagreement, such as, should you merge as soon as possible when a lane is being dropped . . . or speed along in the closed lane until the last minute? The answer may surprise you if you are a patient person who tries to cooperate with others.

You'll also get an unexpected tip about when to do when in a skid . . . after you steer in the direction you are skidding. This might save your life.

Those who have never read the statistics about the dangerous of driving while talking on cell phones, changing radio stations, and fiddling with other devices may decide they want to be more cautious. Driving under the influence and time-of-day driving risks will also interest most drivers.

Mr. Vanderbilt visits different traffic areas around the world and explains how things work in what seems like chaos to the American visitor. I was only disappointed that he didn't talk about the effect of potholes on traffic and accidents in areas where the roads freeze.

My only complaint was that the book contained more information than I really wanted to learn on the topic of each chapter, and much of that was engineering jargon (which I can live without). A briefer, breezier read would have been more fun: Than I could have felt like I was driving in a red sports convertible with the top down on an interesting high-speed road with little traffic while surrounded by pleasant views.
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on 4 February 2009
Who would have thought that the bane of our lives could be so interesting? But traffic is mass human behaviour, and watching it (from the outside!) gives real insight.
"Traffic" is well written and has changed the way I drive, hopefully for the better.
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on 16 January 2009
Although described as 416 pages, the last 220 pages are the notes and references used to research the book. It is very well researched and written in an entertaining and relaxed style.
Most of the research and examples are within the USA, but the research behind them can easily be used for the UK. It shows just how similair the driving cultures can be on both sides of the Atlantic. The research into late and early merging at roadworks is an interesting start to the book, showing how the Americans and our Highways Agency attempted to specify one method over the other, and how the motorists made their own choices much to the irritation of the engineers.
Examples are studied from all over the world. The absence of any traffic control in the Netherlands to the first attempt to introduce a Traffic Act in China.
It details research which may show what actually causes 'road rage' and why some drivers tailgate. How engineers attempt to control complicated traffic flows around major cities in different cultures and just how easy it is to make a shambles of it.
Not something I could read in one sitting, but a chapter or so at a time makes it an interesting read and gives some insight into the road behaviour of yourself and others.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 November 2009
First of all I did enjoy the book. It is very well written and nice to read - assuming you have even the slightest of interests in the topic.

And the science behind it is certainly interesting and without checking the literature quoted within, it seems to at least intuitively add up. Everything from our perceptional deficiencies, making us worse drivers, to road design and the schools of thinking behind it, and cultural differences that lead to traffic differences is covered in the book.

Where the book falls a bit short in my opinion is that it was written by a journalist type writer - which shows in its style. It does make it very readable but on the other hand, coming away from it, one cannot really say what the conclusions are.

The book would work a lot better if the elements were building blocks in a coherent framework, which would allow the readers really to raise their understanding of the topic. As it is, it's a bit of an interesting collection of traffic factoids, which one tends to forget soon after putting the book down - so its impact, apart from the entertainment value is lower than it could be.
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on 12 November 2008
An emotion that I had difficulty suppressing while reading this book is envy. It deals with a subject about which I have been banging on for more than three decades (Risk), and along comes this young whippersnapper who does it so much better. He has written a popular book; the consensus of other reviewers is that he has picked up a worthy subject, that most people are predisposed to find dull, and made it interesting! But beyond that he has also produced a book that should become a standard reference work for everyone concerned about road safety.
Much of what he has to say is unconventional wisdom - chapter 7 is entitled "Why Dangerous Roads are Safer". It is counterintuitive until you read it, and then it becomes common sense.
He has read, digested and explained an impressive body of evidence: the book has 90 pages of notes. It will be used to settle lots of pub arguments, but also, hopefully, to inform and transform the thinking of researchers, educators and practitioners in the field of road safety.
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on 12 December 2009
A well researched and thorough book that reads like a good article in "Wired" but book length! A little US centric but manages worldwide coverage.

Topics covered include driving psychology, driving aids, traffic planning, problems with perception and concentration and lots and lots of good statistics. Despite being US centric, the author manages to provide a book that is interesting, and challenging.

It is perhaps not a must read for everyone, but if you are remotely interested in why we drive the way we do, and in understanding our fellow motorists, this is a book for you. If you want to be a better driver, there is also plenty of good information here - but it is not primarily an advanced driving manual. Nevertheless it repays the time spent reading it.
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on 25 August 2008
As a typical American who drives to work, traffic is a huge part of my life. Why we do what we do (road rage; careless driving; passive-aggressive driving) has fascinated me for years. Vanderbilt is a journalist who went to the experts rather than trying to answer the questions himself. Some of the answers go all the way back to our evolution. Some answers seem intuitively right, if difficult to prove; many seem counter-intuitive, and some have no answers yet.

What puts this book above and beyond what I ordinarily read is how useful it is. I honestly feel I'm a safer driver for having read it and may live longer to read more great books from these insights. I can't recommend it highly enough for anyone who cycles, walks in the vicinity of cars, or drives.
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on 14 October 2016
This book is full of insights into driving habits exhibited by many if not most drivers. It has a lot to say about the way we drive and the reasons we do. Some of it might seem difficult to believe such as which roads are safer and which roads are actually more dangerous but the evidence is provided to back up these conclusions. I particularly like the discussion of parking habits. People basically divide into those who take the first convenient space (me) and those who cruise looking for the best space (my wife). Interestingly men tend to underestimate the distance to be walked from the parking space to your destination and women tend to overestimate the distance.
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