In last week’s article I just touched upon how cars were becoming more complicated, so this week let me continue with what I consider a mistake in current automotive thinking and design.
Take the simple steering wheel. Well, it used to be simple, although on the very early cars like the 1903 Model T Ford, the throttle and spark advance were mounted on the wheel hub. However, through most of its life, the steering wheel was just a round object that you held onto to steer the car. Now, many steering wheels have radio and cruise controls mounted on them. Quite a few high performance cars even have paddle shifters that are used as an automatic gearbox gear shifter. I’ve always found this feature to be rather silly and certainly difficult to get used to.
The first paddle shifters were created and designed to be used in Ferrari Formula One racing cars, among the most sophisticated in the world. If you’ve ever driven a racecar on a track at truly high racing speeds, perhaps you can understand why the paddle shifters make sense. With their convenient location on the steering wheel, when the wheel becomes alive with high cornering loads it’s a good idea to keep both hands on it, and off a remotely-placed gear shift lever. In a streetcar, it makes no sense. Plus, I personally get great pleasure from the tactile feel of using a foot clutch and snicking the gear lever through the gears.
What have they done to the common car key? With the new German cars, you stick the whole chubby key fob-looking thing into a slot and then press a start button. Most high-line Japanese cars have a credit card-like key that stays in your possession. The car senses when you are near, the doors automatically unlock, plus the car is ready to be started with a touch of the now de rigueur starter button. As in the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Some day, with these devices, you’re going to ask your car, “Open the pod door, Hal.” and nothing will happen. Please bring back the simple car key and screw these electronics whose longevity rely on a good battery, or else. By the way, that starter button is stupid and really old fashioned. It was fazed out decades ago, my 1946 Chevy pick-up had one.
Let’s make one thing clear now, cars have nothing in common with airplanes. The latest craze in aviation, that is also creeping into automobiles, is what is called a glass cockpit. Normal airplane gauges are being replaced by television screens giving flight information. Professional airplane pilots have long referred to flying as hours or boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror. Pilots, except when taking off and landing, do have time to look at the T.V. screens in their cockpits for information, and yes, flying is much safer than driving. Today, many cars have Global Positioning System navigation as well as touch screen controls, which are the most confusing devices ever to confront drivers. When a driver has to give more attention to the action going on inside his car rather than outside, this is a guaranteed recipe for an accident. Sadly, car manufacturers have always mimicked aviation trends. It’s a mistake. By the way, what do all the latest jets use as a backup for all these complicated T.V. systems in cockpits? In pilot jargon, they call them a few good old-fashioned “steam gauges.”
If you can call the following a driving complication, I do appreciate the many new XM radio stations, if you can ever scope out how to tune them in on your touch screen radio. You can finally hear good talk and music radio, commercial free, and enough comedians from the United States and Canada to turn your face red for a week.
Enjoy your summer driving in the Hamptons. Just watch the road and not the dashboard. [/expand]