There are days when I think the best form of entertainment in town—since the movie theatre closed—is to get a window table at one of the local coffee shops on main street and watch some locals try parallel parking out front. I shouldn’t be too critical of anyone, though. Sometimes sliding a full-sized, four-door three-quarter ton into a parking spot that way can seem a little like docking an ocean-going freighter.
But these days, depending on which vehicle you drive, parallel parking is a skill most will only have to demonstrate during their driver’s licence test. Some of the current stock of new cars will just do it for you. A driver need only stop the car next to the parking spot, press a button, and the car’s autonomous driving feature does the rest. To ensure the entire manoeuvre is done safely, all you have to do is make sure you don’t slip on some ice when getting out the door after the car is parked.
That’s just one of several things drivers may no longer need know how to do in modern vehicles.
Anyone who needs to back up a vehicle with a trailer behind needn’t learn that particular skill either, if he or she is at the wheel of a Ford pickup equipped with the trailer back-up assist feature. Just turn a button on the dash in the direction the trailer should go, and the truck puts it there.
It seems to me that all these new features, while adding to the safety of vehicle design, are eroding our skills as drivers.
For example, a few decades after the introduction of ABS new drivers no longer seem have any idea what “threshold braking” is all about. In case you’re one that doesn’t know what I’m referring to, that’s the ability to press the brake pedal only hard enough to get standard brakes to maximize their stopping ability without locking up and skidding—which is exactly what ABS does.
We now need to know fewer and fewer techniques to be safe drivers. And that trend is continuing.
This week GM’s Cadillac division announced that the 2018 CT6 models will be available with Super Cruise, which will allow the cars to completely take over driving when cruising down a limited access highway. A driver just gets the car onto a freeway and points it in the right direction. The car takes over driving duties from there.
Of course, GM still wants there to be a driver in the seat, so the system becomes a lot like autopilot in an aircraft. The driver is still in command and responsible for what happens. The car even ensures drivers don’t get too complacent and focus their complete attention on their latte for too long, while ignoring what’s happening in front of the windshield. A camera monitors where the driver is looking and alerts him if there is a long period of inattention. If after repeated requests to pay attention a driver doesn’t respond, the car pulls over and stops. The OnStar system will even call 911 to get medical attention if the driver continues to be unresponsive.
I guess that makes it the automotive version of the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” thing.
Super Cruise uses LiDAR, cameras, sensors and GPS to keep the CT6 on course. GM says all the limited access highways in North America have been mapped so GPS can follow the routes.
Elsewhere, a couple of completely driverless car service trails are now going on in Major U.S. cities. If successful, they may eventually allow someone to call an Uber and find no driver in the car when it gets there. And if we keep abandoning driving skills to the technology in today’s vehicles, which are slowly taking over so many tasks for us, it’s a good thing we won’t need anyone behind the wheel in tomorrow’s cars, because no one will know what to do.