Feedback keeps coming until you learn
When I drive, feedback keeps coming at me, especially as related to speed.
But back in the halcyon days of open teen life – I can drive my VW Bug like a sports car, not wear a seat belt, and yet live without a care! – speed had to do with how quickly I got to the make-out spot, or whether I got home before mom and dad freaked out. These are not very good sources of feedback that determine behavior. Safety? Public order?
Let me tell a different story of feedback for drivers.
On the way home from church on Sunday, we drove by a recently and temporarily installed electronic speed indicator suspended from the Speed Limit sign near our house. It’s at the bottom of a hill, just before a park to the left of the sign. What a thoughtful place for that sign! In the ten minutes I stood there watching people fly by, most slowed down once their speed exceeded the posted 25 mph. It’s highly effective, but also highly localized. Most other signs are not like this.
The most immediate source of continuous feedback relative to speed for a driver is the speedometer. People consult it all the time. How can you not? In some models (my brothers Honda Civic, for example), the mph displays is two inch very bright teal numerals above the main dashboard. Because it’s a digital display, the continuous movement of lighted segments keeps one’s eyes on the number. Clever.
Still another feedback mode is sheer traffic volume. Sometimes, the Speed Limit sign is flat out mockery. Near the Clackamas Town Center, the Speed Limit is 40 mph. I was stopped in this photo (I’m a good driver, really), but I rarely get over 20 mph on this road over the weekend. Traffic feedback varies by city, by hour of day, by location within the driving grid, you name it.
There are invisible feedbacks, of course, all in my head – like the amount I pay for driver’s insurance or the cost of an accident. Of course, all the feedback works, if everything remains under current, ordinary circumstances. Should something overrun the normal – an emergency, anger, late to work, daydreaming – the feedback loop reminding me to be safe, while still there, can not compete with such a shift in dominance.
In the end, all these feedback messages return to the same interpreter – me. Inside my head, all these signals dip and dither. I weigh all of it. For a long time, my car also carried children, so the feedback about speed had still another element, causing me to act the very opposite of the childless, spouseless, witless high school Tim. I was the epitome of a careful driver.
Continuous information flow, the threat of occasional traffic fine, the quasi-official shame of public real-time speed, the vagaries of moral and ethical judgment relative to speeding . . . all of these feedback loops in my brain keep me a pretty good driver. Maybe I need them all.