I recently visited my parents in my ancestral home of Wisconsin. As parents of a certain age, they inexplicably are genetically predisposed to owning a minivan. Another quirk of their DNA is that they must own a new minivan. No sooner has the last wisp of new-car smell osmosed from the burled walnut interior than they are trading up to the newest, tricked-out minivan. Perhaps more puzzling is the manner of pride they display in their minivan.
Now, my dad, as if not readily apparent, is not cool. And to see him folded into the driver’s seat, his furry-ear-to-furry-ear grin signaling a self-satisfaction customarily reserved for his grandchildren, painstakingly recounting glory-day stories and 4:30 p.m. dinner buffets, further solidifies his place in the Annals of Uncool.
When I’m home, they tend to employ my chauffeur services (most likely in retribution for my peri-pubescent years), and on the first day back home, I stopped their newest ride near the back door of the house, foot idling on the brake while this exchange occurred: “That’s a fascinating story about how much more challenging the world was when you were my age, Dad. You are a true American hero. Would you like to get out here or in the garage?”
“Here,” he replied.
“OK, then get out,” I countered.
“I can’t,” he responded knowingly.
“Why not?” I queried, the patience seeping from my voice.
“Because the door’s not open,” he answered, seemingly mocking me.
“Then open it,” I replied, silently recounting the evidence for his institutionalization.
“I can’t,” he responded.
“Why not?” I replied again, this time calculating the likelihood that I was adopted.
“Because it’s locked,” came his retort.
“Then unlock it,” I answered, reconfirming my decision to move away for college.
“I can’t,” he replied, ostensibly encouraging parenticide.
“Why not?” I queried, strongly contemplating parenticide.
“Because you haven’t put the car in park,” he responded triumphantly.
A System So Safe
As a safety feature, the minivan needed to be in park before you could open the door to exit. I’ve never heard of anyone actually falling out of a moving car, but recollecting high school, I can fathom the right mix, type, and number of teenagers where possibility would meet inevitability. But, apparently, enough people are falling out of moving vehicles that car engineers have built a system that is so safe, this can’t happen. So no matter how hard someone tries, it just isn’t possible to fall out of a moving car (believe me, toward the end of a week of my father’s car stories, my mind had worked every possible angle).
Likewise, newer vehicles employ occupant-sensitive sensors that detect the weight, size, and position of the passenger to determine if the airbag should deploy. Rather than depending on the driver to turn the passenger-side airbag on or off, the car does it for you: heavy enough to trigger the sensor, and the airbag will deploy; too light, and the car assumes you are a child and doesn’t deploy. It’s a system that is so safe because it doesn’t depend on the operator to get it right.
Ditto motion sensors that detect objects behind the car while reversing (avoiding accidental back-overs), antilock brakes (to maintain control during panicked braking), traction control (improves stability during acceleration), electronic stability control (foils spinouts), tire-pressure-monitoring systems (avoids blowouts), daytime running lights (ensures others see you), rollover airbags (they stay inflated to keep you in the car), lane-departure warning (alerts you if you stray from your lane), and doors that automatically lock after the car starts (again, falling out of cars).