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The Fine Art of Keeping Your Distance

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My daily commute puts me on some heavily trafficked roads. I’m often in bumper-to-bumper line-ups and I’ve accepted my fate. After all, driving is what I do for a living; I can hardly complain about it. What I can complain about, however, is people’s etiquette on the road around me -- or rather, a complete lack thereof.

When it comes to tailgating and riding bumpers, I’d say my city’s drivers are some of the worst offenders. I admit to playing the game myself when I let my road rage get the better of me, but I’m quick to back off because, really, the end result isn’t worth it.

I’ve actually seen someone rear-end the car in front because they were tailgating and the person in front got so annoyed they hit the brakes -- hard. Mr. Tailgater wasn’t quick enough on his own brakes and “Smash!” Traffic just got a lot worse.

Why bring this up? No, I wasn’t in a nasty accident myself, but I got to thinking about laser-guided cruise control systems and how they keep you perfectly placed (with ample distance) behind the car in front. They prevent you from rear-ending other vehicles, as if the latter erected USS Enterprise-like deflector shields (yup, I went there #geekalert).

As we approach an age of autonomous driving, I wonder if some of that technology will begin to trickle down into everyday vehicles (that we actually need to drive). Anti-fender-bender systems that make it 100% impossible to hit the car in front via sensors on both cars, keeping you at a safe distance no matter how hard you try to get closer, are an absolute possibility.

Of course, technologies like Subaru’s EYESIGHT, Volvo’s CitySafety, and Mazda’s CitySafe prove we aren’t very far off, but they still require some human intervention. Warnings will ignite, brakes will be lightly applied, and lights will go off, but drivers still have to stop the car and ensure they keep a safe enough distance to begin with.

I’m talking full control over maintaining distance between vehicles because it’s overtly clear that we, as humans, just can’t do it on our own and the results are messy accidents the globe over. I, for one, am a tailgate instigator. If I can’t see your headlights when you’re behind me, you can be sure I’ll slow down, do full, overly long stops, and perhaps even tap my brakes every now and then to keep you on your toes.

Tailgating is just one of the main symptoms of road rage (a subject for another blog). As we integrate more and more tech bits into vehicles to help us Tweet, talk on the phone, check weather, listen to internet radio stations, and the like, I think automakers should also address the issue of pent-up anger among drivers. Their cars could potentially help calm furious daily commuters by making something as “simple” as a fender-bender entirely impossible.

Just food for thought. Oh, and keep your distance, k?