Leave drivers to their own devices
It should come as no surprise that we at Motoring love driving. Driving, to us, is so much more than simply getting from A to B. When conditions allow and a great car meets a great road, driving becomes a life-affirming experience. Man and machine in perfect harmony, it's what makes us feel glad to be alive. And yet it would seem that certain manufacturers are intent on making driving about as involving as a ride on the Dubai Metro.
Let me explain. Last year I spent a week driving a new Caterham Seven sports car. The Seven, designed by the Lotus founder Colin Chapman in the 1950s, has barely changed in five decades. It's the simplest, purest way to experience driving. Creature comforts? Well, there are two seats, a steering wheel, a small windscreen and a strip of painted metal across the front of the cockpit that I think is supposed to make do as some sort of dashboard.
The roof is a flimsy canvas affair that requires a whole load of fiddling around to fit into place. The two doors are made out of, you guessed it, canvas and clear plastic and you can even drive it without the doors fitted. It probably sounds horrific to many of you but I had the time of my life in that thing and I dearly wish there was one in my garage. With a puny 1.6L Ford engine and weighing just 500kg, it performed like a race car. It's the complete antithesis of most modern performance cars and, for someone who adores driving, represents automotive nirvana.
Of course, I'm well aware that there's only a very limited market for this sort of thing but, taking things to the other extreme, do you want to own a car where you're no longer part of the equation?
Modern cars make decisions for us all the time and it's all rather worrying because the skill (some would even say art) of driving is being lost in the mists of time.
We're becoming robots with no reason to think for ourselves and, sooner than we might imagine, there will be no need for a driver at all.
Take the new Audi A6 as an example. If you ordered yours fully equipped with every possible optional extra, it would be able to do the following: keep in lane, maintain a set distance from the car in front, slam on the brakes for you and even reverse park after looking for a space big enough to squeeze itself into. And don't think it's just the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz that offer this techology - even Ford's new Focus has this kit available and it's slowly turning us into morons.
In theory you could reach a speed of, say, 120kph, set everything up, take your feet away from the pedals, hands off the wheel and have a sleep. In fact, the only thing preventing some car manufacturers from making all drivers redundant is the issue of liability. In essence, they won't take the rap if something fails and there's an accident.
I reckon that soon a car's front seats will be able to measure your BMI, work out if you need to lose weight and inform you how many calories you're permitted when you pull in at the next service station for a coffee.
If you need these devices, then do the decent thing, please, and get off the road. Driving is a responsibility and should require skill and a certain degree of effort. There's a place for technology, of course, but it is in danger of making bad drivers feel invincible. And we all know what can result from that.
But driving should also be something for us all to enjoy and that will stop when the machines take complete control. Mark my words, it won't be long.
Published: July 28, 2011 04:00 AM