It's a safe world we live in. Or is it?
At the helm of Classic Car Club Manhattan for the past decade, I've watched the evolution of safety standards in our grocery getters. Parking sensors have mutated into HD cameras, mushy seats have morphed into racy buckets that give you a comforting hug before impact, cars stop for traffic all by themselves and it's damn near impossible to decapitate your dog while rolling up the window.
Last week, I was rocking around in a Mercedes Benz ML63 AMG. It's got active lane assist which means it'll keep you from careening off the road. I kept driving towards the shoulder of the road just to experience the hopped up mini Merc apply a dab of brake and steer me back into the lane. I didn't actually need the help, and thought whoever does shouldn't be driving, but it was impressive nonetheless.
With the rise of safety technology, I've noticed an equal and opposing decline in driving acumen. Drivers are now relying on electronic sensors rather than their own senses. As a driver in one of the world's most congested metropolises, I have what you can call heightened awareness. I know what's going on around me. Conspiracy theorists and the overly paranoid look like comatose victims by comparison. In the driver's seat, my head is a swivel. I use my own eyes and brain before turning to technology to confirm what I'm seeing.
Conversely, every day I see more people leaning on driving aids to get them home. Cameras are used exclusively to back up, crash avoidance sensors are used to ensure the next lane over is open and auto brakes are relied on to keep drivers from smashing into the car in front while texting in traffic.
This transition from responsibly operating a deadly machine brimming with coiled, kinetic energy to being a passenger in a quasi-autonomous automobile had me frightened for the future. It's a future when people just get into a car with no respect of its destructive potential or a developed driving talent and haphazardly merge onto the highway, already populated with me, my family or my beloved fellow Jalops.
I recently caught an ad for the Ford Fusion. It was a 30-second confirmation that the future I fear is upon us. I suspect the message Ford was attempting to convey was Ford's suite of safety doodads will step in and save you and your passengers in the case of an impending accident. But that's not what I took in. I saw people engaging in a montage of every day driving situations and doing them terribly.
There's the dad with his family in the car – he goes for the lane switch with no regard to traffic around him, only to be saved when Ford's BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) sensor comes on. There's also the woman already backing into traffic while asking "can I go?". Before she's able to kill a guy in a Fiesta, her Fusion slams on the brakes in the nick of time. The coup de grace comes when a mom, teaching her tween how to drive, bestows a parallel parking lesson on him in the form of Ford's Active Park Assist , which just does the task for him. The look on his face was amazement. The look on mine? Horror.
I'm all for driving aids and safety development. I'm also for operating a car properly and giving it the respect it deserves. Driving isn't a right, it's a privilege. It's also a skill that needs constant attention and refinement. On the same token, it's important that automotive manufacturers continue to progress safety standards, but they need to position them as background and a last ditch effort, not first line of defense.