Is there too much dumb smart tech in cars these days or is it that I just take driving too seriously?
Late last winter, I was with a friend in Fort Lauderdale and we visited the local Ferrari dealer. My friend was interested in perhaps having a flashy winter driver and a Ferrari would have fitted the bill exactly -- or so we thought.
The showroom was opulent and there were at least 24 Ferraris in my quick count, so you would think there was plenty of choice. The first thing, of course, was colour. For my friend, it should be black, dark silver or perhaps metallic grey. You don't want to stand out too much. The colour wasn't an issue as there were several perfect choices. But every time I looked inside, the stick between the seats was missing and the cars had what looked like video game controllers on either side of the wheel. Yes, paddle shifters. Wonderful things, I suppose, if you are in a Formula One car taking a corner at Nürburgring and want to beat the competition by four hundred thousandths of a second, but on a serious sports car with an emphasis on sports? Come on. It's a freaking automatic. You're not shifting the car, it's just letting you think you are.
My only criticism of my old Prowler was that it was an automatic. Yes, it had that silly stick you could move from side to side and pretend to shift, but then so does my PT Cruiser. I think I used it in both cars maybe twice. It was not only silly and boring, it wasn't shifting and only someone who doesn't drive a stick could think it was. It was like having a D321 in the '60s. You could use it, but no one did. It was dumb then and it is dumb now. So are paddle shifters. I hear Smart cars have paddle shifters. Is that for track use? I'll bet not. One guesses it makes a Smart car a little sportier. It does not accomplish that for a rarefied sports car.
When I asked the Ferrari salesman if he had any Ferraris with a stick, he looked at me as if I had rabies and was foaming at the mouth and said, "They don't make these with stick shifts." Wow, Enzo must be spinning in his grave.
The next dumb tech option in my opinion is electronic mirrors that tell you someone is in your blind spot -- not with the reflection of the person but with a warning of some sort. How about carmakers eliminating blind spots in cars so drivers can use their necks to look over their shoulders? This would be better than relying on something that may or may not work on a cold day with freezing rain when the car is four years old, falsely insuring the driver that he doesn't have to worry about the motorcyclist or great, big truck he is about to hit. Dumb.
Parallel parking is another one. Now your car does it for you. When I did my driving test on the day of my 16th birthday, the examiner failed me because the only mistake I made in the whole test was in my parallel parking. He told me to practise that night and come back the next day to try it again. I got it right the next day, so I got my driving licence on my second day of being 16. (I was a farm kid, so I had been driving all kinds of things before I was 16.)
The reason the examiner failed me on my first try was that he felt that the ability to parallel park demonstrated someone's real ability to drive a car like no other part of the test. To do it properly, a driver had to know how the car worked and how big it was and how to best manoeuvre it in a most difficult but common circumstance, especially with the added pressure of traffic waiting for the moves to be completed. I have always felt he was right. How many of us have watched in disgust when a driver holds up traffic in several attempts of trying to get into a parking space? Rather than ensuring people are better drivers, let's just let the cars do it for them. Dumb, really dumb.
I just saw an ad on TV that a luxury carmaker has a new device that applies the brakes on the car even before you do if the car senses something behind it. Oh, that's just peachy. Now, we no longer need to worry about Junior being behind the car or backing into someone at the mall when we pull out of a spot because the car will look after it.
Are drivers really all getting so bad that these options are becoming a necessity? I still hate anti-lock brakes and anyone who lives or drives on dirt roads can tell you why. They only work well on pavement. On a dirt road, the fastest way to stop is to stop your tires and dig in. But I do understand that for many they are lifesavers.
I think the rest of these devices, however, create new perils. Not only are drivers distracted by all the electronic gizmos in their cars, now they have carte blanch to ignore safe driving practices and have little need to acquire a modicum of skill because the car will do it for them. If you don't have to look over your shoulder when you back up, why bother? The car can look out for little Jimmy playing on the driveway and electronics never fail, do they? Why clear the side of the car before you change lanes? The car will see the other cars. I mean, it could cause a misspelling in your texting or divert you from checking your Facebook page!
Perhaps manufacturers can build safer cars by building them so drivers will be fully occupied in driving them and have nothing to rely on other than their own skills, common sense and proper training. Is that too much to ask?
-- Postmedia News