There are a lot of people on here who claim that unless you drive a manual with no ABS or traction control, then you’re not a real driver at all. You’re just a ‘steering wheel monkey’.
Driver aids, so their thinking goes, are breeding a generation of motoring pumice stones, unable to absorb the sensations through which the true helmsperson expresses the artistry of driving; unable to take proper responsibility for driving the car and instead handing important decisions to someone in an R&D lab watched over by a safety nazi. But hang on a minute.
I wonder how many of them have driven a car without synchromesh. Go back a generation and you could find people who would decry this pitiable driver aid that allows you to change gear at the wrong time. That, in essence, is what synchromesh does. If you really understand your gearbox, and can commune fully with its cussed, whirling character, you should be able to drive around all day without using the clutch at all. Can you do this? No? Pussy.
That, of course, is assuming you know where the gears are in the first place. For a long time, they were outside, and even when they were inside, first might be where you think fourth should be, and the throttle could be the middle pedal. In a Ford model T, lifting what you imagine is the clutch might make you go backwards, although this depends on the position of what you assumed was the handbrake. So we’re pretty chuffed about the standardised layout of all the main controls. Bunch of thin yoghurts.
There are countless features on proper drivers’ cars that, at some point, would have been considered mere sops to the witless. The brake servo, for example, which is welcome if you’re the sort of snowflake who likes stopping in time. Brakes, in fact, since they weren’t always a given. What about the steering wheel? Early cars had tillers, like boats, but everyone soon saw the logic behind the analogue proportionality of the round thing. What a bunch of jessies.
Radial tyres? You must be a right wuss if you assume the rubber will grip the road rather than just fall off the rim. Headlights that give a focussed beam of white light rather than the diffused jar-of-piss tint seen in old photographs? What on earth is wrong with everyone? A roof for when it rains? We really are a lot of soft shites. Ignition advance? Differentials? Electric starters? Engine-driven oil pumps? I’m amazed we can still dress ourselves.
My point is thus: whether or not a refinement is an intrusive driver aid or simply an integral part of what a car is assumed to be depends on where you stand in the timespan of history. We happen to be in the present, and the process isn’t complete yet.
I know we’re all living in fear of the rise of the driverless car, and automated systems are coming thick and fast. But let me assure you of this. For the foreseeable future, aeroplanes will be flown by pilots, and cars will be driven by drivers.
By ‘drivers’, incidentally, I mean you.