This is news – but it’s hardly a surprise. Ready?
A study done by IAMRoadSmart (a saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety outfit based in the UK) has discovered that tapping/swiping/pinching and just gawping at in-car “infotainment” screens “can substantially impair a driver’s reaction times.”
And in other news, chickens sometimes lay eggs.
But is the news distraction – from whatever source – or bad driving? There is a distinction to be made, on the principle that some people can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Which is true. But it is also true that not all people are so afflicted. Maybe – arguably – the problem isn’t the tapping/swiping/pinching. Or even the texting.
Not per se.
To get a handle on why, consider that airplanes aren’t running into or over things – well, not usually. Almost all of them go up – stay up – and come down in an orderly, controlled manner. Notwithstanding the superabundance of potential distractions inside the cockpit of an airplane. There are panels of buttons and switches and screens; a Christmas tree array of lights that glow and blink. Buzzers and warnings galore.
Multiple LCD displays.
But the pilots deal with it all by dealing with it all as appropriate. They don’t check the weather at their destination airport on take-off roll. Once they have reached cruising altitude and the autopilot is on, then they check the weather.
It’s true, of course, that pilots are by definition high-skill people. The problem with driving is the accommodation of extremely low-skill people behind the wheel. Almost nothing is expected of drivers anymore except that they obey various rules, most of which have little and often nothing to do with maintaining control of a vehicle. The edicts prohibiting a right turn on red, irrespective of the absence of any traffic as a for-instance.
The government will sic armed thugs on people for not obeying such and other edicts – but is indifferent to the inability of many people to competently maneuver a car into a curbside parking spot without the “assistance” of technology. The demonstration of this basic competence is no longer required or even taught.
This tendency is then competence-proofed via more “assistance” technology – rather than the far simpler (and certainly safer) expectation of competence. Cars are fitted with electric motors that yank the steering wheel in what sensors and computers think is the right direction; this is styled Lane Keep Assist.
It is a measure of our era that non-handicapped people are presumed to require “assistance” to keep their car in its travel lane. Ditto Brake Assist and – of course – Park Assist – both systems premised on the lack of fundamental competencies once expected of 15-year-old student drivers.
Who were expected to graduate into drivers – presumptively no longer in need of “assistance.”
Some will still insist that the problem is the distractions – not the driving. But if so then everyone who drives a car with distractions must, ipso facto, be distracted and – logically – have lost control of their vehicle at one time or another. The problem, as always, with such generalizations is the pesky presence of exceptions.
As a car journalist, I drive the latest distraction-laden new cars. A different distraction-laden car every week. I go from one to the next before having had time to become instinctively familiar with any of them, in the way most people are with their personal cars – which they get used to over months and years of driving the same car every day.
I haven’t text-wrecked or tap/swipe bumped anyone. Ever.
It is not because I am Michael Schumacher’s lot boy, either. It is because I am focused on the act of driving when I drive. And because I learned to drive, back in the days when student drivers were expected to become minimally proficient and required to demonstrate basic competences – such as the not-Schumacherian ability to park curbside without “assistance.”
Attendant to this idea was the notion that if you lost control of your car, it wasn’t the car’s fault. Or anything in the car, either.
The fault was yours – the driver’s.
It’s a sound principle, in the same way that the old (and now defunct) idea that it was necessary to bring forth a victim rather than a statute in order to establish that a crime had been committed was, once upon a time, a canon of Western Civilization.
Which is now very much in need of “assistance.”
. . .
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