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"Complacency could, I well appreciate, become deadly, just like when I'm not behind any wheel."

The new car (as yet unnamed) came with a feature I'd never heard of before the test drive: EyeSight. I suspect that it uses some sort of radar to keep track of the traffic surrounding us. When someone slips into one of the blind spots, left or right, a small light illuminates on the corresponding exterior rear view mirror to warn us. Most remarkably, punching a button and flipping a switch invokes a special sort of cruise control that maintains a constant distance between our car and the one in front of it. If I punch in sixty five, the standard freeway speed around here, the car will maintain that speed unless the one in front slows down below that speed, in which case it will merely track behind that car at the same distance, even stopping if, as often happens here, the line of vehicles ahead slows to a stop before speeding up when that line resumes moving again, no foot required on any pedal.

I'm not always a champion of technological improvements.
The recently retired Zoom Car had none of these modern features. No bluetooth phone connection. No automatically dimming rear view mirror. No head and fog lights that track the steering. No heated seats. The new car (as yet unnamed) came with all of these and more. The first road trip, taken last week, became an extended course introducing me to a sort of driving I'd never imagined existed. Rather than drive, by which I mean 'rather than assume full responsibility for initiating every action the car makes', I am learning to monitor the systems intended to do that busy work for me. The first few hundred miles wracked my nerves. I felt like I was engaged in a game of chicken. Wary of the reliability of these newly-imagined systems, I'd disengage the clever cruise control just to make sure. I never expect to become a complacent passenger in the driver's seat, but I can see how I might become both less involved while becoming more engaged, albeit at a markedly different level of consciousness.

The trip to the local airport has always been as harrowing as driving in Rome. With Eye-Sight invoked, I can sort of sit back and watch the flow emerge. Maintaining at most the speed limit, those scofflaws exceeding it can fend for themselves while I amuse myself watching them zoom into the passing lane only to slink back into the middle when their attempts at exceeding the freeway's flow capacity eventually drive them back into the middle lane, where I'm making steady progress rather than gaining short-lived fitful advantage. In physics, flow is the great under-appreciated phenomenon. Physics can show how speeding individuals make everyone have to drive more slowly because it disrupts a natural flow. We all kind of know this, but when a ten car-long empty lane opens up beside us, we're sorely tempted to change lanes to take advantage of the opportunity which will shortly turn into a distinct disadvantage taking advantage of us. Better, the traffic modelers suggest, to find the flow and stick tenaciously to that.

EyeSight seems engineered to do exactly that, find the flow and stick tenaciously to it. I have been astounded how much better traffic seems to flow around me after I've invoked EyeSight. The Muse said she's growing to believe that one day, every car might be mandated to carry this feature. Too many, I've long believed, drive as if showing off their prowess, like stock racers in minivans. The huge diesel pickups seem to most often exhibit this childish behavior, zooming up to tailgate before coal smoking across lanes to gain that advantage which turns out to be a disadvantage shortly thereafter. I despise their shadow glowering through my car's back window, but I mostly pay them no mind now. As I said above, EyeSight helps me drive as a participant-observer rather than as just an imbedded participant. I feel a tad meta to the passion play, unprovokable.

I still whisper to myself when I'm behind the wheel, blowing out the occasional expletive when I witness something painfully stupid unfolding around me. I have not yet found full trust in this new technology, but I'm ready to admit that it helps me feel more confident and perhaps even perform more competently behind the wheel. I still carry the concern that with two video displays vying for my attention, I might lose my Zen-like attention to monitoring the systems helping to drive my car. If anything, the car insists upon a higher level of attentiveness than any car I've ever driven. Complacency could, I well appreciate, become deadly, just like when I'm not behind any wheel.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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