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Why former politician’s sordid act spurs a deadlier debate


Why former politician’s sordid act spurs a deadlier debateBy now, most will have heard how the former Vice-Mayor of Tennessee, William Blakely, took the pleasure of driving to a whole new level, in what stands as the most disturbingly weird story since Britney Spears shaved her head.

We reported last week how distractions such as phones – or in this case, alternate personal objects – are not diminishing, despite the various campaigns and state legislations imposed to prevent such acts.

We are all being distracted while driving: whether it’s the temptation to reply to that text message, gawking at the pretty river to the left, observing the idiot adjacent who’s playing Tetris, or witnessing a politician playing with himself.

Distractions are everywhere, and it remains difficult to create a solution.

Travis Okulski of Jalopnik makes a valid point, stating that as cars become easier to drive, problems only get worse. And he’s right. As we approach the boundaries of autonomous vehicles, human input becomes less important. Even today, as Okulski points out, vehicle safety devices, such as radar cruise control and active lane assist, allow for driver irrelevance, making distractions more prevalent.

It was only a couple of months back I was driving during morning rush hour and witnessed a strangely bearded man in a rusty Ford pickup truck, breakfast burrito slathered down his chin, with a wry smile glued to his face. On further inspection, I noticed a portable DVD player on the dashboard. Let’s just say he wasn’t watching last night’s recording of American Idol.

My wife, in the passenger seat, was understandably horrified. As was I - although we both couldn’t help but laugh at the undeterred nature of the situation, given the sheer quantity of bewildered onlookers.

Like in my personal case, the former Vice-Mayor’s troublesome antics were as much a distraction to the horrified women as it was to the seedy politician driving. It’s extreme cases like this that remind us that distracted driving not only affects our driving from behind the wheel, but also those who watch us behaving in this manner; if I see a person on their phone I spend as much time looking in dismay as they probably do texting.

What can we do?

With the ban of cell phones in many states, Oprah’s “No Phone Zone” campaign, and the general rise in awareness of the dangers of distraction, the solution remains a mystery. Should we be making cars more difficult to drive? (That in itself houses a world of additional problems – although I do believe manual transitions forcibly require more driver attentiveness.) Is it purely a matter of continued awareness?

Or maybe this remains an interim period before fully autonomous vehicles cure the problem; a situation where we must tolerate the distraction enabling safety devices of today while they morph into a vehicle that masters the art of driving better than any human could.

In the meantime, distractions are a problem we will face for many years. And while most drivers grasp a very different stick while motoring than Vice-Mayor Will Blakely, this incident (mixed with the federal study on distracted driving) brings to life, in the most grotesque of ways, the issues we face daily on the road.

Photo: Getty