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Do Gadgets Cause Road Rage?

I just completed a “Defensive Driving Course” because I received a speeding ticket.  After driving nearly 26 years with a spotless record, I made a silly driving error.  My dad just moved to a new neighborhood, and I just assumed the speed limit was 45mph.  But it was 30.  I was pulled over for going 50.  Big deal.  I certainly wasn’t trying to abuse my driving priviledges, nor was I trying to speed, I just made a simple mistake.  In order to get the ticket off my record, I chose to attend this four hour course. 

It happens to be that the course was fun.  The teacher was engaging and the students made the best of a time-consuming situation.  We discussed many different aspects of driving, most of which we just take for granted.  We probably all are too aggressive when we drive, for example.  But one of the sections dealt with “Distracted Driving.”  This is where we gadget geeks come in.  The book asks, “Why has driving become more complicated?”  It goes on to give some possible answers as, “the information age, technology, multi-tasking, reading maps on screens, using computers, note taking, talking on the phone, the speed with which we live our lives…” 

Let’s take a closer look at those answers and see if they have really contributed to Road Rage, distracted driving, more accidents, more tickets and increased danger.  I am almost 42 years old, and the days before we had all these wonderful gadgets are clear in my memory.  I grew up in the 70’s, and we didn’t use seat belts.  In fact, when I turned 16 in 1981, it was very uncool to wear your seat belt.  But I did it anyway.  The article discusses the information age first.  I think what they mean is, everyone wants what they want, now.  That is why you see a proliferation of fast food drive ups on every corner, quick lubes, blackberrys, fax machines, and internet sites that deliver loans.  And there are surely people who have lap tops operating in their cars, like, uh, policemen, perhaps?  I have to agree with the class in this case.  We drive ourselves into a frenzy to keep up with our competitors, and we have now stopped working out, and become a fat society who is more interested in our iPhones than our abs.  Everyone in the cars around me has a bluetooth earpiece on and is multitasking.  Next issue:

Technology.  This goes hand in hand with the information age.  But let’s put a different spin on it.  Do you think people 20 years ago or 30 years ago were slow, or stupid, or patient?  Don’t you think they needed to close deals, or get signs printed on a tight deadline, or get contracts signed by a certain time or they would lose their jobs, but they didn’t have a fax machine, so they’d have to hire a messenger to actually take the document over?  Nothing has changed folks.  Nothing.  We may be able to do things faster now, so we pile more on our plates. 

Today’s cars have DVD players, hifi stereos, iPod connections, satellite radios, gps systems and many other gadgets.  Are these gadgets causing Road Rage?  I’ll tell you what my experience is.  No.  My kids get in the car, we put on a DVD, they put on their wireless headsets, and everyone is happy and content.  Today’s technology provide’s welcome relief to parents.  GPS helps guide our way in a nice, simple manner.  My ipod has playlists, so I can connect it to my car, turn it on, and just let it play.  Technology is not an excuse. 

But wait a second.  I remember my mom driving my sister and I in her car, having to do endless errands, and never having time to do anything for herself.  And my father worked many hours per week when I was young, but he managed to get home safely and without flipping the bird to anyone.  And he taught me to be a courteous driver as well.  He said, “you see a violent driver, just move away.  You’ll get where you’re going either way.”  20 years ago my father needed information to run his business.  Perhaps he didn’t have as much information as he’s able to get today, but he needed it to make difficult financial decisions.  So is the information age really to blame, or are individuals to blame?

Reading Maps on Screens.  This is a no brainer.  My gps has voice directions, but even reading the screen is preferable to reading a paper map like we used to read. 

Using Computers.  I know that policemen use computers in their cars, but let’s let them off the hook.  UPS drivers have them, and other deliverymen.  But seriously, I don’t want the guy or gal in the car next to me driving while using their computer.  Do you?

Note Taking.  Stop.  Put your pencils down.  Get a portable recorder.

Talking on the phone.  When people get into phone-talking mode, they go into auto-pilot.  They lose the ability to actively drive.  They start following the car in front of them and emulate the speed and direction of the car in front of them.  Therefore, they should never be in the left lane if they choose to use the phone.  THE LEFT LANE IS FOR PASSING.  If you are not passing, then get the heck outta the left lane.  Also, get a bluetooth headphone, you’ll really appreciate not having to hold the phone.  Even if it’s an iPhone or some other wicked cool phone. 

The speed with which we live our lives.  If you think the speed with which we live our lives is any faster today than it was 20 years ago, then rent the movie Wall Street, with Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglass.  I don’t want to disappoint you, but every day, all the time, forever, people have been trying their best to get ahead.  And I’m going to tell you something else, I will even argue that perhaps the pace of life is slower today than it was 20 years ago.  What!  Think of it this way.  20 years ago, a calculus student would have to solve all their problems with pencil and paper.  They would have to actually know how to work the problems and graph the solutions.  Today’s student just has to plug a couple numbers into a graphing calculator and pooph!  Out spits an answer.  No real work or understanding required.  All of today’s answers are just like that;  instant.  Like a microwave.  Nobody has to cook.  Nobody has to know the recipes.  Nobody really has to work and earn their way.  Just pop the food into the microwave.  Ding.  Food’s ready!

So if the speed with which we live our lives is not to blame for our Road Rage, then what is?

I feel that I have successfully debunked all the “myths.”  However, I certainly would love to hear other people’s views.  I believe I have shown that, if anything, gadgets have made our lives easier.  I acknowledge that Road Rage exists.  I believe it is worse today than it was 20 or even 30 years ago.  I feel that is that case for several reasons.  Here they are:

1. There are many more people in the US.  The Chicago metro area, for example, has grown tremendously.  12 years ago, my house was farmland.  Now it’s a heavily populated area.  According to our class, there are 32% more miles being driven today than there were 20 years ago, but there are only 1% more roads.  We are being squeezed into tight holes.  That makes us cranky.

2. Cities are trying to accomodate the increasing number of people, but need to generate more revenue.  They are turning to the police to help them.  The police are stopping more people in order to generate this revenue.  We had a huge debate in class about this.  The teacher felt this was a fallacy until one student, a nice, middle aged woman, admitted being ticketed for going 1mph over the limit.  Further, the next town over has a reputation for giving the most DUIs in the state.  They purposely look to give DUIs.  20 years ago, if you had one or two drinks, a cop would follow you home, or tell you to get a coffee.  Now they want to take you down.  My first cousin was killed by a drunk driver, so I understand perfectly well what a DUI is.  But if someone gets a DUI for having one or two drinks, then I have a problem with that.  I seriously believe that 85% of DUIs are strictly revenue producing arrests.  Feel free to call me out if you disagree.

Another example of cities trying to collect more revenue can be found in London.  London charges a fee to people who come into the city with their cars to visit.  Now New York and Chicago are seriously considering it.  Chicago wants to charge $16 for people to visit the downtown area, if they use their cars.  This will supposedly cut congestion.

3. Suburban Sprawl.  Congestion is causing us to move farther away from work.  I used to live in a “hip” area of Chicago before I was married.  Then I got married and we moved to the burbs.  I think it’s in the rulebook.  But then we had a kid and bought a bigger home.  It was a little further away.  Then we popped out a couple more, bought a bigger house and moved a little further out.  Holy yipes!  I’m driving 50 miles each way to and from work!  The highways are under construction during the summer.  Idiots drive in the left lane at slow speeds.  The roads are clogged.  I spend half my waking hours sitting in my car daydreaming.  Waiting to move up 3 feet.  Then I hit the brakes.  Then I move up 3 feet.

4. Me and You.  Look at the mirror and point the finger.  Always take responsibility for your actions.  Did someone cut you off or could you have been courteous and let them in ?

Agree with me?  Disagree?  Make your point heard. 

I’m out.

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July 14, 2007 - Posted by | Opinions

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