I love cars. I love the freedom they bring, I love the arguing about almost every aspect of cars. I like getting dirty and working on cars, sometimes I do them both at the same time. But there’s one thing I’m really on the fence about: Technology in cars. Sure, there’s some definite good, but there’s some definite dumb. This isn’t limited to just technophobes trying to get acquainted with a new phone at 70mph, this is regarding everyone and their ability to keep their damn cars on the road. It is almost explicitly aimed at anyone who started driving in the past 5 years. You are about to witness what is essentially me arguing with myself via keyboard. Grab some popcorn, hombres.
First, the obvious: Defining “tech” For the sake of this rant, it is computer based electronics, to include radio communications devices. Point number two: Without a certain amount of tech, cars would still be carbureted, and you’d be reaching across the car to roll up that passenger side window when you pull up next to a bum on the corner. That’d be just too obvious, now wouldn’t it? Fuel injection has given us a power and fuel economy boost that would never be possible with carburetors. I’m talking about Navitainment systems (what a stupid word), OnStar, BlueTooth, Blue&Me, et cetera.
As many of you know, I drive a Jeep Wrangler. It has a CD player that accepts USB drives and has a 3.5mm jack input. It cost $79. That is the extent of my tech. I purchased a GPS and it sits patiently on my night stand. My dashboard has a digital odometer, and that’s it. But I love gadgets, so why don’t I pimp it out? Well, for one, I can’t use my phone at speeds above 35mph, because it’s loud, and that’s with the top on. Two, it’s got a cloth top and zippers for windows. Theft proof, it ain’t.
Yet when I ride in my wife’s late-model Malibu, I love fiddling with the info center. I check her tire pressure – both cold and after a few miles – as well as the temperature outside (like it matters) and the instant mpg, which is like my father telling me to slow the hell down. I hook my phone up to the stereo and play music. I can do this in my Jeep, but I rarely do, because I feel like I’m distracted. But in the widebodied Malibu, I’ll fiddle all day. Yes, I am a more careless driver in the car with better safety features.
But what do I think about all of the newer gadgets coming to vehicles? It scares the shit out of me. Driving is not a time to check Facebook, Twitter or email. Even if it’s read to you via OnStar. I don’t trust anyone else on the road. Even people talking on the phone bothers me, because they usually have the damn thing plastered to the side of their head like a one-sided horse blinder. And since that hand is occupied, they aren’t going to pull a hand off the wheel to work the turn signal, because that might be unsafe.
Bluetooth isn’t much better, because if the conversation is so interesting you just have to talk on the road, then what attention is left to keep that two thousand pound pile of metal and combustibles on the road? Not much, from what my research has shown. This seems like the perfect environment to introduce interactive electronics too, right? Why don’t we mount an iPad2 to the dash, and use that fancy camera to help project Augmented-Reality? It’d be just like a video game, but the hooker blood and sirens are much more realistic.
Since the newest drivers on the road are the most connected generation in history, it’s worth noting that they’re used to being distracted, but that doesn’t mean we can allow them to think it’s okay to multitask and drive. GPS devices are better than a map, in that they don’t require constant monitoring. They just tell you where to turn. But if you use a map, you are most likely* going to pull over to check your route.
What about those touch screen navitainment systems? I’ve seen some that have large, bright on-screen buttons that are clearly labeled, but I’ve seen some (*cough* ACURA *cough*) that still look like First Gen tech, and besides being ugly, the menus are convoluted and nonsensical. Recipe for disaster.
So what do I really want from the new tech in cars? I want all controls to be either voice activated or on the wheel, so even if you are changing channels, you can swerve around that guy that “showed up out of nowhere.” Dealerships should spend at least 20 minutes training the purchaser with any tech in the car. And I think no one but me should be trusted to use it.
*I understand that there are many idiots that will hold a map over the steering wheel/windshield while driving. I consulted Darwin, and he said they’re working on it.