Tom Elliott

TECH IS KILLING OUR ABILITY TO DRIVE

WHILE I ADMIRE ALL THE TECH-SPECCERY THATíS RAPIDLY APPEARING IN MODERN DAY CARS, I RECKON ITíS RUINING PEOPLEíS ABILITY TO DRIVE. TAKE MY RECENT EXPERIENCE WITH THE SELF-PARKING FEATURE ON A LARGE AND POPULAR LOCALLY MADE SEDAN.

When VicRoads was silly enough to award me a licence in 1985, the ability to parallel park was a key skill aspiring motorists were expected to master. These days, however, we leave the chore of manoeuvring into a tight spot to the madly beeping sensors, demon-possessed wheel and robotic brain of the modern car.

In my case, the system worked fine three times before it decided not to. The result? One heavily graunched kerbside wheel and a personal vow never to let the machines take over again.

Twin-clutch manual gearboxes masquerading as automatics are another pet hate of mine.

Not that long ago, oneís choice of transmission was simple: manual for those who enjoyed driving (or could only afford the poverty-pack Holden Belmont); auto for people to whom cars were just a means of conveyance.

These days many drivers choose the twin-clutch set-up, yet very few actually use the accompanying flappy paddles to shift gear. And when they do, they forget which ratio theyíve selected and cruise down the freeway at 104kmh in petrol-sucking third. Stick with slotting a lever into ĎDí if you just want to move forward with a minimum of fuss.

Dual-zone climate control also gets me worked up. How is cold air expressed by vents on one side of the cabin expected not to mingle with its warm equivalent on the other? Via force-field perhaps?

The unfulfilled promise of one small space enjoying several different climates causes fights between husbands (cool conditions preferred) and wives (whose inability to regulate body temperature requires external sources of heat). And in-car arguments arising from such technological over-promises must lead to accidents on the road.

Possibly the most dangerous device in modern vehicles is the so-called multimedia infotainment controller. Designed to replace the plethora of buttons and dials that once festooned dashboards, these all-purpose clickers make even the simple task of changing a radio station both difficult and time-consuming.

When the controls for sound, video, sat-nav, temperature, suspension setting, throttle mode, road condition, interior light intensity and seat massage are condensed into the automotive equivalent of a computer mouse, motorists understandably pay less intention to whatís happening around them. Instead, their eyes are glued to a menu screen that if it were part of a handheld smartphone would place said drivers in trouble with the police.

Years ago I had a Volvo with very few controls.

Its dash was dominated by just a handful of buttons for AM, FM, CD or tape, a big volume knob and a hot-to-cold dial for the air-con.

Yes, the Volvo was dull, probably as its designers intended. But was I ever distracted from the road by gadgets? Not on your life.

Simple and reliable is always best when it comes to cars.

My Volvo was dull, probably as its designers intended, but I was never distracted y p y g

Praise for HUD

ONE bit of new technology that makes sense is the Head Up Display.

Developed in the 1970s for fighter planes, HUD places vital information slap bang in the middle of a pilotís vision. This obviates the need for downward glances at instruments, saving valuable seconds in air combat.

HUDs in cars allow drivers to keep their eyes on the road while still monitoring speed. This helps reduce the frequency of financial contributions to the state budget. And because the windscreen space available for such projection is small, only the most important bits of data are included.

Automotive touchscreen designers take note.