Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production

Vol.68.3: DRIVEN TO DISTRACTION

© 2010, UrbisMedia

© 2010, UrbisMedia

After seventeen blissful years—certainly longer than most marriages and relationships—Gudrun and I are splitting up. Nothing is forever, but I was hoping she would carry to the very end. It was not to be (although there is a happy part to this tale, if you do not become distracted.)


Gudrun, some of you already know is (was) my white 1993 BMW 325i, named after my teacher friend, Gudrun, in Hamburg, Germany. At the time of our parting she had only 85K miles on her, her complexion, owing to her garaging, is a clear, bright and unblemished as the day I first drover her off the lot. She is as solid and Gudrun “runs as good” as she did that day.


The problem was not Gudrun; it was me. Some foot problems and a banged up leg have made it more difficult to get into those low (leather) seats and enjoy that feeling of stick shifting a vehicle that is suspended to perform and corner like a sports car. I needed something a little more orthpedically accommodating—easier to get into, and with an (sigh) automatic transmission. And one other thing: I had noticed that since the arrival of those huge SUVs and trucks, all I was able to see of traffic to either side of me when between them was their door handles. It had become a safety issue and I needed something with a higher profile and better visibility.


So it was “goodbye Gudrun.” Well, sort of. Daughter Lisa, who escorted me on my new car buying adventure, after a seventeen-year hiatus, made it clear that she wanted my pink slip to be her adoption paper. So Gudrun remains in the family, even if that means she will have to shiver through some winters in CT and get familiar with the Manhattan street grid. Lisa had her shipped on a car carrier before I could mourn her loss. Go Gudrun, Go girl! (and watch out for those New York cabs.)


In our rapid technological advancement age a lot has happened to cars. Gudrun has a rather simple computer for security and diagnostic messages. But she is a Mercury capsule compared to the Space Shuttle of today. That became clear when I sampled the shiny silver Honda CRV that now sits in her parking space. I’m thinking of naming “her” (and don’t get on me about naming vehicles as females; it’s a tradition that predates me) “Keiko,” after a saucy Japanese cartoon character I saw in a manga. (No, I don’t read manga.)


But first I have to get to know Keiko better. And that’s going to take some time—which takes me to my main theme. Cars used to be a form of locomotion to get us from one place to another. Doing that required attention to the operation of the vehicle and attention to the road. But, beginning with the radio, the first distraction from those main concerns, we have since turned our vehicles in containers of all sorts of gizmos and gadgets that, when combined with the mass and velocity of contemporary automobiles, are driving us to distraction.


These days the government (Teabagger alert!) has a website that is concerned just with distracted driving (www.distraction.gov) and lists driving distractions as: 

Using a cell phone (This needs to be updated to include texting on one’s cell phone)


Talking to passengers (Eye contact is important. Keiko even has a special rear view mirror to view passengers in the back, called a “conversation” mirror)
Grooming (Gotta get that eye-liner on? Just use the lighted mirrors in the visor)


Reading, including maps (Reading? I thought people were reading less)


Using a PDA or navigation system (Keiko has a GPS navigation system that comes with an instruction booklet the thickness of À la Recherche du Temps Perdu. One should never attempt to program the GPS while in motion, maybe even at rest. It is daunting enough to encourage just wandering about until you come upon something that looks familiar. Looking at the map in the display is definitely a distraction, so they have added voice instructions that I also find distracting because I am waiting for it to tell me when I should turn left.)


Watching a video (Porn counts double. That brings up the conspicuous absence of any mention of the amorous hank-panky that has resulted in a lot of stained seats)


Changing the radio station, CD, or Mp3 player (try to find that special tune when you have illegally downloaded ten thousand songs to your 60G iPod)


Eating. I added this one, which I am surprised they omitted. (Keiko has cup holders in the center console and the door, in addition to a console table for fine dining on the freeway)


Any of these are sufficient to distract a driver, but they are sometimes engaged in combination or even permutation. Amazingly, it appears that some people, figuring that they are in a monster SUGV or truck, with protective airbags, front side and above, they empowered and safe to drive at any speed while engaging in any number of selfish activities the desire. This sense of unbridled entitlement is a contemptible American phenomenon that will probably add to the addled outrage of the Teabaggers in spite of the fact that the amount of American road carnage that is attributable to some douche bag doing her nails or checking on his tee time on is Blackberry with scant control of their Escalade continues to mount.

OK, people are stupid and socially inconsiderate, and only seem to be getting more so (yeah, I mean you, Teabaggers). And it is one of government’s functions to protect us from stupid, dangerous behavior when it enters the public sphere (and that means you, too, Ayn Rand*). People install radar detectors in their vehicles so that they can get away with breaking speed laws. More recently, when the city of San Diego installed cameras at intersections where there have been accidents involving people running red lights, many drivers protested against such surveillance, apparently preferring being T-boned by a fellow idiot to having their “freedoms” abridged.**

Driving is a privilege, not a right, but it still involves a sense of judgment and an acceptance of responsibility. Allowing ourselves to become distracted from that while driving our cars is only a reflection of how selfish we are in the rest of our social and political behavior. Keiko is just going to have to understand that; I don’t care how cute she is.
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© 2010, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 10.18.2010)
*Yes, I know she is dead. Now if only her selfish idiocy would die.
**Apparently, this outrage does not extent to the rights of privacy abridged by the Patriot Act.

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