There’s all sorts of cool gadgetry being attached to cars to make them safer for us to drive. None of them will make a single shred of difference to the average Aussie driver. If you think that’s not describing you — it almost certainly is. It never fails. Every single time I post a story about some form of in-car technology — whether it’s the legality of using devices in the car, or Volvo’s pedestrian safety technology, or Ford’s MyCar SMS muting technology — the comments section degrades into an argument about speeding. It’s damned predictable, and predictable for a single reason.
The comments section tends to mirror the wider Australian viewpoint that hey, a little bit of speeding is no bad thing. The lines that emerge from there are depressingly predictable. “The government’s just out to raise revenues with speeding fines” or “I’m a much better driver than most people” or “Speeding is actually safer because you’re on the road for far less time”. Sometimes sprinkled in with “I don’t need these new fangled gadgets because I’m such a gosh-darned AWESOME driver”. Often a mix of all four in dizzying array. That’s pretty much the way of thinking that permeates these kinds of discussions.
While there are in-car technologies that do make me stop and wonder — I do wonder if, for example, Volvo’s Pedestrian Safety tech might make us think even less about pedestrians because, hey, the car’ll stop itself if something goes wrong — there’s some basic assumptions that people get wrong over and over again. I’ve had enough of it — hence this rant.
Disclaimer: I’ve had exactly two speeding tickets in the last decade. Paid them both, and I was at fault in both cases.
First up: Speed kills. It’s simple momentum, and VERY simple physics. I never pursued physics outside of High School, but you don’t need anything but a very rudimentary understanding of momentum to grasp this concept.
Hit something at 30kph and you’ll damage it pretty badly; hit it at 130kph and you’ll turn it into so much kebab meat, whether it’s a roadside roo in the middle of nowhere or somebody’s child.
Equally, if something goes wrong with your vehicle at 130kph, you’ve got much more momentum to shed before coming to a stop in a situation where your actual vehicle control may be severely compromised. No quantity of technology onboard a car is going to make a difference under those conditions, but keeping your right foot off the accelerator a little more often most certainly will.
My next point is partly mathematical, and, I’ve got to admit, partly anecdotal. The maths is pretty simple; people overstate their actual driving ability to a degree that’s frightening to me. Logically and mathematically speaking, half of all drivers have to be below average. That’s undeniable, although where you draw that “average” line is clearly up for debate.
Anecdotally, though, virtually all of the drivers that I’ve known that have been convinced that they’re God’s gift to driving have all been rather keen on some genuinely terrifying driving. I’m not talking here of the kinds of driving that Mark Webber specialises in, but the kinds of real world traffic driving that gives them a thrill as they show off their so-called “skills”. The really aggressive types that overtake over double whites, speed through school zones and routinely hit 130kph on the freeway.
I’m going to say it here and now; these kinds of drivers are woefully below average. The more dangerously you drive, the more dangerous you are — end of story. You cannot control every variable on the road, from the condition of the road to whether a component in your car locks up for unforeseen reasons, so adding to the risk by driving like a fool is engaging in below average driving, not showing that you’re an above average driver.
I’m well aware that my own driving skills are distinctly average, and that’s fine by me; I’m very much somebody who gets into a car and drives from point A to point B and then gets out again at the other end. But when I do that — whether it’s a short hop down the road to buy milk or my twice-annual drive from Sydney to Adelaide (it’s really just down the road a little ways) — I’m often struck — thankfully so far in thought rather than sharp physical reality — by how many dodgy drivers there are on the roads. Very, very few of them are the ones that are going under the speed limit. No amount of gadgetry under the hood is going to correct for that kind of thing, or that kind of thinking.
So what’s the solution? We could raise the status of the “average” driver by increasing the level of driver education or mandating regular testing of drivers even after a licence is granted. Technology can then pay a role, but until we engineer a better driver, it’s not going to make enough of a difference to really count.