Thursday, 10 August 2006

My Gripes About Modern Life

Cars That Are Too Safe!

Ok you are probably thinking … ‘Steven what medications are you on today, how can cars be too safe?’ Hear me out before you go phoning the funny farm. I write this as cyclist, pedestrian AND a driver. Drivers quite rightly feel that they’re so well protected by their seatbelts, bull-bars, airbags, ejector seats and the rest that they can afford to take risks. Cyclists, pedestrians and other drivers (who can only afford an old second hand car) are the ones who have to pay for the modern safety conscious car. I am speaking from experience here.

While I was a student I was a keen cyclist, I used to ride 100+ miles in a day. One week I was informed that there was going to be a couple of cycling scouts at the next amateur road race I was competing in, so I went out training so that I would be inb the right shape so I could make a good impression. This was back when I was young, naïve and misguided and thought that perhaps with the right coaching I could be good enough to do the Tour De France one day. I didn’t have the talent, but a guy has dreams and I thought that this was my big chance and could perhaps be a step in the right direction. On my training run I was around 4 miles from home cycling down the Campsie Hills. Approaching the bottom of the hill where there is a bend that leads into the town. At this bend one idiot driver decided to overtake another driver. One stupid, thoughtless manoeuvre resulted in me having no road left to ride on. To prevent myself from going over the top of the oncoming car, or worse under it I had to take avoidance action, instead of following the road into the bend I had to go straight ahead. Lucky for me straight ahead was a golf course, unlucky for me there was no way into the golf course. To prevent cars from entering the golf course 3 giant boulders had been strategically placed at the edge of the road, not only did it prevent cars it did the same for bikes. My front wheel hit the first boulder, wrecking £1800 of equipment, throwing me over the handlebars in the process, making me land shoulder first on the third boulder breaking my collarbone. I never did get spotted by a scout.

I might be wrong here, but my theory is this if the car wasn’t as safe for drivers as it was then possibly the driver wouldn’t have overtaken on a blind bend like that. My argument is that the only way you will prevent stupid dangerous behaviour by drivers is if you make driving more dangerous for the occupant of the vehicle.

I think I’ll call it the ‘hit them where it hurts’ theory. I’d replace seatbelts, that have a little bit of give in them when braking, with cheese wire that cuts into the flesh under heavy braking. I’d also replace bull-bars on SUVs with a spear mounted on the drivers steering wheel, preferably lined up with the drivers heart. That way when the driver is going too fast and has to break suddenly instead of killing some poor kid who was crossing the road it would be the driver who would suffer horrendous injuries. These innovations would skewer and slice the typical crash-test dummy, but drivers aren’t crash-test dummies. Most drivers have a brain (yes I did say most), give them the right incentive and they will drive more carefully, to the benefit of the cyclists, pedestrians and other drivers.

Personally I am of the opinion that seatbelts cause accidents. Don’t get me wrong I know they save lives, I’m not that stupid. If you are unlucky enough to be involved in a collision at 30 mph, there are 3 ways to stop moving at 30mph. You can go flying through the windscreen and land on the ground, that might lead to your death or severe injury, brain damage perhaps.. Alternatively you can go flying in the car until you hit a fellow passenger, you might kill the passenger but you should live. Or you could wear a seatbelt. I know what I would rather do. As soon as I put on my seatbelt I feel safe to drive. This is a good thing for me, but can be a bad thing for others if i'm inconsiderate driver who doesn't pay enough attention to what I am doing.

When we feel safe, we drive more dangerously. You only have to look at the boy racers out there with their extra loud exhausts and go faster stripes. They take risks because they are under the impression that they are a good driver, and so go charging off down the street when the traffic lights turn green. You may be under the impression that you are a great driver and have never been involved in an accident and could be struggling with the concept that you drive more dangerously because of your cars safety features.

Think about those occasions when your car’s safety features have let you down: the seatbelt mechanism is stuck; the baby is on someone’s lap because the baby seat is elsewhere; one headlight is on the blink. In those situations, you drive more carefully - more slowly, less aggressively, with less attention to the CD under the seat or the incoming phone calls. That must mean when the safety systems are all operating well, you don’t drive as carefully.

Safety features encourage drivers to jabber on mobile phones, drive with their knees while putting on make-up and break the speed limit with relative impunity. Would they be so keen act in such a way if they had cheese wire for seatbelts?

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