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The Driveabout

spring 2004 solo east coast tourI’ve decided it is time to have a look at America. So in a few hours, I’m heading out to see the country on what I like to call an epic driveabout.

I’m not really sure yet where I’m going, only that I need to be in LA by December 10th and would like to be back in Michigan by the 15th. I have no idea what I’ll see in between, but you can be sure I’ll be blogging daily about whatever I come across.

I’ve set up a few rules for the trip — at least for the first leg of it.

1: No highways

With all due respect to President Eisenhower, the interstate highway system is boring as hell. Everything looks the same, and because they are so over-engineered, you always feel like you are traveling painfully slow–even with the speedometer is pushing eighty miles an hour. So unless I need to bypass a sprawling metro area, highways are forbidden.

2: I’m hotwiring everything

I like my hotels cheap, clean and random. That is why I’m booking every night’s accommodation the morning of via The only requirement is that they provide free internet access and a full breakfast. And no, “continental breakfast” doesn’t count.

3. Every historical plaque will be read

Every single one of those green and gold historical plaques that line the highways has a story behind it. Usually one of a long and painful bureaucratic fight to get the damn thing erected in commiseration of a trivial event that only a handful of activists care about. That is good enough for me. So if I see a historical plaque, I’m stopping to read and photograph it.

4. The same thing goes for Wal-Drug and Mystery Spot-type attractions

If your cheesy tourist attraction has billboards for hundreds of miles, you’ve earned my visit. I’ll be stopping at each and every one of these shrines of Americana, provided, of course, that they take credit cards.

That’s about is. Aside from tourist traps with billboards and historical plaques, I have no real agenda. I’ll be checking in with Atlas Obscura every night to see if there is anything noteworthy coming my way, but other than that I’m open for suggestions.

If you know of something I should stop and see in the great swath of Red America between the Great Lakes and California, please let me know.

Check back tomorrow night for an update from Indiana, Illinois or Missouri.

Cars and Freedom [video]

Chrysler’s new ad men are doing a bang-up job. And no, I don’t care that the cars in the ad were actually made in Canada.

MI Governor to sign texting ban on the Oprah Show

As if we needed any more proof that the push for cell phone bans is driven emotion and fear more than rational debate. But I guess since the main effect of this legislation is to appease stay-at-home moms and technophobic seniors, signing the bill on the Oparh show is probably a good stunt.

WNEM has the details:

LANSING, Mich. — A ban on the use of cell phones to send text messages or e-mail while driving in Michigan will be signed into law by Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Friday’s “TheOprah Winfrey Show.”

The Michigan House passed the third and final bill in a texting ban package by an 82-22 vote Wednesday. The Senate already has passed the bill.

The Legislature passed the main bills in the package earlier this month.

The ban is to take effect July 1. It makes texting a primary offense, meaning police could pull over motorists for texting alone.

A first offense would cost $100 and repeat offenses would cost $200.

I’ve said it before, but it is worth repeating. According to a comprehensive study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (who supports such laws), banning cell phones in cars does not save any lives. None.

Chicken Little Safety Experts [cartoon]

An excellent editorial cartoon from last Sunday’s Detroit News.

Roads safer than ever before but the NYT still wants to ban cell phones

Stuck in trafficIf you read all of the scary stories about how distracting cell phones are to drivers, you’d probably think that our roads are becoming a more dangerous place. After all, how could they not be? The ‘safety experts’ keep telling us that talking using cell phones while driving is as dangerous than driving drunk! And more and more Americans are buying the kind of smart phones that make texting and emailing a breeze. The roads must surely be getting more dangerous.

Well, not really. According to new data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, traffic fatalities fell by over 8.9 percent last year. That is the fourth straight year that they declined dramatically. When you look at fatalities per-100,000 miles driven, our roads are safer than they have ever been before.

And it is not just that our cars are better at keeping people alive—they are. But collisions are down dramatically as well. Simply put, Americans are getting in fewer car crashes than ever before.

And no, it is not because cell phone bans are saving lives. According to a comprehensive study that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted (they are one of the big groups supporting cell phone bans), cell phone bans succeed in getting people to hang up and drive—but don’t actually make our roads any safer at all.

To quote the director of the study:

We still don’t think we understand this fully… But one possibility is that while cell phones are a distraction, maybe they are not all that much worse a distraction than many of the other things that we do.

So why is it we need to ban drivers from using cell phones again?

Now the New York Times says EMS computers are dangerous [distracted driving]

Bowie Pointer Ridge Ambulance

I thought that the New York Times’ sensationalistic tirade against the dangers of billboards must signal the end of their “distracted driving” crusade. After all, I imagine it would be hard to continue taking yourself seriously once you start suggesting that we need to regulate the outside environment on the grounds that if it is interesting to look at drivers might be distracted by it.

But alas, I was wrong.

Yesterday Matt Richtel (the reporter behind the Times’ Distracted Driving series) outdid himself yet again. The latest dangerous distraction he has uncovered on the roads? The computers in ambulances, police cars and fire trucks that first-responders use to communicate with 9-1-1 dispatch.

Let me say that again.

The New York Times ran a story about how the computers, navigation and communication systems that help guide police, firefighters and EMS to the scene of an emergency are potentially distracting to their professional drivers.

From the New York Times:

They are the most wired vehicles on the road, with dashboard computers, sophisticated radios, navigation systems and cellphones.

While such gadgets are widely seen as distractions to be avoided behind the wheel, there are hundreds of thousands of drivers — police officers and paramedics — who are required to use them, sometimes at high speeds, while weaving through traffic, sirens blaring.

The drivers say the technology is a huge boon for their jobs, saving valuable seconds and providing instant access to essential information. But it also presents a clear risk — even the potential to take a life while they are trying to save one.

Scared yet? Don’t be. In an uncharacteristic bit of honesty, Richtel admits that his sensationalistic story is pretty much just anecdotes and fear mongering.

Data does not exist about crashes caused by police officers or medics distracted by their devices. But there are tragic anecdotes.

Tragic anecdotes and shoddy or nonexistent statistics? If that sounds familiar, that’s because it’s what the entire Distracted Driving series is based on.

Texting ban moves forward in Michigan [cell phones]

Free Refills reader John sent in word the other day that the Michigan legislature is moving ahead with a texting-while-driving ban. This is despite the fact that a recent study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that such bans have no impact whatsoever on safety.

Here is the rundown, courtesy of MIRS.

Texting a message while driving would be a secondary offense punishable by $100 as part of compromise legislation that unanimously moved out of the Senate Transportation Committee, 4-0.

The movement of HB 4394 and HB 4370 to the Senate floor sets the stage for a vote to ban texting while driving. Even though Committee Chair Jud GILBERT (R-Algonac) isn’t opposed to making texting and driving an offense police could pull a driver over for, he said he realizes there isn’t support in the House.

“The fine is OK,” he said. “Something is better than nothing.”

The House version set the fine at $500, but the version reported today ratchets that fine down to $100. The plan is to make the bills a bi-cameral, bi-partisan package and today’s action lines up a final vote on that plan.

Cell phones aren’t dangerous, toddlers are.

Screamer.For months I’ve been saying that when it comes to distracted driving, passengers—crying children, in particular—pose a greater accident risk than cell phones. That is why I proposed banning carpooling.

It seems that others are finally catching on. Today the Consumer Reports blog ran a post about how dangerous diving with kids can be and the best ways to minimize the risk. Of course, the post was inspired by the fact that the reporter had recently rear-ended a BMW while trying to deal with a distracting child.

[Consumer Reports]

This is where I draw the line [distracted driving]

Regular readers of this blog know that I am very skeptical of schemes to ban the use of cell phones in cars. After all, there is little reason to believe that using a cell phone while driving is any more distracting than, say, adjusting confusing radio controls or driving around with a car full of kids. So why ban cell phones and not carpooling?

But there is one distraction I think we can all agree needs to be banned: cooking-while-driving. I don’t care how much you spent installing a full-service kitchen in your car, cooking is hard enough as it is. Imagine trying to do it while cursing down the highway at 70MPH–you’d probably get distracted and burn your dinner!

Give it cupholders and I’ll take it [Americanization]

Tata Nano - ( View In Large Size)

If only there was a place to put my Big Gulp...

America, they say, is a melting pot. We welcome foreign people and products to our shores with open arms (particularly if they are sleek, Asian-manufactured electronic products).

But is America really ready to embrace a $3,000 Indian “People Car” which gives new meaning to the terms “sub-compact” and “bare bones?” TBM’s Matthew DeBord thinks so—provided that engineers slap a few cupholders in the American version, that is.

[The Big Money]

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