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Thursday, September 21, 2006

How You Could Drive So?


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Interesting conversations and revelations can surface in the most unusual places. While conducting a post mortem examination some time ago in England, an English pathologist remarked that on a visit to India, he was saddened by the ease with which a vehicular accident occurred on the back roads in some parts of the Indian countryside. He thought it was a senseless loss of many young lives. Although I have never been to India, I nodded in agreement and waited for a reply from my Indian pathologist colleague nearby. He waited until the Englishman had gone and quietly but vexingly asked me my opinion of the numbers of senseless road deaths on the highways in England every day.

An accident is defined as an event that is unexpected and is without apparent cause. Road safety in no accident. Everyone knows that speeding is the major cause of deaths from motor vehicle accidents. Everyone knows that speeding is an addiction and that drivers get high on speed. Everyone knows all the details about road deaths. The Magazine of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement reports that more than 3,200 people die in road crashes every day. This is the equivalent of eight jumbo jets crashing and killing all the passengers. Or if you prefer, put half of the 3,200 people in buildings like the World Trade Center and fly 4 jumbo jets into them every day. Are terrorists better at statistics?

The elements involved in a motor vehicle accident can be classified under vehicle, driver, road, environment including the weather and pedestrian. Everyone knows all the measures that have been implemented to reduce motor vehicle accidents. These include sleeping policemen (speed bumps), real policemen with and without radar guns, speed cameras, driver and pedestrian education and a host of safety procedures and devices. Some of the latter include anti-skid brakes, adaptive cruise control, air bags, and external smart sensors that can tell the difference between a tree and a pedestrian.

The science is so fantastic, we can install undetectable microphones in street signs or hide them by the roadside to indicate the speed of a passing car, filter out background noise and transmit the data to sophisticated computers. We can then relay the information to you or anyone else via various media including a cellular phone, which you must not use while driving. For extra measure, this technological setup can even measure the weight of your vehicle and catch overweight trucks. What’s next? Maybe, finally, we will be able to see and hear what really goes on in every vehicle at every location (including at the beach) in vivid colour and stereophonic sound (quadraphonic too), day or night. Finally too, we will be able to offer a technological black box from fatal vehicle crashes to relatives and friends. They can then replay the dying moments of their love ones, in their living rooms. It is time to exchange the old lunatics in the asylum for the new ones outside.
What is the maximum speed limit in this country? Surprisingly, many drivers will get the answer right by saying 40 miles per hour. Unfortunately, many of these drivers do not realize that the maximum speed limit does not apply to all areas of the country. Take a look at your speedometer. What is the maximum speed at which you can drive, or, I should say, your vehicle can be driven? It is at least twice the maximum speed limit. Why? Are you a policeman? Do you drive a fire truck or an ambulance. Are you a thief trying to flee the scene of a crime? Where on God’s earth are you going?

No matter how much driver and pedestrian education we do; how we apply safety measures such as airbags and install warning systems in the vehicle; set up devices to catch the speedster; attend to the road and the environment, etc.; some people will always speed. An article in the New Scientist of 20 July 2005 referred to a technology called speed limiters, in which the accelerator vibrates or sounds an alarm when the driver exceeds the speed limit, as measured by global positioning system (GPS). Some drivers will just love the vibration or the sound of the alarm.

We have to prevent the vehicle from accelerating beyond the maximum speed limit unless you drive an official, bone fide emergency vehicle. According to an Economist magazine article of 21 June 2001, this accelerating prevention technology is called intelligent speed adaptation (ISA). It reported that “studies have shown that ISA could reduce the number of accidents by as much as 40%, and the number of fatal accidents by nearly 60%...improve fuel efficiency and reduce the cost of insurance”.

Cars already in use can be retro-fitted with an ISA device. But guess who are expected to resist this intelligent speed adaptation? The resistance is expected from drivers and some motor manufactures. Well hear this: It is time to tell the speeding drivers where to go, even though some of them will go there with no telling. It is time to tell the motor manufactures what we want to buy. It is time to start a campaign for the installation of intelligent speed adaptation devices. It is time to become a part of the human race.

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