We All Do It. No Exceptions.
Michael Agger at Slate reviews Tom Vanderbilt’s new book Traffic.
[L]ook at the chimsil, the name for that third rear brake light that suddenly appeared on cars in the 1980s. Do they help? Hard to say. Initial hopes were high, but recent studies have concluded that the chimsil prevents only a small amount of rear-end accidents. The reason might be the Peltzman effect, which argues that drivers offset safety improvements such as seat belts and anti-lock brakes by driving more dangerously. Wait, does that mean it would be better not to wear seat belts, to keep ourselves more acutely aware of our mortality? And what about helmets?
Emphasis mine – and I always thought so. At least, I have ever since I learned that driver’s side air bags kill people who sit too close to the steering column (and since I have very short legs, I certainly do).
And I’ll go him one better.
Only two months ago we experienced a short but very intense storm in the suburban areas north of DC. It happened right before the evening rush hour, and, of course the lights went out. Traffic lights not exempted.
In this, the second most traffic-congested area of the country (after L.A.), during the most congested part of the day, tens of thousands of drivers were forced to take their lives into their own hands and brave intersections without the benefit of technology.
Seldom have I seen moving so smoothly in my 29 years here. Of course not. It had to, because drivers were not only extra cautious at the intersections, they were on their best behavior, too. The outage lasted for three days in some areas. The impact to the commute for the duration was not zero – it was positive.
“In traffic,” writes Vanderbilt, “we struggle to stay human.” He approaches traffic as a collective human act, with all the complexity that entails. Our driving is fraught with paradoxes, unintended consequences, and inexplicable behaviors.