Archive for April, 2010
If you’ve any lingering doubts about what can happen to a driver distracted by a phone (hands-free or hand-held, from the brain’s point of view it’s essentially the same), consider the recent case of a fatal plane/helicopter collision over the Hudson River in New York.
The board’s data reinforce earlier indications that a distracted controller, engaged in a personal phone call while on duty and juggling various tasks, failed to keep proper track of the small, propeller-powered plane. The controller, Carlyle Turner, later told investigator he didn’t see or hear radar-system warnings about an impending collision, the documents indicate.
According to a transcript released Wednesday, Mr. Turner was on a personal call for about 2 1/2 minutes. Five seconds before impact, he hung up by telling the female friend on the call: “Let me straighten … stuff out.”
That five seconds number struck me, for I had just heard, at the Edmonton conference, from a human factors researcher mentioning a figure noted in one study that the time between the onset of conditions that needed response and the crash itself was in most cases five seconds or less (which intuitively makes sense).
But the main point is that here was a highly trained professional, engaged in a personal call, which subsequently caused him to miss something that should have been on his radar, as it were — particularly as alarms were sounded. It’s likely his eyes were even on the vessels in question, as he realized, too late, however (owing to divided attention), he had to “straighten stuff out.” Now extrapolate that to the less highly trained drivers on the (more crowded) road, brimming with overconfidence, and you begin to see the problem. And yes, there were other factors behind the crash — failure to observe protocol by at least one pilot, lack of prescriptive glasses by another controller — but this is the point in implementing redundant safety systems: An error can be observed by someone else and corrected, the same way a non-distracted driver can (sometimes) compensate for a distracted driver.
I never really had a mantra for the Traffic book, the way Michael Pollan does: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
I tried to think: Drive safer, not so much, mostly walk (ok, that’s for New Yorkers). But you get the picture.
I noticed a few people responded to an offhand comment I made in the Streetfilms interview: “It’s too easy to get a license in this country, too hard to lose one.”
By this I mean our driver’s education and licensing system is in need of a number of reforms — we treat driving like a right, as in voting — and the newspapers (and courts) are filled with recidivist drivers. Read a random article about a fatal crash, and I’ll be you, that by about the sixth or seventh paragraph, you’ll begin to see examples of previous incidents or some underlying pattern of behavior that seriously undermines the “accidental” nature of any crash (e.g., the driver in the Taconic minivan crash). And yes, I am aware that many people with suspended licenses simply drive without a license, and yes, we need to look in many cases at the behavioral questions, yadda, yadda, yadda, but why we should continue to legally pander to people with a reckless disregard for human life is beyond me.
I was thinking of this again while watching, in Edmonton, a poignant talk by Melissa Wandall, whose husband was killed by a (repeat) red-light runner (the red-light law she’s worked for has just cleared the Florida senate; and despite what you often hear from the fringes of the right, most people, when polled, actually support such devices, when used judiciously). The offending driver already had 10 points on her license, a number of which kept getting bumped down by visits to traffic schools (the efficacy of which has been seriously called into question by several studies). Shockingly, she’s back on the road today.
Let’s go back to John Stuart Mill: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”
It’s that ‘civilized’ bit I sometimes wonder about these days.
I could have spent the rest of my life parked behind this vehicle and never gotten the “meaning” of a license plate bearing the characters ’14CV88′:
A few hours later, the DMV agreed that the plate contains a coded message: The number 88 stands for the eighth letter of the alphabet, H, doubled to signify “Heil Hitler,” said CAIR’s Ibrahim Hooper. “CV” stands for “Confederate veteran” — the plate was a special model embossed with a Confederate flag, which Virginia makes available for a $10 fee to card-carrying members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. And 14 is code for imprisoned white supremacist David Lane’s 14-word motto: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
Wow. Now I’m wondering if there’s something jinky in my own plate. Does that ’669′ bit connote some weird Satanist thing, or some kind of creative sexual liaison?
But apparently there was something a bit less subtle about the vehicle.
(via Boing Boing)
The Accidental Journalist (an occasional series chronicling how predictable, preventable crashes are turned into accidents)
Reader Joshua points to this story, via The Strib. All the usual suspects: Alcohol, no belts, previous crashes.
The comedian Jerry Seinfeld once observed that “closest thing that we have to royalty in America are the people that get to ride in those little carts through the airport.”
He continued: “Don’t you hate those things? They come out of nowhere. “Beep, beep. Cart people, look out, cart people!” We all scurry out of the way like worthless peasants. “Ooh, it’s cart people. I hope we didn’t slow you down. Wave to the cart people, Timmy. They’re the best people in the world.” If you’re too fat, slow, and disoriented to get to your gate in time, you’re not ready for air travel.”
Now, I do believe these carts have their authentic purpose, though recently navigating the airports of Houston and Atlanta — two travel hubs as sprawling as their host metropolises — I found myself, as I walked, constantly buffeted by their passing presence, or subjected to the very same imperious announcements that Mr. Seinfeld decries (and sometimes they were really quite nasty), and I’d watch as hapless travelers were often forced to execute rapid evasive maneuvers to avoid the onrushing conveyances. And sometimes, looking over, I’d see a boatload of what looked like utterly able-bodied people, looking rather smug. After the fourth “beep beep” in a row I was starting to see the world from Seinfeld’s point of view. Like, who regulates who actually gets on these things?
I thought of this when recently penning a short bit for the New York Times’ “Room for Debate” blog, which discussed the city’s plans to reduce and restrict the amount of vehicular traffic on sections of 34th Street, in favor of creating swifter bus facilities and improved pedestrian access.
The airport courtesy cart is a wonderful way to travel. Who wants to walk Houston’s or Atlanta’s long dendritic corridors (dodging those spillover queues from Auntie Anne’s) when you could be whisked, in comfort if not exactly style, directly from security to your gate? Sure, there’s plenty of mass transit options, like shuttle trains and moving walkways, and there’s always good old walking (which I frankly find a welcome respite after four hours of impersonating David Blaine’s latest act of extreme deprivation in 12F), but who wouldn’t want that private door-to-door ride?
The problem, of course, is that if everyone wanted to travel this way, the airport corridors would quickly bog down in a teeming, thrombosed mass of Lagosian proportions. Airports are able to process huge amounts of people because of mass transit, or because they walk.
And I think there’s something of a metaphor here for the presence of the car in the city of the 21st Century. On 34th Street, as the NYC DOT reports, one in ten people who travel on the street go by car. And yet they are granted an inordinate amount of space, and they exact a toll in time on the vehicles carrying many more people. It’s not difficult to imagine the car, forcing its way through a crosswalk during a right turn (as so many do), as the equivalent of that individual courtesy cart disrupting the larger flow of the stream of airport pedestrians for the sake of its few passengers. Or the driver honking as he passes a cyclist as that shrill cry of “beep, beep, cart coming through” that so vexed Seinfeld. Imagine now if, at the airport, courtesy carts were given wide swaths of real estate in which to navigate, and people on foot were relegated to a smaller, crowded, space, and you have something of an idea of the routine spatial imbalance that exists in New York City.
As with the courtesy cart, the car is a wonderful way to travel — the problem, of course, is that it gets less wonderful with each additional driver. Beep-beep.
This came shortly after receiving this dispatch, from Germany, of another GPS-assisted crash.
One wonders if a new form of cognitive distraction needs to be explored — “GPS blindness.” As the graphics get better, the instructions more precise, the real-time traffic more real-time — and all of this becomes more integrated with the vehicle itself — will we yield more of our situational awareness to the machine itself? To quote my colleagues at the Invisible Gorilla, “If you devote all of your attention to the augmented roadway navigation aids, your “situation awareness” is reduced. That narrowing of attention helps explain how a driver could “blindly” follow the friendly, but flawed directions of their GPS onto a pedestrian walkway and into a cherry tree.” Which you can read about here.
Imagine if those were people, is all I can imagine, watching this monster truck-style event (lacking only the mud and the flash-bulbs in the background). Reader Jeff writes to alert me that the driver in the above video, the putative “world’s worst parker,” has been sentenced.
Sorry, I’ve always enjoyed the title of that Patrice Chéreau film and wanted to use it for something, and that’s the best title I could come up in the moment.
In any case, I remember reading (and reviewing) Francis Cairncross’ Death of Distance way back in 1998, and I think I’ve actually flown more miles with each passing year since then. A fact I was reminded of reading Anthony Townsend’s interesting dispatch over at IFTF, particularly this comment, a reprise of an earlier post:
At many times people on one side of the debate or the other have wrongly forecast that one side of this equation would overtake the other – we would see the death of cities, the death of distance, and the end of travel. But what’s important here is that these things happened because of each other, not in spite of each other. This particular kind of presence, international business presence, is facilitated by a hybrid set of infrastructure and human activities – making calls and getting on planes.
Now, today, the Internet, for all its distance-diminishing potential isn’t really breaking this relationship. In fact. much of what we use our network technologies for is arranging travel. If you look in your email in-box or keep a diary of mobile phone calls — a safe bet is that 75-90 percent of the messages are about arranging travel or planning meetings.
I’d say he’s about right on that, at least some days.
This too reminds me of an article I recently saw in some (appropriately enough) in-flight magazine: It was essentially a list of places you just had to travel to before they basically vanished, either ruined by ecological forces or placed in critical endangerment by tourism itself. The tragedy of the commons, Travelocity-style.
The current Men’s Health has an excellent piece by Oliver Broudy (disclosure: I’m quoted), “Dead Man Driving,” that unpacks the anatomy of a fatal crash, from causes to consequences, in chilling detail.
It’s as if LaBar’s car has been dropped from a height of 54 feet. The crush easily exceeds 20 inches. There are three big impacts in any crash, says Stitzel. “The vehicle hits the other vehicle; the occupant loads the restraint system; and then the occupant’s internal organs load the inner chest wall or the inside of the skull.”
It’s this third impact that we tend to forget about. The human body, says Stitzel, did not evolve to cope with impacts of this order. If it did, our chest cavity–instead of a big open space packed with soft tissue–would be braced with internal restraints. Lacking such restraints, there’s nothing to prevent your aorta, for instance, from rupturing when you stop too quickly. At that point–even if you’re otherwise free of visible injury–you’re dead.
Your skull, by the same token, is basically a big yogurt container. The brain’s only other crash restraints are the delicate internal structures that allow it to function.
Mikael from Copenhagenize is weighing cycling from Barcelona to Toulouse, where he stands a better chance of catching a train. He needs your advice.
You see, he’s got a transport conference to get to, which seems quite ironic, though perhaps not as ironic as the news that vulcanologists are stranded at a volcano conference in Paris.
Parking Today reports on a curious piece of information from a parking study conducted by a California town:
… TJKM uncovered in a survey that asked business owners, their employees and customers the greatest distance they would be willing to walk from a parking space to their destination. Business owners and their staffs said zero to 900 feet, “with an average of 375 feet or slightly more than one city block,” TJKM’s report says. Customers, meanwhile, said they’d walk “100 to 1,500 feet … for an average of approximately 600 feet.”
Something to consider when you hear, as one often does, that introducing dynamic, occupancy-based parking meters and the like in downtowns or shopping streets will hurt business because shoppers won’t be able to find anywhere to park. Often the reason shoppers can’t find anywhere to park is that business owners and employees have commandeered the best spaces. As PT notes, in shopping malls store employees are typically prohibited from parking in the spaces closest to the mall.
Why would shoppers report a greater willingness to walk? I would guess because shopping trips are less frequent, and thus people are more willing to put up with a longer walk (not to mention that they probably have less information about available spaces).
From a Canadian historical exhibition called “In Quarantine”:
During the first half of the 19th century, many immigrants who ventured across the ocean by sailing ship never made it to America, falling victim to the terrible conditions of the voyage. At the time, transportation by sea was not regulated, and the steerage areas of the ship were designed to carry goods, not passengers.
There was a constant lack of space, ventilation, food and water aboard most sailing vessels. Some 200 to 400 passengers were crowded in steerage. Without enough bunks for everyone, they often had to take turns sleeping. When the weather was fair, the passengers could stretch out on the lower part of the deck, but the frequent storms confined them for days in a dirty, airless compartment, stuffed with baggage and all manner of garbage. Drinking water and food went bad rapidly. Provisions quickly ran short if the ship’s arrival at Québec was delayed by a dead calm, contrary winds or ice. All of these factors, plus seasickness, contributed to the outbreak and transmission of diseases that were too often fatal.
Via Brownstoner, I couldn’t help be horrified by the above aesthetic outrage, which seems like some sinister prelude to paving with asphalt (or else the paint fumes are getting to the crew). But I was struck by the comments: People really do seem to sincerely believe that there is a need for yellow dividing lines on presumably low-speed (particularly since they’re Belgian-blocked) streets, as if the mere fact that they were there was proof enough of their rationale and safety.
It’s amazing how our instinct fools us here. But, sorry folks, per your comments, yellow dividing lines aren’t going to keep your children safe, aren’t going to prevent crashes, aren’t going to magically keep drivers from swerving over into the other lane — the only effect that they’re going to have on driver behavior is to increase their speed (and hence raise danger for everyone) and even narrow their passing distance, as they grow confident in the delineation of their space. Dividing lines have absolutely no place on narrow, slow-moving, pedestrian-crowded urban streets. Save it for the highway.
When it’s a pedestrian in California.
A “dangerous stunt” indeed; almost as dangerous as actually crossing the road! Though I dare say this has less to do with inattentional blindness than the typical failure — due to lack of interest or legal understanding — of drivers to yield to pedestrians. Though per the “safety in numbers” effect, it might help if the rabbit were joined by many other giant rabbits, in which case we’d probably have other things to worry about than crosswalk compliance.
VicRoads in Australia has been engendering all sorts of controversy for their “Don’t be a Dickhead” (yes, I’m serious) series of traffic safety adverts, as pictured above. There’s a lot of discussion in the article about which ads “work” better, which may be beside the point, as there’s scant evidence that road safety PSAs, no matter how clever or humorous or offensive or shocking, work at all (all those decades of bloody safety films for young drivers didn’t change the death rate — what has worked is controlling their exposure to driving and raising the driving age). Changing social mores is one important part of effecting road safety improvements, but whether PSAs can do this — in, say, the face of weak legal consequences — is another question.
And I had no idea “ginger” was pronounced with a hard ‘g’ down Australia way.
Caleb Crain waxes lyrical on a device I’ve found tends to draw blank stares from drivers in other parts of the country: Car diapers (or call them what you will: Coupe Condoms, Grille Guards, or by their actual monikers, Bumper Badgers, etc.)
Another thing I’ve long meant to blog about: car diapers. I wonder whether they exist outside Park Slope. In how many American neighborhoods do parallel parking, overprotectiveness, and automobile vanity co-exist? The car diaper is a large sheet of rubber that is draped over a car’s rear fender in order to protect it from the scratches and scrapes incidental to parallel parking. They aren’t called car diapers, of course, by their purveyors. Indeed they seem to have sort of self-consciously aggressive names, like “Bumper Bully” and “De-Fender.” But car diapers is what they look like. Some are attached by shutting them half in and half out of the trunk, so they flop over the fender, usually with a cut-out so that the license plate remains visible. A driver rarely scrapes up another car’s rear fender while parallel parking, because one always has a clear view of the other car’s rear fender. It’s one’s own rear fender that one scrapes, by misjudging the distance behind. So a car diaper is a responsible and civic thing to own—an admission of one’s incontinence as a driver, or anyway, as a parallel parker. Still.
I often wonder why (most) cars actually lost their extruding bumpers to begin with (look at those big rubber bricks on old Volvos) — some push for imagined aerodynamicism on the part of car drivers I suppose.
But Caleb’s post raises another issue that I’ve long wondered about: Do we need a special word to describe that curious metaphysical condition by which someone purchases a new consumer bauble that is so delightful, so gleaming and unscathed and yet so preciously fragile, that one must subsequently sheath it in protective covering — which often tries itself, a la iPhone, to be itself distinctive or wonderful but always fall short of the original, hidden object — that masks its unscathed delightfulness, which can then only be retrieved in rare fugitive moments when one has unstripped the protection, inhaling the original aura, but with each of these exposures bringing the risk of new blemishes, new forms of decay, that will itself make the process of unsheathing it (and resheathing it) that less special, until eventually the impulse to cover has been lost completely.
[the above image is Dominic Wilcox' 'anti-theft' stickers, which preemptively degrade the consumer object to lessen its value]
On the further subject of developing world traffic safety, Greig Craft of the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation writes to tell me of an extension to the motorcycle helmet law in Vietnam:
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has signed today an amendment to Resolution 32, the mandatory helmet law passed in December 2007. All drivers and passengers on motorbikes from the age of six must wear a helmet properly under penalty of a fine from 20 May 2010. Adults carrying children without a helmet or without it properly buckled will be fined 100,000 – 200,000 VND – the equivalent of five to ten US dollars. Those driving in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi will suffer higher penalties than in the rest of the country.
The amendment includes several other road safety measures: increased fines for carrying more than one passenger over the age of fourteen; triple to quadruple the original fine for running red lights; double the original fine for driving the wrong way down a one-way street; and up to a 1.4 million VND, or approximately 75 US dollars, fine for drink driving.
Officials will monitor the increased penalty system in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi for 36 months in a pilot project, after which time officials may chose to extend the same fines to the rest of the country.
The extension of the penalties for non-helmet use in Resolution 32 to include children marks the achievement of years of advocacy from many road safety stakeholders in Vietnam. AIP Foundation will encourage helmet use for all ages, and supports the amendment as a milestone for the Vietnamese government in road safety.
Good policy, for sure, though as the photo above indicates, children below 6 are still an issue — yes, that’s a baby she’s carrying. And let’s hope children around age 6 are only passengers, and not drivers.
If you want to know why pedestrian fatalities dominate the global traffic safety picture, this CNN clip from Cairo is one of just many places you could start. And please, Cairo, don’t make the mistake of building pedestrian overpasses and underpasses to “fix” the problem.
How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.
Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Slate.com Transport column to me at: email@example.com.
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April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.
May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana
June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands
July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
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San Antonio, Texas
September 2, 2009
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September 11, 2009
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San Diego, CA
October 21, 2009
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San Bernardino, CA
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Texas Transportation Forum
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)
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Friday, March 19
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Delaware Center for Transportation
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Salt Lake City
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Monday, April 26
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Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario
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Wednesday, October 20
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
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Monday, May 2
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Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California
Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
April 16, 2012
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Gardens Theatre, QUT
April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto
February 22, 2013
March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
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