When I was a kid I watched a TV show about a guy from about a hundred years past who was (I forget how) resurrected in modern times. There were lots of madcap moments as he tried to figure out them newfangled gadgets. Think Cave Man with better hair. Even now I often try to imagine having a passenger in my car who has never seen an automobile before. Seventy miles per hour, another car coming just as fast in the opposite direction, crash-course paths only three feet and one yellow line apart—and a dotted line at that. He’d have a heart attack. It’d be fun to hear his screams.
There is a weird “Y” intersection in my neighborhood where traffic comes right at you, then veers at the last moment to the opposing lane. It’s quite unsettling if you’re not used to it, but you learn to trust they’ll go where they belong. My visiting California brother actually squeaked out loud as we drove through it. (Girly screams run in my family.) As usual, he presumed he was the only one smart enough to know we were about to die.
Hurtling around in a two-ton steel fist is an intricate dance. But at some point we have decided it’s really not that hard, not that important. It has become an autonomic behavior, like breathing or nose picking. While driving, we catch up on phone calls while eating lunch, swap out CDs, and apply eyeliner. (And for reasons I can’t figure out, we pick our nose.) Just today I was nearly run over by a man who wouldn’t put his phone down long enough to operate his turn signal. An easy sacrifice for him since he was driving a huge truck, but still, my body might have gummed up his brakes or something. Part of his problem was trying to keep his phone sandwiched to his ear, for as he passed I could see he had no neck.
Driver’s Ed costs about $75. But people pass over that to buy a $2000 option that tells you, in one of five selectable voices, that you are following too closely or fading off the road. Of course you can just be nagged by your spouse, but spouses cost way more, only come in one voice, and you have to bring them along. So there’s that.
I know of at least two cars that park themselves, saving you the fifteen minutes of practice it takes to learn it yourself.
Buy the Mobileye AWS-4000 for only $2,200. If you drift out of your lane without signaling, you’ll earn a “Lane Departure Warning.” That sounds nicer than “Threat To Society Warning,” doesn’t it? A windshield camera looks forward for you, and a night-vision feature tells you what you’re about to plow into in the dark, a very serious issue that in the past had to be dealt with by slowing down. I even like the name “Mobileye,” because it implies that at least somebody is looking where you’re going. Heads-up, it doesn’t work in fog or ice. It tells you that it’s shutting off. Probably something like, “Dude, even I can’t bear to watch you drive now.”
If it senses an airbag deployment, a voice says, “Perhaps it’s time for you to hang up the phone.”
My favorite new technology: BMW offers a steering wheel that shakes if it senses danger. It doesn’t correct anything—it just tells you that even your own car is scared of you.
On my wish list is a voice alarm that points out, “Those white stripes directly under you? Crosswalk.” And an alarm that warns you to look up from your McLunch long enough to notice that—yo!—the light is green.