I love my car. It’s battered, it has 163,000 miles on it, and it was built in 2006. It’s put up with minimal maintenance, a paper route, a drive across the country while carrying heavy loads, and done it all with minimal breakdowns. It’s a Hyundai Elantra with a standard transmission. Even as old as it is, it can still go from zero to sixty in six or seven seconds.
Driving around in my responsive little car, the windows open to the world, I notice big differences between my car and others around me. I see the newer cars, with their higher stances, their taller doors, their smaller windows, their wide doorposts. My car is fairly low to the ground with big windows. It makes situational awareness easy. There is no navigation system, just a radio/cd player, and that leads to far less distraction.
I drove a rental a couple years ago. It was some kind of compact Chevy. Driving it, I felt so insulated from the road. It was harder to see my blind spots, and the thick door posts were also difficult to see around. The high doors, caused by the side impact airbags, further reduced visibility. The suspension system made the road hard to feel. I felt insulated – which is good, if you aren’t hurtling down the road at forty five miles an hour in heavy traffic.
Ironically, “safety features” cause most of these problems. In fancier cars, there are also lane warning systems, backup alarms, camera systems, GPS of course, and many other distractions. There are also automatic braking systems. As much as I love technology, I don’t trust a computer to know when to brake better than I do, or know when I should or shouldn’t change lanes. Do I need an alarm beeping at me, when I’m already in a crisis? No, I don’t.
The more control a vehicle takes from you, the more dulled your skills become. The harder it is to see and hear the world around you, the less situationally aware you are. I’ve seen enough traffic accidents to know that improved situational awareness would save many lives every year. For example, knowing that I have somewhat bad eyesight, I purposely avoid distraction when driving – not using the phone or texting – to give me more brainpower to devote to looking around me. I have avoided so many accidents that way!
The key to being a good driver is improving your ability, not relying on a bunch of safety features that may or may not work. Modern cars often give up real safety in exchange for increasing the driver’s perception of safety. So if a government ever tries to force me into a modern vehicle with all the bells and whistles, then I’ll develop a sudden interest in historical pieces, or build my own!