Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Be Careful Out There

The day before Thanksgiving and the streets have been bustling with activity for days already. An NPR story this morning indicated that airline travel will be down this Turkey Day as most people are preferring to get to Gammie and Gampie's house by car.  And although travelling by highway is getting statistically safer, more accidents are occuring on off-highway, country roads.  So unless we decide to start riding on the shoulder of I-70 or 63, statistics show that we might be at an increased risk for vehicular trauma.

The New York Times has dedicated a recent ongoing series of stories to cover safe driving practices titled Driven to Distraction.  The most recent installment published several days ago called "High-Tech Devices Help Drivers Put Down Phone" once again highlights the risks of cell-phone use while driving. 

To help demonstrate their point, the NYT created a little online game you can play which shows how challenging it is to operate your car and both read and respond to text messages on your cell phone.  Try it here.  Intrigued, I tried to play the game and captured some screen shots for you:

The object of the game is to successfully navigate your car down the multi-laned highway, changing lanes as indicated by the green signs hanging above the highway before you reach a toll booth which will only have an open gate for the lane previously indicated.  At the same time, you must read and respond to the text messages coming in on your cell phone, to the right.  Interestingly, the first thing I noticed was that I was not allowed to slow down for any of the toll booths.  Not even a little. This led me to believe that the game must take place in Italy.  But then I became aware that there were no other cars on the road, let alone cyclists.  Not a single one.  So, I therefore deduced that the game was set in some future dystopic, post-apocolytpic Italy.  Now the moment I captured this image for you, a green sign appeared over the road showing the number '6,' indicating that I needed to merge over to Lane 6 in preparation for passing through oncoming toll booth #6 at full speed.  However, I was also simultaneously texted a question from an imaginary friend who has asked me "Which Broadway show do you want to see this weekend:  Mamma Mia, Jersey Boys or Spamalot?"  which according to the game rules, I'm obligated to answer.

But at this point, I got really confused because I only have two gay friends, Tom and Eric, and neither of them are in town to possibly text me such a question.  But then I remembered that Spamalot is acutally a Monty Python shtick and I would prefer to see it, no matter whom was sending me this message, and no sooner did the phrase 'nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition' enter my head, that I crashed through Toll Booth #2.

I decided to start over.

This time I got a MUCH more reasonable question texted to me. 

The text read "Hey - I'm starving.  Let's grab some dinner tonight.  Do you feel like going out or staying in?"  Again - I found myself instantly VERY distracted, because this message almost smacked of a subtle hint of 'sexting'.  I imagined that the COMO GEEC was actually trying to 'sext' with me while I was driving - so I thought I would play along and respond.

I successfully sped my bad-ass through toll gate #6 and hit the SEND button feeling rather frisky.  I then received this reply:

It seems as though the simulation was more realistic than what I first gave it credit for.  I then crashed into Toll Gate #4.

It then occured to me that this second question was rather too distracting as well, and probably not a fair representation of reality.  Because in reality, I can not only text and email on my phone, but also cruise the Internet.  Thus, if I were to use my phone while driving, I would more likely be looking at this.

And then the point of the exercise finally hit me as hard as the approximate 439 toll booths I had blown through.

According to the NYT article, inventors have come up with novel strategies to encourage drivers to NOT text, or email, or use cell phones while behind the wheel.  The brilliant ideas?  The use of more gadgets which sense when you are driving and subsequently disable your phone.  Some of these services can cost upward of $1000.  Has it really come to this?  Have we become so attached to being 'connected' to the world through gadgetry that the only way we can become safely disconnected is through more gadgetry?  And that this high tech and expensive method is a more effective deterrent than, say, the fear of killing a cyclist, pedestrian, other driver or ourselves?

Maybe the bleak, dystopic computer simulation showing no bicycles on the road isn't that much of a stretch of what the future holds.  We'll all be crowding the carless trails in fear of the blind demolition derby that the roads will have become.

At any rate - drive safe and non-distracted this Turkey Day.  Better yet - get out and ride!

Pedal on!

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