The Force Be With You
It’s not what you use, but the way that you use it
“Please drive forward – Space selected – Please stop – Engage reverse – Release brake slowly – Remove hands from the steering wheel………” You shut your eyes and hope that the force is with you, that you won’t end up removing bumpers, paintwork and your No Claims Bonus!
Park assist, automatic parking, whatever you want to call it, is available on everything from small family cars through to the Ford Transit van! It’s yet another step in the giant overcomplicated leap to autonomous vehicledom. An array of sensors around the car are used to measure gaps and objects in order to perform this “freaky function”, as described my tech savvy 13-year-old daughter. A statement that was rapidly followed by: “Why is that fitted? If you can’t park your car, why are you driving it?”. She has a very valid point (and also a lot of my genes!). Why would you want this function on your vehicle? And if a sensor should fail, leaving the function and other automotive ‘dark arts’ features totally incapacitated, blinging you with dashboard warning lights and symbols you don’t understand, along with a beeping soundtrack, what would you do?
The Dark Side
Parking has long been a bugbear of many learners, and their instructors. Yes, it can be a tricky skill to master, and the evidence of this is obvious every time you enter a public car park, or wait as someone attempts a parallel park in the road. However, it’s an important driving skill to master, not just for the sake of parking, but for understanding spacial awareness behind the wheel, clutch and accelerator control, and general driver awareness skills. Have things changed so much from when I learnt to drive all those years ago, when an automatic choke was considered state of the art?!
Over the last few months I have questioned the need for these features, but more importantly, I have tried to highlight the need for all learners to learn the basics so that they can understand, and do not rely solely on, automation. We need to help all drivers to be able to utilise new tech safely and effectively, whomever the manufacturer and whatever the design. A luddite dinosaur I may be, but I can see some benefits to these systems, but only after the groundwork has been put
in place first.
These little parking sensors can be really helpful when you’re parking properly in ‘human mode’. For example, my car is a long estate and often full of musical equipment blocking out the rear view, so I’m eternally thankful for my rear parking sensors, but I am never 100% reliant on them. For a start, calibration varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, and inevitably, at some point, the sensor will fail and that brick wall does not have a soft side. Sensors evolution has led to the creation of ‘blind spot monitoring’ systems that warn drivers that something is lurking over their shoulder. Again, you could argue that simply doing a ‘lifesaver’ look (to use a biking term) would prevent the R&D and manufacturing costs, but we all know how the world works; humans are lazy, so driver aids are popular and marketable. The positive flip side is that small light that catches your eye and forces you to look into your mirrors and acknowledge the presence of another vehicle. That has to be a good thing surely? Getting the basics instilled in the learner driver to automatically perform that shoulder check is essential, not just for when driving a vehicle without automated monitoring, but also because the more eyes, real and automated, the better.
The same is true of Lane Keep Assist (LKA) functions (breathe, count to 10, if you can’t drive between two white lines, WTF…). While it can prevent an errant driver changing lanes in a dangerous fashion, the worry is that people will become heavily reliant on these and then another little chunk of human awareness, involvement and interaction with other sentient life forms disappears.
Return of the Jedi
So where do we go with all of this ‘stuff’? We ignore them at our peril. It is paramount that everything is acknowledged, explained and demonstrated, if possible, using your tuition vehicle. However, establishing the basic skills of driving come first and foremost, the explanation of the evolving automation features is the icing on top, making it all work in the context of our times. As Obi-wan said: “May the force be with you, always”. Trust your abilities to teach the core skills, they are the light that provides the truth of understanding to make sense of the road of automation that unfolds in front of us, giving all drivers the power to fight the dark forces of poor, dangerous and ignorant driving.