Girl Racer

Cars.  They’re everywhere, usually in front of me blocking the way.

I enjoy driving, but I’m not that interested in the car per se.  My basic requirements are four wheels and an engine that starts when it should.  But it is always fun to try out different vehicles on holidays, if only to enjoy returning to the comfortable familiarity of my own car when I get home

Last week I watched a  programme, part of the BBC’s Horizon popular science strand, called ‘Surviving a Car Crash‘.

Progresso, Mexico, 1994

The basic premise was that the science and technology of the underlying construction of a car has gone as far as it can in protecting its passengers; it’s a well designed tin box, therefore the next stage is looking at other factors that could either prevent injury when there is a collision, or avoid the accident in the first place.

Two of the areas of research struck me most.  The first was a study into the damage caused to the body’s soft tissue when restrained by seat belts or air bags.  The design of the dummies used in crash testing has had to be redesigned so that the forces acting on the abdomen and the face and neck can be measured.

One lab has created child sized dummies with soft abdomens which the film showed one scientist holding and carrying as if it was a real child; strapping it into its seat and gently straightening its legs and feet.  Another test facility applies lipstick to the faces of adult dummies (with mismatched shoes) so they can examine the specific points of impact on the airbag after a staged crash.

Is anthropomorphism inevitable?  Or maybe it’s just me imagining the party that the dummies have after the scientists have gone home?  Dancing in their fancy shoes under the arc lights, all the car doors open, their radios blaring ABBA hits.

San Francisco, 1992

The second facet of research that resonated was that into determining ways to objectively measure the degree of concentration versus agitation of the driver.  Using this, it might be possible to feed information back to the driver, to alert them that they may not be paying sufficient attention to the road.

By processing data of the measurement of perspiration on the hands and the heart rate of the driver a programme could illuminate a globe on the car dashboard.  The colour would indicate to the driver her level of concentration.  Pale cool colours for calm, through to a red warning of agitation.

It immediately brought to mind my journey to Solihull last week during which my level of worry could have illuminated my whole car, let alone a small globe; but I would argue that it made my degree of attention peculiarly intense.

It occurred to me however that the coloured lights would only be useful to those drivers who are interested in improving their driving and safety; who are prepared to admit that they are not already in perfect control of their cars.  Anecdotal observation of my own would suggest that there are many out there convinced they have nothing to learn.

You know who I mean.  The low slung, purple cars that roar up behind you on the motorway and sit on your tail lights when you’re overtaking and already doing in excess of the speed limit; the souped up cans, tail finned, with go faster strips, throbbing with too much bass music, the driver’s arm draped out of the window; the four wheel drive people carrier with three crying children strapped in seats across the back.

Any driver wearing a hat, be it the tea cosy of the Sunday driver peering through the spokes of the steering wheel, the back to front baseball cap of the newly qualified driver, or the pork pie hat of the jaded mini cab driver; it’s hard to imagine them paying any attention to ‘onboard safety devices’.

In the meantime, however, they at least advertise the dangers they represent to the rest of us, and I for one, always allow them a very wide berth.

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