A Saturday morning jolt: Stumbled back upstairs with the newspapers, poured coffee and sat as the New York Times business section fell into my lap. Oh my gosh, a story about a couple in Florida asphyxiated when their keyless car did not turn itself off. That’s the car I lightly, almost jokingly, wrote about on my personal blog last February, describing a harrowing 65-mile drive in a Colorado snowstorm with a push-button rental car. Same car, same model. The Times article says that older drivers especially, forget to turn the ignition off. How is it done? Instructions for starting the engine without a key were printed on the dashboard but not for stopping it. I’m an older driver, and that evening in the motel parking lot, I was disturbed to walk away from a still-running car and sought help from the young desk clerk. He walked outside to look just as the car shut itself down. “Oh, that’s one of those cars that gives you enough time to get into your building,” he said. The following day I sought instruction from another young man at a car wash on how the various buttons work. “Sure,” he said. “I have the same car.”
Judging from comments by the few friends who read my sporadic postings, many people are confronted by new cars whose bells and whistles leave them flummoxed.
I began to think I was among the few drivers left whose car at home needed my intervention for all sorts of actions. I had titled that February post “Bring on Self-Drivers,” but had been thinking better of it in light of increased news coverage about horrendous mishaps like this one with the unfortunate Florida couple who bought a car they believed was safe. I also recently heard of a car that drove itself under a semi-truck to devastating destruction, its computer works having mis-calculated the space available.
When I contemplate roadways filled with self-driving cars, the picture that comes to mind is an amusement park attraction. Bumper cars without drivers, moving about haphazardly.
No, these times are haphazard enough. People — and real drivers — are required.
When we bought our new (keyless) car 18 months ago, the dealer had a class, dinner included, to teach all of the purchasers-who skewed older–so we could learn a few things. The car still amazes us. It will dim the lights for an on-coming car by itself and if you begin to wander out of your lane without putting on your turn signal, the steering wheel will give you a little pushback. If you do that too often, a little cup of coffee will appear on the dash, suggesting you pull over for a bit of caffeine.
Good car dealer! You told me some of this before when I wrote about the trip in the snow with a push-button rental car, but I’m glad for more details.