Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dashboard Driving Demons and Dangers

Cars have progressed steadily in engineering implementation since Henry Ford first rolled out that Model A from a former bicycle factory in Michigan. It was the start of an age of incredible independence, travel and exploration and while the comforts increased, the exploration remained a major problem for the directionally-impaired driver. Simple little compasses sat atop dashboards to help, but who really knows how to read a compass? And reading it while driving was next to impossible. It ended up about as useful as charms hanging from the rearview mirror.

What did all those grass skirt-wearing hula wiggling dolls do for drivers? Now we have air conditioning, keyless ignitions, intelligent warning lights replaced the dumb ones, tires tell us when there's an inflation problem, and air bags practically envelop us if we have a less-than-serious accident. The last feature isn't anything to sneeze at because we'd rather have bruised ribs and scrapes than major fractures.

Some cars even automatically apply the brakes if we get too close to the car in front of us and warn when we drift out of our lanes. Of course many of these features are on the more expensive cars, not the econo-boxes that offer incredible gas mileage and come at an affordable price.

There are gadgets you can buy to alert you when you are getting drowsy at the wheel and you can even run your music device through your car's sound system. Audible books and self-help series can be programmed to keep us informed or help us learn stress-reduction techniques while driving. Should we be doing that? How can you concentrate on a story line or really follow the step-by-step stress instructions while navigating any road, familiar or not. The other drivers are the major dangers, but when you give up part of your brain to the brain trainers, you are losing an important battle.

Now, cars are more sophisticated than ever and the rush is on to get as much touch-screen stuff on your dashboard as there is space for there. So, now you not only give up a portion of your brain power, you have to keep your eyes glancing over at that screen which brings all manner of stuff to you immediately. After all, you wouldn't want to miss one of those idiot emails your friends send to you or the greatest deal on summer outdoor furniture, would you? Heaven forbid.

Next, when something you deem useful pops on the screen, you need to lean over (unless you are practically under the dash) and touch it, leaving only one hand on the wheel. Is one-handed driving okay with you? Anything suddenly in front of you requires quick thinking and reactions with that wheel and one hand won't do it. Even if Google Glass lets you use your brain waves to do something, it still takes away a portion of your ability to totally control the car mentally and physically. Oh, yes, I forgot. Driverless cars are coming. How foolish am I?

Everyone is going to have one of these cars, won't we? Sure we will despite the fact that people don't have jobs, the middle class appears to be increasingly decimated and our new college grads are swimming in student loan debt. Sure they'll buy new, gadget-filled cars, but with what?

Progress continues to add yet more convenience and luxury to our cars but the car companies and the engineers have failed to address a more pressing need--the death of children left in overheated cars. Each year it's estimated that a dozen or more kids will die in this horrific manner, but what is being done about this? Don't kids lives matter just as much as GPS displays?

Would you please lean over and push the gin martini gum dispenser, please? No, no alcohol in it, just a wonderfully synthetic version of it and no calories.