A TV commercial features a car speeding through city streets, doing doughnuts and sliding into a parking spot in a controlled skid. In another, a man stands in the road as two cars fly past, barely missing him (he doesn’t flinch) as he tells viewers about the exceptional handling ability of the car he’s pitching. One more portrays a car’s passenger in the back seat reading a newspaper but seeming so bored that he opens the door of what looks like his moving vehicle and climbs into the empty front seat, taking the wheel and backing the car off the car carrier truck as it continues to move, the message being that it’s so much fun to drive versus being a passenger that it’s worth doing something as ridiculous as this. In all these ads and many others, irresponsible and dangerous driving is used as a way to sell cars. In many ads, the advertisers don’t even bother to include the usual disclaimer: “professional driver on closed course; don’t attempt.”
A local car dealership routinely uses a public sidewalk as a display location.Speed, of course, is the primary selling point but portraying drivers handling their vehicles in ways that most people would never need to — or should need to — is the other selling point frequently employed. It’s no secret that automobile manufacturers and retailers will do anything to sell their products, all too often in ways that encourage people to do stupid things when behind the wheel of these moving weapons. Vulnerable road users — people on foot and bike as well as those on motorcycles — are most at risk when cars and trucks are operated as if they were racing cars, something the sellers seem to want people to believe is the case if they would only buy their product. Clearly, those who use ads like these are only adding to the problem we have on our roads.
For those of us who share the road with drivers who buy into this NASCAR mentality it creates a lot of problems, and not just for non-motorists. The “need for speed” mentality, which is already entrenched in our collective mind because of historical roadway design, means there’s little patience or courtesy displayed when the slightest delay occurs (real or perceived), frequently leading to reckless driving by the worst among us. It’s little wonder we have such a pathetic traffic safety record.
From my perspective, self-driving vehicles will play a big role in making our streets, roads, highways and parking lots safer and more enjoyable for everyone and having them become the norm can’t come soon enough. Unfortunately, until all the human-driven cars are no longer in the mix, we’ll continue to have crashes, injuries and deaths that should have been avoided. In the meantime, it would be socially and ethically responsible for car manufacturers to back off their inappropriate messaging, transportation officials to create Complete Streets with appropriate design speeds and people behind the wheel to truly understand and respect the fact that they are in control of a dangerous weapon and act accordingly.
Wheels and Wings
Summertime inFloridameans organized and supported bike rides are few and far between. But one that bucks the trend in so many ways is right in our own backyard. The annual Wheels & Wings Ride (peaceriverridersbicycleclub.com) takes place on Sunday, July 12 , inPunta Gorda. Besides rides of 15, 32, 50 and 62 miles there’s a 40-mile “Gravel Grinder” for those looking for something a little different. And, as usual, the 50 miler includes a “Gentleman’s Race” for those who want to compete but still ride legally and safely, something that isn’t always the case among those using a “ride” as a “race.” In this case the race takes place within the 50-mile route on a segment that has little traffic and no stop signs. There’s also “Speed Trap Alley,” with enforcement by thePunta Gorda Police Department; go over the 20 mph posted speed limit as you go through the radar and receive a written speed warning ticket, a true badge of honor in this case. When the ride’s over, the fun really begins. Beef O’Brady’s food and beverages and a Tour de France watch party are part of the deal. And, if you were caught speeding, you can have your picture taken with the cop who nailed you. What’s not to like about an event like this?
Until next time, I’ll look for you on the roads and pathways.
— Dan Moser is a long- time bicycle/ pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org 334- 6417.