true gripes standard deviations

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The Independent Online
Buy a new car and you can reasonably expect the pedals to be in the same position as on your old one: accelerator on the right, clutch on the left and brake in the middle. Great. There's no need to lose your licence, or your life, just because you raced through a red light when you meant to slow down and stop.

But why do car manufacturers fail to standardise on other equally important controls? You're driving an unfamiliar car. It starts to rain heavily just as you begin overtaking a juggernaut with half a dozen trailers. You click what should be the wiper switch only to find the indicators blinking or the side lights coming on.

And it's not just cars. Why are the buttons on my telephone and my calculator laid out so differently? I'm working on my calculator. I'm fast. I know where all the numbers are without looking. I glance out of the window. There's smoke coming from the building opposite. Call the fire brigade. I grab the phone and dial the square root of 333.

OK. No one wants to live in a totally standardised world and I can understand why manufacturers try to build-in brand loyalty with uniquely designed products. But while widely differing calculator and telephone designs are merely irritating, cars with their controls in different places are potentially lethal; flight deck controls differ from plane to plane but, unlike car drivers, pilots have to go through strict familiarisation exercises before they switch from one to another.

Even a trip to the bathroom has its hazards. The taps on my basin at home are arranged hot on the left, cold on the right. From what I assume to be the cold tap in a hotel room I scald my hands. Not content with this expression of their independence, plumbers also please themselves when it comes to positioning gents' urinals. Too low matters not at all, but too high and even six-footers are reduced to balancing precariously on tip-toe or taking up the schoolboy challenge of seeing who can get nearest to the target.

Greater standardisation may be synonymous with a safe, unexciting existence, but at least our feet will be dry.

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