2/08/2007

When I am King: It's My Way and the Highway

When I am King...

Highways will speak.

In California, we have reflective bumps on the highway lines to warn drivers that they are crossing a line that they might not want to.

I was in a car the other day that was weaving back and forth over these lines, and I was wondering whether this system could enable blind people to drive. As long as there were enough bumps around, and the bumps were somehow encoded, then maybe people could stay in the correct places by sound instead of sight. When you hear lots of little bumps on the right, you know you're veering into the breakdown lane. When you hear less, but larger bumps on the left, you know you're veering into the passing lane to your left. And when you hear your a crash and screams, you know you've veered into a car in front of you.

I wondered if we could take this a step farther and impart real information with these things. How useful is it to just hear a bunch of rumbling, that just tells you that you're crossing some line? There's no sense for whether that's a bad thing or not; it's just a small piece of information. That's a lot of bumps and serious roadwork labor for just that tiny bit of data. It's like looking at one of those maps in a mall that says “You are here”, but without showing you where anything else is.

My administration will undertake a huge public works program that I call Talking Bumps.

Highway lane bumps will be installed that tell us useful things. Through the magic of Morse Code, or some other post-19th century technology, the bumps could talk to us. As cars drive over the bumps, the frequency and height of the bumps could communicate critical information to the drivers and passengers.

We could install public service announcements into the roads, like:
  • “Have you payed your taxes yet?”
  • “Your highway department wishes you a nice day”
  • “Vote for the incumbent governor; the other guy's an idiot”

We could have systems set up to raise and lower the bumps dynamically to communicate traffic information, like:

  • “2 miles ahead: traffic completely screwed”
  • “Bridge out: jump now”
  • “Bumpy road”

Cities could establish a new revenue stream with bump-ads, such as:

  • “Get off your phone and drive ... unless you're with Wally's Wireless Service!”
  • “Falling asleep? Coffee and amphetamines at the next exit”
  • “Isn't it time you had your shocks checked at Bob's Bumpy Auto Ripoff Shop?”

For highways with long-distance travelers, the bumps could be used to help entertain drivers and keep them awake. For example, interstate stretches could offer a series of classic novels, like “On the Road”.

Inevitably, Talking Bumps will become so popular that cars will purposely drive on the traffic lines just to hear the messages. To avoid unsafe driving conditions of cars driving on the edges of the lanes, manufacturers will simply make bigger cars so that they can be driven in the center of the lanes and still straddle the edges. Fortunately, this is already a trend in American car sizes, so we should be full prepared when the bumps are installed.

Some colder places like Minnesota may not be able to use highway bumps because snow plows would rip them up during the winter months. In these places, it should be a simple matter to create and fine-tune more potholes to achieve the same effect.

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