Last week's post on road trains got me thinking about the increasingly dangerous attitude that people take towards cars and driving nowadays. It's almost like driving is an inconvenience that gets in the way of texting, eating, drinking and other socialising - a necessary evil between points A and B. The US driving education and test program (for example) is laughably easy and teaches the students nothing about the realities of driving. In some states the theory part of the test is open-book - they give you the answers - and still people fail. Yet here driving is treated as a right, not a privilege.
A large part of the problem is that so many drivers do not understand that they are driving a 2-ton weapon. Decades of apathy by governments, the authorities and the car manufacturers themselves have led us down the path of vehicles which are so obese with safety paraphernalia that it's no wonder we can't get decent gas mileage out of them any more. And why? Because it's easier to cocoon and protect a driver in the event of an accident than it is to properly educate them in the first place and maintain that education through rigorous traffic enforcement (by which I mean hefty fines and suspensions for things like texting).
This apathy leads to other knock-on effects that aren't immediately apparent, for example the absurdly low speed limits we suffer on a daily basis. The reason they're so low is because there's a widely-held (but mistaken) belief that speed causes accidents and that lowering the speed limits will reduce those accident rates. This has been proven time and time again to be false but parking a policeman behind a wall with a radar gun is such a cash-cow that no police force will ever give it up.
Compounding this problem is the constant addition by manufacturers of distractions into the vehicle. Ford's Sync is a prime example - a system so complicated that its very design needs you to take your eyes off the road constantly to perform even the simplest task. How did we allow this to be put into a car? And we thought BMW's iDrive was bad when it came out.
Sadly there is no solution to this any more. We're so far down the path of dumbing down driving that we're faced with a bleak future of self-driving cars and road trains to "protect us from ourselves". It is categorically the wrong thing to do - we should not be removing responsibility from the drivers and making driving easier, we should be doing the opposite. We should be reinforcing the simple concept that yes, driving a car is dangerous, and perhaps you should spend more time concentrating on the task at hand.