Thursday, January 25, 2007


"You can make a thing foolproof, but you can't make it idiotproof"

I took a ride for the first time in Prius recently. A friend of mine has one and we were both going to a meeting, so I got a ride with him. Just sitting in one is an odd experience, the designers of the car went out of their way to make it as unique and distinctive as humanly possible while retaining basic ergonomic and functional utility.

The key turning doesn't start the car, a button push does. The dashboard is bigger than the sofa in the living room, and houses what I believe to be the only digital speedometer left in the world.

There's a big computer console/blackberry readout that lets you call people, gives directions, and so on. While you drive it gives an estimated readout of how much gas you're saving by giving the gas mileage (which read out as significantly higher than what a Prius actually tests out as being 50 MPH in the city as opposed to around 30). It had bells and whistles and was all different so the buyer can feel very sure that they're doing something special and different by owning this vehicle.

We're sort of used to cars being jammed with more and more gadgets, lately. It didn't take long for an inventor to come up with a radio for cars, in 1929 the first was invented by Motorola. In the 70's it was cool to have a CB player so you could hear the truckers, talk to other drivers, get tips on speed traps, and learn from locals the best way to get through town. CB lingo became slang, and the song Convoy was a top hit. Car phones became a symbol of the rich and powerful in the 1980s, even if they were big as bricks and tied to the car with a cord. Now we have CD Players, navigation systems, hands-free phones, DVD players, and more. The car has transformed from a means of transportation to an entertainment center, and gotten much more expensive in the process.

This has, unfortunately, not promoted safer driving. In fact the more goodies and thingies your car has, the more distracting it can be. The Washington Post has a report on a petition sent to the US government about all these gadgets:
The nonprofit group filed a petition yesterday with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, asking the agency to write rules prohibiting the use of such built-in systems while a vehicle is in motion. The group said traffic accidents will increase if drivers pay more attention to their personal affairs than to the road.
At Wired, their Autopia blog covered this as well:
While we fear ADD as much as the next blogger, the next blogger happens to be Rob, and Rob is quite rightly creeped out by this kind of creeping nannyism — which is, as he points out, a doomed effort to legislate away stupidity. It may well be dangerous for people to "make phone calls or fiddle with other interactive gear while they drive," let alone watch Iron Chef en route to soccer practice. But the truth is that many drivers already have "a navigation system that gives drivers verbal directions, turn by turn," which is usually sitting in the adjacent passenger seat — and while those systems can also be distracting, you'll have a hard time banning them.
Mark Durham suggests that cars have always been distracting, primarily chatty passengers or children. Commenters responded:
Unfortunately for you, I believe studies have shown that hands-free is just as distracting as regular cell phones. See:

Cell Phone Report

Cell Phone Report
-by M. Hannemann

and while were at it, out law the biggest distraction in moving vehicles. Other passengers and especially kids.
-by B. Flowers

"Studies prove..." is a sure way to make me question the motives of those who performed or sponsored the "study".

So also ban radios. Or CD players.

The bottom line is that if you don't trust other drivers, stay the hell home.

Like the line from the old song: "If he can't even run his own life, I'll be damned if he'll run mine, Sunshine."
-by Dr. K

I used to go to a school that had a couple thousand deaf students. I'd be nearly killed every other day by people who had no hands on the wheel and were looking at their passengers while signing.
-by Tim in PA

As usual, we are blaming the things for the problem. People getting killed on the highways? Make cars go slower, make them crash-resistant, force people to use "passive restraints" no matter how uncomfortable they are, build better roads, ban cell phones. Never, never spend more money on driver education to make people better drivers. That would mean that people, not things, are responsible for the accidents...and no one wants to take responsibility!
-by Doug Pratt

If your approach to driving leaves you with attention to spare for cell phones and other attention grabbing instruments, you're not doing it right.

Speaking as one who enjoys the efficiency, convenience and practicality of a motorcycle as a means of basic transportation, I would like you to pay more attention to me and less to your gadgets.
-by Soichiro Honda
I'd love to see a law that made cell phones not function in a car until you've come to a complete halt, at least if you're female and under the age of 25. It's distracting enough to have a conversation while driving without adding machinery and dialing to the mix. I'm no big fan of cell phones to begin with but adding it to driving is just a bad idea. That said, personal judgement and responsibility ought to be the determining factor for most situations, and laws to regulate what can be put into vehicles is the wrong approach to a real problem.

I should think that putting a television in a car is a particularly dim idea, back seats or not, and the more distractions you have while driving, the worse you certainly will drive. Driving a car is not a right, it is a serious duty; you've wrapped yourself in over a ton of steel and move at speeds that will seriously damage, if not obliterate most things you hit (unless its another car built before 1960). People who want all the amenities in life at their fingertips while operating this complex, dangerous machine have flawed priorities. Get where you're going then go for the gadgets, people.
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