I’ve taken six five-hour road trips during the last couple of months. My job is to be the passenger, to entertain and provide stimulating and fun activities for the duration of the trip. I select appropriate music on the I-pod, which depends on my mood at the time. Oh, yes, I sometimes take requests from the driver. I’m also in charge of temperature control and environmental safety measures, such as keeping seatbelts fastened, supplying Kleenex when needed, and insuring that everything is in its place. Another one of my jobs comes under the heading of “food services.” It’s the sharing of food delicacies that are carried in a green burlap non-perishable container. I also pack an insulated yellow bag full of cool snacks, such as yogurt, a variety of dips, along with refreshing juices to sip on along the way.
I’m not sure why I haven’t been invited to take over the wheel for short periods of time. I’ve offered my driving services, but my friend always replies, “I’m fine with the drive.” One thing I’ve learned during these excursions is that I enjoy being a passenger, not having to second guess what the motorist ahead, behind, or to the right or left of me might be contemplating.
I leave that up to my driver, David, who is also my friend. When I first asked him why he enjoys being behind the wheel, he replied, “I’m a great driver. I’m from Detroit.”
During the five-hour trips to San Diego, I sit in the passenger seat reading, snacking, or napping, usually in that order. I listen to David’s anecdotes describing another driver’s habits; their recklessness, rudeness, or just plain stupidity. I sometimes stop reading an essay and glance up in order to get a glimpse of the ridiculed driver’s action(s). I giggle as David uses humor to diffuse his anger.
“You know when a driver has his arm stretched out the window like he’s trying to catch some rays, he’s in no hurry and it’s unlikely he’ll ever drive the posted speed limit.”
The current prediction is that one day cars will routinely “talk” to one another with wireless communication devices, possibly preventing huge numbers of traffic accidents. On August 21, the world’s largest study of connected car technology, designed to help drivers avert common dangers on the road, launched in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Take for example the time when you are driving along at about 35 to 40 mph with several cars ahead of you. Now imagine that the driver in the lead car turns a corner and suddenly hits the brakes. Not only was our view of that sudden braking impeded by the traffic between us, but possibly the traffic between us doesn’t realize that that car has slammed on its brakes as well.
This might make you the latest victim of a pileup; an accident that couldn’t be avoided— even by a savvy driver, like David. The cars in this present study are equipped with wireless transmitters, which send out the vehicle’s location, speed, and direction at a rate of 10 times per second. Other cars have receivers, along with audio warning systems. So when the car in front randomly decides to slam on the brakes, a driver of a car that has a warning system has extra seconds to respond.
David is able to avert all types of accidents by being proactive, knowing the type of driver that he’s riding alongside of, but even the best driver sometimes isn’t able to outsmart one who is a city block ahead and who never should have been given a drivers license to begin with.
Soon, nearly 3,000 Ann Arbor motorists will have some version of the devices on their cars. For a year, they will travel their usual routes and ways, occasionally crossing paths. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute will study how the technology works in real life. UMTRI Director Peter Sweatman thinks the potential to save lives is huge.
But can there be some downside to this? What about the people, David excluded of course, who are already distracted when they drive, and that could get worse if people become complacent about the need to watch the road. There is also a philosophical objection to the technology: the car is now telling the driver what to do. What has happened to our individualism? This study obviously has its limits.
Me, I prefer not to have Big Brother dictating to me how I am supposed to drive, even if I don’t take long road trips. When David is driving, I feel safe because he has this uncanny knowledge of the workings of cars and people. He’s also able to make a joke about the driver, rather than get into a road rage altercation. I’d rather hear him telling me, “This guy in front of me obviously didn’t pass his driving test,” as he whizzes by him and waves. He ignores the standard finger gesture that is directed at him from outside the driver’s window.
My idea is simpler. Leave the driving to David and like a stewardess, insure that the driver and passengers, if applicable, are comfortable, well fed, entertained, and safe. And best of all, keep listening to the endless anecdotes about confused and dangerous drivers.
“Got stuck behind a guy who was so old he didn’t know where he was and forgot where he was going.”