At what point do you decide that technology has gone too far?
For me it was a few days ago when I played chicken with a large polystyrene block. When I decided that the big block was too stupid to duck out of the way, I skilfully turned the wheel and avoided a blizzard of white plastic. In fact, this was all happening on a test track and I was driving a super-intelligent new Honda CR-V which drew my attention to the impending collision with a series of buzzes, nudges and dabs on the brakes.
Obviously I didn’t need the car to tell me there was trouble ahead, I could see that for myself. I was playing a game. Pretending to be a school run mum dealing with the terrible triplets fighting in the rear seats. Or a motorway rep mid-Mars bar, searching his pockets for a trilling mobile phone. Here, in intelligent collision mitigation, we have a gadget designed for those time poor people who really can’t be bothered to treat driving as a serious business.
Full credit to Honda and the other manufacturers who are spending millions on developing this new tech. And I don’t doubt that collision mitigation may well prevent some truly terrible accidents. But I also couldn’t help thinking that cars are increasingly being designed around the lowest common denominator – the need to protect the really stupid from themselves.
The truth is that driving a car requires our full attention. Waiting for the car to tug on your seatbelt so that you look back at the road means that you really shouldn’t have a licence, ever. That’s why older cars are such wonderful things. Most cars before 1990 require you to concentrate, 1980s stuff is alarmingly lively, 1970s motors are barely drivable, 1960s impossibly noisy and crude whilst 1950s ones are little better than Fred Flintstone’s feet-through-the-floor special.
Yet our parents and grandparents drove hundreds of thousands of miles in those prehistoric times, unseatbelted and without the benefit of ABS, traction control or multiple airbags. Indeed, in many cases, without even radial tyres, heated rear windows or even disc brakes. They weren’t stupid – and neither are we. And we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be treated as if we are.