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Public Safety

Why We Drive the Way We Do

Human beings have fretted about traffic since they started to do something other than walk. The advent of horses, carts, carriages, bicycles, automobiles and skateboards have all caused annoyance and

Why We Drive the Way We Do
Human beings have fretted about traffic since they started to do something other than walk. The advent of horses, carts, carriages, bicycles, automobiles and skateboards have all caused annoyance and accidents and a re-figuring of the complex dance we engage in trying to get from one place to another. A new book examines why we drive the way we do, what that says about us and why we are worse drivers than we think we are.

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

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MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. Do a casual survey and you'll probably find that good drivers are a dime a dozen. Everyone seems to think they are careful and competent and even wise behind the wheel. But, if we're all such good drivers, well, where do those jerks on the freeway come from? It just may be that we aren't the good drivers we think we are, at least not all the time. And, frankly, we never have been through all the manifestations of traffic, from horse carts and carriages to skateboards. Traffic can make us act like crazy people at the drop of a hat without even realizing it, and yet it's also an experience that unites us in one common endeavor every day, just trying to get where we're going. Last fall, Tom Fudge interviewed Tom Vanderbilt, author of "Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do and What It Says About Us," and Brad Baehr, public affairs officer of the California Highway Patrol. Here's that interview.

TOM FUDGE (Interviewer): Well, Tom, traffic is a topic that interests everybody and it sounds like it interests you as well. Why did you want to write a book about it?

TOM VANDERBILT (Author): Well, I had a really sort of mundane, banal moment on a New Jersey highway and it involved something as simple as a merging situation at a construction work zone. I know this sounds very unpromising so far but, you know, it was two lanes going to one. There’s something often happens where you find a long queue of cars in the lane that will remain open. The lane that’s closed, a few people use that, depends. Well, one day I got frustrated and joined that sort of late-merging group who I used to sort of resent and felt so bad about it I started just wondering about the whole system and why we even felt this aggravation, so I kind of stumbled into the world of traffic engineering and soon found many, you know, astounding amount of research had been done on just ways to get people to merge at these work zones. You know, really lengthy reports, and it just seemed to open a certain window onto human behavior that I found really interesting and it also – So the point is, is that the late mergers, when a system is set up where both lanes can be used all the way to that merge point and then you say, okay, everyone take a turn, it actually works better as far as processing cars through that bottleneck, which, you know, in this day and age, could be quite useful.

FUDGE: And yet a lot of people who merge early look at the late mergers and say they’re cheating.

VANDERBILT: Yes, and there’s an impulse to turn vigilante on that and even maybe straddle both lanes. You see trucks doing this sometimes, trying to actually block people and – and sort of this absence of real information. We’re given a very vague instruction, you know, a mile, to make a merging decision and in that space there’s a lot of room for ambiguity and, it turns out, hostility.

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FUDGE: Do you think that we drive the way we live? Or do we become different people when we’re in our cars?

VANDERBILT: Well, a man drives as he lives, I mean, it’s an interesting phrase coined by a sociologist many years ago. And, you know, in purely demographic terms, there is some truth to that. I mean, the most extreme case is that I found studies in England and I’m sure it carries over here that if you have more off-road convictions on your basically criminal record, that you have a greater chance of having on-road convictions. So, you know, you often see the phrase sort of routine traffic stop used in the media and then, oh, it turns out there’s a sort of cachet (sic) of drugs in the trunk or something. So there is sort of a link, it seems, between, you know, one’s willingness to follow the law in regular life and then on the road, which is sort of a no-brainer but it’s been statistically, you know, sort of documented.

FUDGE: You point out that when we drive we’re performing many complex tasks. Driving seems like such a mundane activity to me, yet you say that it’s one of the most complex things we do.

VANDERBILT: Well, it is. It does sort of reflect, you know, kind of the amazing ability of humans to drive and a great way to think of this is the trouble scientists have had at research universities to construct an autonomous vehicle that can perform in simulated urban traffic. When I say simulated, we’re talking about, you know, rows of cones and some very basic parking maneuvers. And they got there pretty much but there were some crashes and there were obviously no pedestrians and not many cars around, so – and this took a lot of money, a lot of research and – but just getting a computer to do something as simple as recognizing, you know, when a hazard is actually a hazard or is simply, you know, a piece of the traffic environment is a incredibly difficult task.

FUDGE: And my guest is Tom Vanderbilt. He’s author of the book, “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do and What It Says About Us.” In just a couple of minutes, we’re going to hear from Brad Baehr, who is with the California Highway Patrol. But first, a few more questions for you, Tom Vanderbilt. In some of your chapters, you explain things that are true which we might not either know about or might not agree about. One thing is that you say that most traffic congestion is caused by women. Why do you say that?

VANDERBILT: Well, this has nothing to do with driving styles or anything like that, I should make clear, but this was just an interesting thing brought up by the people who work for the U.S. Census doing the travel analysis. And, I mean, one thing that’s interesting about the U.S. commute, it’s changed over the last few decades and now men and women commute to work just about in equal numbers. I mean, men still do a few more miles but the number of trips seems to be about equal. And increasingly, other trips are becoming a larger part of the transportation picture, taking kids to school, doing errands, going to stores—and we’re going to more stores than ever—and when you really analyze the records, it seems that women are doing more of those trips so – and they’re doing them at the most sort of crowded hours on the most crowded roads. So they’re also suffering from congestion the most and one way you see this in the Orange County area is that when they looked at the HOT lanes, the so-called Lexus lanes, they actually found that women were sort of using them more often than men and the theory was is they were basically in a hurry to get to all these errands they had to do.

FUDGE: Another thing you say is that road conditions affect the safety of driving in ways that we may not understand. For instance, here in San Diego, we have this ideal weather and very often ideal road conditions. You would think that we would have fewer accidents as a result of that. Is that true?

VANDERBILT: Well, there’s sort of a staple out there that most crashes happen during the day in clear weather on dry roads. And there’s just a lot of attention paid to things like tire traction, and certainly it’s good to have a good set of tires, but, you know, when it rains or when it snows, not that it’s a problem for you, but, you know, you see images on the news of cars spinning out of control and I think people drive in a quite cautious way and some cities have indicated that there’s more non-fatal crashes on those days but the fatal crashes actually drop. And I was recently speaking to a police officer who mentioned that they log more speeding tickets on these clear, sunny days than they do when it’s raining. So people sort of, you know, adapt to the conditions and, you know, we don’t have clear, sunny, dry warning days but maybe we should on the news.

FUDGE: So – And, in fact, one theme in your book, which comes up quite a bit and I find very interesting is the safer we feel, the more danger we’re in when we’re driving our cars, right?

VANDERBILT: Well, you know, a classic case of this is the roundabout, which, you know, we invented but then it sort of has been taken up more by Europe and is coming back here now in a new way. But people are quite resistant to it in the U.S. and they – but you’d be sort of wrong to think that the roundabout is more dangerous than the conventional four-way intersection with signals or with stop signs. One reason, arguably, that the roundabout is safer is that it makes you feel a little bit more stressed out. You actually sense the danger so you act appropriately, you’re a little bit more alert. A four-way, you know, signal at an intersection, you’re looking at a light, you sort of shut your brain off, you move through it, you take your eyes off the road to look at the light, and, you know, when you look at the number of people killed in red light running crashes, it’s quite clear that, you know, moving through an intersection at 50 miles an hour is not necessarily safe by any imagination.

FUDGE: But this is the reason why we have more fatal accidents when the weather conditions are perfect and road conditions are perfect because we’re not being careful.

VANDERBILT: Exactly, and, you know, this kind of goes up and down the line with, you know, the size of your car, the security equipment – safety equipment in the car. Even the old insurance industry saw about, you know, most accidents occur close to home. That is true just because of the sheer exposure of – that we drive mostly close to home. But I think even under that there’s this idea that we’re – might be letting our guard down a little bit more than we do when we’re driving an unfamiliar environment. And one bit of research even showed that people paid less attention to traffic signs in their own neighborhood than in places they were less familiar with so, you know, we sort of – we all know the stop sign on the corner, we know what to expect there until the day that we don’t know what to expect.

FUDGE: Well, let me introduce now Brad Baehr. He’s the Public Affairs Officer for the California Highway Patrol here in San Diego. And, Officer Baehr, thank you very much for coming in.

BRAD BAEHR (Public Affairs Officer, California Highway Patrol): You’re welcome. Good morning.

FUDGE: And, listeners, once again, give us a call, let us know if you have had an experience that relates to what we’re talking about and the subject we’re talking about is traffic, which we all have in common. 1-888-895-KPBS. Well, Officer Baehr, I’d like to speak with you about the issue of driving safety because, to a large extent, that’s what Tom Vanderbilt’s book is about. I mean, what are the kinds of situations, the kinds of traffic conditions that cause you at the CHP to really pay close attention because they’re dangerous.

BAEHR: Well, obviously, driver distractions are probably number one. You know, there’s so many things going on, so much multi-tasking in addition to the actual act of driving taking place behind the wheel. You know, a lot of emphasis of late has been put on the new cell phone laws that have passed and so forth but along with that is, you know, using phones to text message and using electronic communication devices for various things and functions that they perform. But not taking away from the old staples that people have done behind the wheel for years such as eating, you know, enjoying a cup of coffee where you’re conscious of a hot beverage and you’re, you know, kind of gingerly sipping from the cup or you’re being cognizant of not spilling it. You know, CDs and music selections are oftentimes a distraction for people. Pets in the vehicle can be a distraction for people. Just something as simple as passenger conversation, you know, a lot – oftentimes, people have the tendency to look at the passenger when they’re talking to them or maybe even turn their head and glance at the person in the back that they’re addressing. Those are very common distractures – distractions that exist every day for all of us in one way, shape or form.

FUDGE: I’d like you to comment on what Tom Vanderbilt is saying about the fact that when we feel safe, we’re actually less safe. Would you agree with that?

BAEHR: I would tend to agree with that, although I don’t have any statistics or anything to back that. But I will say that complacency is a major role in how we act and react behind the wheel. It was made mention of being familiar with your surroundings and when you’re driving in your own neighborhood, so to speak, there is definitely a complacency factor because like – as you put it, you know, you – or as Tom put it, you, you know, you’re familiar with where the stop signs are, you’re familiar with what the patterns of traffic are, and that sort of thing, so I would say complacency in and around the home, your home area, if you will, is probably a huge factor to consider.

FUDGE: Brad, I know you just came from a fatal accident and I hope I’m not asking questions out of school when I ask you if can tell me about that.

BAEHR: I can. I can kind of preliminarily tell you what occurred. Basically, we had a – some – an individual that was reported by witnesses driving in excess of 120 miles an hour. He was – speeds were 120 to 140, according to these witnesses. And this individual was going southbound on one of our interstates here in the San Diego South Bay region and he changed lanes from the number 1 lane, which is the far lefthand lane on the freeway, all the way across the 2, the 3 and into the 4, at which time he encountered a truck tractor and semi-trailer that was, in essence, driving the speed limit, 55 miles an hour…

FUDGE: Umm-hmm.

BAEHR: …tooling along in the righthand lane and just literally buried his car underneath the backend of that trailer. The vehicles subsequently separated and the vehicle that had done the rearending, in this case it was a Porsche, was at that time engulfed and became fully engulfed in flames and the driver was subsequently killed from the result of the impact and/or burning to death inside the wreckage.

FUDGE: I should ask you this question, how often are drugs and alcohol involved in fatal accidents?

BAEHR: A very high percentage of them are alcohol or driving under the influence related. The impairment factor exists with all the violations that we typically see occur when we add alcohol or a combination of alcohol or drugs into the mix, it enhances that – those factors and a very large percentage of our accidents are alcohol and/or drug related.

FUDGE: Tom Vanderbilt, you heard Officer Baehr talk about the fact that distractions while you’re driving are a big deal, whether it’s a pet in the car, using a cell phone. Now, of course, we have the new law in California that you’re not supposed to drive using a handheld cell phone. What does this tell us about the way we regard our cars? I mean, it sort of sounds like we’re spending quite a bit of time in our cars and we’re trying to do all the things in our cars that we would normally do either on the street or in our own homes.

VANDERBILT: Yeah, and just to back up what Officer Baehr was saying, you know, Virginia Tech put cameras inside of a year of a number of cars, and this is sort of the best study we’ve had looking at the way people really drive today. And distraction was implicated in some 80% of crashes and near crashes and, of course, near crashes is something we’ve never really been able to measure before so we’re getting a new glimpse of that. But, yeah, I think it just – Obviously, we’re – You know, Chrysler calls mini-vans the living room on wheels and a lot of us sort of take our lives out there and – and sometimes not in a good way and we’re running late or we’re – we’ve had a fight with our spouse or something and we’re kind of bringing that life into the road and then – in the emotional way, and then obviously the distractions – And I just can’t stress enough how complex driving is. We’re so – We’ve become so good at it that we do – You know, it’s overpracticed and we lose sight of the complexities and, you know, reading a text message is fine but think of the distance you’re actually traveling in the amount of time it takes to read a text message and this goes back to all the stuff we probably learned in driving school but have since probably forgotten about.

FUDGE: Let’s take a call from Michael in San Marcos. Michael, go ahead.

MICHAEL (Caller, San Marcos): Hi. Good morning.

FUDGE: Good morning.

MICHAEL: You know, I’d like to make a comment on the roundabout.

FUDGE: All right.

MICHAEL: And that’s looking at it from an environmental standpoint. Automobiles use a lot of gas and put a lot of pollutants in the air by just sitting there at lights, waiting all the time…

FUDGE: Umm-hmm.

MICHAEL: …where with the roundabouts you have continuous motion and your vehicles operate a little bit more efficiently and a little better gas mileage with the continuation of traffic flow so I think they’re a good idea and would be very supportive of seeing more of them.

FUDGE: All right, thank you very much, Michael. And, you know, Tom, one thing we probably should explain is the roundabout is an alternative to the traffic light, the semaphore.

VANDERBILT: Yes, and, you know, instead of a light, though, you’d basically just have a yield to – yield entry situation.

FUDGE: Yeah.

VANDERBILT: So if traffic is flowing light, you know, you never really have to come to a complete stop. Even when it’s pretty heavy, it tends to be more of a slow, steady creeping thing than a full-on sort of queue. And the caller is absolutely right because idling, number one, is bad for emissions and then the stop-start. I mean, starting in traffic and accelerating’s really the source of the greatest emissions, so if we could just sort of keep vehicles creeping through there and not sitting in queues when no one else is really waiting, you know, all the studies show improved emissions at – at these intersections.

BAEHR: Yeah, the only one I’m familiar with personally is the one in La Jolla. I have driven through it, it’s a street renovation project going on in the north Mission Beach or Pacific Beach-La Jolla area there and it’s a roundabout that feeds the north and southbound traffic along La Jolla Boulevard into that loop and continues them in their proper direction. As far as how much better or worse that is than what was there before, I really don’t know.

FUDGE: Let’s take a call from Ellen on the I-5 South. Ellen, go ahead, you’re on the show.

ELLEN (Caller, Interstate 5): Hi. I have my Bluetooth on and traffic is light. My organization journeysafe.com is a teen education organization and I just wanted to bring into the picture, the thing that causes 6,000 of American teens to die on the freeways every year and that is distraction and inexperience. And our website is set up and we send out – we do talks at schools because a lot of the drivers education has been cut in the educational system and the kids just don’t hear a lot of this stuff. There are great programs in our local San Juan Capistrano CHP Start Smart that we also participate in. But the distraction can’t be overstated because these teen drivers are new and the experience that it takes you to get is something that, surprisingly, I think the rental car companies have known forever. And that is, you can’t drive a rental car until you’re 25 and that magic number, 25, is also the time when your brain finishes developing, where all of those things that you need to become a really good driver and a, you know, full-fledged person, an adult, if you will, come into play and…

FUDGE: Well…

ELLEN: …I just think that that’s an important point to bring up.

FUDGE: Okay, thank you very much, Ellen. And, Tom, I think it’s true that your car insurance goes down considerably at age 25, doesn’t it?

VANDERBILT: Yeah, and, I mean, it’s interesting, the whole education picture because when I learned to drive it was – I did the high school driver’s ed thing. I think it was the chemistry teacher, you know, and I was 16, I got my license. And, I mean, seems like the only thing that’s really come out that’s really seemed to have reduced teen fatality rates is simply making them wait longer to get that full license, to age 18 under graduate licensing from – from all I’ve seen.

FUDGE: And what would you like to say about this, Brad Baehr? Teenage drivers get a bad name, probably for good reason. Is there anything that can be done about that?

BAEHR: Well, as the caller, and what Ellen mentioned, you know, the Highway Patrol has several programs. One of them is the Start Smart, which is a class for pre-licensed, newly licensed drivers and their parents, which oftentimes addresses the educational aspects that have been lost in the computer age of not having drivers ed in school and that sort of thing. But the driving, in general, is a – it’s a learning curve and a lot of times kids, now young adults, are waiting longer beyond their 16th birthday to get their license, which is beneficial. The maturity level that exists is very difficult to address because you got kids at 16 or 17 that are, you know, able to handle that fully and then you’ve got, you know, 22, 23, 24 year olds in some cases that don’t have that same level of maturity. But from a driving perspective or an insurance perspective, 16 to 25 is – has traditionally been the high risk group based on the actions of their peers within that group as far as premiums, insurance, statistical data as far as injuries and fatalities are concerned.

FUDGE: Let’s go to J.P. in Santee. J.P., you’re on the show.

J.P. (Caller, Santee): Good morning. I love this topic.

FUDGE: All right, good.

J.P.: The thing that since I took driver’s ed in the seventies, my instructor hit upon was egotistical drivers. And they – He pointed out that they were probably the most dangerous people on the road that we had to watch out for, but that was back in the seventies. And I still watch out, and you can see egotistical drivers on the road today, you know, the way they just drive through, whip through, cut through and ignore, you know, who’s around them and what. And I find them to be a hazard as well, you know, I mean, they – it’s – It’s enough of a hazard for me to realize that I need to yield in order to get ahead, you know, without, you know, hitting them or something like that.

FUDGE: All right. Thanks very much, J.P. Well, I guess this is our chance to be psychiatrists. Tom Vanderbilt, what do you want to say about egotistical drivers?

VANDERBILT: Well, I mean, just the one behavior that I see that really seems to represent that is just tailgating and sort of aggressive tailgating and kind of bullying, if you will, and when you’re not necessarily in the so-called passing lane but, you know, and I would just urge drivers not to respond in kind by tailgating because a simple Driving 101 lesson here is that not only does tailgating reduce your ability to stop in time, it reduces the person behind you’s ability to stop in time. And that’s how we see some of these catastrophic chain collision clash – crashes, especially in fog but I would just try to resist that temptation or – and if you’re being bullied, just, you know, let it go but…

FUDGE: And anything you want to add to that, Officer Baehr?

BAEHR: Yeah, actually a very good point that J.P. brought up that – what he referred to as egotistical drivers has now been labeled road rage and freeway violence. And it’s often interchangeable in that it’s a mindset that you take to your time behind the wheel and I think the high profile vehicles, the larger vehicles, the large SUVs, the large trucks, there is a mindset in a lot of those drivers, hey, I’m driving something bigger than you, get out of my way. And just a complete disregard for other folks that are sharing the roadway out there and that common courtesy needs to exist for everybody.

FUDGE: Tom Vanderbilt, what does the kind of car we drive say about us?

VANDERBILT: Well, as Officer Baehr was saying, you know, the – when you do studies and look at, you know, who’s sort of driving the most quickly or who’s tailgating the most or even studies about when the light changes, the psychologists have measured who’s behind that driver stuck at the light and they’ll keep the person stalled there intentionally, see who honks first and how loud they do it, how long, how many times they honk and, you know, it seems to follow these certain patterns of more expensive cars. Males, unfortunately, show up kind of as a dominant force here. And you see, again, you see all sorts of those compensatory behaviors as well with – one study even looked at SUV drivers and found they had one hand on the wheel more often than others. So, you know, feeling safer, letting go, acting in different ways, so the type of vehicle you drive definitely has a impact on the way you drive.

FUDGE: We were talking earlier, Tom, about whether we become different people in our cars and I think you mentioned in your book that if I was walking down a street and somebody irritated me, I probably would not flip them the bird but I – I wouldn’t hesitate to do it if I were driving past them in my car.

VANDERBILT: Yeah, I think one thing is that, you know, there’s no way to really register feedback and we don’t stick around in any traffic situation long enough to – I mean, if you’re doing something really bad and the police happen to be there, you might receive some sort of reprimand in that way but, otherwise, it’s a very anonymous environment and there’s even been a suggestion that if we could all sort of have the ‘how’s my driving’ stickers that commercial truckers are often forced to have, you know, we could, in the style of eBay, we could give feedback about other drivers. That might even improve behavior. But I’m not quite sure we’re ready for that but…

FUDGE: Sam is in Olivenhain. Sam, go ahead, you’re on with Tom Vanderbilt and Officer Brad Baehr.

SAM (Caller, Olivenhain): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. I just had a question about – or I wanted some comment from either of you on driver training and understanding, and especially younger drivers, that they’re getting behind the wheel of a 4,000 pound car and these days it’s relatively easy to go spend not a lot of money and get a very powerful vehicle, a 300-plus horsepower. Do you think that younger drivers really understand the dynamics of the vehicle they’re driving? Do you think they know how to properly react in emergency situations? Do you think we’re concentrating on that enough or are we just interested in getting them behind the wheel of a car?

FUDGE: When I was in high school, my last year of high school, I spent in Hamburg, Germany and I know that, at least at that time, and this was a couple decades ago, in Hamburg, Germany, in the country of Germany, it was much more difficult to get a driver’s license than it is in this country. I mean, my God, you practically had to write a dissertation before you got a driver’s license. And do we go a good enough job training people to drive? Officer Baehr?

BAEHR: You know, I definitely think that something has been lost in translation over the last few years. You know, everything’s computerized now, everything is outsourced, parents are sending their kids to drivers school and there’s sort of a hands-off approach to that, which I think is part of it. One of the earlier callers mentioned a course that the Highway Patrol puts on. It’s called Start Smart and it’s designed for pre-licensed and newly licensed drivers and their parents and to address some of the concerns of the caller here, some of the things that we talk about are the roles and responsibilities of the parents as far as keeping their finger on the pulse of what their sons and daughters are doing, not just up to achieving a license but for that first year or two which is, in essence, truly the learning curve of application. We talk about collision dynamics, we talk about stopping distance, we talk about the typical, most common violations and things like that, and really lay a good groundwork for them with the proper application and tutelage along the way can be very beneficial for new drivers.

FUDGE: Richard is in downtown San Diego. Richard, go ahead.

RICHARD (Caller, San Diego): Thank you. I’m a professional driver. I drive a shuttle van. I’ve been driving for 20 years or more.

FUDGE: Okay.

RICHARD: And my question is about merging on the freeway. I’ve noticed a lot of people don’t really know how to merge. And I like to drive in the righthand lane, as I said, and I call myself the mergee and the person coming into the freeway…

FUDGE: Is the merger.

RICHARD: …is the merger.

FUDGE: Right.

RICHARD: Now who has the right of way, the mergee or the merger?

FUDGE: Well, the mergee, right? Right, Officer Baehr?

BAEHR: Well, actually…

FUDGE: If you’re on the road already.

BAEHR: …the mergee that’s trying to get in is yielding to the person that’s already occupying that space.

FUDGE: Uh-huh. Yeah.

BAEHR: And there has to be a balance. There’s a, you know, a choreography that takes place in that if the person coming onto the freeway, for example, is carrying the proper speed, that transition is typically not a problem. The person ahead can – they can either speed up a little bit and get in or slow down and let them, you know, fall in behind. The problem often occurs is people getting on the freeway are just doing it too slow. You know, they’re coming into 65, 70 mile an hour traffic type conditions, let’s say, if things are at full speed, and you’ve got individuals trying to merge into that at 40, 45, 50, significantly less, so it creates, oftentimes, a lane change scenario for that person trying to get out of the way or a real dicey ‘do I slam on the brakes and let them in or do I pass them and make them come in behind me’, and that’s why there’s so much jostling going on in that right lane.

FUDGE: Tom Vanderbilt, one other thing you talk about in your book, one rule of traffic, in a way, is sometimes slower is faster, and I’d like for you to explain what you mean by that.

VANDERBILT: Well, I mean, this kind of expresses itself in a number of ways in California traffic, in particular. I mean, the ramp meter would be a great example of that. I mean, the individual driver who’s perhaps not as familiar with that system would get to that red light and think, well, the freeway’s flowing, why are you making me stop? And an engineer will say, well, the reason it’s flowing is because we’re making you stop. And so there’s sort of this tension in traffic often between the needs and desires of the individual driver and the system as a whole. I mean, other simulations have shown that, you know, as people change lanes less often in certain types of traffic, the flow would actually improve where each individual driver thinks they’re sort of maximizing their own utility, if you will, but it sort of tends to make things worse for everyone, so there’s kind of a constant tension in ways with that.

FUDGE: Andrew is in P.B. Andrew, go ahead and we’re almost out of time so make it quick.

ANDREW (Caller, Pacific Beach): Okay. I – Just two things. I wanted to comment about the roundabouts in Bird Rock, and they’re very nice. I’ve used them, compared them to the old stop signs and traffic flows better through there. But the question I have is I’ve – there are a number of intersections in San Diego where a pedestrian will get a green walk signal at the same time that cars get a green right turn arrow that cuts across the walk signal and I’ve almost been hit. I’ve seen other pedestrians that have almost been hit. I’ve called, years ago, the engineering department to talk about this. This is – And it was a known issue, it was – You know, it’s not a mistake.

FUDGE: Okay, Andrew, thank – thanks very much. Let me throw that to Officer Baehr. If what he describes is the case, that sounds like a mistake.

BAEHR: It sounds like a mistake. There may be some signals that are timed in that fashion. That would be an engineering situation to take up with the city or the county or wherever the intersection is placed. However, the responsibility, as a pedestrian entering that crosswalk, is truly a responsibility in that they don’t think it’s king’s x that they have a walk signal or a green light to do that, that they still look around and take all the factors into consideration. However, once they have stepped off the curb and have lawfully entered that crosswalk and are legally proceeding across the street, now it’s up to the drivers if, in fact, that situation occurs, that they yield to those pedestrians in the crosswalk.

FUDGE: Tom Vanderbilt, we’re almost out of time but with about 30 seconds, I want to ask you, did they have traffic problems in ancient Rome?

VANDERBILT: Oh, yes, very much so. There was a sort of a chart and carry – chariot problem during the day, there was so many of them that Caesar got, you know, a little bit upset and decreed that they would only be allowed at night. It seemed like a great idea except that brought up a different unintended consequence is that there was noise problems at night and the residents couldn’t sleep. So in some ways, you know, we’re still dealing with these – trying to balance different needs and desires of different people and road users.

FUDGE: So traffic problems have existed, actually pre-date the automobile. That might make you feel a little bit better about it. Tom Vanderbilt is author of “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do and What It Says About Us.” Tom, thank you very much.

VANDERBILT: Thank you.

FUDGE: And Brad Baehr is a public affairs officer with the California Highway Patrol. And, Officer Baehr, thank you very much for coming in.

BAEHR: Thank you.

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