Driven to Distraction



Have you had a go in one of these self-parking cars yet? You should, it’s quite amazing. It selects a suitable parking space for you and all you do is press the accelerator and brake whilst the car steers itself into the gap. How good is that?


Self-drive cars aren’t with us yet but they’re certainly getting closer.


Automotive electronic technology is clearly moving ahead apace, but I do have one or two reservations however, particularly where the technology is being used to help you drive the car.


I also have some friends and colleagues who, after showing off their shiny new motors have expressed unease with some of these systems. (So it’s not just me.)


Let me give you some examples.


Cruise control. In todays’ heavy traffic I prefer systems (like the BMW one) which feature an infinitely variable switch. This means you can drive the car using the cruise control, unlike say the Mercedes system which changes by a pre-set amount.


However, active cruise control varies when it senses a car in front. Useful you may think. However, say you are in the middle lane when the guy on your inside pulls out. You move to the outside lane but the cruise control has picked up the car which has pulled out and gets confused, leaving you in the outside lane at 65 mph and slowing down.


Lane assist, which warns you when you stray out of your lane. Handy if you tend to fall asleep on motorways, (but you shouldn’t really do that should you?) It is very annoying on country lanes though.


Stop-start. I hate this. You are waiting to pull out of a side road in rush hour. You see a gap. You hit the gas. The engine starts. The car begins to move. The turbo starts to spool up. You chug across the road. This all takes a couple of seconds but your gap has moved on – so now your mirror is full of Mr Angry (with some justification) in a Transit with his brakes hard on.


Collision avoidance. This applies the brakes in an emergency if you happen to forget. True story follows. So, my colleague is proceeding along a busy motorway at around seventy. He reaches a spot where two motorways merge. The guy on his inside has misjudged his approach and desperately wants to ‘nip in’. Our hero backs off a tad to give the chap a chance. Said chap slots in gratefully – no problem there then. But the collision avoidance system does not see things in the same way. Oh no. It goes straight to Defcon 9, and performs an emergency stop in the middle of a busy motorway from 70 mph. Oh yeah!


Of course you can turn the systems off when it suits, but I don’t want to drive along turning things on and off depending on road conditions etc. That just makes driving harder not easier.


I’m all for technology which helps you do a better job of driving, but most of this stuff seems to be there as a sort of get out of trouble app. for people who can’t be bothered to drive properly.


So now, when I get into an unfamiliar car (or a familiar one for that matter,) the first thing I have to remember to do is turn off all this stuff before I set off so it doesn’t take me by surprise half a mile down the road.