Thursday, March 13, 2014

Making Highway Driving Less Boring

I don't normally read what I brand as "shitty Gawker Network blogs", but Jalopnik (and Deadspin, for what it's worth) usually have good content while the rest sucks.  Among what I read was this article, suggesting ten ways to make highway driving less boring.  Because I'm opinionated, and I do highway driving a few times a year, I feel like critiquing their suggestions as well as providing my own.

Their suggestions:
  1. Add more turns
    This sounds simple, but it really isn't.  Most highways are straight roads with very few curves to navigate, and very little room to work with for any kind of modification to add turns (think forest protection rules, even before residential or commercial development).  I do agree, however, that having to steer more often keeps the driver engaged and thus wards off driving fatigue.  When there's an alternative road that's more engaging to drive on, take it.  However, if you're in an area you don't know and didn't do your research beforehand, you probably won't know about the alternatives.
  2. Lose the speed traps
    This reeks of "I'm crying because I spent too much money on a sports car and I still have to go the speed limit".  The law is the law.  Good luck getting it changed because you don't care about safety.  Also, do you really want to unleash a zero-enforcement situation on America's shitty drivers who think they're seasoned race car drivers but really aren't?  Actually, that might be a good thing, they'll all kill themselves in fiery car wrecks within a month and then we can go back to enforcing the law.
  3. Get rid of speed limits
    This reeks of "I'm crying because I spent too much money on a sports car and I still have to go the speed limit".  The law is the law.  Wait, this is looking like the previous critique.  Uh...  I'll just stop here and go to the next suggestion.
  4. Get rid of cutting in
    I've been a fan of enacting some kind of physical barrier on solid lane lines for quite some time now.  Also, having driven in Washington, D.C., which has some of the world's worst drivers (next to the Russians), I know for a fact that people up there will just lane change on you without warning or the requisite space to do so.  Also, for someone who comes from out of the area, road signage is decidedly lacking.
  5. Buy a Bentley Speed
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHANO.  Overpriced car is overpriced.  You've got to be joking with this one, right?  RIGHT?  Well, this is a "car guy", fuck safety, fuck practicality, performance above all else blog we're reading here, so sadly the author most likely isn't joking.
  6. Get good food along the road
    Better restaurants near highway off-ramps mean more opportunities to stop and break up the monotony (and use the bathroom).  I get it.  However, a "better restaurant" also usually carries a higher price tag than your standard fare of off-ramp restaurants, and typically have longer service times.  I'll stick to off-ramp fast food, kthx.
  7. Start semi-autonomous road trains
    Wait, what?  They've got to be joking here.  I can't take this suggestion seriously.  Sorry, I can't.  Besides, I've drafted off of a semi before, it was honestly a rather annoying experience passing it only to be passed again and have the whole process repeat until I slowed down and got some distance between us.
  8. Introduce completely self-driving cars
    And turn the future into eX-Driver.  No thanks.
  9. Fix the worst road designs
    Sounds good on paper, but takes tons of (taxpayer) money in practice, and means even worse road designs while the newer road designs are in construction.  Instead, let's introduce proper signage and education of drivers on how to obey traffic laws and not be dicks to other drivers, which comparatively would cost a lot less and make everything safer.
  10. Punish the left lane hogs
    Wait, what?  You come from la-la land, good sir.  Back here in reality, the speed limit is the same for all lanes of travel.  There is no such thing as "the fast lane".  Multi-lane highways exist to increase the number of cars that can travel their length in the same amount of time (I often use a computer network bandwidth analogy to explain this), not so that there can be one lane for normal people and another for douchebags.
Now, my own suggestions, from years of experience rather than the pipe dreams from the author of the article:
  1. Bring music
    Having something to drown out road noise means less driving fatigue.  Simple as that.  Just don't turn it up too loud, because you still need to be aware of your surroundings, and being able to hear the traffic around you is part of that.
  2. Bring a friend or two
    Having one or more passengers means you can carry on a conversation, keeping you from suffering from driving fatigue.  If it's just you, talk to yourself.  I'm not even kidding.  Make some imaginary friends and carry on a conversation with them.  Still not joking.
  3. Bring caffeine
    Caffeine is an easy way around driving fatigue.  Grab a six-pack of something caffeinated at the grocery store before setting off on your journey, and consume one if you start to feel driving fatigue set in.  The downside: you'll need to get lucky and find a damn rest stop (which in some parts of America are getting rare), or go to an off-ramp establishment and use their restrooms.
  4. Have passengers assist with lane changes and directions
    Because you, the driver, need to keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the steering wheel.  Passengers don't have these duties, and are more free to survey the surroundings of your car when you want to make a lane change.  Plus, having an extra set of eyes that can look around will in effect eliminate your blind spots.  As far as directions go, most people these days sadly use GPS and ignore road signage entirely, but there are some of us out there that prefer to use road signage and even print out directions from websites like Google Maps.  Just make sure to do a sanity check on those Google Maps directions. (note that it took two years for the directions in my example to be fixed!)
  5. Get out and stretch
    Yeah, your car is moving along at 60+ MPH (in most locations at least), but you're sitting still for a long period of time, which contributes to driving fatigue.  Take an off-ramp sometime, find a parking lot, and get out and walk around for a bit.  You'll be surprised at how much a short five-minute walk will help your alertness on a long journey.  You can combo this together with stopping at a rest stop or getting some food, as well.
  6. Change drivers
    This isn't just something for endurance races like the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it's completely useful for extremely long highway journeys.  Being able to swap positions with one of your passengers essentially means a new lease on driver awareness, and is a really good way to get around driving fatigue.  My parents did this when we drove from Charlottesville, VA to Indianapolis, IN when the US Formula 1 Grand Prix was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  We also typically got a hotel room somewhere on the way back, at about 10 PM when everyone was tired.
I don't really have a 7 through 10.  Deal with it.  Also, notice how my suggestions are themed around reducing and/or eliminating driving fatigue and encouraging safe and friendly driving, and Jalopnik's are themed around being a douchebag.  Just sayin'.

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