Pondering soft bridge abutments, fluffy road barriers

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Mike Rowe of TV’s “Dirty Jobs” once told The Trucker News Organization that he likes to say “Safety Third” to fight complacency, although I think it’s also to get a rise out of self-named safety advocates, federal officials, safety managers, insurance companies and others.

He said when people ask him what he means by “Safety Third” he answers that in reality, “you’re not driving a truck because safety is the most important thing. Your reason for getting into this vocation wasn’t to come home safely. It was to deliver the goods.

“The second reason was to make a living. That’s it. Job One is do the job. Job two is to prosper as a result” and job three is to “make sure you don’t kill anybody and make sure you don’t get hurt in the process.”

He said if safety was really the No. 1 priority, all the trucks would be made of rubber, all the cars would be wrapped in bubble wrap, and the roads would all be made of some sort of spongy material.

And that brings me to an interesting email I received recently from Goodyear.

They’re holding a “national hackathon” to see if the best and brightest young graduate students can come up with a way that Goodyear can grow beyond tires.

“We take the rubber tire for granted,” said Youngjin Yoo, the Elizabeth M. and William C. Treuhaft Professorship in Entrepreneurship at the Weatherhead School in Cleveland.

I didn’t make that title up, it was right there in the news release.

Given that “countless industries” are studying the future of transportation, Yoo said, rubber tires “might not serve a central role in our transportation forever.”

Is that kind of a scary thought? It’s a strange one, at least.

And, Mr. Yoo continued, “The fresh perspectives students offer are perfect to consider what’s next.”

Teams of five students will be asked to define the challenges facing Goodyear and at the same time identify the needs of the company’s “future target customers.”

Then they will use 3D printers, laser cutters and other high-tech tools to “create physical prototypes” of their ideas.

The Goodyear news release said that since transportation is moving toward ride-sharing services rather than personal vehicles, people won’t be buying tires for their cars. Or at least as many.

So they want these students to come up with what’s next “beyond tires.”

“Companies are constantly looking for new areas of growth,” said Yoo, who will coordinate the competition. “Goodyear is not an exception, and part of the company must be thinking about anything but tires. This contest allows students to build relationships with a proven company as it’s eager to find new talent.”

So why not start making the roads out of some spongy something-or-other and start making cars and trucks out of a material that has more give than metal, something cushiony or filled with air?

I’ll go out on a limb, here, and say if they can send a man or woman to the moon, shouldn’t they be able to come up with something softer than metal to make vehicles out of?

I mean, come on.

Maybe before we put “driver-assisted” trucks on the road, before we put autonomous vehicles on the road, before we put self-driving vehicles on the road, we should start making roads and cars and trucks out of something safer.

How about fluffy, marshmallow-like barriers instead of concrete ones? How about bridge abutments made out of squishy rubber or something similar instead of stone or concrete?

Oh, I know! How about making windshields out of something you can see through that won’t cut you like glass? How difficult could that be for crying out loud?

We’ve got phones that can sync up with household appliances and direct the coffee-maker to start the coffee in the morning, don’t we? When I say “we” I’m of course not talking about me personally. My phone is a useless piece of … . Well that’s a story for another time.

So, what’s beyond rubber tires? You tell me, readers.

As always, God bless and be safe out there.

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