A New York Times Notable Book "One of the Best Books of the Year" The Washington Post, The Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Rocky Mountain News. In this brilliant, lively, and eye-opening investigation, Tom 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 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.Traffic is about more than driving: it's about human nature. It will change the way we see ourselves and the world around us, and it may even make us better drivers.
Tom Vanderbilt writes about design, technology, science and culture for Wired, Slate, The New York Times and other publications. He lives in Brooklyn and drives a 2001 Volvo V40.
Why I Became a Late Merger(and Why You Should Too)
Why does the other lane always seem to be moving faster?
It is a question you have no doubt asked yourself while crawling down some choked highway, watching with mounting frustration as the adjacent cars glide ahead. You drum the wheel with your fingers. You change the radio station. You fixate on one car as a benchmark of your own lack of progress. You try to figure out what that weird button next to the rearwindow
defroster actually does.
I used to think this was just part of the natural randomness of the highway. Sometimes fate would steer me into the faster lane, sometimes it would relinquish me to the slow lane.
That was until recently, when I had an experience that made me rethink my traditionally passive outlook on the road, and upset the careful set of assumptions that had always guided my behavior in traffic.
I made a major lifestyle change. I became alate merger.
Chances are, at some point you have found yourself driving along the highway when a sign announces that the left lane, in which you are traveling, will close one mile ahead, and that you must merge right.
You notice an opening in the right lane and quickly move over. You breathe a sigh, happy to be safely ensconced in the Lane That Will Not End. Then, as the lane creeps to a slow halt, you notice with rising indignation that cars in the lane you have vacated are continuing to speed ahead, out of sight. You quietly seethe and contemplate returning to the much faster left lane--if only you could work an opening. You grimly accept your condition.
One day, not long ago, I had an epiphany on a New Jersey highway. I was having a typical white-knuckle drive among the scenic oil-storage depots and chemical-processing plants of northern Jersey when suddenly, on the approach to the Pulaski Skyway, the sign loomed: LANE ENDS ONE MILE. MERGE RIGHT.
Seized by some rash impulse, I avoided the instinctual tickle at the back of my brain telling me to get in the already crowded right lane.Just do what the sign says,
that voice usually counsels. Instead, I listened to another, more insistent voice:Don't be a sucker. You can do better.
I plowed purposefully ahead, oblivious to the hostile stares of other drivers. From the corner of my eye I could see my wife cringing. After passing dozens of cars, I made it to the bottleneck point, where, filled with newfound swagger, I took my rightful turn in the small alternating "zipper" merge that had formed. I merged, and it was clear asphalt ahead. My heart was beating faster. My wife covered her face with her hands.
In the days after, a creeping guilt and confusion took hold. Was I wrong to have done this? Or had I been doing it wrong all my life? Looking for an answer, I posted an anonymous inquiry on Ask MetaFilter, a Web site one can visit to ask random questions and tap into the "hive mind" of an anonymous audience of overeducated and overopinionated geeks. Why should one lane move faster than the other, I wanted to know, and why are people rewarded for merging at the last possible moment? And was my new lifestyle, that of the late merger, somehow deviant?
I was startled by the torrent of responses, and how quickly they came. What struck me most was the passion and conviction with which people argued their various cases--and the fact that while many people seemed to think I was wrong, almost as many seemed to think I was right. Rather than easy consensus, I had stumbled into a gaping divide of irreconcilable
The first camp--let us name it after the bumper sticker that says practice random acts of kindness--viewed early mergers as virtuous souls doing the right thing and late mergers as arrogant louts. "Unfortunately, people suck," wrote one Random Acts poster. "They'll try whatever they can to pass you, to better e
Excerpted from Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says about Us) by Tom Vanderbilt
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