Writing for any publication, regardless of the subject, is a privilege allowed by those who own it. I appreciate once again being able to share with you some brief notes on books that are on the shelves of the Laurens County Library.
Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt caught my attention for a number of reasons. The subject itself is not one that is popularly written about; the humorous chapter titles and subtitles; and I find myself currently trying to teach my fifteen year-old daughter how to drive. Traffic is something we all deal with and talk about, almost as much as the weather regardless of where we live. Like the weather, it can change in a few minutes and can almost always provide an exciting story we can tell or even a convenient excuse for being late.
Traffic is thoroughly researched. Almost thirty percent of the book’s total content is used to provide notes and other documentation. Mr. Vanderbilt begins his book by telling how traffic has influenced not only the design of cars, the introduction of new vehicle related products as well as foods that have been created to be easier to handle while driving. It was only until 1980 that the expanding cup holder became standard equipment. Fast foods like Taco Bell’s hexagonal “Crunchwrap” was developed so that consumers could still keep at least one hand on the steering wheel. The audio book, a relatively new $871 million a year business, has helped us to not only be entertained and educated but also reduce the boredom of long trips. If you stop to think about it, driving is one of the most complex things we do on a daily basis. Mr. Vanderbilt points out that driving entails at least fifteen hundred “subskills” and that on any given mile of road we can be forced to make approximately 20 decisions. This totally leaves out the question of physical romance being conducted while driving. Mr. Vanderbilt uses a quote by Albert Einstein to wonderfully illustrate this-
“Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.”
He asks us to rethink our definition of the word “accident” to generically describe any form of collision involving a vehicle. Deciding to drink or use drugs (illegal or prescription) that impair our driving ability may result in a life changing act that is a far cry from going off the road to avoid an animal that suddenly crosses our path. According to statistics gathered by the author, drivers are probably safer in dangerous conditions than in a relaxed environment. The majority of vehicle crashes happen on roads in perfect weather and without the presence of alcohol.
The format of Traffic allows the reader to pick and choose chapters without losing any connectivity. This is truly one of those books that you can start at the ending to read. The title of the last chapter happens to rank as one of my all time favorites: “Why You Shouldn’t Drive with a Beer-Drinking Doctor Named Fred on Super Bowl Sunday in a Pickup Truck in Rural Montana: What’s Risky on the Road and Why.” Here are just a few of the tidbits contained in this enlightening chapter:
- If you are an American who drives the average number of miles (15,500), you stand a 1 in 100 chance of having a fatal crash over a 50 year span.
- Men die at a higher rate on the road than women.
- There are more alcohol related accidents on July 4 than any other holiday.
- The risks of driving increased among those whose team had lost the Super Bowl. This was directly related to the fact that much greater amounts of beer are consumed Super Bowl Sunday compared to the average day.
- Beer is also the beverage of choice for DUIs.
- Men who have been recently divorced, according to the French, are at a much higher risk of having an accident.
I found Traffic to be one of those few books that contain numerous quotes from surveys, studies, and statistics without pushing my limits to pay attention to them. It is a well written book on an important subject. My main criticism is that if it contained fewer pages, than it might be read by a greater number of people, especially teens. Traffic is a reminder to all of us to review the way we drive and to heed some of the knowledge that Mr. Vanderbilt has put together.