There was a time when in-car technology amounted to a heated rear windscreen at the back and a cassette player at the front. It now seems that the tech has almost taken over.
I recently hired a car which the delivery driver parked on the street near to my house. I’ve driven many different cars in my time and can soon get the hang of the controls of anything new I climb into. I therefore declined the customary offer of an introduction to the controls.
It was an automatic; but in place of where you would normally find the gear selector was a thing which looked like an electronic parking brake lever. But it wasn’t that. It had icons on it showing a ‘home’ button with ‘previous & next’ buttons alongside. So where was the gear selector? I’ve driven cars where you can move a lever through notches on the steering column to change gear, but this car had one small stalk either side which I presumed to be wipers on one side and indicators on the other. All the information was on an electronic display in front of me, but I didn’t have my reading glasses.
Ten minutes later I finally spotted R N D & P in small letters on the bottom right hand corner of the display. The P had a small arrow alongside suggesting that maybe I had to push something in? It turned out that the lever I had presumed to be the washer control was in fact the gear selector. There was nothing on the lever itself to suggest this however, but a small flick up or down of the lever showed on the display panel that I was in fact changing gear. Finally I was moving!
As soon as I started moving however, I realised that the digital speedometer was in kilometres per hour. It was impossible to work out how to change this on the move, so I had to park up again to investigate. My first thought was the car manual but the Glovebox was empty. Of course, it had to be an online manual didn’t it? I pressed the ? symbol on the control panel and after another couple of minutes I was driving in MPH.
Once out on the open road and cruising along, I wanted to reduce the radio volume a little. I am well used to steering wheel mounted controls for such things; and this Mercedes had plus and minus paddles on either side of the wheel. I clicked the minus pedal a couple of times, but rather than a decrease in volume there was a loud roar from the engine as the car went into sports mode. The paddles were a manual control for up and down gear changes!
I decided from then on to not touch any control the function of which I wasn’t 100% certain.
Previous to this hiring, I’d had a car which was very keen on warning me of all the surrounding hazards. Silly me… I thought that’s was eyes and ears where for. But no, this vehicle was determined to assist. Every time a pedestrian stepped near the kerb a little white icon flashed in front of me. Whenever a car came alongside it beeped alarmingly. Should I be so adventurous as to cross a white line to pass something the steering vibrated in my hands.
With this car I decided to park up, check the control panel, and turn everything off which wasn’t essential to driving normally.
Distraction or Help?
Technology is supposed to make driving easier and safer but to me, much of it is simply a distraction. If we spend so much time looking at digital displays which are flashing on and off in front of our eyes; how on earth can we be concentrating on what’s on the road ahead of us?
If I’m using my mirrors correctly, I know when a vehicle is coming up alongside me. If I get a warning sound which then makes me think it’s about to become a danger when it actually isn’t that close; then it’s just another distraction I don’t need.
I sometimes wonder if the ever increasing number of ‘aids’ such as these are simply a sales gimmick. A way for a the sales blurb to point how much more you’re getting for your money compared to a less gadgetised model sold by a competitor.
One thing I know for sure when I come to replace my 20 year old (but still very reliable machine), I’ll be doing my very best to find a car which I can actually drive, as opposed to one which tries to drive me.