Saturday, 19 March 2011

Dot Dot Dot Dot Dot Dash Dash Dash Crash

The other day I was driving down the highway when somebody coming the other way flashed their lights at me.

I don't know about any of you folks living in other countries but in Australia when someone flashes their lights at you it means one of five things:
  1. There is a kangaroo or other animal near the road.
  2. There is something else obstructing the road.
  3. There is a police car, speed camera and/or booze bus up ahead.
  4. I'm a big douche who is messing with you.
  5. 'The fifth one' which I'll explain in a minute.
So anyway, this person has flashed their lights at me.

I'm already doing the speed limit and I haven't had anything to drink so if it's police presence they're warning me about, I'm not worried.

But just in case it's an animal or obstruction, I slowed down to give myself more time to react.

After a certain number of kilometres when nothing had presented itself I assumed that the light flashing had been to announce a Reason 1, that had resolved itself by the time I got there, or due to a good old-fashioned Reason 4.

This morning I realised that I had forgotten Reason 5, when parked facing a glass door I noticed that I had a headlight out.

The thing is, everybody always seems to forget about Reason 5*.

I know I've flashed my headlights at people because one of their headlights is out, in the hope that when they get home they'll check and confirm this fact.
And I can be fairly certain that in most circumstances they've done what I've done and continued pootling around with their busted headlight until they've managed to catch a glimpse or somebody in a position to do so has mentioned it to them in person.

I started wondering if we could devise and disseminate some kind of national-wide system of flashes that would allow us to differentiate between Reason 1 to Reason 4 (the response to which is simply to slow down**) and Reason 5 (the response to which is to get a new headlight as soon as possible as to avoid potential trouble with the police).

But multiple flashes of lights can be difficult to manage in the time between approaching and passing another car, or may not be fully visible depending on conditions.

So I started thinking about devising a system that would allow you to flash just one headlight, thus clearly indicating that you have noticed the other driver has one headlight out.

Maybe you could flash one headlight to indicate busted headlight, flash the other to indicate obstruction on the road, and flash both to indicate police car.

The more advanced and ambitious of us could develop a sort of car headlight Morse code.

But how would the electronics and controls of these wonderful new cars need to be altered or redesigned to achieve this goal?

And what if you're flashing your lights at somebody for Reason 1 through Reason 4 and they assume it's for Reason 5*** because you have a headlight out?

Then of course you might end up with cars running off the road or into the back of each other as they squint and try to follow or remember the significance of various blinking patterns.


Maybe I should just remember to check my headlights.

Occam's razor and all that****.

*Reason 5: Your headlight is out.

**And in the case of Reason 4, to feel miffed about it later.

***Or possibly don't see it at all, depending on which headlight you're flashing.

****I can't think of Occam's razor without thinking of Dr Standish from Douglas Adams' The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul.

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