Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I'm not seeing the problem so much

The automakers are systematically working to take the driver out of the equation; it may not be deliberate — and is probably more due to the convergence of piranha lawyers on the one hand and mewling mobs of “safety” advocates on the other. Still, the end result is the same. New cars are increasingly defined by the presence of “perpetual training wheels” that not only presume incompetence — but encourage more of it.

For instance, consider the electronic parking system Lexus now offers on its top-of-the-line LS sedan. Using sensors, an electronic brain and various actuators, the thing is capable of sizing up a potential parking space, determining how the wheels should be cocked to slide in — and basically drives itself into the spot. It’s fascinating stuff, from a technical standpoint. But it must be asked: If a person is lacking the skills to safely and efficiently guide his car into a parking spot without help from the onboard nanny, perhaps this person needs a few remedial hours of “behind the wheel” training, eh?

. . .

But it’s a pretty bleak thing to contemplate for those who can recall a better time, when driving well was a skill to be proud of and which took some time to acquire. When cars were a little bit scary — and demanded full time and attention. Learn to master something like an old F100 with three on the tree (and no hydraulic assist for the clutch) and you came away from it with a sense of accomplishment — and generally speaking, were competent to drive virtually anything on wheels in a way that today’s crowd, who grew up with “modern” cars, can’t begin to appreciate.

It’s a shame for them — because they’re missing out on some great experiences. And it bodes ill for the future — because the skill level of the typical driver is sure to get worse, not better. That will require more built-in idiot-proofing technology, more suffocating laws — and perhaps make the whole thing not worth the effort.

I mean, I don't drive a car to drive myself, I drive to get somewhere. If I can get there with a computer driving, all the better. But I suppose that the human is ultimately responsible, and the computer is most likely to fail in the edge cases, where an untrained driver would be . . . not good. There's soemething to be said about having a high bar and a low average skill level.

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