My current ride has a quartet of air bags (two front, two side), antilock brakes, a dashboard with no pointy protrusions, and bumpers that theoretically will shrug off a 2.5-mph impact.
Like many of you of a Certain Age, I spent most of my driving life in cars that lacked most or all of those attributes. (I learned to drive, in fact, in a VW Microbus, which lacked some other things: a radiator, air conditioning, and anything resembling acceleration.) Which leads to a question: does having all these safety gewgaws — newer cars than mine have a lot more of them — give me a false sense of security, making my driving less careful than it could be?
Don Norman, author of The Future Design of Things, thinks it can:
One major problem with the design of cars today is that you can be driving at 100 mph — which is quite dangerous — and the experience is comfy, smooth, and accompanied by nice music on the stereo system. Of course it’s impractical to design a car so that driving it feels dangerous and shaky. But why not put passengers in the warm, smooth, comfy situation but have natural signals that give cues to the driver in terms of being alert?
Wait a minute. A hundred is dangerous?
I don’t see these technical advances as being anywhere near as much of a problem as ill-trained, incompetent drivers are. Consider, for a moment, a cruise control, such as the Mercedes-Benz Distronic, that slows you down if it thinks you’re getting too close to the car in front of you. If the road is that crowded, using cruise control at all brands you as a complete and utter idiot, and the only “natural signal” you should be getting is digital: the upraised middle finger.
As for the passengers, I seldom have any, but in general, passengers’ interests must be kept subordinate to the driver’s. (Finally, an advantage to the three-row SUV: back-seat drivers can be pushed back even farther.)
That said, I’ve mostly gotten over my distrust of airbags, mostly because I’ve never had one explode into the middle of my torso like Alien in reverse. Come to think of it, I’ve never had one deploy even when I expected it to. Hmmm…
(Via The Truth About Cars.)