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Have you ever read a book about automobile driving? Oh, there are lots of books
about cars, racing, touring, and plenty of how-to books -- but have you ever
read a book about the activity of driving itself? Considering how much
time people spending driving, it's remarkable that there aren't zillions of
books on the subject, but I haven't seen a single one -- have you? (If you
have, please send me an email!)
The idea for a book on driving occurred to me a few years ago when I first
started commuting to work (before that, I'd walked, bicycled, or taken public
transportation), and was having my initiation to rush-hour driving. Nearly
every trip, something happened to me that was worth mentioning, either to my
officemates in the morning or to Lisa in the evening. Often one story would
lead to another; it seemed like everybody was interested in it.
About this time, the possibility arose that I might be spending an indefinite
amount of time in Los Angeles, helping my mother-in-law refurbish her house. I
knew that the automobile culture there would wear on me if I didn't do
something about it, and it occurred to me that the project of writing a book
about driving would turn even the most unpleasant day in traffic into source
What would a book about driving have in it? Here are some of the things it
Anecdotes about driving. There are a million of them out there, both
real and fictional.
The psychology of driving. Human beings evolved in an environment
which had no activity remotely like driving, and yet most people can learn to
drive pretty well; how is this? In what ways is driving unnatural? The behavior
Driving and game theory. For many drivers, driving is a kind of
competition: "can I get there ahead of the other guy?" -- or simply "can I get
there in one piece?" In either case, there are a lot of principles in game
theory that could be applied to driving.
Sign language used by drivers. There's a fairly small repertoire of
sign language used by drivers. How could this be expanded? (For example: one
piece of sign language I saw for the first time just a few days ago was using
the hazards lights to mean "I'm not turning, I'm coming straight through" at an
intersection where most people turned.) There's also the possibility of making
cars themselves more expressive.
Accidents. This would be a major section, including: how to make
sense of accident statistics, the automobile insurance industry, tradeoffs
between speed and safety, my theory of how accidents happen, how to avoid
Road and freeway design. A lot of thought has gone into how roads
work, and it's something most drivers take completely for granted. The geometry
of turns. The varieties of overpass design.
Photographs. I've seen some amazing things while driving, and I've seen
some even more amazing photographs; this book would be a good excuse to collect
The Los Angeles house project never materialized, but the idea for this book
continued to appeal to me. Occasionally I browse bookstores looking for a book
like this, but I haven't looked too hard -- partly, I think, because I don't
want to find it.