It is apparently a high-order skill to keep a car within its travel lane; to drive without swaying across the double yellow into the opposing lane (where there is hopefully no opposing traffic) or swaying onto the shoulder… where there are hopefully no people walking.
Or broken down, trying to change a tire.
The thing is, it didn’t used to be. A high order skill.
It still isn’t. I can manage it without either of my hands on the wheel – using my knees to steer.
A caveman could do it.
But if my informal survey of what’s-out-there is any indication . . . lots of people can’t. And thus need Lane Keep Assist (also marketed as Steering Assist) which assist is becoming as common as crabgrass. The system involves cameras mounted around the car that see those painted lines the driver apparently can’t – and when the driver drives across them, the system alerts him to the fact via lights and beeps and – in the case of the latest systems – physical electronic intervention. The steering system corrects the driver’s line, nudging the vehicle back in its lane.
For those who are capable of keeping the vehicle in its lane – a skill right up there with changing one’s own underwear – the system is a gewgaw at best and an annoyance at worst. Annoying – because the system also “assists” when it’s not needed and certainly not wanted.
As when turning off the road you’re on – which often involves treading on the painted lines – without having signaled beforehand. In our increasingly one-size-fits-all world (or at least, country) the driver is expected to always signal – even when it’s as pointless as saying “good morning” to a rock.
As when there is clearly no other traffic in the vicinity. Signaling a turn in that case is mere rote obeisance of the totem pole genuflection variety practiced by savages. But the system demands it for exactly that reason.
Well, the system lights up/buzzes – and may even try to “assist” you by thwarting your attempt to turn, or making it clumsy as you fight the “assist,” in order to make your turn.
For the competent driver, these “assists” are the automotive equivalent of the continent being forced to wear adult diapers – which is probably on the way.
But there are many not-competent drivers. Who may benefit from “assistance.” As well as those in the vicinity – who avoid being run into or over, thereby.
It is, however, interesting to speculate, chicken-or-egg-style, whether the incompetent driving is the result of all of this “assisting” . . . or a necessary palliative measure.
There was a time when drivers were expected to keep their vehicles within their lane without “assistance” – and generally did so. The drunken weaving one sees routinely nowadays is performed by drivers who aren’t drunk.
Those who couldn’t keep a car within its travel lane were considered poor drivers and encouraged to either become not-poor drivers or give up driving.
Then along came the Safety Cult.
Which – ironically – encouraged inept driving in need of “assistance” by characterizing almost any form of engaged/active driving as “aggressive.” The quickly executed – and thus, safe – pass.
Instead, a soporific passivity. Drivers were hectored to emulate the tortoise. An obedient, drugged tortoise. One who gazed through rheumy, near-sighted eyes at every sign/totem pole and did exactly as it said . . . very, very slowly.
But this caused driving to become almost crushingly boring – as anyone who has spent a few hours on the Interstate with the cruise control engaged well knows.
And so people (here it comes) found other things to do while “driving” . . . such as texting or fiddling with the other distractions purposely built into cars in order to take people’s attention off driving.
Egg meet chicken.
There are two ways this can go.
The first – and the one being hard-sold to the public – is to take the driver entirely out of the equation. Let him text or sleep or have sex or whatever else he wants to do in a car.
Which will drive itself.
This, of course, will mean surrendering our autonomy as far as our mobility is concerned.
Because we will no longer be in control of our mobility – which will have become automated.
We may be allowed to enter a destination. But how we get there will be out of our hands. We may not be allowed to get there at all – the car no longer being under our control at all. A signal is sent – no automated mobility today – perhaps you posted a “dangerous” or “derogatory” Tweet.
And that’s the end of it.
Some will welcome this meatsackery – one less thing to have to think about; one less thing to have to do. It will be regarded as convenient – the Faustian bargain all too many are willing to make; the price being the surrender of their autonomy as adults.
Or – the less likely option: People snap out of it somehow and recover their adult human instinct for autonomy. To be the ones in control of their lives – which includes their mobility.
Which requires being an active driver – the one controlling the car.
One who does not need perpetual “assistance” to keep the car in between the painted lines.
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