Thursday, October 1, 2009

Let's Stop Driving: Mother Nature

Mother Nature is a bitch.

We're like a bunch of petulant children who have been getting our way for years while Mom wasn't looking. But eventually, Mom realizes what we've been up to and starts throwing shoes at us. Humans have been advancing technologically at a frantic rate, figuring out all sorts of things, not the least of which is transportation. We drive, we ride, we fly, and we go where we want to go. But what we don't realize is that every time we go somewhere, we're tempting Mother Nature to give us a pump to the forehead.

(By the way, for the purposes of this post, I'm referring to the natural world when I say "Mother Nature. That is to say, "Mother Nature" is the Earth and how it works. Okay go.)

Lights Out

People weren't made for night time. We naturally get tired when lights go out. The basic schedules of our society work around the existence of sunlight. Why? Because people can't see in the dark. We need light for reading, for assembling, for cooking, and yes, for driving. You know how I know we need light for driving? Because we put these giant brightening devices on the fronts of cars.

"So we've got the lights, what's the problem?" you ask, knowing full well that I've already got an answer. The problems are twofold. First, the targeted beams of headlights are a poor substitute for the piercing, all-encompassing glow of sunlight. A night driver's peripheral and rear-view vision is almost nil. The second issue is the human eye. Our pupils grow and shrink based on the amount of light in our environment, to help improve vision in particularly bright or dark situations. But at night, when everything is dark, the beam of another car's headlights feels like staring at the sun, and your vision suffers. Impaired vision + night driving = not good. And that's science.

Through Rain, and Sleet, and Snow...

A 2005 survey reported that the average American commuter spends 26 minutes driving to work each day, and that most of us do that commute five days a week, 50 weeks a year. That's 250 days of traveling 50 minutes to and from work, through all sorts of weather conditions. For those of you not so good with math, that's over 200 hours of driving per year, just on your daily work commute.

We're all familiar with the effect of snow on driving conditions, and sometimes we respect it enough to say that it's not worth taking your life in your hands to drive to work today. But a lot of the time, you go to work anyways. You go despite sleet and snow and icy road conditions. The roads weren't designed for icy conditions, and really, neither were our cars (or we'd have spikes in the tires). But you go anyways, for the $75 or $200 or $500 you make in a day, because it's easier than telling your boss that you're uncomfortable driving in the day's weather conditions. Hey, I know all about it. It's the same reason I prefer ordering pizza online; that way, I don't have to talk to anyone.

What about a foggy morning or a stormy day? You'd never consider taking a day off for those kind of weather conditions, but in a lot of ways, those conditions are just as dangerous as ice, and people don't respect them. You'd never wait an hour to leave for work just because it's foggy outside. But you might be wise to do just that; again, impaired visibility is something that is simply unacceptable when you're dealing with a deadly machine like an automobile.

It's Coming Right For Us!

(Hopefully that reference isn't lost on all of you.)

Outside of weather, Mother Nature provides one more big problem for driving: animals. There are an estimated 20 million+ deer in the United States today, and if you spend any time in a rural or suburban area, you know that they're around. The extermination of many natural predators of deer has contributed to an ever-increasing deer population, and it's no surprise that they're showing up everywhere.

Deer are involved in an estimated 1.5 million vehicle collisions every year, and cause $1.1 billion in damages, along with 150 motorist deaths. Fences, guardrails, and deer whistles have not stifled the impact of deer collisions on humans' daily lives, and it's difficult to foresee a change that will. The reality is that, as long as we have any desire to preserve animals in a somewhat natural environment, and as long as we insist on driving cars on roads, we're going to encounter deer and other animals while driving.

"So we're screwed then, right?" Well, no. As long as we insist on driving cars on roads, yes, we're screwed. That's the whole point of this series of posts, remember? "Let's stop driving," that's the whole idea. I'm just trying to point out all the problems with driving, so we can start to realize that this simply can't be the apex of human transportation. There simply must be something better.

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