Thursday, September 4, 2014

Continue To Operate The Vehicle

I'm sure this is apocryphal (and I'm too lazy to confirm/deny it via the Googles), but I recall a story about an emergency procedures manual for pilots that included the instruction "continue to fly the plane" with every step. The moral was supposed to be, no matter what, keep being pilot. The manual's there to help, but you have to keep flying the plane.

I can't help but think of that story every time I see a car commercial touting some new safety feature designed -- or so it seems -- to remove the driver's responsibility to drive the car. Look away to change the radio station or pick up your kid's toy? Don't worry. Your car has sensors that will detect an obstacle and automatically apply the brakes before you hit it. Backing out of your driveway and don't have a clear line of sight? Those same sensors will stop you before you back into the neighbor's dog. Changing lanes without checking your blind spot? No problem -- the car will see anything back there and gently steer you back to your lane. At every turn, the car manufacturers seem to be removing the burden of paying attention to our surroundings.

As a cyclist, I have mixed feelings about that. In my happy, shiny, perfect world, none of these gee-gaws would be necessary, because every driver would be operating at 100% "your driver's ed instructor is watching" attentiveness at all times. But in the real world, I see drivers doing everything but driving: answering the phone, sending a text (which is against the law in Iowa, by the way), applying makeup, having a snack, reaching into the back seat, you name it. Assuming the new gee-gaws are calibrated to see bicycles, then I'd rather have the car (and its computer brain) watching out for me, because the human brain that's supposed to be paying attention obviously isn't.

Lest we cyclists get all smug about technology removing the need to operate the vehicle, note this key passage from Lennard Zinn's VeloNews review of electronic mountain bike shifting:
"Another cool Di2 feature is that you can use a short cage rear derailleur and never worry about tearing it off in a big-to-big cross gear when shifting with too little blood going to your brain. Instead, you can keep that short derailleur and chain and program the system to never shift to a gear that the chain is not long enough to handle."

In other words, you don't have to know how to shift -- or how to properly size a chain. Just push the button and let the black box figure it out for you. I'd be lying if I said there's not a "gee whiz, that's neat" factor, but as for me, I'll keep my hands on the controls and trust the meat between my ears to land the plane, thanks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have mixed feelings about some of the proposed car automation for safety functions... but... motorists are killing themselves at a rate of roughly 30k per year. They really aren't smart enough to save their own butts, much less yours or mine. If the car radars can activate the brakes faster than that driver, I don't mind.

Do I favor the use of advanced electronics just because I'm an electrical engineer?? umm... I'd rather not answer that.

To show that I am balanced, I'd also like to see people have to pass a driving test every 5 years or so. That might make people actually think about what they are supposed to be doing when sitting behind that round thing and those little pedal things. In the meantime, I'm glad my bike has lights running day and night, and a mirror is mounted to my helmet.
-- insert smiley face here --

Steve in Peoria