Don’t Leave the House!

Turns out cars are dangerous!

Who knew?

I thought all of us knew! Big heavy things hurtling down the street can bring a host of bad things to us puny humans. I’m pretty sure that’s why we were told as kids not to play in the street.

Am I being facetious? I am.

Part of my beef with the aforementioned article is that it assumes cars are some kind of irrational demon that attacks without conscience and that autonomous self-driving cars will be no better than the ones now being people driven. It also presumes no general benefit from all the safety measures added to cars in recent years and that the answer is not smarter cars, but fewer of them.

There’s a cold dead hands joke there but I’ll let that pass.

As always the instrument or tool is to blame rather than the operator. While cars are getting smarter and more sensitive, like our ubiquitous phones, people are not. In fact the main thrust of the article ought to be not that we need fewer cars, but fewer drivers. They, rather than the cars, are the problem. As noted, cars are becoming far more complex, feeding us more and more information which most of us ignore, disdain, or don’t understand.

Like our phones, our cars require a kind of attention we seem, at times, ill equipped to handle.Still, fewer people are dying because of cars than in the past. Cars are safer and more protective-of the people inside. The article, mostly, is about all the bad things that can happen when one is struck by a car, particularly to pedestrians and bicyclists. That’s not new-everyone I know has a story involving accidents, but almost none of them would consider getting rid of cars.

What we need to get rid of are distractions. That’s a coy way of saying phones. The next time you’re in a car, as a passenger, note all the drivers on their phones. If there is an uptick in accidents and deaths, I’ll go on the record as saying phones are behind it. Everywhere and in every act, people are tethered to their phones and give them their divided attention.

Driving, as has been stressed for decades, requires your undivided attention. Cars on their own do not kill people. People driving those cars do. That is part of the whole autonomous self-driving car thing-doing away with inattentive drivers. That requires an incredible amount of incoming information from the car itself to other cars, and pedestrians, cyclists, and any other vehicle it might encounter.

The question is whether it makes us any smarter in how we interact with big heavy things hurtling down the road. As much as drivers are inattentive to people walking and biking, the same can be noted of walkers and bikers, and that’s one of the big things self-driving cars have to be “aware” of. People seem surprised when I mention this, but you’re expected to make yourself know to oncoming traffic. Yes, they should be looking for you, but I can’t count how many times I’ve seen people walk into the street shielded by parked cars and never look to see if anyone is coming. I’ve seen bikers ride through red lights without stopping-a few coming close to being killed. It is, as they say, a two-sided street.

You can be angry about that, but big heavy thing will win out everytime. And as the author ends her article: Until then, the streets will belong to the death machines.

I’ll be inside if you need me.

©2019 David William Pearce

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