Cars, Tech & The Future

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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 comments

  1. dancreedon4 · ·

    I like how you framed your final wrap-up blog with a story. While I now can’t find the link, I read an article today on how firefighters must now be equipped with information on where airbags and battery cells are located in these newer high-tech and hybrid vehicles. Makes for a very dangerous situation for the firefighter and passenger if they are using the jaws of life and accidentally cut into side airbags or battery cells. Just adds precious time to the rescue process. Definitely agree the new tech in cars have made drivers lazy and more incompetent than ever.

  2. cgriffith418 · ·

    When I learned to drive, my parents would not let me practice on the car with a back-up mirror because they wanted me to be a competent driver without all the gadgets. I’m also sure dad is one of few customers who refuses to buy a car with a touch-screen center console for fear of distraction. But you’re right, we’re in a dangerous pre-autonomous vehicle limbo where we have enough tech that we barely know how to drive, but not enough tech to not have to drive. I’m sure this same gap, tech-enabled to the point of learning regression, but not fully tech-dependent to the point that learning regression doesn’t matter, applies to other areas of technology as well. Maybe medicine? I’m not sure, but it’s definitely an important issue to keep an eye on.

  3. masonpeterman · ·

    This is an interesting take, and while I agree that addition of technological driving assisting features has allowed us in some way to depart from traditional and safe driving techniques, I don’t think by nature these additions are a bad thing. While they may allow us to be more passive in our driving, these features do nothing bt bring attention to dangerous situations that driving presents. If anything I think this is a response to the issues brought about by the rise of smartphones and technology, I think that if not for these features the roads would be even more dangerous of a place right now. It seems to me like it’s an adjustment to modern times, we have the ability to provide these safety features and even if they weren’t there I can’t see people refraining from spending time on their phones. Regardless, really interesting post, great job!

  4. Very really perspective and very much appreciated. I think you make some valid points about using tech as an emergency fail-safe rather than a first line of defense, but I also think that all of these lines of defense are a necessary addition to these new cars. My generation and those following mine are (I’ll agree with you here) wayyyy to dependent and innately trusting of technology, but that’s only because we’ve been born with it in our hands. Like I said in my post we definitely should remain skeptical of tech. I agree, if you’re driving a Porsche you shouldn’t be on your phone.

  5. kgcorrigan · ·

    I am so happy I learned how to drive (and parallel park) before a lot of this technology was introduced! While many of these features are helpful and I’m sure prevent a lot of accidents, I worry that we will become too dependent on automation. I agree that these features should be used for backup safety rather than taking the place of your own senses. This might be a stretch, but I wonder if drivers ed classes look any different now in terms of adding education on hands-free driving, or if they just stick with the fundamentals.

  6. huang91j · ·

    We all need to pay attention in life and on the road. Reading this made me think about a huge accident that happened on i90 earlier this week where a semi truck trailer driver passed away due to it flipping over. There is no doubt that technology will make vehicles safer with each new model and iteration, but ultimately it comes down to how attentive and alert a driver is to get from point A to B safely. This is much like our class this semester, we get out what we put in and it’s up to us to make an impact in whatever we do next, with an attentive manner.

  7. kateu19 · ·

    Great post – this is something that I worry about too. Before moving to Boston, I hadn’t driven a car on a regular basis in six years. When I came up here, I got a Subaru, and my one requirement was that whatever car I got had to have a back-up camera. I’ve gone from a high school student who could parallel park on the right and left hand sides, to someone who can’t parallel park without a back-up camera. If I’m any indication of how the younger generation is responding to the technological advances in cars, I shudder to think about older people on the road, especially those people who maybe shouldn’t be behind the wheel anymore.

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