Nissan may be the last redoubt of (somewhat) non-Nanny State cars. Nissan vehicles do not have DRLs; you can turn the traction control off (really off – not “limited”) and – alone among all car companies – Nissan does not fit its new cars with “belt minder” buzzers that try to harass you into buckling up the nanosecond the car moves with piercing buzzers. There’s just a little red icon that stays lit on the gauge cluster. You don’t have to disable anything – or do as I do and buckle the damn belt before you sit down – and then sit on top of the buckled belt.
They assume you’re old enough to decide for yourself when to wear a seat belt. And that it’s not always important to “buckle up for safety” – as, for example, when you’re just rolling the car down your own driveway to get the mail. And more, that the decision is none of their business because it’s your car – and ultimately, your life.
I like Nissan’s attitude. It is why we own two Nissan vehicles and are very likely to buy another when the time comes.
We will not be buying a Prius. Not so much because hybrids don’t make much sense that I can see (if you’re interested in saving gas, buy a $15,000 economy sedan that gets 40 MPG and put the$10,000 you just saved toward fuel for the next five years; better yet, buy a used 40 MPG economy car for $10,000 or so and put the $15,000 you just saved over buying a new Prius toward gas for the next 10 years). No, we won’t buy one just because of the shrill claxons (note, plural) that go off like a prison break alarm not only when you fail to immediately “buckle up” but also whenever you put the transmission in reverse. I am not talking about a mild beep, either. I am talking about an auditory assault that can literally drive you to Hulk-smash fury in seconds. The other day (I have a 2012 Prius press car to drive/evaluate this week) I was beginning to back up out of a parking spot at the local Food Dog – on comes the claxon. Just as I am beginning my back-up maneuver, another car opposite me begins to back-up, so we’re both in limbo – who’s gonna go first? Meanwhile, the claxon will not shut up. Now, here I am – trying to keep track of who is doing what and avoid either backing into someone else or someone else backing into me. But I am having a helluva time keeping focus because of the relentless DING! DING! DING! of the back-up buzzer. Mind, the Prius is a medium-sized sedan, slightly smaller than a current Camry. It is not a hulking RV with massive blind spots – the sort of oversized or commercial vehicle where it might make sense to have a back-up claxon. I have seen big garbage trucks that have them – and that seems reasonable. But in a medium-sized car? Seriously? And no off button, either? What sick bastard came up with this idea?
And Toyota is far from alone (though it is among the most aggressive when it comes to “safety” technology). The Audi Q7 I test drove recently, for example. It has a “lane departure warning” system that suddenly hits you with both lights and sound if you stray to close to the double yellow or another vehicle. The problem with that is that it’s as startling as it is cautionary. If you’re not expecting it, the flashing yellow lights and dinging could be enough to send you into the ditch. Current VWs have piercing DRLs that cannot be turned off – not without wire snips, anyhow. BMW’s traction and stability control requires a multi-step process to defeat and then still comes on (or stay partially on) regardless… for your safety, of course. Several new cars I have driven that have parking brake pulls where they ought to be – on the center console – also have been set with the tension so low that the parking brake is useless for emergency braking. Oh, and if you lift it up while the car is moving – you know, like when it might be necessary to use it to stop the vehicle in an emergency – a buzzer comes on. Ford cars now come with a MyKey “smart” key that probably sends constant real-time updates to Obama about how fast you’ve been driving, where you’ve been and what books you like to read, too.
Hence, I drive Nissans.
I just hope they can hold the line. It is a miracle that some “concerned mom” hasn’t launched a PR juggernaut to pressure the company into adding Belt-Minder buzzers and all the rest of it to their new cars… for the children, of course.
God help us.