Driving a Tesla A can be distracting

Editor's note: Today's Street Smarts column is from Dr. Richard Hencke, emergency room physician at Dominican Hospital and occasional Street Smarts contributor. During the past year, Street Smarts has published thoughts about electric vehicle ownership from local contributors. Today, Hencke, a new owner of a Tesla Model S and a stickler about distracted driving, explains ways his new earth-friendly ride makes it quite difficult to concentrate on the road. Distracted driving is a topic on which I have expressed strong opinions, as Street Smarts can attest. This is a legacy of nearly 40 years in emergency medicine, working at trauma centers, flying on helicopters and the like. Now, I have given myself the ultimate challenge in distracted driving, the Tesla Model S. I have been fascinated for years by the Tesla technology. My wife finally agreed and we picked up our Model S at the factory in Fremont on June 6. This car is best described as a combination of an iPad, a concert hall and a spaceship. The dashboard contains a 17-inch computer screen; all the car’s functions are controlled by touch. It is the quietest car ever made, so the occupants may listen to classical music and hear every note. The Bluetooth function and Internet radio may be initiated by voice command. I learned the hard way to be careful with the radio when one day I was heading south on Highway 17 towards the Fishhook southbound when my wife asked me to select an artist on Slacker Radio. I cut off some poor fellow on the on-ramp and got a well-deserved blast from his horn. It is best to do this only when driving straight with no distractions, or when stopped. Street Smarts knows that I have been a crank about not making even hands-free calls while driving. However, the Tesla's Bluetooth function makes this all too easy. My fall from grace began when I got an important call from back east about a serious health problem regarding my elderly mother. A large red button appeared on the Tesla's touchscreen labeled "answer." How could I fail to respond? I am now, again, a cell phone sinner but I try to use this function sparingly. The car comes with an Internet package so that theoretically one could surf the web while driving. I did not get this option. Judy and I figured that we could always access the Internet or Google maps on our smart phones. This sounded like a considerable distraction that we did not need. The car does feature a number of displays that can grab one's attention. This includes not just the phone and radio function, but a display which graphs one’s energy usage, a map showing one's location, and a touchscreen control panel which controls the doors, lights, and other features. There is also an app on the touchscreen that finds Tesla supercharging locations and gives directions until one is reached. Recently, we attended a wedding in Marin and I finally was in need of charging the car in a location other than my garage. There are no Tesla superchargers in Marin. When I used the Recargo app recommended by Tesla, I found it had limitations. The first charging station I visited had an old paddle charger which was completely useless. However, I later found a very useful charging station at a shopping center. It gave me just enough charge to avoid " range anxiety" on the way back home. I felt like a pioneer in an old Model A searching for a gas station. It is very comforting to know that the Tesla Model S is the safest car ever manufactured. It was placed in a car crushing machine, and the machine broke, which has never happened. There has never been a fatality in any Tesla automobile. I will have to work harder than ever to avoid distracted driving, but I do feel safer than ever. I have to admit that I'm totally in love with this car and think it's the sweetest set of wheels available.
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