Driver Communication - Blackbourn 408

By: Rob Blackbourn

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Rob reckons driver to driver communication can be challenging

Some say that life’s two certainties are death and taxes. But not our Angelo, Unique Cars magazine’s Senior Designer. The certainties of ‘Ang-World’ are his enthusiasm for ’63 Ford T-Birds (preferably Tri-Power equipped) as well as for zany car accessories from those halcyon days. The latest one he’s stumbled on is a stunner. According to Hemmings Daily some new Buick buyers in New York State during the 1960s found ‘Emergency Balloon Kits’ in their gloveboxes. They were thoughtfully included by the dealer, FOC, with the usual manuals and sales documents.

Printed instructions were earnest and clear: "Keep this Emergency Balloon Kit in your glove compartment at all times. If an emergency arises, inflate the properly colored balloon and attach to your radio antenna." Apparently a red balloon was a signal to fellow motorists about a medical emergency, green was a call for police attendance, while blue said you needed a tow.

It’s no real surprise that the Emergency Balloon Kit failed to thrive. The most cynical of the posted comments about its shortcomings described a hypothetical Buick driver who, finding himself suffering the big cardiac event, pulled over, dragged the kit from the glovebox, and wasted his last few precious breaths trying vainly to inflate the red balloon.

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While it was to be expected that some whacko communications ideas surfaced when mobile phones were still decades off, it’s worth noting that giving other motorists visual messages hasn’t vanished altogether. Consider the popular ‘BABY ON BOARD’ signs in the back windows of family cars. I recall reading that these prominent black-text-on-yellow-diamond signs had their origins in the US as a child-rescue measure. The plan was that on occasions when Junior was in the car the sign would be displayed prominently. If the evil moment arrived, leaving the car semi-immersed, or catching fire, or dangling over the precipice, emergency workers would see the kiddie-saving message. As well as extracting an obvious unconscious driver from the wreck they would also search for a tiny passenger. This intended use of the sign is a long way removed from the usual practice of having them proudly and permanently displayed alongside stick-figure representations of the make-up of the driver’s tribe.

Today’s motorists probably react to seeing BABY ON BOARD signs as 60s drivers did to balloons tied to Buick radio aerials: "Okay. So what…"

Of course there are more dynamic driver-to-driver message approaches – like flashing the high beam. While the use of turn indicators is well understood and generally practised predictably, high-beam flashing is way more creative and individualistic. This stuff was easier when I worked in the UK. There, when an approaching driver flashed you, it was usually along the lines of ‘After you’ as he pulled over to give you right of way through a narrow street, or entry to an intersection. As you passed after accepting the courtesy, you responded with a briefly flashed ‘Cheers’. Here, not so much – our flash messages require careful analysis. If the nose of the oncoming car is coming down under brakes and the flash is brief, and it’s not a big SUV or 4WD, it’s probably saying: ‘After you’. By contrast a nose lifting under acceleration, and a long flash accompanied by a blast from the horn is more likely saying ‘Git outta me way!’ The big challenge is in correctly interpreting the more ambiguous flash-messages falling between those two extremes.

A fresh perspective on these matters caught me by surprise at the weekend. It came from new information in the back window of a Mazda wagon pulled up at the lights in front of me. While the shape and colours of the sign were familiar, its message was new: ‘BABY, I’M BORED’.  

 

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