Archive for October 1st, 2009

A Quick Note on The Summit

I’ve not had a chance to catch everything, but John Lee’s testimony yesterday was a high point for me — and not just because he’s in Traffic. I never thought I’d hear William James’ name show up in government testimony, and another front, one idea that intrigued me in his presentation was not just the idea that there’s temporary distraction (eyes off road time, fumbling for an object), or cognitive distraction (e.g, a cell-phone conversation), but this more meta-level distraction in which one’s role as a driver is essentially “distracted,” into some other role — busy office worker, mother tending to children in back seat, diner in mobile kitchen — which subverts what should be the most most primary role, driver (which is a job title in itself, after all). It also reminds me of something Andrew Pearce from the Global Road Safety Partnership mentioned to me, which is the different ways, through training and culture and mission, drivers and pilots address their task:

a.) The primary thought in the mind of most people who get in a car and drive it is the objective of getting to the other end of the journey.

b.) The primary thought in the mind of a pilot is getting his passengers safely off the ground and back to land.

The idea is to make a.) more like b.), with drivers considering not only the safety of their own passengers, but as fellow road users as “passengers” of a sort.

Some people are thinking this way, of course: The NTSB, appropriately, recently announced a total mobile device ban for employees using government cars; its administrator, Deborah Hersman, interestingly invoked the concept of the “sterile cockpit,” which prohibits non-mission critical conversation and activity during the most sensitive flight times. This reminds me in turn of something I heard while out at Stanford a couple weeks back, talking to Clifford Nass. He noted that someone had asked him something about multitasking in the context of Capt. “Sully” and his heroic river landing. Well clearly that shows that people can do multiple things at once, even in extreme situations. Yes, sort of, but of course, everything he was doing was integrally related to the process of landing that craft. He wasn’t phoning his wife to see what he needed at the store or trying to find just the right music on his iPod for an emergency water-borne landing.

As someone mentioned at the summit yesterday, there’s probably not the political will or even the money to train drivers with the same rigor as pilots, but I’m not just talking skills here, I’m talking about the whole idea of the culture of safety, which drivers seem to so easily disregard (and government reflects in, for example, its extreme reluctance to take away one’s license, even in the face of multiple serious infractions). In story after story I keep reading the same stock quotes from people, “we lead busy lives,” “there’s more pressure than ever before,” blah, blah, blah. Guess what, we all lead busy lives — but not all of us take it out on those around us in traffic with our negligence — and in fact they might feel less busy if one didn’t feel the need to text and talk their way home through a long commute. I’ll close with a few relevant thoughts I had on Dalton Conley’s book Elsewhere U.S.A.:

Why should such free-floating anxiety exist among people in seemingly comfortable positions? One hears of executives being constantly uprooted in a job market rife with downsizing. Parents worry that their careers are not allowing them to spend enough time with their children. No one feels as if they have any time. But Conley points out that the facts tell a different story: Fewer Americans moved in 2000 than did in 1950. The percentage of people logging more than ten years with large firms has increased. This generation of fathers, he observes, “spends more time with their children than any in recent history.” As for the time squeeze, a study has found that higher-income women, even when they work the same number of hours as those earning less, report feeling more pressed for time. As Conley notes, “when you can earn more per hour, the opportunity cost of not working feels greater and the pressure is all the more intense.”

The frenetic, self-regulating regimen of one’s inner time manager is the chief culprit, Conley argues, in the forever-harried state of postindustrial labor. For the first time in history, the more people are paid, the more they feel they must work. Income inequality has risen absolutely, but particularly within the upper echelons of the professional classes. “From any link in the chain,” he writes, “it looks like everyone else is rushing away.” So the presumed leisure time that money might buy merely breeds anxiety over how much the moment is costing.

This anxiety is all but inscribed into the software of devices such as the BlackBerry, the info-status accessory par excellence for this generation of knowledge workers. Whether the device, which corrodes the boundary between work and leisure, makes one more productive is open for debate; the science writer Stefan Klein has noted that “when we are under stress, we are no longer able to filter out unimportant matters; we become scatterbrained, flighty and reckless.” So cue the BlackBerry users, working the digital age’s own set of worry beads. “We tell ourselves that the stress comes from a lack of time, even though it is really just the other way around,” Klein observes. “We are not stressed because we have no time; rather, we have no time because we are stressed.”

Posted on Thursday, October 1st, 2009 at 12:06 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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The Accidental Journalist (an occasional series chronicling how predictable, preventable crashes are turned into accidents)

Alcohol-impaired driving, despite a century’s worth of evidence of its dangers, still being couched in terms of an “accident.”

(thanks Rich)

Posted on Thursday, October 1st, 2009 at 8:19 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Real Life Ferris Bueller

In a roundup of in-vehicle event data recorders/cameras, Carlton over at Quickrelease links to this video, which shows, via Roadhawk, the “diagnostic” drive a couple of mechanics undertook with an unwitting client’s car. Thinking of Ferris Bueller, they knew via the odometer that the car had been driven, but not how it had been driven.

Posted on Thursday, October 1st, 2009 at 7:53 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Speed Eraser

You have to love the irony.

Up went the Gatsometers, the Dutch brand that dominates the speed camera industry. Named after founder Maurice Gatsonides, a famous race car driver who developed the first speed monitoring system more than 50 years ago to help himself improve his speeds around corners, the early Gatsometers were rudimentary — cars ran over a wire, triggering a stopwatch that shut off after a second wire was tripped.

From a reasonably measured piece in the Washington Post.

More on Gatsometers at Slate.

Posted on Thursday, October 1st, 2009 at 7:14 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:

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

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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



October 2009

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