The Future Eventually Arrives
Traffic gets up a great write-up over at Popular Mechanics, via Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds. Here’s an excerpt:
The safety-through-danger approach extends to cars. Modern cars are quiet, powerful and capable of astonishing grip in curves, even on wet pavement. That’s swell, of course, until you suddenly lose traction at 75 mph. The sense of confidence bred by all this capability makes us feel safe, which causes us to drive faster than we probably should. We don’t want to make cars with poor response, but perhaps we could design cues—steering-wheel vibration devices, as in video games?—that make us feel less safe at speed and encourage more care. Designers could make cars feel faster at lower speeds, instead of slower at higher speeds. Done right, this might even make driving more fun. In college I drove an Austin-Healey 3000 that somehow felt faster at 45 mph than my Mazda RX-8 (or even my Toyota Highlander Hybrid) feels at 75 mph. That was a good thing.
This approach could be taken beyond the world of personal transportation. We’re in the current financial mess in part because things that were actually dangerous—from subprime mortgages to risky financial instruments that no one fully understood—felt safe and ordinary. Modern financial markets, with computers, regulations, deposit insurance and bond ratings, felt as routine and as smooth as that four-lane highway in Spain, causing a lot of people who should have been paying attention to doze off. Investors might have been more careful if it had felt like they were driving down a twisty mountain road with no guardrails, especially since we really were engaged in the financial equivalent of high-speed mountain driving, only without the discipline of fear.
In athletics, protection sometimes leads to more risk-taking. Research has shown that skiers who wear helmets ski faster than those who do not. Likewise, firearms instructors are quick to stress that the safety on a gun doesn’t actually render the weapon safe, just marginally safer, so that all usual precautions still apply. And I noticed when scuba diving with a spare air cylinder that instructors were concerned these backups would become popular with inexperienced divers and that this reliance might breed carelessness with the main equipment.
The traffic example demonstrates a general phenomenon of modern society: With the best of intentions, we tend to replace situations that call on the use of our wits with situations that we can sleepwalk through, and the solutions to matters with any serious consequences are postponed to the indefinite future. That’s a comfortable way to live, and there are good reasons to be glad of it—we’re not in a situation where one bad harvest means starvation, after all—but if you can postpone problems indefinitely, a lot of problems will be postponed. Yet the future eventually arrives.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 31st, 2009 at 6:46 am and is filed under Risk, Roads, Traffic safety. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.