- This is the death of driving, and not because of the electric powertrain. (image: arstechnica.com)

Fight the real enemy

The threat to automotive enthusiasts isn't electrification. It's autonomy, and the bad driving behind the push towards it.

8w ago

There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over EVs, here and elsewhere, about electric vehicles being the death of motoring. EVs aren't "real cars," electric conversions of classic cars are a "sin" or at best a "necessary evil," and on and on. Dodge announced that they will stop production of supercharged Hemis in favor of an electric powertrain, and the world is ending. The CEO received death threats. Over an engine.

Get over it. We have bigger fish to fry.

Think this is blasphemous? At least you can drive it. In fact, you have to. (image found on Pinterest)

Think this is blasphemous? At least you can drive it. In fact, you have to. (image found on Pinterest)

There is a real threat to automotive enthusiasm, and it is in fact coming from Tesla and others, but it isn't under the hood; it's behind the wheel. More precisely, it's the car taking away control of the vehicle from the person behind the wheel.

A better tomorrow, by making drivers worse

Modern cars have tire-pressure monitors. Why? Because actually sticking a gauge on the tires once a week is too demanding for most people, and driving around with low tires is dangerous. They have lane-keeping assist and emergency braking, because far too many "drivers" can't be bothered to actually drive. And apparently, a lot of them don't want to; they'd rather play a game or scroll through Instagram or whatever else it is non-car-people fill their time with. Hence, the push for autonomous vehicles.

It all makes us "safer," we're told, along with a small arsenal of airbags tucked into every corner of a tank-like structure with gun-slit windows and an array of cameras to make up for the lack of visibility. That way, you can drive badly, and the car will save you, either by avoiding the collision you should have been watching out for, or by coddling you in a cushioned steel cage, so you live to drive badly another day.

Crashing isn't "safe," ergo, crashworthiness isn't safety. (image: Forbes)

Crashing isn't "safe," ergo, crashworthiness isn't safety. (image: Forbes)

And what about all those nannies, beeping at you or yanking the steering wheel back into your own lane or stomping on the brakes? Isn't there a natural temptation to begin to rely on such devices? We already cede control of so many aspects of our lives to automated systems; what's one more? And the more you start to rely on the nannies to keep you in line, the less attention you pay, and so on. And the more the nannies have to intervene, the better the case for them, and for removing the driver's role altogether. It's not hard to imagine a future where, like slowly boiling a frog, the ability to drive a car for yourself is incrementally taken away by automated systems and the accompanying legislation. Before we know it, we're passengers, our beloved Ferraris and Camaros and Supras and whatnot relegated to museums, no matter what's under their hoods, because they are no longer road-legal.

What is it you love?

If you love cars, chances are you love driving. Unless you're either too young to have learned or too old to do it safely, your love of automobiles is undoubtedly a dynamic pursuit. After all, a Lamborghini Countach is a beautiful thing to look at, but unless you're enjoying the ever-changing view through its windshield, it is just a pointless static object. Cars exist to be driven.

Well, are you gonna sit there staring at it all day, or hop in and go for a drive? (image: classic.com)

Well, are you gonna sit there staring at it all day, or hop in and go for a drive? (image: classic.com)

It's up to us, I think, to rage against the dying of the stoplight. To continue to show our love of cars in the only way that makes any sense: driving them. But we need to do so in a way that shows that we deserve them, that we respect them, that no one need worry that we know what we're doing with them.

There are, I think, three guidleines:

1. Pay attention to the road, and only the road.

Take a close look around the next time you're stopped in traffic. Look at what the other drivers are doing. Odds are at least a few of them are looking down at their phones, or futzing with some screen on the dash. The light changes green, they dawdle, get honked at, go on their merry way, having learned nothing. They sneak one last peek at the phone, to see if Jessica responded to Kyle's "LOL" on Sally's photo, and barely avoid crashing into someone. Or don't avoid it.

Don't be like them. Put your fucking phone away.

In fact, sometimes, put everything away. Turn the radio off. Hands at ten and two. Check your mirror every few seconds, like you were taught in driver's ed (remember that?). Focus on the car, the road, the feel of the controls, the sounds and sights and smells of the act of driving. You should be able to tell someone who asks what the last road sign you passed, and what kind of car is behind you, without having to check, because you already checked five seconds ago and it's the same RAV4 that has been behind you since you crossed Main Street. You should know what's going on around you at all times. That's what makes you different from them.

2. Get good. Really, really good.

There are nine words we all need to have burned into our brains: "You're not as good as you think you are." Every drive, every intersection, every curve, every parallel-parking job, every upshift and downshift is an opportunity to become a better driver. You can always improve.

Take some time to practice driving smoothly. Avoid quick takeoffs, sudden jerks of the wheel, and hard stops. Do most of your braking well before you get to the intersection. Hold your line, and keep your car dead-centered in its lane, no matter what the road does, even if it means slowing down a little bit. Prove, definitively and beyond any doubt, that you are a superior driver to any machine. Because you are, no matter what the Tesla stans think.

And you know what? Getting better at driving is the best way to get faster, if that's your aim. The hard simple truth is that you cannot properly drive a fast car until you have mastered a slow one. And you cannot go faster in any car without first learning how to be precise. Much like learning how to play a musical instrument, you can't improvise until you learn the scales by heart.

3. Don't drive like an asshole.

Seriously. Come on. This should be self-evident. The more Fast N Furious wannabes we have buzzing through traffic at crazy velocities with inches to spare, the more intersections get blocked so some jackass can do donuts, the more reckless accidents that happen at the exits to car events, the worse we all look.

If you love something, you want to be an ambassador for it, not an argument against it. Driving fast is fine; tailgating someone at 75 mph because they won't move over for you is not. Especially in something that is obviously a "high performance" car. Be better than that. Show, by your actions, that driving is a joyous activity, something to be aspired to, a celebration of human achievement and individual agency in a world that is so often full of disappointment and helplessness. Make other people want to get better at driving so they can have as much fun as you; don't make them want to take your car away.

Never forget what it is that's at stake. (image found on tumblr)

Never forget what it is that's at stake. (image found on tumblr)

There are, in fact, forces aligning against this little obsession of ours. And those forces don't want us to drive, because they don't like to drive. The only way we can fight back is to keep driving, as well as we can, whenever we can, whatever we can, powered by whatever motive force we can, for as long as we can.

That's what matters.

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Comments (23)

  • Both electrification and autonomy are silly ideas

      1 month ago
  • the premise of the article is correct. Auto-pilots are the enemy, EVs are just cars.

    The argument though is naïve at best. All human drivers are "bad". Humans are inherently fallible. Some more so than others, but all humans make mistakes.

    We're bad at doing a thing 100% correctly 1 million times. Our attention strays if there's nothing new happening - and during a long drive there isn't.

    Humans are terrible at going from Green to Red state in a fraction of a second. But that's exactly what's required when you have been driving on a highway for hours and something suddenly happens. Our very nerves require a warm-up and pass signals slower when "cold". Every athlete knows that.

    Humans and tech can compliment each other nicely. Humans are great at making complex decisions, and tech is great at providing undivided attention every millisecond of every minute of every hour and not getting tired.

    There's nothing wrong with lane departure warnings - when *done well*, they don't buzz unnecessarily, but can wake you up before you crash.

    There's nothing wrong with emergency breaking - it can be quicker than human's reaction - as there's nothing wrong with airbags and seatbelts.

    Lidars and infra-red can see where human eyes can not.

    The solution is not to ditch tech and magically make everybody into a "good" driver. The solution is to make the tech a guardian angel instead of an auto-pilot. Toyota is taking this approach, and I wish them the same success as Volvo had with their safety features back in the day.

      1 month ago
  • Honestly, the problem is government. Governments give subsidies to the EV industry, which makes more companies pursue electrification, regardless of whether there are better fueling alternatives (ahem, hydrogen). They also use subtle ways of getting people off gas. I myself got rid of a car simply because I couldn’t afford a biturbo V6 when gas is $4.19/gal. Biden could easily lower gas prices by tapping into our stockpile, but won’t because it will shoot the Build Back Better bill (remember, this was drafted by climate minded progressives) straight out of contention.

    As usual, government has made a mess they cannot clean up.

      1 month ago
  • Beautiful article, if autonomy were allowed to progress at some point actually driving a car will simply become a past time of the rich.

      1 month ago
    • worse, for autonomy to actually work driving a car would have to become illegal to eliminate human variables.

        1 month ago
    • Autonomy is bad. As shown by your reliance on spell check.

      'past time' should read pass time in that context.

        1 month ago
  • I hate both. But really, they're connected. An EV is a big computer, so no matter what you can't make it analog. There will be autonomy if there's EVs.

      1 month ago