There’s a school of thought that says that perhaps we’d be safer drivers if we were more aware of the inherent dangers of driving, as opposed to being so insulated from it, as we tend to be today. If there’s a symbol of this way of thinking, it’d probably be the image of a steering wheel with a huge, scary spike sticking out of it. That concept actually has a name: the Tullock Spike.

The Tullock Spike, or, to sound more gearhead-friendly, the Tullock Steering Column was something first thought of by the noted economist Gordon Tullock. Tullock came up with the idea around the time seatbelts in cars were being mandated. The thinking was that seatbelts make drivers feel safer, and as such makes them more prone to risk-taking behavior, making them less safe.

Modern cars would make Tullock even more convinced of the need for the spike; airbags and crumple zones and adaptive cruise control and automatic braking and so many other features that make our cars so remarkably safe today also do have the effect of making us forget how insane the act of driving really is.

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We’re still hurtling down the road at speeds over a mile a minute, and most modern cars sure don’t make you feel that way. While I’m not really an advocate of installing impaling tools in cars, I don’t think Tullock is wrong, exactly.

I know that when I get out of a press car and back into my ‘73 Beetle, I’m acutely aware that I’m driving an absurd metal-and-glass egg at 60 MPH, and any fuckup on my part—or some other driver’s part—means a very unpleasant chain of events that could end up with me and my car becoming merged in ways I’m not eager to think about.

I do drive more carefully in the Beetle, because I’m far more aware of what I’m doing: hurtling through space in a little machine. In a modern car, it’s far easier to forget this.

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So, maybe Tullock is on to something here. We sure as hell wouldn’t be texting and driving if there was a big-ass dagger pointed at our sternums while we drove. I mean, cars before collapsable steering columns basically had a hollow pike aimed at your chest, but you couldn’t really tell that, visually. The Tullock Spike is all about that visual reminder.

The Tullock Steering Column isn’t foolproof, though. As Weird Universe points out, economist Sandy Ikeda found some holes in the plan:

“Some might replace the steel dagger with a rubber one. Indeed, a black market in fake steering-column daggers might arise. But that of course could worsen the problem because now some drivers will drive as recklessly as before, while law-abiding drivers will still have daggers aimed at their chests. There maybe fewer accidents but more deaths than before.”

I bet Pep Boys would sell a wide range of scary-looking rubber replacement spikes, if you knew the code word to ask the guy behind the counter.

With cars becoming more and more autonomous as we slowly crawl our way to full autonomy, I feel like the Tullock Spike may be more important than ever. Again, I’m not really eager to suggest that anyone try anything like this, even with, say, a spork, but there’s a valuable lesson here: the actual act of driving is not trivial.

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Fundamentally, we’re all in metal boxes, scooting about remarkably fast. That’s not something to be scared of, but I think we’d all be better drivers if we remembered it, at least a bit.

Maybe you could put a picture of a steering wheel with a spike on your dash. You’ll get the message.

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(Thanks to BoingBoing for reminding me of this!)