Driven to Distraction

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With the current federal government’s call to a global ban on driving while talking on the phone and Eric’s recent article on the lowest common denominator I’ve been reminded that the two are very much related.

The funny thing is all this distracted driving is likely an outgrowth of the dumbing down of driving to the lowest common denominator. Because so little is expected of drivers people don’t have to put much effort towards it. This leaves bandwidth to do other things or drive in poor physical/mental condition or both.

Compounding this that poor driving is considered acceptable as we are all taught in the USA to drive slowly and just let the other guy do what he’s going to do. People get the idea that they don’t need to watch themselves that everyone else has to watch out for them. The system is essentially set up backwards.

The end result is that there is little to no consequences for driving poorly unless someone else fails to compensate for it or can’t compensate for it. Even the revenue driven enforcement is centered on the idea of driving slowly to compensate for other people’s poor driving. It should not be a surprise that these conditions lead to widespread multitasking and driving in poor physical/mental condition.

Government loves it as one specific behavior after another catches the emotional wrath of the population. Being difficult to enforce without increasing the government’s powers, government sees a growth in power and the ability to insert itself into the lives of everyone who doesn’t obey some global ban/restriction on the particular activity or in some cases, like DUI, everyone on the road.

It’s pretty easy to go after bad driving. Bad driving is seen, the driver is stopped and ticketed if needed. Easy done. But bad driving requires attention to detail to prove in court so it’s not a very good revenue generator. Good for keeping traffic moving smoothly, good for preventing frustration of drivers, good for safety, but very poor for the government’s bottom line. It actually probably costs more than the revenue from the fines.

It’s plain to see why bad driving is left alone. Why some soccer mom can cut you off with her minivan without even signaling forcing you to take evasive action right in front of a cop and nothing happens. After all, you’re supposed to be driving slowly enough to avoid it which is why you get a ticket for 5mph over the speed limit on an empty road at 2am.

So where do specific distractions come into play? Well like speeding they are common because the expectations of driving are so low. One way people deal with the boredom of driving to the letter of the law is to ignore the law that makes driving boring. Another way is to add something to driving. This is why cars have entertainment systems. The car should be the entertainment system. Driving should be fun. But the government takes the fun out of driving so people get TVs, video games, cell phones, and many other things to ease their boredom of cruising along at mind numbing 55mph.

It’s pretty easy for a cop to see these things going on inside a car, especially with tinted windows being generally illegal. (although some people seem to get away with it). Easy stop, easy revenue. Just like a speeding ticket. Was the driver doing X. Yes or no. If yes, collect fine. Of course the cop could make it all up and it would still stick because the courts believe cops are infallible and always fully honest.

What about DUI you say? After all unless the driver is chugging a can of beer the cop wouldn’t know one kind of bad driving from another in most cases. Because its so difficult to detect from other poor driving government has used the anger over DUI to give us what we were told the soviet union would impose on us if they took over the world, CHECKPOINTS. Somehow these are supposed to be different because they are for our own good. (never mind the soviet ones were nominally for the people’s own good too).

What will the hate be focused on next? I can’t tell you. Could be anything. But distraction in general could be removed from driving? How? stop dumbing it down and restore to needing thought and attention. People by and large don’t want to die so they’ll pay attention to the task, they just have to be expected to. If people are taught the other guy will be held blameless if you get in his way and cause a collision instead of him being charged with ‘failure to reduce speed to avoid a collision’, things should turn around. Those unprofitable tickets would be issued and even made profitable with higher fines. Imagine if to make this performance objectives a cop had to go out and find drivers who infringed on other drivers how civilized the roads would quickly become. No more victimless speeding.

I don’t expect the current backwards system to get any better soon. It will probably need to collapse with everything else first before it can get better. At least maybe the mistakes of this system will be recognized for what they are.

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