One month ago, I purchased a new car. My former vehicle had reached 177,523 miles when it was traded at the ancient auto age of 14 years. The Volvo had seen better days, but it was basic transportation that initiated hundreds of road trips and shared many life memories.
The “new kid” is American, a Buick Encore. It is only the fifth car I have owned. All have been white.
Some of my Hayes High School classmates still remember the gas-guzzling Monte Carlo that remained in my mother’s barn until 10 years ago and was driven to several class reunions. Considering how poorly it handled on snowy roads, it is surprising the car survived that long, as did its novice driver during those dangerous winter treks to Euclid Avenue.
In comparison to previous vehicles, the new one more closely aligns with the electronics of a small airplane versus a land-bound “cross-over SUV.” It will probably take its owner the remainder of her driving years to master all of the technology.
Earlier this week, the National Safety Council released a study specific to “distracted driving” and the increasing fatality rate on America’s highways. A record 18,630 motor vehicle deaths occurred between January and June 2015. This grim statistic is a 14 percent increase from the same time frame of 2014.
NSC chairwoman and CEO Deborah Hersman, in a recent CBS interview, cites the improving economy, more people employed and driving to work, lower gas prices equating to more leisure travel and — surprisingly — “ride sharing” as a few reasons for the escalating motor vehicle death toll. For each additional passenger, the study also found an increased probability of a potential crash, with teenagers, encountering a 44 percent increase for every extra occupant.
Yet, the most common causes of fatal crashes remain texting behind the wheel and the more generalized term of “distracted driving.” This writer is a minimal “texter,” which incenses some friends and professional colleagues.
My rare texts are usually in short fragments of 10 words or less. An entire conversation or disagreement, in my opinion, should not occur via texting. But this idea seems to be as antiquated as my previously owned 2001 Volvo.
The component of “distracted driving” that does correlate with me is the prior-mentioned technology overload by the Volvo’s replacement. A back-up camera, lane-changing crash sensors, On-Star technology, SiriusXM 150-channel access, steering wheel buttons, and a bevy of other features equates to a vehicle that continuously emits sounds and offers a second-by-second summation anytime the car is in motion. As someone who has basic knowledge of flying a small plane, the dashboard has great similarity to an airplane’s instrument panel.
Have car makers gone too far with “information overload” of the driving experience? Possibly, yes. Looking at the instrument panel of a small plane, while flying, has less potential for a collision due to so few nearby aircraft sharing the skies. Interpreting a car’s dashboard information by looking away just for a few seconds has a much higher probability of immediately colliding with another car, object or pedestrian, versus the open skies when flying. The dangers of “distracted driving” are partially to blame for our ongoing need for constant stimulation and car manufacturers that are fulfilling this technology addiction.
A Sunday, Aug. 16, highway fatality to be added to the near 19,000 deaths in 2015 was that of Leonard B. Robinson, known more fondly as the “Baltimore Batman.”
After stopping for gas in full costume, while driving his customized black “Batmobile,” minutes later the car stalled in the fast lane on an unlit portion of eastbound Interstate 70 near Hagerstown, Maryland. Unable to exit into the emergency lane, the low-profile, black car was hit from behind, killing Robinson instantly.
The former owner of an industrial cleaning business, Robinson first visited a children’s hospital with his son while both were dressed as “Batmen.” The overwhelming positive reaction from that adventure inspired Robinson to become the “Caped Crusader” as his life’s mission. It is estimated he spent more than $25,000 annually in fulfilling the role.
Friends and family members gathered Monday at his parents’ home in Owings Mills, Maryland, to remember Robinson not just being a father to three boys, but as a brother, son and uncle. “He was my brother, my business partner, my best friend,” Scott Robinson said. “He touched a lot of lives and made a lot of kids smile. That’s all he wanted to do.”
Lenny Robinson was only 51. His personal mission statement was “Did I make a difference today?” — as quoted from several television interviews by the “Baltimore Batman.” Robinson was an unselfish man who will be greatly missed by the hundreds of ill children he touched with his kindness; but he also gave us a motto everyone should consider nightly.