Automobile safety—it’s important to all of us. What really makes us safer? I think we ought to explore this just a bit.
Technology makes it possible to make headlights much brighter than they were when I was growing up in the sixties (whoops, dated myself there didn’t I). They help us see further in the dark, so we can avoid obstacles. That makes us safer, right?
Wrong. The vast majority of drivers have always over-driven their headlights at night, meaning they (we) drive faster than we have the capability of stopping before impacting whatever obstacle we can or can’t just barely see (my grammar could be better, but you get my drift). So with our much brighter headlights, we simply drive faster yet and continue to over-drive the lights. Now we’re at much higher speeds and much more deadly.
Another factor we haven’t considered, is the effect of our super-bright headlights on the drivers headed the other way. The human eye is naturally attracted to light. We like bright and shiny things. In any dark room or area we instinctively focus on whatever is brighter or highlighted. When we’re taught to drive, we are also taught not to look at or focus on on-coming headlights. That’s all well and good, but we still have to focus on the road, the traffic around us, and now we have to do all of this and not get blinded like deer in the headlights by the guy with super-bright lights or worse yet, multiple driving lights.
Just because we can make super-bright headlights, doesn’t mean we should.
Technology has also made it possible to design tire treads in such a way as to make them theoretically “safer”. Lets look at that for a minute. New tread designs are advertised to channel water out and away from your tire’s contact surface to reduce hydroplaning. Does it work? Well yes, I think it does. When driving in the rain, I can see that many of the cars around me are throwing large sprays of water from their tires. This water from the road is significant and forces me to use the windshield wipers even when the rain itself quits. These cars are not visibly hydroplaning, therefore they are safer. However, whomever happens to be following is not safer and here’s why.
The following cars have their visibility significantly reduced, this is very unsafe. Now we often wind up driving at night in wet weather, and another hazard is introduced. Remember those super-bright headlights? When the oncoming headlights hit the spray kicked up by high-tech tires, visibility is not just reduced, it’s virtually eliminated. Street lights will often create the same effect to a lesser degree. So here we have a couple situations where technology makes it possible to create a product that appears to improve the safety of the individual using it at the expense of the safety of everyone around them.
Am I a pessimist? Damm right!