Fewer and fewer new cars come with three pedals and a stick. While the ones still out there with manual transmissions are more and more difficult to find, they are also more difficult to sell as a used car. I have come across several folks coming into the 924/924S/944 community that are actually looking for an automatic variation of our cars! Wow. Not something that I recommend.
Not wanting to shift isn’t as big a deal as it used to be since the new “automatic” transmissions are really pretty good. They shift faster and more efficiently than we can, are better with fuel economy and many offer “flappy paddle” shifting. But there are some of us that just like to shift up and down through the gears.
I just came across an article in Jalopnik that reported that the industrial giant Mahindra is testing autonomous U.S. Postal Service vans. How did we get to this position with testing all these autonomous vehicles? I mean, I like to drive, and that means that I control it all…and I want everyone else to be in control of their vehicles, too. While I don’t ever see myself consciously getting into an autonomous vehicle, the thought that there will be fleets of these things out there with me is a little troubling.
A little history…
This whole thing started with the Check Engine Light – the dreaded CEL. Before the CEL, we had gauges that told us what was happening with our engines. Oil pressure, water temp, volts, fuel – all pretty standard unless you had a VW Bug that gave you a red light (oil pressure,) a green light (volts,) a gas gauge and a speedo. But then the cars got complex enough that there wasn’t enough room in the dashboard for all the lights you needed – and the CEL was born. If a sensor detected a problem, it would ignite the CEL and you would then hook up a machine to tell you what was wrong. We were saved!!
The mid-nineties gave us the OBDII = On Board Diagnostics – version II – that standardized the CEL codes and made it easy for anyone to check the computer. The computers were more and more complex, monitoring more and more functions and actually controlling many of them. Then came drive by wire.. Your gas pedal was no longer connected to a cable, but instead connected to wires that were then fed into the computer which controlled the amount of fuel injected into the engine. In short, you told the computer what you wanted (more power!) and the computer then instructed the engine was to do. It was the beginning of the end.
Your typical three-speed automatic was a hydraulically-operated thing, with check valves and specific pressures and by-passes…all complicated stuff that only a few chosen ones could actually work on. But then came the computer controlled transmissions, electronically monitoring all kinds of things – including throttle position – to determine what the best gear might be for your particular situation.
The real kicker, though, was when Electric Steering came to be, sometime in the early 2000’s. No more power steering with hoses and fluid and leaks – this was an electronically-controlled system that helped you steer. The computers involved in this task also talked to the engine systems, the suspension systems, etc., and also used sensors in the bumpers to determine lots of data points. If it talks to the car’s computer system, it can also have the computer system talk back to it. And tell it what to do.
Brakes are also a simple hydraulic system, also easy to control with a computer. And so it was.
So we fast forward to today. The computer controls throttle, the brakes and the steering with little sensors all over the car. Parallel Parking is difficult, and at least in Florida it was deemed to difficult for new drivers, so a couple of decades ago it was dropped from the licensure exam. Too tough, but not for our computers – push a button and the car will parallel park itself.
Not real good with blind spots? No problem – the car will watch that for you and let you know if there is a problem.
Can’t keep you car in between the silly lines on the pavement? No issues. The car will keep it in the lanes for you. And perform a lot of other safety things along the way, like tension the seat belt right before the crash. You see, your car knows all these things and can better control the outcomes than you can.
Most of the time, the car is right. And that is difficult for me to admit.
So the next logical jump is to take the human out of the equation completely. Driver? Not needed. Just relax – your car will take you where you want to go in complete safety.
“Siri, take me to the Dolphins game.”
“Okay, Kevin. We will arrive in three hours, twenty-two minutes. What kind of music would you like me to play, or will you take a nap instead?”
Sorry, I am not ready for that.
My fear is a simple one. People increasingly don’t actually “drive” now. They put gas in once in a while, don’t understand anything about the car that they drive, and they pay little or no attention to their surroundings, including their role in attaining and maintaining good traffic flow. They are essentially passengers now, and we see that in the autonomous crashes that are happening. The “driver” turns over total control to the car, and then when the car makes an error, no one is there to correct it. Crash.
Now I admit that we drivers make mistakes, cars crash, and people are injured and killed. I get it. But, like the title says, I Like To Drive.
I am a “road trip” guy, even though I do let Siri tell me how to get there. I enjoy the task of driving a car to a destination. With a manual transmission.
So don’t sign me up for that autonomous car thing quite yet. I drive a thirty-year-old Porsche 924S, and damn happy that I do.
Kevin Duffy is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Daytona State College in Florida and a dedicated car guy. He divides his time between teaching criminal justice topics in the online environment and working on/driving cars, particularly Porsches. Kevin is one of the principals in InspiringLifeOver50.com.