Gary Brown: What happened to the casual Sunday ‘drive’?
Why do we still have to get a driver’s license if we really don’t do the driving anymore?
We’ve all heard about the Ford cars that parallel park themselves with “active park assist” and the Toyota vehicles that do the same thing with “intelligent parking assist.” Other smart cars sold by Lexus and Volkswagen provide similar assistance with getting our cars into parking places.
It seems almost like cheating if you don’t have to get out of the car after parking, inspect the distance you still are from the curb, and hear some sarcastic passenger ask, “Think you could leave it any farther out of your pit stop position, Mario? ...”
As a teenager, I might have gotten my driver’s license on my first try if the big Plymouth station wagon my dad drove — that I had the misfortune of taking my driving test in — had parked itself. Instead, I simply tried backing into the space, got halfway home and hit something — curb or car, what’s the difference at that point? — and pulled back out into traffic without technically looking. As I recall, the guy administering the test patiently instructed me to “STOP!” He might have dug his fingernails into the dashboard and rammed his foot down against the floor on the passenger side in a futile display of sympathetic braking.
I remember glancing toward the back seat at my father, but he was shaking his head in his hand in the manner of a parent whose family car really needed to get a whole lot smarter.
Motor vehicles really have come a long way since the 1960s, when the two major advances were push-button automatic shifting — Dad told us that when you pushed the button some little guy inside shifted gears — and that knob you screwed on the steering wheel so you could turn with one hand.
Neither one of those come standard today.
Cruise control was one early drive-itself device that caught on and stuck around. It is convenient and comfortable not to have to continually keep a foot on the gas pedal, although there might have been a couple of early mishaps for people who didn’t understand that cruise control was not auto-pilot, so they had to keep a hand or two on the steering wheel.
“It was steering itself for awhile there on the straight-away, and then it sort of followed the direction of the ditch ...”
The point is, we’re having to do less and less as our cars do more.
Door unlocking devices on our keychains allow us to get into our vehicles without turning the keys, and keyless entry push pads eliminate the need to even carry keys.
Sensing units note that we’re backing into something — why bother with the rear-view mirror anymore — and sound an alarm or even make the car stop.
GPS units get us to an address without even thinking about where we’re going, as long as we’re willing to listen to some pleasant-enough but demanding computerized voice that keeps telling us to turn right here and turn left there and won’t shut up until we find out we are “arriving at destination.”
Headlights turn on automatically and shut off by themselves when we get out of our cars at the end of the trip.
Personally, I think it’s all taken the fun out of the casual Sunday drive, the purpose of which was to get out and actually do something — even if that meant backing over the bicycle that some young son left in the driveway.