“Driving, developmentally, turns us into children.”

Great quote from Tom Vanderbilt. It’s a bad combo for adults who are still children emotionally, as well.

The article, Little. Yellow. Dangerous. “Children at Play” signs imperil our kids discusses the reasons such warning signs are ineffective. Unfortunately, Children at Play signs are subject to the usual shallow politics that governs decisions about neighborhood signage. Just like with over-used stop signs, it’s easier to capitulate and put up a sign than educate people why it’s a bad idea.

I recommend the whole article, but these are my favorite two paragraphs:

It is, of course, no secret that children are risky pedestrians. “Children are particularly vulnerable to pedestrian death because they are exposed to traffic threats that exceed their cognitive, developmental, behavioral, physical and sensory abilities,” reads a typical child safety document. “Children are impulsive and have difficulty judging speed, spatial relations, and distance.”

This is all true, and well and good, but it overlooks one thing: The same could be said about many adult drivers, the ones putting those children at risk. As is often the case in driving, when we meet the enemy, it is us. You want difficulty in judging spatial relations? Consider the research, by Dennis Shaffer, that showed people reporting 10-foot-long highway stripes to be two feet long. You want difficulty estimating speed? Consider this study, which found drivers underestimating their speed in the presence of children by upwards of 50 percent. You want exceeded sensory abilities? Consider the widespread phenomenon of “overdriving” one’s headlights. You want trouble estimating distance? Ask any driver how many feet they’ll need to stop, driving at 65 mph. You want impulsive? Who’s reaching across the seat for that buzzing BlackBerry? Driving, developmentally, turns us into children.

9 replies
  1. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    You want difficulty estimating speed? Take a law enforcement officer, under oath, testifying that a cyclist that was riding at 15-20mph, was going 8mph. Heaven help those of us that are not professionally trained about traffic!

  2. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    I like Tom Vanderbilt. What he writes always makes a good deal of sense.

    Now, of course, it is time to apply his argument to cycling. Everything that he has to say against “Children at play” signs applies equally to sharrows. And for the exact same reasons. They have no benefit and are a meaningless “feel good” response to political demands to “do something.”

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