It's No Accident: Applying mindfulness behind the wheel

By Richard Handler

January/February 2009

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says About Us)
Tom Vanderbilt
Alfred A Knopf. 402 pp. ISBN 978-0-307-26478-7

Somewhere near the middle of Traffic, journalist Tom Vanderbilt tells the story of two roads in Spain, one apparently safe, the other frighteningly dangerous. The "dangerous" one was a mountain road, a "climbing, twisting, broken-asphalt nightmare of blind hairpin turns," with few guardrails, just "gapping vertigo-inducing drops into distant gulleys." Road signs were infrequent, and all read simply peligro. Danger! It was a white-knuckle ride, and Vanderbilt honked on every blind curve.

He drove on another Spanish road, this time to the airport. It was a nice, modern, four-lane highway, with gentle curves and lots of visibility. Multiple signs alerted him to every possible danger. It was a glorious, sunny day. As he drove, he was so relaxed that he almost fell asleep and ran off the road. "Which road was more dangerous?" he asks.

The surprising, counterintuitive answer: the one designed to be safer. Monotonous roads with little traffic can be killers. In fact, 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-accidents are not alcohol related, but occur because drivers don't pay attention. And, the lovely, high-tech, modern highway, engineered for safety, actually encourages a driver's version of attention-deficit disorder.

This story isn't an argument for lousy, badly…

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