Andrew Birden Credit: Andrew Birden

Prompted by the musical signals emanating from my pocket, I dutifully pulled my car over to the side of the road so I could answer my cell phone. I had to unhook the seat belt so my hand could fit in my pocket to reach it, but that was no problem.

The dashboard chimed at me in a friendly way a few seconds later, because the car knew my seat belt was undone. While I talked to my wife about the umpteen things she needed me to pick up at the grocery store, zooming trucks rocked my car as they passed, followed by the pattering sound of road grit against my car. All the while, that little chime sounded every 15 or 20 seconds, and each time it called out it seemed a little more exasperated. By the fifth or sixth time, I swear that chirpy sound projected the ragged good cheer of an exhausted babysitter who has just discovered that her young ward used his creamed broccoli to paint the family cat.

Eventually I hung up and headed back to town to pick up the items my wife had assigned to me.

As I drove, the dashboard chimed at me one last time, and I swear it sighed with annoyed relief as I pushed the seat belt into the clip, which ended the car’s compulsion to keep nagging me.

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Automobile manufacturers should have safety features that are actually useful. One that came to mind as I drove was a device that warns you to put your coffee back into the cup holder so you wouldn’t burn the bejesus out of your lip when you hit a small bump in the road. There should also be a device that automatically turns the radio down after a teenager has borrowed the car so the unsuspecting adult who climbs into the vehicle afterward won’t turn the key and pierce his eardrums with the latest excuse for popular music. There should be a sensor that detects the first molecules of a rotting skunk in the road, automatically rolls up the windows and makes the vents close until you have passed it.

A device I would find useful would be something I call the Idiot Tagger. Whenever you see someone pulling a bonehead move such as driving and talking on their cell phone, putting on makeup while speeding to work, or trying to put secret sauce on their hamburger while negotiating a school crosswalk, you would hit a button, and your car’s computer would let the other car know their driver is being an idiot. If enough people tagged the car as an idiot, then the car would stop running until the driver took an IQ test.

Then there is the Invisible Landmark Detector. This device would assist drivers in an unfamiliar region when you are trying to follow directions that a local yokel gave to you. It would use GIS software, Google Maps and local historical societies to help you find landmarks that no longer exist, such as “where the old Jenkins barn used to be” or “the road next to the cornfield that burned back in ’68”.

When the kids fight in the backseat, I’d love to have a button that would tighten their seatbelts until they were unable to move. And if the car manufacturer’s won’t invent that, how about a sensor that detects Dad’s stress and dispenses doses of Valium so he doesn’t just plain drive the car off a cliff?

But the most useful device would be for those rare instances when you find yourself in the car with an angry wasp, and you slap the button that activates the ejector seat.

I should send a letter to the car companies.

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