Traffic Psychology

After visiting Paris and being amazed at how drivers navigate the roads surrounding the Arc de Triomphe without accident, Cognitive Daily‘s Dave Munger reviews Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do and What it Says About Us and looks at the psychology of traffic and its many counter-intuitive rules-of-thumb.

Traffic and highway management isn’t like other engineering problems, because driver behavior adapts quickly to new situations, which can create completely different traffic problems. Consider a narrow road with a speed limit of 30 miles per hour, lined on both sides with imposing oak trees. Each year there are several crashes involving vehicles hitting the trees or cars emerging from driveways between the trees, so engineers decide to cut down the trees and widen the road, creating ample shoulders and improved sightlines. The expected result is a safer road. What actually happens is that drivers increase their speed on the wide (if less scenic) road. There are just as many crashes as before, but because cars are traveling faster, there are more fatalities. The “safer” road ends up being more dangerous.

I remember reading a year or so ago about how a town here in the UK decided to remove the white lines painted in the middle of a narrow road, notorious for its fatal accidents. The result: a drastic drop in accidents and fatalities. I’ve never given it much thought, ’til now.

via Mind Hacks