Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ready or not, here it comes?

In my 60 plus years on this earth cars have changed drastically. Sure they still have (for the most part) four wheels, a propulsion system, brakes, etc., but they have changed.

Back when I was born taking a long trip in a car was still a risky thing to do. Routine maintenance not only involved oil changes but valve and ring jobs. Gas stations still had signs that said, "We fix flats" because flat tires were commonplace. Cars now run forever without needing anything more than an occasional oil change. Tires are so robust that even if run with improper air pressure they rarely blow out (although when they do the consequences can be horrific).

Over all I support most of the changes we have seen in cars through the years. Cars are simply better than they have ever been.

I do however wonder where cars are going and frankly it scares me. Cars, like so much in our lives now, are being made so we do not have to think. And cars, like so much in our lives now, are being seen as much as entertainment systems as a means of transportation. On board computers take much of the skill out of driving. And that's the rub.

I'm sure you've all heard about cars that drive themselves. Now that scares me and it saddens me. I am not a technophobe but I am definitely not a technophile.

On one hand it might be a good thing. The masses can climb in, plug in all their "smart" electronics and do whatever they do now without endangering the rest of us. What could go wrong?

Personally I wish cars weren't becoming rolling entertainment centers of offices. Do we really need even more distraction while we are driving?

Some people will tell you that they are capable of multi-tasking, of driving their car while they do their hair, shave, sent texts, talk to Siri, or whatever. Really? There have been times when I have talked on my cell phone while driving (I rarely do it now, preferring to pull over to the side if the call seems important). And some of those times when I end the call I realize that I've just driven without being aware of what was going on around me. It scared me.

Now maybe I'm not the norm, maybe most people can multi-task without endangering themselves and others but I doubt it. I think we are all just very lucky.

Multi-tasking while driving is nothing new. Before smart phones, even before cell phones, you'd see people reading while driving, especially during rush hours.

Maybe smart cars are the answer; maybe they will stop those who need to drive but really don't want to from endangering the rest of us. But I don't believe it. I think that the more we let people detach from the world around them the more dangerous they become.

If you own a smart, driver-less car would you even need a license? Who would be responsible if the smart car caused an accident? Can you sue a computer?

I am not against technology; I just want it to serve the greater good. Technology that makes cars safer and more efficient is a good thing. The rest is superfluous. Build me a car that makes me a better driver, that has superior performance, does little to no harm to the environment, gets great fuel economy and leave the entertainment to me.

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