Introspection -



You can practically read the model number of the phone she's yakking on because her SUV is mere inches from your rear bumper as you both careen down the rain-slicked highway at 55 MPH.

Resisting the temptation to wave a single-digit greeting you sigh in temporary relief as she swerves, without signaling, across three lanes of traffic in a desperate effort to shave five seconds off her morning commute. Instantly, though, another tailgater moves into position, seemingly trying to get you to drive faster despite the mass of drivers only a half-dozen car lengths ahead. In a line in a movie theater this sort of shoving would be socially unacceptable. For some reason it's expected on the roads.

What are these people thinking? Are they really the morons their actions suggest? If so, then some huge percentage of the adult population should be committed to an institution for the criminally insane.

I always figure that most folks are a decent sort, so chalk this aggressive behavior up to their unnoticed acquisition of bad habits. New drivers progress from fear to overconfidence, back to fear after witnessing horrific accidents or their aftermath, to an easy comfort behind the wheel largely untroubled by the potential consequences of this very serious endeavor. Those death-like two-handed grips on the wheel in drivers' ed give way to steering with one's knees while shaving and drinking coffee, issuing an occasional expletive at some other driver's even worse antics.

I've been alone in a life raft in the mid-Atlantic, and just this past summer was in a bad gale 300 miles offshore that destroyed a lot of gear on our boat, but still think driving is the most dangerous thing I do. One of the scariest moments for a parent is when the teenager first takes off alone in the family car with his or her shiny new driver's license. The kid will, with practically no experience, be fractions of a second from tragedy in the casual carnage we accept on the roads. They, too, may drift into similar sorts of bad behavior as they become more comfortable behind the wheel.

Bad habits accumulate, which is why I've tried to instruct my teenagers to think once in a while about their driving. To reflect, to examine and to question their habits. “Do I tailgate? What's the upside? Has my speed been drifting up? Do I roll through stop signs?” Without that sort of self-reflection it's impossible to detect ” and take appropriate action to correct ” accumulated behavior that makes a mockery of the very serious responsibility of driving.

Of course “think” and “teenager” are two words that rarely go together. But that's a different issue.

Such reflection should be a part of all aspects of our lives. “Am I being good to my spouse?” “Am I happy with the way I get angry at the kids?”

In engineering, too, we drift into bad habits. Sloppy documentation, poorly-written comments, and coding shortcuts that, hopefully, usually, probably not soon, may create trouble down the road, are all unacceptable behaviors that don't illuminate any red lights. There's no cop waiting behind a billboard to tag us for writing that awfully-convoluted function. One reason for code inspections is to provide these audits, but there's nothing that substitutes for a bit of self-examination from time to time to root out these habits and then take corrective action.

Self improvement begins with identifying that which one wishes to improve.

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at . His website is .

Three people died over sixty were taken to Hospital.”

Last spring (3.17.2005) there was a massive (300 cars) crash ona freeway (Porvoo-Helsinki). The conditions were miserable:the visibility was nearly zero due to powder snow and theroad was real slippery because it was raining under-cooled water.Some drivers drove over 60 MPH!!! 3 three people died, 60 were takento hospital. The cars were new, equipped with ABS even ESP. The physicslaws still apply. Fortunately modern cars have airbags, otherwise therewould have been needed tens of body bags.

They never learn. It is winter time.

– Aki Peltonen

Back in the late 1970's, the FAA changed the rules on piloting, to add the requirement that once every 2 years, you had to go up with an instructor for a flight review in order to maintain your license. The purpose of the review was to see what (if any) poor habits you might have accumulated. Considering how few accidents there are in flying and how many in driving, you'd think that somebody might suggest this as a possibilty for reducing accidents.

This also makes sense from an engineering perspective as well. We all tend to get a little sloppy as time goes by. Its no so much a learning process as it is just maintaining the discipline to do things in a structured way.

– Thomas Mazowiesky

You said: “What are these people thinking? Are they really the morons their actions suggest?”. And I say; Most people are completely unaware of what they are doing. Really! If you think talking on a cellphone and driving is bad enough how about working on a laptop and driving? Honestly, I have actually seen people do this on the freeway!

Go figure!

– Ken Wada

I have gone through similar scenarios with my daughter. She has a tendency to use a lot of throttle, then brake at the last minute, even when she can see the red lights ahead. When I ask her (after my heart rate gets back to normal) why she does that, her answer is, “I just have gotten int he habit of driving that way”. I really believe that (despite the hassle) a “sanity check” every two years or so would be a good idea. Unfortunately, the same won't happen in a lot of companies such the one for which I work, as there IS no one to do code audits/inspections. I'm the sole designer/programmer/engineer for the products we do. I do, however, read the articles in ESD and have tried to put some of the ideas presented into practice.

– Dave Telling

Since the topic seems to be bad drivers, I would enforce the following:

1. You must take the equivalent of the Bob Bondurant school. Requalify every 4 years. Must drive increasingly heavy cars/trucks to grok breaking distances.

2. All under 25 *must* drive a car that maxes out at 80 MPH. The only exception is: if you put up a $1MILL cash bond, you can drive what you want. If the crash is your fault, you lose the cash, but you can repeat as desired (until you run out of $1MILL)

To the basic idea: Yes, it is a Good Thing to go back thru your code and notes. Code reviews help because you get a peer pressure feedback quicker.

– mr bandit

Ah, could this be the rant of the Prius driver. Who knew? Did anyone else pick up on this? I'm always curious what they're thinking as I pass them…In the lane of cars to their right.

If you're not familiar with with this driving style, it's simple to formulate an accurate synthesis of a typical point source of these complaints. Lets assemble a West coast model, shall we? First, take a tight-wad hippy generation driver of a grubby faded-yellow boxy Volvo from the '80s, perhaps from Berkeley, who unknowingly qualifies to by-pass the Prius ownership exam with the following driving style tri-fecta: 1. Doesn't stop to look before turning slowly through an intersection and launches in front of rolling traffic, accelerating slowly over several minutes to 10 MPH under the speed the traffic was going previous to his turn. 2. Rarely fails to mysteriously and gradually slow down for 1000 yards or more, and then simultaneously comes to nearly a complete stop and signals their turn right, from the left side of the lane. 3. Carpools during rush hour at 10 MPH under the speed limit in the lane next to the HOV lane on the freeway. To this person, add disposable income and a guilty need to save the world with their next vehicle purchase. Optional: Strong BO with hints of patchouli. Plant this person in a nearly-as-expensive-to-buy-as-thrifty-to-operate, egg-shaped car of the future with Star Trek Next Gen. style displays of vehicle activity. Let sales_status = final. Next, fortify this person with the disappointing reality that the vehicle's much ballyhooed MPG performance takes a good bit of finesse to achieve, and peak MPG comes easier on surface streets than on freeways at freeway speed. Finally, bring up the instantaneous MPG display for the driver to obsess over, at the exclusion of any courtesy to the drivers of vehicles around him, as he rolls down the freeway attempting to get as close to surface street MPG as possible while enjoying the freeway's not having traffic lights to slow his progress home.

Don't get me wrong, folks. I'm for safe following distance too. However, dear Prius drivers, if cars are constantly filling that generous space in front of you, they're probably coming from behind you. When cars come from behind you and take the lane in front of you, they're passing you. When cars are passing you, it's time to consider driving in another lane, perhaps several to the right. Truck drivers drive the same way sometimes, but usually in the lanes on the right. Feel free to join them.

I think we're up against a nasty combination of cars being too good, and people, who are unnecessarily self-concerned with their immediate goals while being board out of their mind with their regular eventless trips, are too lucky. This leads to careless, overconfident, competitive drivers who's dangerous “techniques” such as tailgating the vehicle in front to prevent another vehicle from getting ahead or taking “their” space, invite death and accidents while they only contribute to the impediment of traffic flow and fail to reduce their drive time.

– Greg Feneis

Not that I'm defending stupid Prius drivers (or stupid driving in general), perhaps the person with that huge gap in front was *helping* traffic by canceling “traffic waves”:

As to the crux of the column, I think Jack is right about both driving and coding — there's too much latency and/or not enough negative feedback. Doing something bad (on the road or in your editor of choice) either has no bad consequence or the effect is so far removed from the cause that the offender develops a sense of complacency, and the transgressions just get eaiser and easier….

– Rob Edwards

There are two big contributors to this problem. Automobiles and the Internet. Now, I'm not advocating getting rid of either one, but I think the anonymity afforded by both is the root of the problem. In society there is always some consequence for any action. But on the road or on the net you don't know who the other guy is. This leads us to do as we please or even lash out for real or imagined offenses.

Put someone in a chatroom, and they become the person they think they are. Put someone in a car, and they become a race car driver. It's not that they are idiots per se. They are only idiots when they can get by with it. Add to that the fact that people seem to get stupid in groups, and you have instant anarchy.

The solution, I think, is minimum standard descency. That is, the idea that there are behaviors that are unacceptable in any society and that no one who exhibits these behaviors should be allowed in society. I give you the example of people who don't pull over for emergency vehicles. They either think their comfort is more important than someone else's life or they don't think at all. Nobody is that important, and we can all do without them no matter what their contributions would be otherwise. We just don't need them that much.

Now I'm done ranting,

– Michael Badillo

The idea of retaking tests every n years is good, but I suspect it won't get taken up. I blame economics. The problem is getting government to put up the money to fund the immense extension to the existing testing structure. That would involve investment, and (generally) a tax increase. The fact that it would potentially save more money by emptying hospitals of RTA victims doesn't help, because it's not an instant win. And who'd believe any goverment that said it would put the tax burden back down when the improvements become visible?

Sadly, it's all too easy for management to look on code the same way. It's sometimes simpler to concentrate on fire-fighting the show-stoppers than investing up-front in some simple technology and skills (requirements management, lint, polyspace, code inspections, listening to what the programmers say about how long it will take to do it right…) that would reduce the need to fight fires later.

– Paul Tiplady

I lived in the USA (in NY, CT and OR) for a number of years. My Dutch driving license could not be converted to a US one, so I had to redo the driving exam. I have never had such an easy exam. Compared to my Dutch exam (55 minutes on highway/provincial roads,city) the exam in NY was a mere 5 minutes drive around the block. No wonder so many drivers in America hang in the left lane and drive so completely incompetently. The driving tests simply let any idiot drive a car. Increasing the exam standards would bring a lot of sense back to driving. Also, in Holland, young drivers who commit errors while driving acquire penalty points. At a certain number of points, their license is revoked.

– Ewout Boks

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