16 Apr 2013

Are We Breeding A Generation of Low Skilled and Lazy Drivers?

Modern cars are teeming with safety, infotainment, driver aid and all sorts of superfluous systems.  Tash asks, do we really need them all?  

First off let me start with a little social commentary as I see it, no offence meant or implied to anyone with this bit. The advent of the internet has been two fold really - the worlds biggest information resource allowing everyone from pensioners to children to find out everything about anything and a tool to basically allow you never have to leave your house, what with internet shopping, online bill payment, medical advice, social media and the likes of Skype.  I could go on but by now I’m sure you get the idea, and its this second part that has spilled over into vehicle design and equipment.

These days we expect certain things from a car, some of which make a lot of sense and point at technology being used sensibly for safety reasons and not just for convenience.  Advances such as electric front windows allow the driver to keep both hands on the wheel for longer and of course so your head doesn’t bob up and down like an idiot when winding the window up or down, air conditioning stops the car fogging up when you're five up and allows people like me with hayfever to drive the car in the depths of summer without melting (as we cant have the windows open, pollen really makes my eyes sting and water badly) and of course the use of unleaded fuel - after all no-one really wants to go mad through lead poisoning whilst enjoying ragging their car every day. 

I’m quite sure there are plenty of other things that you would add to this list such as ABS, Cup Holders, Xenon headlamps etc etc etc, but ask yourself this, do you really need them or are they just accepted as “needed” by most drivers now? 

Back in 1987, when I started driving, ABS was only an option on many top end cars, not standard and wasn’t really needed, we learned how to cadence brake, and drive to the road and prevailing weather conditions.  It could of course be argued that in todays traffic conditions ABS is a required feature, but its not, not if you don’t spend your time driving searching through your MP3 library or playing with your sat nav.

When you're behind the wheel of your car your first order of business should be driving, nothing else, and the skills sets required for doing the driving bit, as far as I have experienced, are more than wanting these days. 

Drivers don’t bother to anticipate gaps between themselves and the car in front like they used to as they can rely on ABS.  In more modern cars we now have this thing called Stability Control, yet another electronic system that allows a driver not to worry about the grip handling and braking characteristics of their car, just steam into a bend and let a computer sort it out, hence the low skill levels seen on the road these days as no-one actually has to bother to “drive” - just steer and accelerate/brake at approximately the right time.

All of the above you can agree or disagree with.  It could again be argued these add to safety in todays traffic and road conditions, but if people actually drove their cars rather than just pointed them in the right direction I am quite sure accident rates would fall dramatically without the need for all of these needlessly expensive safety systems, which add weight and complexity to cars leading to us, the owners, footing the bill when they go wrong, and yes for all the technology they do go wrong and frequently.

This has been taken one step further with the introduction of Collision Avoidance Systems.  Now, I'm sorry, but to me this is just the excuse the lazy driver (who couldn’t care less about other road users) needs to do their lippy in the interior mirror and gel their hair on the move and drive like an idiot. 

I learned to drive in a small rear wheeled car with no ABS, no power steering, no electric windows and a so-called heater (that if you were lucky might wheeze a little heat when it was minus 2), which is probably the reason why I find all the driver aids these days quite annoying and intrusive.  

My own car has traction control which is switched off permanently as I already have it - its called the seat of my pants and my right foot.  I don’t need an electronic box telling me what to do.  I’m not stupid, I can feel what the car is doing and feather the throttle as I need to. 

There will of course be those saying, yes but not all drivers have that skill level.  Well they should have, simple, if you cant drive a car in a safe and civilised manner without driver aids you shouldn’t have been given a licence.  It's just ridiculous to me that we are breeding a generation of drivers that are reliant on these electronics.  

What happens if the systems fail while you're driving, are you not going to drive?  Ring the AA?  If that’s the case your kind of missing the point of what driving is all about.  Driving should be about a sensory interaction and your ability to translate what your senses are telling you, putting this into the actions needed to control your car, not about pointing it down the road and letting a computer basically drive the car for you, for safety and conscience sakes drivers, now more than ever, need to be more aware and have a high skill level as traffic increases at higher average speeds.

Enough about driving standards and onto my all time biggest bugbear in cars these days - Infotainment Systems.

WHY? They have become so all-involving and so complicated now that to change a radio station we need to navigate menus and sub-menus, all of which most people will do on the move.  And how can you do this and still be concentrating on driving?  How can you even be looking at the road? 

These systems are so advanced now that they are “online” providing the driver with Twitter and Facebook feed, access to e-mail etc.  This I don’t just deem as dangerous for drivers, but as inherently irresponsible of car manufacturers to fit.  It's like they are egging on drivers to get distracted and have a crash - some perverted form of guaranteed spare parts sales? 

If they are going to insist on fitting this overpriced, overcomplicated, needless rubbish (for which we the consumer ultimately pay for through hiked up standard prices) then safeguard safety by making them unuseable while the car is in motion - not some silly handbrake wired device which is simple for a DIY mechanic to bypass, but with an ECU linked system so it allows you to see your satnav and hear the directions but wont allow any changes unless you're stopped by the side of the road with the engine switched off.  Same with all this online stuff, do what you want when you aren’t moving but lock everything when you're in motion, simple, easy to do, save lives, makes sense to me.

To finish off and in conclusion, all this driver aid and info technology is doing the same to car drivers as the internet seems to be doing to people's habits - making them much lazier, making them technology junkies.  I know people who when they have no internet access literally climb the walls like they miss their fix! 

People and drivers need to find themselves again and stop being fixated and utterly reliant on technology, the human race survived an ice age without any of this stuff.  I'm not sure we could now.