Thursday, July 31, 2008

What Life Is Like Behind the Wheel

I drive my car very fast. As a result, I think the other drivers on the road are subhuman vermin with the IQ of a turnip. I suspect that other drivers feel the same way about me.

Whew; what an opening line.

In "Traffic," a fascinating survey of the oddities and etiquette of driving, Ted Vanderbilt explains why we have such views. Cars, he notes, isolate us from social contact, converting us into ego machines. But when a traffic light fails and we must all stop at an intersection, we look at one another, gesture politely and take turns.

Mostly; some drivers only gesture with their middle fingers, if at all.

Mr. Vanderbilt observes that jaywalking in New York is routine, while in Copenhagen it is rare. Certainly people pick up the culture of the city in which they live. I have learned that in Los Angeles you never jaywalk, while in New York you are expected to. Washington, D.C., is a mixed case: People do not jaywalk there unless they see somebody else do so first, and then they follow suit. Especially if the lead jaywalker looks affluent. Mexican drivers honk all of the time in Mexico, but they don't in Los Angeles.

I found Mexican drivers to be polite; even taxi drivers will give a nod of acknowledgment or deference to the other driver if they can not get in first. I have not seen middle-finger salutes in Mexico, but have seen some aggressive driving.

The "Peltzman Effect," named after University of Chicago economist Sam Peltzman, suggests that greater car safety (e.g., using seat belts) makes people drive more aggressively and cause more accidents.

women can help men drive better. When teenage boys pull out of high-school parking lots, they drive much faster when another boy is in the car than when a girl is. (This gender-correlation does not hold true with my wife; when she rides shotgun, she loves high speeds.)

The first statement I know is true; I don't know his wife.

And women may be better traffic cops. Mexico City replaced its corrupt male officers with females (they are called cisnes, or swans), who tripled the number of traffic tickets.

El DF is renown as a traffic nightmare.

Congestion pricing has worked in London and Copenhagen and could be made to work in many American cities if we got over the view that roads are "free."

Congestion pricing lost in New York, seen as discriminatory.

Until we have congestion pricing, Bondurant-trained drivers and women riding shotgun, I will continue to regard everyone else on the road as subhuman vermin with the IQ of a turnip.

Me too.

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