On “Convenience” Features

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When I was a young boy of about eight, my grandmother would take me to the grocery store in her 1969 Ford Thunderbird. It was dark blue with a white vinyl top, white interior, 390 V8 engine and an automatic transmission. It would have been five years old when I was eight. Each week, she would give me a quarter so I could buy whatever I liked – a comic book, gum, candy or the cheap toy whose lifespan was shorter than a mayfly. I would then return to her car to enjoy whatever twenty-five cent treasure I found. One Saturday after returning to her car, I tired of the newly purchased item and decided to explore the car. I looked in the glove box and saw a button. “Hmm. I wonder what this does.” As any normal eight year old boy or girl would do, I pushed this newly discovered button. Much to my amazement, the trunk popped open. This blew my mind. When Grandma returned to the car, I said “Hey, Grandma, did you know this little button in the glove box opens the trunk?” She had no idea. She had owned the car for five years and did not know there was a button inside the car that opened the trunk. For years after this, whenever I found myself in a vehicle for the first time, I would open the glove box to look for this button.

Much like Grandma, I believe there are many options on the cars that I drive of which I am unaware or that I will never use.

  • The navigation system

Unless you are Bill Murray and purchase your car on Groundhog Day, the nav system is obsolete the day after you drive away from the dealer. Roads change, two-way streets become one-way streets and technology in general improves. My 2007 Expedition has no idea that I can exit 405 on the left. It doesn’t know that it should avoid I-5 because of an accident. Do you know what keeps up with all of this new technology? My phone. Its navigation app knows when a street has been closed, it knows where a LEO is collecting taxes and it knows the fastest route. The nav in my Expedition likely believes the best route from Idaho to Oregon City is the Oregon Trail, whereas Waze would find a worm hole that would shave 10 hours off your trip.

  • The back up camera

I’ve never had a car with a back up camera as my daily driver. My wife’s Audi Q5 has a back up camera equipped with radar, or some technology, that beeps when it feels like you are going to run into something. The problem is that this radar is paranoid and always believes you are going to hit something (which, by the way, is much how I feel as a passenger). If I backed up in the Utah Salt Flats, with the nearest solid object 40 miles away, it would beep in fear that if I kept up at this pace, we would hit a mountain in eight hours.

My whole driving life, I’ve backed up by putting my right hand on the passenger seat, turning around and looking out the back window to see any obstacles. Looking forward to watch the camera while backing up seems like the most unnatural thing one can do in a car. When I drive the Q5, my wife warns me that objects show on the screen are closer than they appear (this is much more poetic, by the way, when it applies to the mirror). The car’s camera makes the post behind me look as though it’s five feet away, when in reality it’s six inches off my back bumper. That’s a handy feature.

This past summer, there were incidents of people remotely hacking into cars. What if some enemy state hacks my camera so it looks as though the coast is clear when, in reality, a box of puppies is three feet behind the Michelins? Do you know what these miscreants can’t hack? My eyeballs. I will rely on my own vision, thank you.

  • That “OMG you’re going to hit something, I’m slamming on the brakes” function

Our Audi Q5 (I do like this car, by the way) decides by itself when it needs to brake. This typically happens when the car in front of the Audi slows and gets in the left turn lane and the Audi passes it. The Audi assumes that we are going to follow that car and ram it in a fit of road rage, because they have a sticker in their window endorsing the Oregon Ducks, vegetarianism or some other such evil. The car slams on the brakes for a split second before it realizes that we weren’t actually following that car. Then it releases the brakes. Audi should program the car to apologize for this.

I don’t trust a car that takes control of my brakes against my wishes. One day it’s braking when I don’t want it to and the next day it’s refusing to open the pod bay doors.

  • Cruise control

Cruise control has been around since 1958, when Chrysler introduced this feature with their Imperial. One could argue that it was the first step toward an autonomous car. I would argue it’s the first step toward a geriatric existence. I’ve driven 800 miles on an interstate in one day without once engaging cruise control. I hate the feeling of letting off the throttle and having the car accelerate on its own. This is why I’m a terrible car passenger – I need to be in control when I’m in a vehicle. I want to decide when the car accelerates, how fast it accelerates, where it should cruise.

  • Blind spot warning

When I took driving school in high school, they taught us to keep track of where cars were. They demonstrated where the blind spot was and our instructor made us learn how to turn our head to see if a car is in that spot. It has worked well for me for over thirty years, but now they’ve trained cars to look in my blind spot. When it warns me that a car is in my blind spot, I want to pull over and snap off a text to the engineer who designed this feature that I could have told him two minutes ago that this car was going to be in my blind spot. I believe the blind spot warning teaches drivers to be lazy and rely on technology to do their work instead of developing the instincts necessary to be a safe driver.

I’m a fairly skilled driver who likes to rely on his own ability to drive a car. There are technologies and creature comforts of which I am a huge fan. Those listed above? Please spare me.

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