Electro Intervention

The non-driving enthusiast is costing all of us money.  It’s simple to prove.  When we buy a car, we’re paying not just for the materials and labor, but the features.  More standard features means more materials and labor installing them, and thus more money for the things that technically aren’t even needed by everyone.

In a world where our vehicles have become heavier from safety features, ask yourself if they are all needed as much as they seem.  For example, the radar-guided cruise control that will adjust the speed of your vehicle depending on conditions around your vehicle.  Another is the lane-departure, in which if the vehicle senses your vehicle creeping over the lines with no turn signal, it’ll automatically straighten it out and/or beep. Then there’s blind-spot monitoring, which has sensors that let you know (via little lights in your side mirrors) whether or not something is where you can’t see it… like a truck.  Another are all the affordable cars with feature that will read out the text or social-media message just received, in order to keep us from looking at the phone.

Essentially, these systems are for the lazy and easily distracted; the person who can’t be bothered to use a turn signal, look over a shoulder before moving over, or is so engrossed in their BFF’s latest tweet they simply HAVE to respond while going 90 miles per-hour.  These clueless and irresponsible drivers make such things a must—and one that gradually increases the price of every other vehicle on the market over time because, someday, it’ll be standard… ya know, for safety of the greater good.

Look at ABS.  A long time ago that was reserved for the rich, who could afford the newest toys.  Now it’s a standard affair on even the cheapest $12,000 subcompact in the country because too many people didn’t have enough control to not stomp the brake pedal, or relieve pressure when they start to lock up.  Since the 2013 model year, electronic stability control (ESC)/traction control also joined in the fray of mandated technologies.  Some 13 years prior, ABS was a mere option in that class, ESC was unheard in anything outside luxury marques, and the cheapest cars on the market could be had for $8,000 or so.

It’s wonderful to know a car is safe.  I rather like having airbags and crumple zones in my Toyota Echo.  But this sort of thing can also lull a person into a sense of over-hyped security.  Get in my car and slam on the brakes, and you will lock up.  Yank the wheel too hard at too fast a speed, and it’ll understeer like no tomorrow.  But there’s nothing trying to decrease the amount of all these skid-mark inducing moments (in either tire or skivvy realms), so it’s a matter of learning nothing will catch you, and to be more responsible.  Hop into the modern, computer laden vehicle expecting it to work as normally in the way it turns or stops, and someday it won’t.

That laser or radar guided cruise control I mentioned earlier was something Mercedes was showing off around 2005 with their newest toy—the car would come to a full stop, then continue with traffic.  That’s a notable, cool gadget.  However at the press release, with a car full of journalists about to be shown how it works, Mercedes forgot to turn it on.  Instead it was a test proving the effectiveness of airbags.  You’d think it’d always be on!  You’d also think that a few years later when Volvo equipped the same sort of system, that they would have remembered… but no.

Those are honest mistakes—a hiccup of an early system in a staged environment.  But if anyone has ever had an older vehicle like say, a Jeep Grand Cherokee or any German luxury brand, one can learn what a fickle world it can be when the electronics stop working.  Imagine that Mercedes and Volvo press fiasco happening on the road to an unsuspecting operator.  It could be them sideswiping because their blind-spot detection has a burnt out bulb, or a more serious “oops” of ending up flying off a sweeping curve on the freeway.  They somehow think that giving a vehicle higher limits of speed (more grip/stability) somehow makes it safer, when reality is we’ll just be more comfortable pushing even farther, meaning we’ll be going faster when things go wrong.

On the other side of the high-limits argument, there are many people who have high-performing vehicles that are rewarding to drive quickly, yet drive them as though it’s a skinny-tired, crude Ford Model-A sort of vehicle.  Not a single one of those ESC or traction-control systems will ever really be used, so aren’t even necessary for that driver– why pay for it?  My father never uses the power sunroof or Bluetooth connectivity in his Hyundai Sonata, yet there was no choice in the matter– the same can be said for these active safety devices for that little old lady doing 35 in a 55 in her Acura RL with Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD)– a system that applies optimal power to the wheels when exiting a corner at high speed.

These lane/speed keeping technologies all conspire to my disdain of autonomous vehicles.  Just because the self-driving car doesn’t have the idiotic bag of meat controlling it, doesn’t mean there isn’t another one next to them to foul things up, or a guarantee the computer will work, or they’ll be able to sense every situation correctly.  Such as this video below:

Who’s to say there isn’t a car blasting by in the left lane, or a wall there keeping the system from working?  Perhaps the tires are bald, or it hydroplanes.  There are dozens of situations where this system and the false security it builds can come to an emotional and physical halt.

What of these Google-powered cars that will communicate amongst each other in one big electronic, wireless, satellite network?  I think if the Blackberry crash doesn’t tell us this sort of thing is fallible, we need to just wake up and make every vehicle a mobile Faraday cage, and have electrodes on our genitals if we have our hands off the wheel longer than five seconds at a time (maybe vary that by speed).

It just seems like the whole market is catered more to the bad drivers than the good.  I realize everyone makes mistakes, but in what world does rewarding those more prone to fail with ways to increase their incompetence with compensatory gadgets?  Shouldn’t we lower the tolerances of such systems?   A safe-mode, if you will.  Keep acting like a baboons anus according to all the systems being worked too often, and then it’ll just slow everything to a crawl or simply put you on the shoulder… ya know, with that whole self-driving crap we’ll all have in the future.  Ford already has a parentally friendly system on many of their cars called “My Key.”  They can program an individual key to operate the vehicle to set, limited parameters.  Things like top speed, amount of acceleration, even the radio volume.  That way if your kids borrow the car, you can keep them in a slightly less Barbaric mood (maybe even bum them out).

For all intents and purposes, I fully understand that technology is a necessary part of a car.  I like that my car has electronic fuel injection that means I don’t have to set a choke, adjust the fuel for altitude and temperature, etc.  There are limits to what I feel should be available, though.  I also realize this is a rant that is somewhat elitist in regards to the following sentiments.  Who determines what is and isn’t fit for an individual to drive, and how?  Everyone has their good and bad days in terms of coordination and reaction time, so there’s no way to conduct such limitations.  However, there should be a limit on how much room we give safety features that negate driver responsibility, not just because it shall only beget a better idiot, but because it’ll keep costing everyone more and more in so many different ways.

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3 thoughts on “Electro Intervention

  1. Pingback: CarsDirect article: Lexus LS460 vs. Mercedes S550 | Manually Shifted Soul

    • I think I’ve seen that video, actually. Really, I have no clue. My advice is don’t piss anyone off with money to buy said hackers (more than likely, they’d use it to their advantage financially, not at random). Hacker safety is way out of my band of “knowledge” anyway.

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