Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Above average drivers

Just like the children in Lake Wobegon, all of us are "above average" drivers.

I'm reading the book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do by Tom Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt quotes former New York City traffic commissioner Henry Barnes, who says, "As times goes on the technical problems become more automatic, while the people problems become more surrealistic." Traffic discusses the "surrealistic" people issues of driving -- the psychology and sociology of traffic.

Chapter 2 discusses the "Lake Wobegon effect" -- that we all think we're better than the idiot drivers around us. Vanderbilt talks with Rusty Weiss of DriveCam in San Diego. To improve safety for commercial fleet vehicles, DriveCam installs video cameras that record the 10 seconds before and after an "event" -- a collision, sudden braking, hard steering and so forth. They capture the 99% of near hits that all of us take for granted and forget about in our daily driving, and use that video to coach drivers how they can drive more safely. Research shows that driving with the DriveCam improve safety dramatically, even with teen drivers. They also capture some dramatic crash footage, like this one of a cab driver who falls asleep at the wheel and ends up with his head in a rear window.

Higher quality and more videos are available at the DriveCam website. The middle video on this page shows a tow truck driver falling asleep at the wheel and driving several hundred feet in a bike lane before he's jolted awake when he hits the curb. The scary thing is that he's unaware of what happened even after the curb hit -- without the video, there's no way for him to learn how to improve his driving. If a cyclist was rear-ended at that point, no doubt the driver would have claimed he was correctly in his lane and the cyclist, naturally, must have veered in front of him because he's a good driver with a good driving record.

If you're involved in any kind of transportation or cycling advisory committee, I highly recommend the book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Q & A at the link to the book is a must read. I'd wager that the majority of motorized drivers are unaware of the obvious and ongoing problems, driver education has yet to be taught. We're still learning how driving behavior is changing and evolving while distractions are increasing along with speed and horsepower. Traffic and congestion, natural results, only compound stress related problems and "brains are put on hold".