A week or so ago, during an unrelated demonstration of a new car’s technology, I was asked to back out of a parking space. I put the car in reverse, backed out of the space, and went onto the next thing without thinking twice about it. The person running me through the demonstration thought it was a big deal though. Apparently, I was the first person all day to use the rear view camera to back up instead of trying to turn my head all the way around.
It wasn’t like we were driving a Miata with the top down, either. The vehicle we were in was probably 17 feet long, and no matter how good the visibility is out of a 17-foot-long car, you’re going to have a hard time knowing exactly where the corners are. Using the rear view camera to back up made sense. because thanks to the guide on the screen, I could tell whether I had more room. I’m very much against wrecking other people’s cars, especially when they’re nice enough to lend them to me, and if there’s technology that’s going to make me a better driver, it only makes sense to embrace it.
The problem is, a lot of people don’t care if safety technology makes them better drivers or keeps them safer. They don’t like new technology because it’s new, and new things are bad. Some people are even proud of the fact they still don’t use cruise control. Why? When everybody on the highway moves at close to the same, constant speed, the roads are safer. How much connection do you need to feel with the road on a highway between Tupelo and Oxford, Miss.? It’s a technology that’s been around for ages, and $14,000 will buy a Chevrolet Spark with it. Why resist?
Worse than people who don’t use cruise control, though, are the people who won’t use the GPS in their car. Someone coming to visit recently had never been to my house before. Instead of using the GPS to find my address, he just winged it. Believe it or not, he got lost. I couldn’t figure out where he was over the phone, so he eventually put my address in the GPS, and guess what? He easily found my house.
I know there were horror stories in the beginning when a navigation system was an expensive feature on high-end luxury cars, but there hasn’t been a story about drivers trusting their GPS blindly and ending up in a lake since the Backstreet Boys were popular. In fact, the time I got the most hilariously lost, I was following a list of directions I’d written down, not using a GPS that probably would have known better. I didn’t end up in a lake, but I did end up fording a large creek in my dad’s Sonata.
The most egregious offense, though, is when people go out of their way to turn off an important safety feature. For certain drivers in certain situations, features like stability control, traction control, and anti-lock brakes may negatively impact a car’s performance. Those situations are overwhelmingly ones that occur when driving places other than public roads.
If you’re taking your Jeep mudding, you probably don’t want traction control. If you’re a seasoned track-day driver taking you’re CTS-V to the track, turning off both stability and traction control might allow you to knock a few tenths off your lap times. Then again, the only time I ever drove a CTS-V on a track, I left them both on because it was raining, and when someone lends me a car, my top priority is not crashing that car. If it’s your own car, feel free to drive it how you want on the track.
On public roads, however, there’s something called “oncoming traffic” that makes driving without basic safety aids very dangerous. I’m all about spirited driving, but even the best mountain roads are a far cry from a proper racetrack. Drifting on public roads is just stupid. Do that on your own property or on a track. In the meantime, leave traction control and stability control on.
There’s a lot to be said for using common sense and not relying entirely on technology, but doing things the old way just for the sake of not changing puts other people at risk. It’s easy to distrust technology and think you can do it better yourself, but unless you’re a highly trained professional, you can’t. Even 30 years of driving doesn’t mean very much when an oncoming car drifts into your lane or you have to panic stop to avoid hitting a fallen tree. Modern safety aids are going to help you avoid that car or stop before you hit that tree way better than you can do it yourself. Period.
Cars aren’t built they way they used to be, and that’s a good thing. Being wary of untested new technology is wise as well. Refusing to trust reliable, well-tested technology because it wasn’t in the car you learned to drive when you were 16, however, is just a bad idea.