How Drivers’ Good Intentions Backfire

Americans are great at making movies – and creating traffic jams, experts say.

As the old saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. Unfortunately, it’s just that theory that makes us otherwise proud Americans among the worst drivers around the globe – so says author and traffic pundit Tom Vanderbilt.

There are a few things that America is pretty good at. We’re the entertainment capital of the world, we invented the iPod and the polio vaccine, and we grill a mean hotdog. Unfortunately, we kind of suck at driving. While presenting at the recent Boing Boing: Ingenuity Conference in San Francisco, Vanderbilt explained that Americans simply fail to see the big picture when it comes to effectively traversing our highways and byways – and that, apparently, is what pulls the linchpin right out of smooth traffic.

Vanderbilt is the author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), a matter-of-fact manual that details how the best traffic patterns and procedures work and just how we manage to wonk it all up on a daily basis. Here are a few helpful tidbits:

  • Zipper failure: You know how it just burns you up when you’ve sat for five minutes in that single-file line waiting to exit the highway and some bonehead speeds by and butts his way into the front of the line? Turns out he may not be a bonehead after all, but he just might be European. Turns out it’s only Americans who deem such behavior as being rude. In other countries, drivers form two lines, taking turns zippering in at the front. This creates far shorter lines and can cut traffic backups by 40 percent, studies show.
  • Bumper stickers and assumptions: Brace yourselves, country music fans. Vanderbilt takes to task singer Chely Wright and the lyrics to her Bumper of my SUV on this one. Turns out the reason that lady in the minivan gave YOU the finger last week might not be in response to your pro-military / Darwin-fish / honor-roll-kid bumper sticker. It just might be because you drive like a knucklehead. Just sayin’.
  • Women: Yes, men – you’ve been saying it all along. Now, you’ve got documented proof that women cause more traffic congestion than men. It must be true – Vanderbilt devotes an entire chapter to it, after all. Of course, he’s a guy, too. Again, just sayin’.

Vanderbilt is a big proponent of self-driving cars, claiming they could reduce the rate of auto accidents by upward of 80 percent and potentially eliminate traffic jams altogether. What do you think, E3 Spark Plugs fans? Have you read Vanderbilt’s book? Do you zipper? Have you been a victim of bumper sticker rage (or so you thought)? Let us know via the E3 Spark Plugs Facebook Fan Page.

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