They’re everywhere! Often, they’re right in front of your car, looking dumbfounded as you squeal to a stop. “There’s no fucking crosswalk, assface,” you’re screaming at him from a closed, sound-proofed cabin. “Get out of the road!” You’re outraged, but that’s the natural reaction… not because you have any genuine contempt for the j-walking, oblivious shopper-tourist but because, deep down, you’re terrified. You could have just killed someone.
I have it on good authority that killing someone feels pretty shitty, no matter how ignorant that person may have been and/or deserving of a quick death.
So, we build vehicles that are pedestrian-impact friendly.
Let’s put aside the sheer oxymoronic irony of making vehicles “pedestrian-impact friendly” and focus first on the impetus, the dumbassery, which brought us here in the first place. Now, I hope you are sitting down with rectum unclenched because this is going to hurt. Here we go…
You’re a terrible fucking driver.
No, really. You are. Look, you don’t think so because by the standards we use you’re pretty darn good. You don’t have accidents or moving infractions to your credit and you’ve never been involved in anything untoward. That’s awesome. Here’s the thing, and it’s like Chris Rock said, you don’t get to take credit for some shit you’re supposed to do.
Good drivers challenge themselves. They seek out safe, controlled conditions under which to challenge their knowledge, reaction time and muscle memory. Good drivers will probably have a better license than you, and more of them. This is just to establish a baseline.
Average drivers will have clean abstracts, no record or history of speeding or writing off vehicles. They’ll boast reductions on their insurance rates and, just so you can tell them from the other category, the one I’m about to describe, they’re the ones whose cars don’t look like the surface of the moon, aren’t more scarred then Two-Face and run properly.
Shitty drivers, by far the largest group, speed and crash with abundance. They write off cars as if it’s just part of the process and have accidents with the same shitty impunity as an infant loading its diaper. They don’t get insurance cuts and their cars are like banners that say, “STAY THE FUCK AWAY!” in no uncertain terms.
Now that we’ve established what should be the acceptable scale, let’s look at what we actually employ. Note; this is going to be a lot like moving from a small, family run diner to, well… your nearest Starbucks (of the six within walking distance). Where we should have “small” and “medium” and “large” we instead have made up words describing vague concepts catering to the lowest possible denominator.
Good drivers, let’s call them the “Venti” serving, don’t have many accidents and the ones they do have aren’t, by and large, their fault. They have fairly clean driving histories, but… well, everyone is human after all. They tend to have insurance deductions but, that said, not having any special additions is also enough to qualify the base driver. They don’t abuse the system, but maybe think the system is there to serve them.
Average drivers have a few accidents and/or moving violations to their names. They’ve banged up a car or two, maybe even writing one off. They’re not bad drivers, but they’re not good. If you hold yourself to the standard I hold myself (and every other driver) to, you’re thinking, “These are the kind of drivers who need to be on the road to recovery, or else the bus.”
Bad drivers don’t really exist but like the “small” serving, still have way too many calories and too much fat to be healthy. These are repeat offenders. Frequent collisions, or encounters with the police, differentiate these from the rest. But, we live in a mobile society and it’s practically a human right these days that everyone, no matter how clearly inept, be allowed to drive motor cars.
It’s because we use the second scale, the sliding scale that dips to accommodate the lowest common denominator, that vehicles don’t have pop-up headlights.
Pop-up headlights?! You’re thinking, “That was a hell of a lead-in for pop up head lamps.”
I know, I know but the point I’m trying to make is that the reason we can’t have pop-up headlights is because of stupid people. It’s the reason that automotive design has to accommodate pedestrian impact-friendly bumpers which don’t allow pop up headlights.
You know what else? If we fixed the stupid driver problem, stopped catering to the ignorant masses and just expected better of ourselves as motorists, cars would be a whole heck of a lot better and so would too would the chore of daily driving be turned into the joy of driving daily.
Imagine if every driver, driving a car, was actually driving a car. I know, it’s a strange thought but just think on it – if driving a car carried the same weight as operating a loaded gun people would take it much more seriously then we (or they) do presently. I’ve often said that what baffles me most about the common attitude toward driving is this; if I were to toss the average driver a loaded handgun they’d panic or, at least, become very focused on not killing or hurting themselves or anyone else but, if I toss you the keys to the family minivan there’s no such sense of urgent caution. That’s a problem, as I see it, and the direction we are going with automotive design these days only enables that addiction to stupidity. Between things like laser-guided cruise control and lane departure assist, just to name a couple, drivers are increasingly removed from the act of… well… driving and the thing is, as dumb as we can be collectively, the human brain wants for stimulation. Drivers start texting. They have heated arguments about their relationships. They eat hamburgers and fries. They talk on the phone or listen to the radio (often, too loud). Drivers today have a million other things to do that aren’t driving.
We need to engage drivers in the act of driving, I say. We need to unplug them from stimulus not related to driving. We need to expect better of ourselves as drivers and hopefully, as pedestrians too. The road needs to be regarded with all the seriousness of a gun range and not the oblivious entitlement we feel at home in our own living-rooms, sunk into our couches with the television bleating it’s bleated bleat. If you’re walking alongside the road, pedestrian, you need to be thinking, “Hey, if this were a rifle range and all these cars were people with guns, I’d probably be a little less inclined to just, you know, start out in front of one.”
There are just so many upsides.
Oh, and the best one of all? Pop up headlights.
Please understand me. I’m not saying that we have to do away with the technology, that all cars should be manual-only, rear-wheel drive, sport-focused driving machines. I’m not saying that we need to get rid of wonderful new technologies which make better drivers of us all. What I am saying is that if we just expected better of ourselves and others we could, instead of focusing our energies on making stupid drivers less dangerous we could divert those energies and funds to developing technologies which make good drivers into better drivers.
There are ways of getting there, too.
First off, we de-incentivize shitty drivers. This isn’t brain science or rocket surgery. Hit them in the wallets. This is stage one.
Stage two is to mandate driver education programs. In British Columbia, for example, the licensing process is a drawn out affair that takes years to accomplish. While this window of time could be used to better educate and instruct new drivers by way of driver education programs, it is instead used as a “see if they fuck up and how much” tool which, again, just caters to the lowest common denominator. We approach driving a vehicle like operating a firearm; those who demonstrate aptitude and interest will have no problem passing Driver School while those who have no desire or motivation will fail. You go to school to get a drivers license and if you fail, you don’t drive. This isn’t a single test but a series of programs designed to tackle issues like defensive driving, driving in adverse conditions, basic vehicle maintenance and comprehension (if you don’t know how a gun works, I don’t think you should be allowed to carry one and the same is true of cars) and how to recover control of your vehicle once it has been lost (and, this is important, some sort of driver training which focuses on safely overcoming road-rage)… that sort of stuff.
As it stands it costs something, depending on where you live, to get your license. Whatever you’re paying, I’m saying; it should be more.
Calm down and get over yourself. Today, owning and operating a car ain’t cheap. It’s actually pretty fucking expensive. I read somewhere that, counting for inflation, the costs associated with motoring are higher than ever before. I don’t know if I’d buy that entirely, but what I do know is that it’s not cheap. However, because we look at it as some sort of basic human right, getting your license is comparatively cheap. I think, personally, we need to get over that.
Once we accept this new model for licensing drivers the roads will change for the better, but it doesn’t stop there. Once the roads are full of good drivers, by my scale, and those who don’t need to drive or aren’t interested have been financially motivated to utilize public transit systems governments will be able to divert some of the mountains of money away from maintaining a road network that is struggling to keep up with the number of cars being added to them daily towards new, fancy public transit that people won’t be loathe to employ. We could, oh I don’t know, even encourage the new breed of drivers to carpool and to assist their friends, family and neighbors where possible with financial incentives like breaks on fuel, for example.
Then, having reduced the number of accidents annually on our roads and having so diminished the need to police drivers, we can, as a society, divert some of the monies which was allocated to maintaining those systems like traffic police emergency services (given their now reduced need) to other social projects.
Is what I am describing a drivers utopia? Yes, absolutely. Is it going to be a lot of work? Of course it is. It's worth it though.
Once the beat up or boring 'burb boxes are a long forgotten memory and the road is populated by "good" drivers again, automobile manufacturer will once again have the freedom it once did, before the needlessly nanny-stane nonsense navigated for us, to explore new and exciting ideas like, for example...
… pop-up headlights.