Archive for March 12th, 2009

Traffic Safety Film of the Week

Posted on Thursday, March 12th, 2009 at 4:20 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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36 Views of Mt. Fuji (and a few more)

Rummaging through my iPhoto, I came across some photos of my trip to Toyota’s Higashifuji Technical Center in Susono City, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, to check out the company’s driving simulator, which they claim to be the world’s largest and most advanced.

Driving simulators are important for one main reason: They allow you to test things — from new car technologies to over-the-counter meds — that you wouldn’t be able to do safely on the public road. I’m a bit of a driving simulator geek, having dodged debris falling from a truck on an Iowa road (it was part of a test of electronic stability control; and yes, it works) at the National Advanced Driving Simulator, frightened my minders with a vexing wrong-side-of-the-road drive (I realized how hard it is to shift with one’s left hand) at the TRL labs in the U.K., and had various other simulated drives elsewhere, in government and academic research facilities.

Both Toyota and NADS are pretty incredible — to recreate the feel of driving (which is said to be harder to recreate than flying), the capsule-like module, pictured below, must physically move around the vast hangar space. When you brake, it tilts forward; when you reverse, it tilts back. The tactile quality is convincing; one feels things like the gravel on the shoulder of the road.

One of the hazards of the driving simulator in general is so-called “simulator sickness,” due to the mismatch between your inner-ear sensations and what your eyes are seeing. I experienced a touch of it at Toyota, perhaps because I was the passenger in the vehicle (or maybe the way the driver was driving). But compared to the less sophisticated models, the ride is smooth. It was strange to look in the rear-view mirror and see the simulated environment receding.

I spent a lot of time simply examining the rendered landscape, the architecture, the vernacular signing, noticing small details like the cyclist in the crosswalk.

It is hard to go far in Japan without stumbling across some representation of the myth-drenched Mt. Fuji, as in this noodle shop in Tokyo.

Which is why I was delighted, if not totally surprised, to see Mt. Fuji hovering in this pixellated landscape.

It seemed to loom everywhere, recalling Roland Barthes’ declaration that the only place from which one could not see the Eiffel Tower was from within the tower itself. As fast as we drove, we seemed to get no closer.

Afterwards, I spent some time on the vast proving grounds, set up for the pilot test of an automated car.

Posted on Thursday, March 12th, 2009 at 11:08 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Crossing the Road in Britain

In this somewhat interesting BBC piece, ostensibly about plans to bring pedestrian countdown lights to London but about pedestrian behavior more generally, this passage rankled me:

For drivers, there are warning signs, lights, zigzagged lines and colour codes, all telling drivers to be careful, that people may be crossing ahead.

But sometimes drivers become so inured to this street “furniture” they forget to look for people crossing — they forget what it’s there for. And a 1970 study by the Institute of Transportation Engineers Journal looking at San Diego accidents found incidents were twice as likely at “marked crossings” as unmarked crossings.

Why? Pedestrians lose a sense of personal responsibility – they think that because they are at an official crossing, they don’t need to look where they are going. And then they step out into oncoming traffic.

First of all, is a 1970 study really the best reference? That study, by Bruce Herms, crops up a lot in the literature — but so do charges that its findings were not valid, or have not always been reported properly. And the idea of pedestrians losing their sense of “personal responsibility,” while having certain grains of truth, is overshadowed by the larger safety issue, as actually measured, of cars not stopping at marked crosswalks, as required by law. Haven’t they lost their sense of personal responsibility? There are other issues; what I call the “Frogger effect”: On marked crosswalks that stretch across more than two lanes, one driver may stop, encouraging the pedestrian to cross, but the driver in the next lane does not stop, and does not see the pedestrian, who may be in a blind spot caused by the stopped vehicle.

As an aside, if you can get your hands on it, Joe Moran’s piece, “Crossing the Road in Britain,” in The Historical Journal, is a fascinating piece of cultural history.

As a further aside I’ve always enjoyed this bit of marked crosswalk behavior.

Posted on Thursday, March 12th, 2009 at 10:22 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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15 Years, 30 Days

I was intrigued by two recent news items.

One, from Utah:

Calling texting while driving a crime, a judge Tuesday ordered a Tremonton man to spend 30 days in the Cache County jail as part of his sentence for two counts of negligent homicide.

Reggie Shaw was 19 when his Chevy Tahoe veered into oncoming traffic on State Road 30 near Logan, causing the deaths of Cache Valley residents Jim Furfaro, 38, of Logan and Keith O’Dell, 50, of North Logan.

Though Shaw told Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Bart Rindlisbacher at the scene on Sept. 22, 2006, that he had not been texting, subpoenaed cell phone records show Shaw and a friend exchanged 11 text messages in the moments before the accident, according to Cache County Prosecutor Don Linton.

[as an aside, note the passive tense here, rather common in newspaper reporting: it was his Tahoe ‘that veered,’ deaths ‘were caused.’ Not, ‘he swerved, killing the two drivers.’]

Another, via the Washington Post:

A Woodbridge man who drove the wrong way, drunk, on Route 1 last year and slammed head-on into another car at 96 mph, killing the driver, was sentenced to 15 years in prison yesterday by a Fairfax County judge.

[less passive tense here…]

We have here two cases of driving in the presence of activities shown to cause impairment. In both cases, people died. Yet the sentencing gulf between the two cases is huge. One obvious difference is that texting while driving has yet to be made an actual crime (though I predict it increasingly will be), and I imagine this must influence the sentencing; I am not sure what the usual sentence is for “negligent homicide” — but then again, isn’t a DUI-caused fatality also a “negligent homicide”? How would we feel about a 30-day sentence with some community service for a drunk driver who killed two people? Perhaps the ages of both perpetrators also came into play. But one has to wonder about the major discrepancy in sentencing.


Posted on Thursday, March 12th, 2009 at 7:05 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:

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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



March 2009

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