This past Sunday, in light of rain that was forecast but never showed up, I ran into a friend of mine out on a test/joy ride in his 1990 Porsche 911. It’s the old school kind of Porsche with one of the last air-cooled engines hand assembled in Germany. In his free time, he fixes and maintains a collection of Porsches for both racing and pleasure purposes, and this one made a “clunk” sound that haunted him for months this winter. This was his first drive since performing some major repairs and he asked if I wanted to fo go for a spin, of course, I got in.
Upon getting in, I was greeted by the smell of oil. The 28-year-old bucket leather seats were still firm and hugged me when I sat down. Upon looking at the dash, I was reminded of how different the world was before the tech boom. There was no radio, it barely had air conditioning. It is a car you get in and drive because you like driving, and this car begged to be driven hard.
Later that day when my dad and I hopped in his new Subaru to run a quick errand. We hadn’t been more than a quarter mile when the car started to beep at me – “it’s letting you know you there someone in your blind spot” my dad said. Annoyed, I responded, “I know there’s someone in my blind spot”…I had seen them coming in my mirrors and could now see them out of the corner of my eye. It turns out it has several other “safety” features, it will slow down or stop if the car in front of you stops rapidly, it alerts you if you cross the double yellow line or drift on the highway, it knows the speed limit and alerts you if you exceed it. If you know me by now, you’ll know this drove me absolutely crazy.
There is no doubt that technology in cars has made the road a safer place to be and I am sure the features discussed above have saved many lives and prevented many accidents, however, it also makes me concerned. This level of tech makes it easier for one to check their phone, or be distracted while they drive. It takes away from the skills we are taught when we are 16 years old. Keep both hands on the wheel, check your blind spots, look at your mirrors, stay aware, anticipate. Next time you are in a car, play a game. Count how many people you see on their phones while their car is moving, I bet it’s at least one per minute.
Self-driving cars are absolutely the way of the future, and I am excited for that day to come. I don’t particularly like driving, especially long distances and I look forward to the day that I can kick back and enjoy the view or get work done while my autonomous car gets me where I need to be. While it’s clear that the tech in my dads Subaru is necessary to get us to that point, I am concerned that on our way there we are going to forget how to drive. Driving is a perishable skill, being aware of who is around you and anticipating what is going to happen is a skill that is developed over years of being on the road. The simple act of parallel parking is something that requires constant practice to do it quickly and well, and it’s now something that can be done autonomously.
The current tech being built into cars with the aim to make driving “safer and easier” is making us worse at driving. Today’s high tech cars make it easier for you to not pay attention. Rather than use the tech as a failsafe for the night you drive home super tired from class and drift into oncoming traffic, people utilize it as the first line of defense so they can check Instagram knowing that the car will tell them if they drift over the double yellow line. I think we can all do better. We can all make an effort to stay off our phones when we drive and to stay aware of our surroundings. If you have a car with those added safety features, use them as a secondary alert system, not a primary way to understand your surroundings. Tech designed to keep us safe fails, just look at Boeing. That Porsche is 28 years old and has never been in an accident. It has no fancy warning lights or sensors, its just a car that demands you give your undivided attention to the road.