Back when I was still in school it was easy to send a text under the table in maths to your mate who was getting taught English in the next classroom along. For the kids these days, it’s not so easy. So why is that? Have the teachers now got 20/20 vision? Are they stricter? No. Well maybe. But there’s a very simple, yet overlooked reason. The phones are now touchscreen, compared to the phones I used to use, which had physical buttons. You’re wondering what this has to do with motoring right now aren’t you? Well hold on. I’m getting there.
With physical buttons you can stroke your thumb across the keypad to find which buttons to press to write a text without looking down at your phone. You can’t do that with a touchscreen, and that’s what gives you away! You look down. You lose eye contact with the teacher and your attention is now solely focussed on the screen beneath the tabletop. Your teacher will notice, pray to God that it’s your phone you’re playing with under the table, and shout at you.
This brings me to my main point. Take an old Volvo 240. It’s a cold morning. There’s ice on the road and the condensation on the windscreen is becoming too thick to see through. No problem! You feel your way over the dash to the large, solid temperature lever, slam it onto a high temperature and click in the button to turn on the windscreen vents. All without lowering your gaze from the road and without alerting any passing bobby on a witch-hunt.
Let’s compare this to the new Tesla model X. The condensation is building up on the windscreen so what do you do? You look down at the touchscreen resembling a giant IPad and scroll through the menus. Sunroof? No, that’s not it. Automatically opening doors? No, keep going. Flux capacitor? Nope, just a bit further. Ah yes, windscreen defroster. You tap the screen and look up to find yourself half way across the channel heading towards Saint-Malo, France. And no, this time you cannot blame the Sat-Nav!
This is a major problem with modern cars. They have so many features that if each feature had a physical button, the interior would look not too dissimilar from the Starship Enterprise. You’d need Spock in the back arming the climate control and Kirk in the glove box on the Bluetooth.
Some car manufacturers have tried to remedy this problem by implementing voice recognition in their vehicles, and boy oh boy do us drivers (especially of the male variety) not appreciate a monotone woman telling us what to do. I have enough of arguing with inanimate objects when I try to put my cats out of an evening, let alone when my car sends me to Cockshot Close up in Brinkburn instead of switching to Radio 2. Although in hindsight the somewhat unsubtle swearing into the dash mounted microphone could have had something to do with that interpretation.
Things only get worse when you take into account head-up displays. Not only are car manufacturers trying to take your eyes off the road, but when you look back up they’ve blocked your vision with something like the speed limit of all things. Cars aren’t fighter jets. We like to think they are. But they’re not. Head-up displays? Pointless.
It’s amazing isn’t it? All this technology, all the money and all the research and we still have a flawed system. Yes, now our car interiors are much nicer to look at. They have carbon fibre and HD screens, and enough technology to give Bill Gates an erection. But the technology isn’t making us better drivers, and it’s certainly not making us safer drivers. It was safer when you could feel your way across the dash, like an old Nokia. But these days we just have to deal with it, look down at the screen, and lose eye contact with the road and other drivers and boom. You’ve got a policeman staring at you wondering what you’re playing with below the dashboard.