Is Safety First a Safety Rant?

When I was growing up in the 1960’s, I drove a car without seatbelts, rode my bike without a helmet, never got into a car with a complete stranger, never drank coffee in the car or spoke on my- not yet invented- mobile phone while driving. Some would say I was really living dangerously. But is all the new technology really making the world a safer place for the general public?

A new smart bicycle helmet was introduced this week, the Lumos Matrix was designed for urban cycling. Priced at $249.00 and sold at the Apple store because Apple Watch wearers can sync the watch to the helmet. The helmet has a string of 72 LED bright lights built into the back of the helmet that will indicate a left or right turn signal corresponding to the drivers arm signals via the Apple Watches Bluetooth. It is a large Storm Trooper looking piece of hardware with flashing lights for all to see. Do all these new bells and whistles make life safer?

The original retractable seat belts that are standard in our cars today, were introduced in the 1950s and federal law did not require their use until 1968. Yet, when we take our 21st century Uber and Lyft rides, statistically 80% of passengers do not buckle up. Even worse, how many Uber or Lyft cars come with a child car seat when you are traveling with a baby?

Early safety innovations were low tech and all about safety. The first recorded fatality by a vehicle was Mary Ward who fell under the wheels of a steam powered horseless carriage in 1869. Since then safety innovations were constantly added to new cars at a rapid pace. The dashboard was padded , the collapsible steering wheel was introduced, which was followed by safety glass and airbags, and anti-lock brakes just to name a few.

Using Waze is always an adventure. Waze does avoid traffic as it takes me through residential neighborhoods only to disturb and annoy the peaceful homeowners while driving through their formally tranquil side streets, or whenever Waze takes me to a one way street in the opposite direction.

Is it really safe for sidewalks to be full of pedestrians walking and talking on a cell phone? Or what about those electric scooters like Bird and Lime clogging the sidewalks and all the scooter operators filling up the emergency rooms because of the upswing of scooter accidents. Or the back-up camera that since 2018 is mandated in all new cars, do you really trust them, when the camera is covered with ice and snow?

The NHTSA explains that there are three types of distractions while driving: visual, manual, and cognitive. Visual distractions are the ones that take your eyes off the road, like looking at the back seat to check on your kids. Manual distractions occur when you take your hands off the wheel, like reaching for that hot coffee or doughnut while driving or even changing the radio channel. Cognitive distractions covers everything else; not concentrating on driving, running late, thinking of something or someone else.

The NHTSA calls smartphone use while driving “among the worst of all driver distractions “ because it includes all three types of distractions. It is as bad as driving while intoxicated. Accident rates have gone up in direct correlation to greater smartphone usage. Since the mid 2000s accidents in the USA have been on a parallel trajectory with the upswing of high tech safety features becoming standard equipment in vehicles. In 2014, there were 32,744 people who died in motor vehicle crashes in the US and after 2 years of new and improved safety advancements in 2016 the fatalities were surprisingly up to 37,461. The reason: distracted driving.

Automakers have now redesigned the dashboards to include the high tech IVIS , “vehicle information systems”. These new screens, control everything: radio, A/C, blower, maps, navigation, satellite radio, gauges, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, music play lists, and everything else your smartphone does. This can’t be safe. Now I have to look at the screen and consequently take my eyes off the road, something I used to easily do by tactile feel with the old knobs. With all these driving distractions, the self driving car can not arrive a moment too soon. Uh Oh, didn’t I read about Tesla’s Auto Pilot cars being involved in accidents?

Point being, there is a question to be asked whether we are focusing too much on innovation and incorporating new technology into whatever we can get our hand on just for the sake of furthering tech, rather than to actually benefit society. The numbers seem to bring up real issues with this correlation and maybe we need to dive deeper into what our safety needs really are compared to our safety wants.

About the Author: Jake Tewel holds a Masters Degree from YU, a wine seller, caterer and a million miler for the past 15 years. Jake is a best friend, great neighbor, your go to travel person, father, grandfather and loving husband. He is now focusing his efforts on heart healthy nutrition, exercise and travel.

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