When you put your car in reverse, do you look back – or look down? The answer will date you.
If you look back, it is probable you learned to drive before there were screens – and cameras – built into cars. You learned to use your eyes, instead – and therefore have no need for cameras and screens. Nor those squiggly little red-yellow-green lines superimposed upon the screen – accompanied by beeps – that are meant to let the screen-watcher know he is getting too close to the cars parked on either side (and behind) he’s not actually looking at.
Having learned how to judge the space available for maneuvering using your senses – such that it becomes almost intuitive – you know where the bumper of your car ends – and just how much room is left.
That intuitiveness is lost – because it was never developed – when people are taught to rely on cameras, screens and arc-moving squiggly lines, responding in pavlovian style to various chimes and beeps.
Back in the late-’90s, I attended a press-preview event for one of Ford’s then-newest models. It was one of the first models that featured Parking Assistance – which took the cameras and screen the driver was supposed to use in lieu of his eyes one step farther. Now, he was not supposed to use his hands, either. Instead, push a button to engage the system – which then maneuvered the car (using electrically-assisted steering) into the parking spot, with the alacrity and precision of a glaucomic old lady.
Inch the car forward. Adjust the wheel, a little – but not exactly accurately. Back up, some. Then a little forward, again. More steering adjustment – the car’s cameras feeding computers, which then commanded the car’s slight forward-back-again movements.
Eventually, the car parked itself.
I asked the Ford rep whether they thought that a person who needed “assistance” to parallel park a car ought to be driving, at all. After all, I had been taught that parking a car competently is a basic driving competence; indeed, it was once necessary to demonstrate that competence in order to pass the driver’s test that was the basis for becoming a licensed driver.
Yes, certainly – “technology” can make such a competence irrelevant – assuming one ignores the fact that the car that parks itself takes forever to do it and not as well as a driver who knows how to park can do it. Of a piece with “fast” charging an EV in only 45 minutes.
But that dodges the fundamental question of competence – and the wisdom of not encouraging it when the driver is still otherwise in control of the car when it is being driven.
Not knowing how to tread water is inconducive to swimming.
Or rather, to not drowning.
We – those of us who learned to drive, when that skill was an expected right of passage – also generally learned to drive stick. This was due in part to the fact that, right through the ’80s and even into the ’90s, many cars (and most trucks) still came standard with manual transmissions and so, by default, we had to learn how to use them – if we wanted to drive. We learned how to balance clutch, throttle and brake-release on hills – so as not to roll back down the hill (and into whatever was behind us) without a Hill Holder Clutch to prevent us from learning this art.
As a result, we who so learned do not need a Hill Holder Clutch and regard it as another insulting nuisance – like crutches for the able-bodied.
But it is more than a matter of pride – though that is definitely a component, as it ought to be. A person should take pride in achievement; in having mastered a skill. There is a degradation involved in learned helplessness.
Practically every new car has it or offers it – in part because so many drivers feel helpless at the first hint that it might snow. Even in areas of the country where it rarely snows – and when it does, the plows generally have the roads cleared within 24 hours of the last snowflake having fallen – many people think they must have all-wheel-drive to even think of venturing out, in the event of snow.
And when – if! – they do, they venture slowly. Often, with their hazards flashing. This being what they were taught. We who learned to drive when most cars were rear-wheel-drive learned how to drive in snow. How to modulate a slip-sliding rear end and keep the car tracking mostly straight, counterbalancing throttle and steering.
Having learned how to maintain control of a car, we do not feel any need for various electronic controls, such as traction/stability control. Or – for that matter – anti-lock brakes, even. The more advanced among us learned that locking up the wheels can, in some circumstances, be a true driving assist – without any need for “technology.”
Perhaps the greatest irony is that the cars we learned to drive in didn’t need all this “assistance,” because they were in some very meaningful ways easier to control – and to park – than modern cars with all of their “technology.” This was so because you could usually see around you – and behind you – because you weren’t entombed within metal (and plastic) bur rather had lots of glass, all around you. And thus, could see – using your eyes.
Their proportions weren’t as bulbous – especially in the rear – because in those days, the engineers rather than government bureaucrats designed cars.
You could even crack open the driver’s side door so as to be able to have a look behind you as your were backing up – or see how close you were getting to the curb – without the computer putting the automatic transmission in neutral while barraging you with cautionary beeps and automatically muting the radio, for good measure.
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