Traffic emerges from chaos, and chaos emerges from traffic. There’s too much of both, and entirely too little honesty—a quality that has much to do with travail on the roads.
Say what? Well, writes I.D. and Print editor Vanderbilt (Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America, 2002), the nations of the world that are the least corrupt “are also the safest places in the world to drive,” such that Sweden “practically oozes safety.” France, once a place of much roadside carnage, got safer once it installed speed cameras and started doing Breathalyzer tests, while New Zealand has eminently safe roads. Americans aren’t quite so lucky, on either the corruption or the traffic-safety front, but at least we beat out Russia, which accounts for some two-thirds of all road deaths in Europe, and China, a veritable slaughterhouse. Vanderbilt’s book is a trove of such information, but also a fine study in what works and what does not. What does not work, for instance, is speeding along the interstate, weaving in and out of traffic, and popping a cork when a slow vehicle gets in the way. As he notes, in experiments along the New Jersey Turnpike, that great bane of drivers, the weaving, honking speedster arrives at his (almost always his) destination only a few minutes ahead of the driver who maintains an even rate of speed and stays in one lane. What does work, as their designers intended, are on-ramp meters: Having sussed out “the basic parameters of how highways perform” and determined that the key factor is volume, those designers put in place a metering system that in some places has doubled highway productivity. And why are highways mowed ten-odd yards on either side? Because most cars come to rest within that zone once they’ve flown off the road—though, one General Motors experiment indicates, a “crash-proof” highway would have 100-foot clear zones, which would be particularly useful come the evening rush hour, which is twice as deadly as the morning one.
Fluently written and oddly entertaining, full of points to ponder while stuck at the on-ramp meter or an endless red light.