I climbed into my trusty truck the other day and realized that I was about to “rough it.” Although my truck is 20 years old, I still think of it as new yet much has changed in those last 20 years. Twenty years ago, even though the government was trying to control my world much like it is now, they at least believed I had enough knowledge to know when to turn my own headlights on. Unlike my truck, my other vehicles know better about the science of illumination than I do so I no longer have to touch the headlight switch (I’m assuming it’s actually there since I’ve never used it). There have been other improvements as well in that time. Traction Control has become a common addition for many vehicles. Now the car knows better than the driver when the wheels spin and adjusts the torque to the drive wheels to maximize traction. Back in “the day,” we just had to know which direction to aim the car when it went into a slide. Driving in a snowstorm is no longer a skill to be mastered as a result. Maybe this is why so many cars slide completely off the road when conditions exceed what the car itself can understand. People have gotten so used to the car taking care of them that they don’t know what to do if they have to take care of themselves. Case in point was something I witnessed not long ago. It had just rained prior to when I was leaving work. I witnessed three separate accident scenes within the first half mile, all appearing to be a result of the cars sliding on the wet surface. Many modern drivers are conditioned to think their anti-lock brakes (excellent invention, by the way) will prevent such things from happening. Back in the days before anti-lock brakes we just had to understand for ourselves that wet roads could become quite slippery and adjust our speed accordingly. Of course back then, we also didn’t have the distraction of texting, phone calls, GPS, or video. We could just concentrate on driving and enjoying the ride. I can even remember riding in the back of the old family Pontiac as a child being totally unprotected by seat belts, let alone an air bag. One of my favorite things was standing on the driveline hump in the back and holding on to the front seat for a good view of where we were going. We all knew a crash would result in someone flying through the windshield, but we went on our way regardless, perhaps driving more cautiously because of that knowledge. Pretty amazing that I even survived, eh? I would imagine the majority of today’s drivers are confident they’d be protected by their seat belts and air bags and give little thought of flying through the windshield. Probably little thought of driving cautiously too, for that matter. I think I saw that up close the other day. It was one of those winter mornings when a light coating of snow became packed into a deceptive glazing of ice. I allowed what I thought was more than an ample distance ahead of an oncoming vehicle to pull out onto the highway. This was when I discovered just how slippery the road had become. My car immediately lost most of it’s traction which resulted in a barely moving car. Trying to back up would only result in me being caught sideways in front of traffic, so I continued forward in slow motion. All the while I kept an eye on the oncoming vehicle. The driver not only made no attempt at slowing but it appeared to me they even accelerated a bit. Of course the only evasive action this driver performed was the obligatory pounding on the horn. I’ve been driving a long time and I’m still trying to figure out how beating on a horn can help a situation like this one. I could only surmise that this was a prime example of a vehicle whose intelligence exceeded that of the driver.
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