Archive for July 1st, 2008

Accidental Vanity Plates

Do you ever, as I sometimes do, notice a license plate that seems poised somewhere between the randomness of the state DMV and a full-on vanity plate? And you wonder for a moment whether the driver is trying to send some oblique message (perhaps overpaying for a rather weak vanity plate), or whether you’re reading too much into the humble tags, conspiracy-theory style? Sometimes what might seem inconsequential to someone might be very meaningful to someone else; hence the “lucky number” plates in China, where “AC6688” went for nearly $10,000. I’ve had rental cars that began with some suggestive group of letters, e.g., “RU,” or “G7,” and I always wondered whether others saw the glimmers of meaning. After all, we spend a lot of time looking at license plates in traffic.

But now I’ve learned, via Roadguy, that seemingly meaningless configurations can have a way of suddenly becoming meaningful. To wit, some 10,000 plates in North Carolina seem to begin with the three-letter designation: WTF. The DMV’s own website contains this little example of license-plate bingo gone awry. Now, the folks at the DMV are expert at screening out potentially offensive vanity plates, but they certainly can’t predict the future, and could not have known that that might become a very meaningful acronym from the world of texting. They’re offering to replace them.

Now it’s got me in a panic. My own plate begins with “CUY.” Do fellow drivers think I’m paying vehicular homage to the Andean delicacy? Or will that someday become a contentious acronym (for, I dunno, “Coyote Ugly Youth”)?

I’m curious as to what other examples of “accidental vanity plates” might be out there in the real world, and I’ll send a signed copy of Traffic to the reader who sends a photo with the best example to I’ll post the winner a bit down the road. CUL8R…

Posted on Tuesday, July 1st, 2008 at 4:09 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Significant Seven

I’m quite honored to be among Amazon’s “Significant Seven” — i.e., the Best Books of the Month.

The 40% discount now makes the book (assuming free shipping) cost less than four gallons of gas. Perfect ‘staycation’ reading!

Posted on Tuesday, July 1st, 2008 at 11:02 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Transport column to me at:

For publicity inquiries, please contact Kate Runde at Vintage:

For editorial inquiries, please contact Zoe Pagnamenta at The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency:

For speaking engagement inquiries, please contact
Kim Thornton at the Random House Speakers Bureau:

Order Traffic from:

Amazon | B&N | Borders
Random House | Powell’s

U.S. Paperback UK Paperback
Traffic UK
Drive-on-the-left types can order the book from

For UK publicity enquiries please contact Rosie Glaisher at Penguin.

Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas

September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)

Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
McMurrin Lectureship

April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Austin, Texas

Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013 “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Grand Rapids MI



July 2008

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