Modern Car Feedback and Reckless Driving

The standard human driver is just…bad. There’s unintentional bad (not a day goes by that the local news doesn’t report that some old fuck drove into a building!) There’s negligent bad (always cellphone-related.) And of course there’s always been asshole bad (the college kids are starting to show up for the summer.)

I fully admit, too, that my driving edges into the unsafe, but only when I’m driving my wife’s vehicle. It’s easy to drive, but I think it’s too easy, and this presents a problem. In it, I speed much more and give less thought to smooth velocity changes. It’s not intentional.

So recently, as I was driving my 2003 Honda Accord home, stopped at a stop sign, then turned left towards an oncoming and very new-looking KIA Pinchoff or whatever, whose driver communicated their objection to my maneuver with a long series of horn blasts, I had a moment of self-reflection and pondered the state of modern driving.

This isn’t you

Well, first I yelled “Fuck you!” and flashed the birdie, as is the only proper response. Then I admit that I felt a little sheepish…at first. I’ll take blame for an honest mistake, but then I considered that the KIA had been moving so fast that it wasn’t there when I first checked. In the time between when I looked in that direction (for a second time after looking to the right), and then shifted my gaze back towards my front, it had cleared the bend in the road and closed the 50 yard distance to the intersection I had since creeped into – a feat not possible at 25mph, which is why speed limits exist. (They’re not just there to be annoying. It’s a calculated velocity which, when followed, is the fastest one should be driving in order to avoid losing control of the vehicle or hitting someone else on the road who wouldn’t have been able to react in time. Going faster increases the risk. Of course we all push the boundaries, but a residential street that winds around probably isn’t the best place to play Dominic Toretto. (Also not when you bought a lame-ass KIA Pinchoff).)

Anyway, between this encounter and my own self-reflection on my different driving styles between the two vehicles I drive, I’ve come to a conclusion: Modern vehicles encourage bad driving by making driving too easy and seemingly less dangerous. And it comes down to vehicular feedback. Modern vehicles overly disconnect the driver from the act of driving. Here’s some examples:

  • My car uses older hydraulic-assisted power steering. It requires more effort to turn the wheel than the Ascent, and so feels like a heavier machine in comparison. This nudges me to treat it as bigger, more dangerous, and unwieldy when it’s objectively less so compared to the Ascent. The Ascent uses drive-by-wire electric motors to transfer user input to the steering system, and takes very little effort. Consequently, I’m tricked into believing the Ascent is lighter and more sporty than it really is, and it doesn’t transfer the feel of the road conditions to my hands, and so my steering becomes more aggressive. (It also necessitates a much smaller steering wheel, so in further mockery of Mr. Pinchoff above, you can’t possible feel saturated with testosterone when also maneuvering your Pinchoff with a bagel.)
  • My car uses an antilock breaking system. When I lose traction, this kicks in and provides me tactile and audible feedback, which is somewhat unnerving especially when at high speed. This prompts me to drive slower and more cautiously in adverse weather conditions. The Ascent uses all-wheel-drive electronic breaking stabilization. If I lose traction, this system automatically adjusts breaking and torque for each wheel. There’s very little chance of spinning out. In fact, I don’t know if I ever really have lost traction when driving it. And so, the complete lack of feedback gives me no prompt to drive more cautiously. (I think the dashboard makes a small ding, maybe?)
  • My car uses a classic automatic transmission. When I tax the engine, the shift points and their timing in my acceleration give me a clear indication of how much torque, and therefore how much tire grip, I’m experiencing. The Ascent uses a constant variable transmission which lacks definitive gears, so apart from the tachometer, I don’t feel the engine strain. Ergo, I’ll less inclined to let off the gas with the Ascent since I don’t know that I might be compromising the engine and vehicle control.

In short, my Accord gives me a very visceral driving experience, and through this greater connectedness, I have a greater respect for its power and, more importantly, a heightened fear of what might go wrong if I get too aggressive.

The Ascent gives me very little of this feedback. Much of the time, I only really feel the size and weight of the vehicle when trying to stop it from a high speed.

THIS is you

My conclusion is that maybe people aren’t intentionally driving worse, but instead it just seems that way because they’ve lost a material connection to the danger associated with piloting a motor vehicle, as a result of vehicle design seeking to enhance comfort and ease of use. Modern vehicles disconnect us from the potential consequences of driving.

But ultimately, no amount of safety feature enhancements will prevent all forms of the ultimate tactile driving experience: when your driving brings you to a sudden and complete standstill–violently. If there’s any PSA I’ll preach here at the end of my post, it’s just to remember that however disconnected you become from your driving experience, your body is still traveling at velocities that far exceed anything that evolution ever designed you for.

…And Toretto isn’t actually real. You can’t drive down the side of a dam, out-racing its collapse and ensuing tidal wave. Especially not in a KIA Pinchoff. (Also you’re a douche.)


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