OPINION: 'Idiot-proof cars will kill us'
Tech aimed at keeping drivers safe is making them more dangerous, says Shahzad Sheikh...
So you think you can drive do you?
Of course you do. Ponder this, how much of the driving part is actually conducted by you and how much by the car? Okay, the self-driving car is not here yet but it’s close and most of the technology needed to make it real does now exist. A large chunk of it is probably already in your current car.
Some of the very latest motors can keep the car in lane on the highway and alert you when you’re about to move into the path of another vehicle. The latest cruise control systems will not only maintain speed but also distances from the car in front and even brake and stop the car if necessary. I recently drove the all-new Range Rover through a busy town centre for 10 whole minutes without needing to touch the stop or go-pedals - it halted for traffic and moved off all by itself, all I did was steer.
Then there are anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control, torque vectoring control and rear-wheel steer systems. All run by tiny computers that have considerably more silicon intelligence than was needed to put a man on the moon in the 1960s. These virtual AIs make thousands of calculations and carry out many more thousands of electronic adjustments per second to keep you safe.
If you’re a younger driver familiar with all the gobbledygook techno-babble I just threw at you in the previous paragraph, here are some terms you might not be familiar with - cadence braking, torque steer, heel-and-toeing, and maybe even opposite lock correction.
Cadence braking was a method of pumping the brake pedal during emergency stops to avoid locking up the front wheels and losing control - now handled by ABS. Torque steer causes the car to squirm under full power, now sorted by stability systems. Heel-and-toeing is a driving technique where you blip the throttle at the same time as braking on a downshift to match the engine revs, now taken care of by automatic gearboxes and I’ve even just tried a manual that will blip the throttle for you. As for correcting a slide, that’s what traction control is for. These are skills we’re losing as drivers.
So if electronics keep you from over-driving and having an accident then surely it’s a boon for road safety? This is progress isn’t it? Indeed. So why do I lament the relentless march of technology supposedly meant to safeguard us on the road? Because it’s actually making us more dangerous. Relying on these systems means we’re paying less and less attention to the actual driving aspect; worst, we absolve ourselves of responsibility: if we crash it will be the car’s fault. With all this tech looking out for us, we feel less and less obliged to actually focus on driving and instead indulge in distractions like checking messages on phones and catching up with facebook. This causes inattentiveness behind the wheel and, as we all know, carelessness causes accidents. You know what would make you a good driver? Put a long sharp spike in the middle of the steering wheel pointed at your face - now THAT would keep you focussed.
Shahzad Sheikh is editor-in-chief, motoringME.com