Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt, 2/5

To put it bluntly, this book has no point.  The topic is interesting enough to sustain the first half tolerably well, but overall, it reads like a research paper whose author had a great brainstorm in the shower but subsequently forgot to form a thesis.  This means that, while many individual issues are addressed, no meaningful connections are made between them, leading to lots of cognitive dissonance (such as when one chapter’s claims clash with the evidence provided by the next chapter).  Mutant statistics are a concern, as Vanderbilt has no problem with drawing his own conclusions from complicated studies and statistics, though he is in no way qualified to do so.

Though the excessive end notes take up 1/4 of the book, unsourced claims still slip through.  Some are absolutely ridiculous, such as “We do not let children walk to school even though driving in a car presents a greater hazard” (275).

One last issue that I feel deserves mention: Vanderbilt states that, since traffic accidents kill more people than 9-11 did,  Americans are inconsistent for submitting to increased anti-terrorism measures while resisting increased traffic safety measures.  I found this to be an incredibly (almost unbelievably) tasteless, offensive and illogical statement.  Surely Vanderbilt is aware that traffic laws affect more people’s lives more directly and often than anti-terrorism procedures do.  Surely it is obvious that there are a multitude of logical reasons why people would be willing to accept, for example, increased airport security, but traffic changes he suggests, such as lowering the speed limit (Vanderbilt later praises Bermuda for its 22mph, island-wide speed limit) and installing more red-light cameras (whose expense and efficiency are controversial) might be unsuited for nation-wide institution and require more discussion.


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