You’re not a bad driver, driving is just bad. A UX perspective of driving.

Those that know me know well my hatred of driving. I can't stand it. I find it to be a waste of time, overly complicated, and incredibly unnatural. I doubt I'm alone in this opinion. How can I be when so many loved ones are lost every year to automotive accidents? We seem to chalk most accidents up to "human error", but the sheer amount of accidents per year portray the grisly trend of the inability of humans to drive safely.

It's not you.

We label drivers "stupid" or "idiotic" for making "simple" mistakes without taking into account the fact that nothing about driving is simple. According to ASIRT, nearly 1.3 million people worldwide die in road crashes every year, and an additional 20-50 million are injured or disabled. In the United States alone over 37,000 people die in road crashes every year and an additional 2.35 million are injured or disabled. 2016 was the deadliest year in a decade and motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among young adults aged 15-29. I find it difficult to believe that all of these accidents are due to drivers being "idiots." Some, sure. A majority? Probably not. We're avoiding the root cause of our problem. Driving is inherently non-human, unoptimized for human psychology and poorly designed.

What's the deal?

Humans are great at being creative and solving complex problems. However, humans are not great at repetitive tasks or maintaining focus for large amounts of time. Driving requires 100% focus, zero distractions, repetitive motions, and fast reflexes to ever-evolving situations. It's exceptionally draining on the human brain, even for a short amount of time. If you've ever felt exhausted after a stressful drive, you know what I mean. This causes us to make little mistakes. Sadly, those little mistakes while moving tons of metal at high speeds are costly. Once a mistake is made, the blame game begins, a driver takes fault, and we move on. This doesn't seem fair.

Our systems of transportation are terribly designed.

We're suffering from systems built for systems and not for everyday humans. Roads are built like pipes trying to achieve a flow, but unlike a predictable liquid, we have unpredictable humans. These humans have limited fields of view, limited time, and limited focus and energy. They're forced to play by rigid rules in a rigid system and absorb everything around them at all times. Sound difficult? That's because it is. This is why we get on-ramps far too close together, the on-ramps to off-ramps that flow to five-way intersections with one-way roads, spaghetti freeway interchanges, and all of the other ridiculous layouts we've seen. On the way to the office, I run into an intersection where two one-ways meet head-on with no stop sign, no stop light, and no indication of right-of-way. There is no clear indication on how to proceed when two cars are turning the same direction. We try creating rules and laws to make things easier and safer but they fall apart under duress. The thing is, these ridiculous layouts would work perfectly fine if humans operated like robots. But, much to the chagrin of transportation engineers, they don't.

Is there a solution?

Redesigning the systems for real human beings would be a great solution, but highly unrealistic and prohibitively expensive at this point. Our only saving grace will be to develop the robots these systems were designed for and take the humans out of the equation. However, this doesn't mean things won't need to be redesigned. With self-driving cars prevalent, what will be the point of stop signs or stop lights? Intersections will need to be redesigned to allow unrestricted flow of pedestrian and automotive passage. I also believe more pedestrian-only sections of cities could be implemented as traffic will be virtually eliminated and travel time consequently reduced. These pedestrian-only sections would also help address the intersection problem by removing some pedestrian-vehicle crossings.

I can only hope that things progress quickly to improve self-driving vehicles so we can begin significantly reducing the annual death rate of automotive accidents. We humans shouldn't need to waste such precious mental resources on the act of driving. 

About the Author

Randy Bascue

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I am a UI/UX designer and a user advocate. I enjoy experimenting with the latest technology and trends and iterating over products to improve and perfect them. You can typically find me tinkering around on my computer, reading, or out and about in the Pacific Northwest.

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