Socialistic Driving

This is a topic that may have other names, but may not be what you think it is. Socialism is when the government owns everything- applied here- you may think it has to do with owning your car. But, it’s subtler than that- it’s owning more of your speed. But I picked this phrase because it’s catchy. Being a wage-earner in society, I am nearly inevitably drawn into the motorist circuit, having to drive from point A to point B and usually A again to scoop out a lifestyle for subsistence purposes (of modern definition).  I’ve arrived at an idea that may have been explored elsewhere, but hasn’t been elucidated or emphasized as much. We often hear about the “speed limit.” Less often is the “minimum speed limit.” This post is not about the minimum speed limit. It’s about the disposable speed just above the minimum and below the maximum speed (or the speed that traffic is following). This small, but important distinction between the minimum speed limit is rarely negotiated on the road, and I propose to introduce it as an important bargaining tool- in exchange for a safer road.

To give a background on this topic, I’ll introduce what a road really is. A road is one of the least friendly public spaces in civilized society. It is technically a commons, shared by car-owning citizens, residents, and tourists who have a recognized drivers license. The problem, is that all walks of life use the road in less-than-creative-or considerate manners. Being a considerate driver implies a mutual understanding of other people’s needs and expectations. An experienced driver will know how some drivers never change their habits to yield to a slow or hesitant driver, yet it is sometimes difficult to determine until a speed or signal from a car blinker indicates as such (or the lack thereof).

It is an unwritten law that drivers have the freedom to adjust the speed according to their preferences and not just because road conditions require it. But what if it were entirely optional to be open to adjust one’s speed simply because other people are driving at that speed? At by “that speed,” I’m referring to slightly below or above the speed limit, but not greatly above and definitely not below the minimum, unless road conditions require. It. The reasoning is, seems to do with game theory. The more cooperation on the road, the smoother and quicker the cars make it through. The fewer the cars driving at the same speed (because variations in small speed differences cause perturbations in a pack of cars that require much slowing down) the more cars that need to slow down (due to traffic jams).

In game theory, a single car or few number can benefit more at the expense of many more cars, whereas a socialistic approach- a planned speed matched from the furthest reaches of its domain, could facilitate a more permissive road- at the expense of temporary individualistic “ownership” of the road. I use the word ownership because there is the illusion that drivers are entitled to their own space and speed, yet there is a limit to everything private in a public space and driving is no different than the percentage of income taxed- much of what socialistic driving proposes. Driving, in its current form, and all its regulations, is still much a capitalistic endeavor. It doesn’t take a tram or train to call it a socialistic form of transportation. just because there are not flying cars does not mean it is already restrictive as it is. But it doesn’t mean it can’t be more restrictive, because there can still be room for improvement.

What the rules of the road do not make as explicit is the grey area between the legal minimum and the speed of traffic- that speed still is up to the discretion of the individual. The most radical thing that “socialistic driving” proposes is to alter the arrival time of all drivers on a stretch of road in segments until they reach another stretch of road- each segment defined by the entire cohort of independent drivers. Socialistic driving is part-peer-to-peer, part libertarian. It doesn’t do away with the intelligent discretion of independent thinking, it merely coordinates it better than existing vague laws on the books. Since driving is a dangerous activity- over 40,000 traffic accidents a year in the U.S. alone, more could be done to improve the safety of driving. However, the resources to introduce new approaches would require road testing would be great, as any new regulation would impose. The introduction of automatic braking on cars by several major auto manufacturers is a major step in improving transportation safety, yet the impact on consumer freedom is great, while the impact on safety is even greater.

There is certainly a precedence in the amnesia of the past when it comes to progress. Progress happens many times with great resistance, but eventually the past is forgotten and abandoned as an unwinnable cause. It is unthinkable that cars would not offer seatbelts today, even if one chooses not to use one for whatever emergency reason is necessary. The addition of options to a car rarely interferes with the discretion of a driver, unless it fundamentally changes the way someone can drive. Automatic braking is one of these instances. The research and statistics that went into a decision like this must have unanimously determined the countless lives that would be saved by implementing this technological change.

The premise behind driving safe has always involved personal responsibility, but the extent that individuals feel confident about their abilities depends largely on their ability to communicate beyond simple turn signals and brake lights. Today, there are no longer technological obstacles to introducing other signal/communications between vehicles and drivers, much like driverless cars use sensors to automate driving. “Too many” signals would overload the average driver from multitasking the signals, whereas too few signals could also lead to an error in driving judgement. The idea of changing technologies assisting cars appears to play a greater role now that there is an increase in possible computerized applications that sense and facilitate driving. Social driving is a similar concept- Cars that cooperate do so with a better language to express subtle needs and sensory organs- Cars may have been simpler machines in the beginning, merely improving upon what a horse could not do for extreme lengths of time, but they have evolved into bio-mimetic machines that complement the needs of living organisms.

Cars depend more on defense and protection the faster they go, thus if cars could go slower when possible in some linguistic way- some evolved form of brake lights- slow down this way, at this time, here, and then there, then there wouldn’t be so many collisions. Most collisions appear to stem from under- and over-calculating drivers- they try to accomplish something in faster time than other cars are willing to allow. By minimizing the number of calculations, using a common denominator, cars would not experience the rift of poor or non-existent communication. Adding more redundancies in brake lights and turn signalling would would help drivers who do not have a good habit of telling others they are switching lanes- to force their cars to do so for the courtesy of other drivers. One particular blind spot is switching lanes when there is another car in the third lane, and both cars want to switch into the same lane, while driving in parallel. If a sensor could detect this, the driver would be alerted of a changing distance of the car arriving into the adjacent lane from two lanes away. Until that type of auditory alert is implemented, it would be best to avoid that type of lane change- when another car is at the same distance in the parallel lane.

There are countless other examples where communicating to a driver that one would prefer that they slow down, without a current ability to do so. There is no economic benefit, just a relativistic, real-time risk reassessment of what the road conditions are. Perhaps this constant reminder of driving with more sensors and statistical analysis could lead to better probabilistic driving decisions for driverless cars, but probability is not necessarily the same as evolved intuition. Much like artificial intelligence on computers, natural learning has a long way to go. But I am open to many new technologies that make cars even safer, because there is always room for improvement. I am reminded of bumper bowling. If bowling balls were cars, wouldn’t it be nicer if there were a warm shoulder to softly bounce off of, rather than a utterly catastrophic car wreck when hitting a wall? To imagine ideal driving, all other vehicles should be viewed as gutters to be avoided, and sensors could be the technologies that avoid collisions when the driver is unable to react in time, with ample redundancies in place in the event an automatic system does not work as intended. Bumper cars, by design appear to cause low impact because of their appearance and their protections. It is strange though, that real “road legal” cars do not adopt more safe aspects of bumper cars, allowing for all the proper adaptations necessary, both in concept and in practice.


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