Traffic in Numbers

If you’ve ever wanted to know what Harper’s Index has to say about traffic, look no further (the number refers to the date of publication, and the source is listed below each item).

12/86 Rank of drugs among the most pressing city problems cited by Washington, D.C., blacks: 1
Washingtonian magazine

Rank of traffic among the problems cited by Washington, D.C., whites: 1
Washingtonian magazine

1/88 Percentage change in alcohol-related U.S. traffic deaths in 1986: +7
Dr. Ralph Hingson, School of Public Health, Boston University

10/88 Estimated percentage of U.S. gasoline consumption that occurs during traffic jams: 4
U.S. Department of Transportation

8/88 Chances that a New York City traffic officer was assaulted on the job in 1987: 1 in 5
Department of Transportation (N.Y.C.)

9/88 Average fine in Bavaria, West Germany, for calling a traffic officer a damischer Bulle (stupid bull): $1,710
Franz Spelman, Time (Munich, West Germany)

For calling a traffic officer a Stinkstiefel (smelly boot): $51
Franz Spelman, Time (Munich, West Germany)

10/90 Percentage increase, since last year, in the number of traffic accidents in East Germany: 49
German Information Center (New York City)

2/90 Percentage change, since 1974, in the amount of commercial air traffic in the United States: +100
U.S. Federal Aviation Administration

Percentage change, since 1974, in the number of commercial airports in the United States: 0
U.S. Federal Aviation Administration

9/90 Rickshaws the city of Jakarta, Indonesia, has dumped into the ocean since 1985 to reduce traffic congestion: 100,000
The Australian (Sydney)

5/91 Size of one traffic jam in Tokyo last year, in miles: 84
Washington Report (St. Petersburg, Fla.)

12/95 Estimated amount of gasoline wasted in U.S. traffic jams each day, in gallons: 12,600,000
Texas Transportation Institute (College Station, Tex.)

6/95 Average speed of a car crossing midtown Manhattan during the day, in miles per hour: 5.3
Ruben Ramirez, New York City Department of Transportation

Maximum average speed in miles per hour that Manhattan’s traffic commissioner believes is achievable: 9
Ruben Ramirez, New York City Department of Transportation

1/98 Percentage change since 1982 in the average amount of time an American is delayed by traffic congestion: +95
The Campaign for Efficient Transportation (Washington)

9/98 Number of air-traffic controllers ordered to take a two-hour “refresher” course last spring: 10,000
Federal Aviation Administration (Washington)

9/98 Number of times last June that air-traffic controllers lost track of the altitude or speed of Air Force I or II: 4
Federal Aviation Administration (Washington)

6/99 Percentage change since 1990 in the number of U.S. traffic disputes in which one driver kills or injures another: +59
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (Washington)

11/00 Average annual number of traffic accidents in Iowa caused by low visibility due to corn stalks: 65
Iowa Department of Transportation (Ames)/Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor)

2/00 Ratio of the number of Americans killed in traffic accidents in 1998 to the number killed by medical errors: 1:1
Institute of Medicine (Washington);

5/00 Rank of traffic accidents among the leading causes of death for on-duty U.S. police officers last year: 1
U.S. Department of Justice/Federal Bureau of Investigation

7/01 Estimated cost of fuel consumed in 1999 by U.S. drivers caught in traffic delays: $8,600,000,000
Texas Transportation Institute (College Station)

10/02 Number of traffic tickets issued in July by British Columbia police officers posing as squeegee men: 90
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Burnaby, B.C.)

8/03 Ratio of the estimated number of people killed worldwide by war last year to the number killed by traffic: 1:4
World Health Organization (Geneva)

6/05 Portion of the world’s motor vehicles that are in China: 1/17
World Business Council for Sustainable Development (Geneva)

Portion of the world’s annual traffic fatalities that are: 1/5
World Health Organization (Geneva)

7/05 Percentage of U.S. auto travel that occurs on two-lane roads: 28
The Road Information Program (Washington)

Percentage of traffic fatalities that do: 52
The Road Information Program (Washington)

11/06 Amount that U.S. embassy staff in London owe in unpaid traffic charges: $1,600,000
Transport for London

6/07 Portion of all Internet traffic today that is file sharing of music, films, and videos: 2/3
CacheLogic (Cambridge, England)

10/08 Percentage by which the average incidence of fires and traffic accidents on Fridays the 13th differs from that of other Fridays: –4
Centrum voor Verzekeringsstatistiek (The Hague, Netherlands)

7/08 Minimum number of U.S. cities that have shortened the yellow light on traffic signals to under the legal limit: 6
National Motorists Association (Waunakee, Wisc.)

9/08 Minutes that Minneapolis drivers can legally idle while not in traffic, per a new city ordinance: 3
Minneapolis Public Affairs

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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



February 2009

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