Archive for April 13th, 2009

The Three-Feet High Club

From the BBC:

A man faces a hefty fine and a driving ban after being caught having sex with his girlfriend while speeding on a motorway in Norway, police have said.

Posted on Monday, April 13th, 2009 at 9:16 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
Comments Off on The Three-Feet High Club. Click here to leave a comment.

‘What Does It Allow Us to Ignore?’

The philosopher Jacques Ellul once posed “76 Reasonable Questions to Ask About Any Technology,” one of them being: “What does it allow us to ignore?”

In a typically good essay in the WSJ, titled “Machines That Won’t Shut Up,” Christine Rosen raises Ellul’s question in the context of any number of devices that we now talk to, or that talk at us. Some, of course, are driving-related:

When the Canadian technology company IMS recently began selling iLane — a hands-free device that links to your BlackBerry and allows you to use voice commands to open, listen to and respond to your email while driving — it likely fulfilled the wishes of many a time-stressed commuter. According to Discover magazine, the average U.S. city commuter now loses 38 hours every year to delays caused by traffic. ILane offers its users the alluring promise of making safe and efficient use of that time, with the bonus of feeling like Captain Kirk issuing orders from his command chair.

The demonstration video featured on IMS’s Web site shows a stylishly dressed businessman responding to iLane’s overtures about a new email as he cruises along a tree-lined boulevard. “What would you like to do?” murmurs iLane, in its uxorious synthetic female voice. “Check messages,” says our hero, briskly. And he does, with abandon, scheduling appointments, confirming travel arrangements and returning phone calls, his hands never straying from the steering wheel. The company’s marketing materials tout the device as “a true technology breakthrough in personal productivity.”

But there are problems, as Rosen notes:

And there are reasons for concern, too — not least the effect on other aspects of life as those strange artificial voices compete for our attention and require us to enter feedback loops normally reserved for, well, actual human beings.

Their claims to safety notwithstanding, for instance, technologies such as iLane are potentially dangerous distractions for drivers. The research on multitasking is clear: Even when we use hands-free devices for our cellphones, there is something so deeply distracting about carrying on disembodied conversations while driving a car that the National Safety Council has recommended a ban on all talking and texting activities behind the wheel.

What these technologies seem to allow us to “ignore” is the drudgery of the everyday act of driving, as every added bit of multi-tasking leaves us with less cognitive resources for the varying demands of the road.

Rosen’s essay reminded me of some interesting work by Stanford University communications researcher Clifford Nass, who has been studying the dynamics at work in driver-car communication.

One finding:

In tests of volunteers driving automobile simulators in the lab, researchers put their subjects into stressful situations and tested out potential responses from the voice. For example, some drivers received a reproachful warning: “You’re not driving very well and you need to pay more attention.”

“Well, you won’t be shocked to learn that people got angry and actually drove worse,” laughed Nass as he told the story. As the voice ratcheted up its rhetoric (“You really need to be more careful!”), the driving deteriorated further. Finally, when the voice began insisting that the drivers pull over to the side of the road, they responded by getting into accidents.

Nass contends that we can’t help but respond to an in-car computer voice as if it were human; this itself raises all sorts of concerns, like when BMW was having trouble with its 5-Series “voice,” as apparently drivers didn’t like taking directions from a woman (why a person would want yet more chatter in their life is beyond me, but that’s another story).

The gender stereotypes that tripped up BMW also have come through loud and clear in Nass’ experiments, to his dismay. Volunteers are more likely to perceive a male voice as authoritative, even when male and female voices speak exactly the same words.

But if we perceive the car voice as human, which voice should it be?

After deciding that the new voice in the BMW should not be the car itself (as in the TV series Knight Rider), Nass and his colleagues considered other candidates—a golf buddy, a chauffeur, a pilot (dominant and not very friendly) and a person riding “shotgun” (talkative, not very smart)—before settling on a co-pilot, who could take over when the driver was in trouble but who understood that the driver (the pilot) was in charge. The chosen voice was male, somewhat friendly, and competent. He was a hit.

I didn’t see this particular bit studied, but I’d be curious to know about how people’s reaction times vary to a “voiced” warning versus a beep or a whistle, etc. Is there more “processing” that goes on because we do understand it as human?

Posted on Monday, April 13th, 2009 at 7:33 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
Comments Off on ‘What Does It Allow Us to Ignore?’. Click here to leave a comment.
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



April 2009

No, you probably won be compensated one million dollars; however, with the right blend of negotiating skills and patience, your efforts will be substantially rewarded!I have seen up to forty thousand dollars added to starting compensation through diligent negotiations. It is a way to significantly raise your standard of living and sense of self, simply by