Technology makes learn­ing to drive re­dun­dant

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - AUTOS - By David Grainger

IWAS driv­ing to work one morn­ing a few years ago when I de­cided to pull in to a drive-thru cof­fee shop. I or­dered a large reg­u­lar and once at the win­dow I grabbed it. That is when my trou­bles be­gan.

You see, I was driv­ing a 1941 Fargo one-ton stake bed truck and, be­lieve it or not, its de­sign­ers had made no pro­vi­sion for the con­sump­tion or se­cur­ing of a large cof­fee cup. I looked at the very flat metal floor and de­cided there was no way that the cup would stay up­right or in one place there, so I quickly placed the steam­ing cup be­tween my thighs and started to drive off.

Of course, I had to de­clutch and place the old girl in first, then swing the long shift lever to the dash. This re­sulted in the first rather painful spill. About 200 me­tres down the high­way and two shifts later, I had had enough and pulled over. I took a sip from the re­main­ing quar­ter of a cup and watched as the waves sub­sided in the small ocean of cof­fee that was mak­ing its way across the floor­boards in tidal fashion. I then dis­pensed with the last of the cof­fee in an of­fer­ing to Mother Earth at the shoul­der of the road.

I have never tried to multi-task in an old ve­hi­cle again as I know it is a fool’s er­rand. You see, old ve­hi­cles re­quired sev­eral things of their driv­ers. The first was a cer­tain level of skill. Old de­signs were quite un­for­giv­ing and if the clutch and shift were not played just right, a ter­ri­ble grind­ing noise would is­sue forth from be­low the floor­boards as ag­o­nized gears chipped and lost their teeth. A moment’s dis­trac­tion from steer­ing could also prove trou­ble­some, for when one glanced for­ward once more, the ve­hi­cle would have al­tered its di­rec­tion of travel and would be head­ing for the weeds or, worse, on­com­ing traf­fic. A pan­icked correction would start a process of physics where a loose assem­bly of parts (the ve­hi­cle in ques­tion) quickly cor­rected would set up a se­ries of har­monic os­cil­la­tions that would end in the choos­ing of a new ran­dom di­rec­tion of travel unas­sisted by the hu­man op­er­a­tor and from which few op­tions ex­isted save for the slam­ming on of the rather in­ef­fi­cient brak­ing sys­tems. In many cases, the ap­pli­ca­tion of emer­gency adrenalin-as­sisted brak­ing to an old me­chan­i­cal or early hy­draulic sys­tem would re­sult in the im­me­di­ate fail­ure of that sys­tem fol­lowed by a free­wheel­ing path to an­other brak­ing sys­tem such as a tree, ditch or fence line.

Old ve­hi­cles were in ef­fect in­tol­er­ant of mis­takes and any driver not want­ing to end up with a chrome knob imbed­ded in his or her fore­head or re­luc­tant to test the strength of the front wind­shield as a pas­sen­ger re­ten­tion de­vice planned ahead. Driv­ers paid at­ten­tion to on­com­ing traf­fic and ex­pected and re­ceived warn­ing of things such as turns and lane changes from the cars around them.

In re­turn, they semaphored oth­ers their in­ten­tions by also sig­nalling and plan­ning their ve­hic­u­lar move­ments. Any­one who flouted these sim­ple pre- cau­tions ended up a ca­su­alty, and even small ac­ci­dents in an old car were se­ri­ous. Pre-war cars lit­er­ally fell to pieces in an im­pact, while the post-war cars stayed more in­tact — but their oc­cu­pants fell to pieces, ripped to small in­signif­i­cant bits by the won­der­ful chrome trim, ra­dio knobs and stain­less steel dec­o­ra­tions on their metal dash­boards.

The mod­ern driver has no such wor­ries. Mod­ern cars do so many things for us we can drive them with­out any level of mea­sur­able skill. In fact, we do not re­ally need to spend much time think­ing about things other than how to change the colour of the disco dis­play on the mul­ti­plex TV/GPS/in­er­tial guid­ance/satel­lite-as­sisted res­tau­rant reser­va­tion sys­tem. There is no longer any need to sig­nal turns or lane changes. Let’s face it, the mas­sive ef­fort to move the sig­nal lever is just plain irk­some and can se­ri­ously af­fect your flout­ing of the anti-tex­ting, anti-phon­ing, an­ti­makeup-ap­ply­ing, anti-cof­fee-suck­ing­break­fast-eat­ing laws, thus spoil­ing your com­mute.

Be­sides, the cars around you all have anti-lock brakes, com­put­ers that mod­ify emer­gency lane changes, han­dling and sup­port sys­tems and warn­ing lights in their rear-view mir­rors and airbags. Most signs, such as stop signs and red lights, are at best just ad­vi­sory or at least a cun­ning method of ex­tort­ing money for the cof­fers of the lo­cal town coun­cil.

Given how easy our mod­ern cars are to drive and how they do so much for us, there re­ally is no need to learn how to drive.

— Postmedia News

1955 Ford F-100: Never multi-task in an old ve­hi­cle as it is a fool’s er­rand.

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