Friday, October 16, 2009

Bumper Bias and Pedestrian Paradises

I want to expand, very briefly, on what I wrote here about the root cause of dangerous driving.

My unoriginal idea of why otherwise nonhomicidal people become such menaces behind the wheel of a car (or truck, etc.) is that they feel safe doing so. They've got a bumper and a couple of thousand pounds on a person on a bike or a person crossing the street, so they know nothing will happen to them. This also explains the Great Motor Vehicle Hierarchy: 18-wheelers at the top, followed by city buses, school buses, fire trucks, dump trucks, ambulances, delivery vans, SUVs, four-door sedans, minivans, and compact cars. (Sports cars are the wild card here, as they're often given a little greater deference because they're perceived as being fast risk-takers.)

I think this is also behind the comparative equanimity of New York's sidewalks, how effortlessly so many people commingle in such tight spaces, even shouldering umbrellas in cold rain the way so many people were yesterday. There's a hierarchy here too, but the general assumption is that we're equally vulnerable.

Which brings me to my first literary recommendation on this blog: Notes from Underground. (Or Notes from the Underground, whichever you prefer.) Surely the greatest novel ever written about an outraged pedestrian.

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