I don't even ride my bike anymore because I'm afraid some moron's going to Snapchat me into the Tour de Mort.
Back in 1988, Dustin Hoffman confidently declared the excellence of his driving in Rain Man. “I’m an excellent driver” became a beloved 1980s catchphrase, along with “Rumba-bumba-who?” and “Hey, that’s my cheese!” I don’t want to spoil anything, in case you’re still working through your Tom Cruise VHS backlog, but it turned out that Hoffman was not really an excellent driver. But by the current standards of rampant highway incompetence, Rain Man was Ayrton Senna. He could sit behind the wheel and keep his eyes on the road, a feat that 90 percent of the dead-eyed, mouth-breathing licensed public has a hard time accomplishing these days.
Down the road from my house, there’s an intersection where the road splits. Oncoming traffic flows in off the busier street, while the outbound traffic gets a stop sign before turning onto the main thoroughfare. Pretty simple. But at least once a month, I arrive at that intersection to find some combination of skid marks, automotive debris, and vehicular sign-icide, with the signage reduced to metal stumps sprouting from the pavement. Clearly, many a citizen’s peaceful reveries are rudely interrupted by the devious challenge presented by the red octagon. One day I encountered a T-boned Cadillac out in the intersection, its befuddled driver no doubt wondering why the road done ended with cars goin’ all crossways-like.
Anecdotally, we’re crashing a whole lot. I’ve seen more fresh accidents in the past year than I have over the rest of my driving career. There was the guy in the Ford Ranger, spun into the Jersey barrier, holding his bloody nose. There was the overturned SUV on the shoulder in South Carolina, a woman sprinting toward the police barracks just up the highway. I witnessed an F-350 commit Ford-on-Ford violence when traffic slowed down but it didn’t, spelling bad news for the Transit Connect just ahead. Last year, the U.S. highway fatality total actually went up, despite the fact that every new car is safer than the last. What the hell’s going on?
Well, it’s phones. Duh. I don’t even want to ride my bike anymore because I’m afraid some moron’s going to Snapchat me into the Tour de Mort. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen the car ahead of me lazily drift onto the shoulder only to veer back onto the pavement and then, 30 seconds later, fade left across the centerline. Ten years ago, you’d think “drunk” and maybe call the cops. Now we just shrug it off because dangerously sloppy driving is so completely commonplace. Did you know that last year, Americans spent 213,000 workdays sitting behind someone who didn’t notice that the light turned green? I just made that up, but the real number is surely higher. Personally, I feel that this particular problem could be solved by lasers—by which I mean that we mount high-powered lasers in the traffic signal, and if you sit through half a green then your engine block gets turned into lava. Don’t complain; you would suddenly have something interesting to Periscope about.
I was optimistic that Apple CarPlay could save us iPhone users from ourselves, but CarPlay is an invasive species, like the Asian carp for which is it named. Instead of your car being your car and your phone being your phone, you get an unholy monster with an abnormal brain. Awhile back I was at Bose to get an early listen of the Panaray system in a Cadillac CT6, and I found that CarPlay wouldn’t let me access all my Apple Music playlists, even in a parked, non-running car. So you disable CarPlay and stream music through your phone, thus defeating the whole purpose. And if you’re running Waze, CarPlay will commandeer the stereo system to shout out road-hazard alerts, forcing you to switch back to whatever source you were using prior to that smooshed possum. CarPlay makes you want to chuck your phone out the window at 70 mph, which, come to think of it, might be the endgame. Time for an upgrade!
I’ve never prioritized safety as a buying consideration, but I might have to rethink that the next time I’m car shopping. Last year I visited the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and was surprised to learn that there can be a big spread between cars in any given class. Basically, you want the latest design and a car that’s as massive as possible from a company with a good safety record. I’m thinking that when my kid turns 16, I’m going to get him a Volvo A40G articulated dump truck. That’s 68,000 pounds of road-hugging weight and a top speed of 35 mph. The IIHS hasn’t tested it, but I’ll bet it would do just fine in a small-overlap collision.
Short of driving a tank, we’re on our own until someone reconciles the conflict between phones and driving. I’ve got a friend who now purposely avoids 55-mph two-lanes because he doesn’t trust his fellow citizens with 110-mph closing speeds. That’s sad and depressing, and I’ve started to do the same thing. And not just out of disdain for everyone else. Because if you think of yourself as an excellent driver, then chances are you’re not. Definitely not.
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