We all know driving a car and using a cellphone is not only illegal but also stupid.
There is no way concentration on driving a car safely can be maintained while reading a message or trying to thumb in numbers and letters on some small device, looking down into your lap and not at the road.
It doesn’t work.
It is dangerous.
Many motoring organisations around the world have run campaigns to try to educate people about the dangers of using devices in cars. Tuning a radio, dialling a number on a hands-free device or keying in the sat nav, though not illegal, are sometimes just as precarious while travelling at 109.5km/h on our motorways or country roads.
Indeed, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) has a specific global campaign going as part of the United Nations Decade Of Action For Road Safety — brilliantly and inventively called Action For Road Safety. That campaign is heavily supported by motorsports, especially Formula 1, and publicised at all grands prix with trackside advertising and the like.
The F1 drivers are co-opted into posing for photos in support of the campaign. Under the heading “FIA Golden Rules: I want to be safe; I promise to ... ” there are 10 rules and sitting at number seven on that list is “Pay attention. Calling and texting make me dangerous.”
All are honest intentions trying to bring attention to the horrific road toll around the world.
How is it then, that the FIA and its president Jean Todt, can be comfortable with Formula 1 drivers, travelling at 340km/h in a grand prix, fiddling with innumerable switches and buttons on the steering wheel trying to find the right combination, out of thousands of possibilities, to make the multimillion-dollar high-speed computer in which they sit, work properly?
Lewis Hamilton before the Grand Prix of Europe in Azerbaijan. Picture/AP
For this is what we saw at the Grand Prix of Europe at Baku in Azerbaijan, and most probably will continue to see at this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix. Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton had a problem with his engine settings at Baku and was unable to get any helpful advice from the pits. Lap after lap he struggled to find the combination to cure the problem.
In Hamilton’s words “The FIA has made Formula 1 far too technical.
“There were probably 100 different switch positions it could have been, at least 100, 200.
“There was no way for me to know, no matter how much I study that. I was looking at the steering wheel for a large part of the lap. It’s dangerous, the rule needs to be looked at.”
The rule Hamilton is talking about was brought in by the FIA at the request of many fans, the teams and drivers and by the media, to counteract what was seen as drivers being coached through a race and being given constant instructions by the engineers on how to drive the car in the best, most efficient way. Essentially the rule states that “the driver must drive the car alone and unaided”.
Hamilton blames the FIA for making the sport too technical. But surely in this case it is the team’s responsibility.
I often get into trouble while trying to perform some action on my computer that is far too technical for the limited “nerd” section of my brain. Easy to get out of, just control-alt-delete or, in my case, turn the thing off and on again and normal service is resumed.
Would that be impossible to achieve on a race car?
Perhaps a simple default button that puts the car, power unit, engine mode, brakes or whatever to a pre-determined mode.
That doesn’t sound too difficult. I am quick to criticise the FIA at almost every opportunity and will continue to do so whenever I see what I think are pompous, political or outrageous decisions, but the governing body was asked to come up with a rule and for once, to its credit, it did that.
Perhaps now it needs to come up with another rule that takes all of the driver distractions such as button pressing, switch toggling, mode selection and the like completely out of the driver’s hands.
The teams will bleat, the drivers will complain bitterly but at least it will show a willingness for the FIA and Formula 1 to get somewhere close to “Golden Rule” #7 about driver distractions.
It seems an untenable situation to ask the drivers of the world to pay attention to the road and then to show the world that the drivers of the fastest racing cars can spend lap after lap, in full view of the television viewers, looking down at what amounts to an extremely complicated, $100,000 smartphone on the steering wheel and not paying attention to the road.
So keep the chatter and remove all the buttons, job done.