Tuesday, 21 December 2010

View from an upstairs window

The car reversed perfectly into the allocated parking space. Straight between the lines with no messing about. What? Have you nothing better to do than blog about the every day occurrence of car parking? You really do need to get a life. Hold on a moment before you pass judgement on the paucity of my activities. Views from an upstairs window reveal much about human activity, human behaviour and human nature. It's all there, open to view, just like sitting at Trent Bridge cricket ground watching a 20/20 match unfold before your eyes (how anyone watches all day, let alone five days is beyond me - but there you are, each to their own). The little car park outside my window is a microcosm of the greater world of drivers and pedestrians. Human activity, behaviour and nature is a joy to behold.

The Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds has done some very fine work on researching driver behaviour and human factors. Examples of current and potential research in this area include:
  • Evaluating the effect of various speed reducing measures in rural and urban environments
  • New engineering solutions for safer driving, such as reducing driver fatigue
  • Examining the impact of changes in road signage and variable message signs on driver behaviour
  • Modelling driver interaction with advanced driver assistance systems
  • Assessing driver response to critical scenarios within a highly automated driving environment
  • Improvements in vehicle systems and design
All excellent stuff, but do you notice what's missing in these studies about driver behaviour and activity? There is nothing about how drivers drive and park in a small car park. Now driving safely on a motorway may seem to be more of a priority, and I don't want to take anything away from that, but as with so much in life, it's the little things that tell us most about a person. And they don't come much smaller than a ten space car park.

A car is driven in and is faced with two adjacent spaces - what to do? Answer. Straddle both and leave no room for another. A driver decides to reverse into a space, after all they've been driving for years, and how hard can it be? They go backwards and forwards four times, and end up in exactly the same position as they started with. Someone reverses out of a space; the easiest way is to turn the steering wheel to the right, and you've a clear route out. No, they've always turned to the left, and left it will be. Twelve inches forward, twelve inches back, and after an eight point turn they're on their way. By now I'm not the only one gazing. Some drivers use reverse as if it's some illicit activity that they are ashamed to be seen doing. One mile an hour, even reversing across a near empty car park is considered to be the temperate thing to do. Though the look on the faces of other drivers who are waiting for this maneuver to be completed tells another story. A Porche driver who obviously feels frustrated at not being selected for a Formula One racing team, reverses out of a space as if his life depended on it, stops inches from a frozen in time family who were crossing the car park. (Pedestrians in car parks are another story).

Do all of these drivers have anything in common? What are the human characteristics that they display? Is it arrogance? Insensitiveness? Thoughtlessness? Inability? Lack of confidence? Who knows. It would take someone far more gifted than I am to report on this. One thing I am sure of though is that rear view mirrors and wing mirrors are merely seen as design appendages, and not something to be used in a practical way.

I thought that one way to address driver deficiencies would be to make everyone take a driving test every ten years. I'd be for that as long as I was exempt of course - I mean, we can't have our own weaknesses shown up for others to see, can we?

Yes, I know that there are more important things in life to be thinking about and doing, but sometimes you just can't beat the sheer joy of a view from an upstairs window.

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