We’ve come a long way from the seat-belt-interlock system of 1974. That system required every occupied seat to have the belt fastened before a car would start, and as you can guess this short-lived example of safety technology was an overbearing intrusion consumers didn’t like.
Forty years later the level of automotive technology inhabiting today’s cars is far more sophisticated, with no such annoyances to be found, right? Right?
Sadly, no. Four decades of quantum leaps in automotive technology have not always been accompanied by similar leaps in wisdom regarding the use of said technology. In fact, today’s cars pay testament to Scotty’s famous quote in Star Trek III: “The more they overthink the plumbing the easier it is to stop up the drain.”
Top 10 Technology Blunders
Don’t get me wrong, technology has put the overall performance and safety level of modern cars in a place few would have believed in 1974. It’s also introduced plenty of 21st Century versions of the seat-belt-interlock system, with all their associated annoyances.
Here are the Top 10 New Car Technology Blunders for 2014.
1. Simulated Exhaust Noise:
Modern carmakers work hard to create the right exhaust note. Some brands have been doing it for decades, but today every performance car sounds amazing…including the BMWs that use speakers instead of explosions to power their exhaust roar. They do this because modern cabin insulation effectively blocks engine noise and/or because the vehicle in question (in this case the 3-cylinder i8) doesn’t have an engine capable of producing a powerful exhaust note. Routing an engine’s actual exhaust note through different baffles is an alternative many automakers use to solve the problem, which is fine. But creating exhaust noise from scratch and enhancing it with the car’s audio system is technology at its worst.
2. Idiotic Idiot Lights:
A man I know recently took his 2013 Ford Escape on a road trip. It performed flawlessly on the long drive, but as he rolled into his destination every warning light on the dashboard — ABS, Traction Control, Airbag — lit up. A message stating “hill climb assist not available” also came up. After thinking the drivetrain might have fallen out he took the car to a local Ford dealer. The problem? A faulty airbag wiring harness. Did that issue really require half-a-dozen warning lights? Our cars are supposed to be smarter than ever, with diagnostic ports that tell mechanics exactly what’s wrong. Why can’t they tell us, too, with a simple (and accurate) message in the display screen?
3. Virtual Buttons for Critical Functions:
Today’s ubiquitous touchscreen displays let automakers clean up the dashboard control interface. With so many features that didn’t exist 20 years ago (stability control, sport modes, dual-zone climate control, hands-free phone operation, navigation, etc.) a touchscreen can literally replace dozens of hard buttons that would otherwise clutter the cabin. That’s fine, but when Tesla’s Model S makes basic functions, like the rear hatch release and charge port access, dependent on these digital buttons it sets up a potential nightmare if (and when?) the display screen fails. Note to automakers: virtual buttons are cool, but dedicated hard buttons should be used for critical functions.
4. Electric-Powered Doors:
Like touchscreen buttons, automakers have begun using electronic relays to replace the mechanical door release. As with most high-tech features, this system usually works fine, popping the door open at the touch of a button. But — what happens when the battery dies and the car loses all electrical power? Thankfully, automakers are required to offer mechanical alternatives for these occasions, though the process can be far more involved and far less intuitive than pushing a button. Imagine you’re in an accident that damages the electrical system while also starting a fire. Recalling the mechanical door release process might not be top of mind at that moment…
5. Misplaced Keyless Start:
The idea of not having to twist a key, or even touch a key, when starting or shutting off your car sounds great. Now imagine you’ve driven to the airport with your significant other, who proceeds to get out of the car and onto a plane bound for the other side of the globe. Only after you’re halfway home do you realize the car key is in your partner’s pocket. These systems are supposed to have sensors that warn you when the key isn’t in the cabin. And more than a decade after this technology was introduced the majority of cars still make the airport scenario plausible. Automakers need to make these systems fool-proof, which means accurate sensors that immediately identify when the key isn’t present.
6. Idle Stop — and Shimmy:
Hybrid vehicles have featured idle-stop technology for years to save fuel and reduce emissions when stationary. Soon every car will follow as automakers work to meet rising EPA standards. While the theory makes perfect sense the reality can be fatiguing. Starting most cars causes a lot of noise and vibration. Doing it 30 times during a relatively short trip will make your commute feel twice as long. I was in a diesel FIAT 500 L in France a few months ago, and it felt like a paint mixer every time the engine fired up, which was several times a minute in city driving. Inaddition the gear selector was so vague you could esaily start in the wrong gear. So you weren't quite sure why the engine has satlled. Automakers must reduce the noise and vibration associated with starting a car if they expect this technology to be widely embraced.
7. No More Manuals Shifting:
Today’s automatics are without a doubt better than a traditional stick shift, which is why you can no longer get a modern Ferrari or Porsche GT3 with three pedals. Of course, a Toyota Camry is a more cost-efficient way to move people around compared to any sports car, so let’s just stop making Ferraris and Porsches altogether, right? Look, I’m a huge fan of modern, dual-clutch transmissions. I have no desire to deal with a third pedal in Montreal, the home of the trafic cone. And I still think it’s criminal for an increasing number of modern exotic sports cars to not even offer a manual transmission option. And don’t give me the cost argument. When a car’s price crosses six figures there’s adequate profit margin for manual transmission R&D, even if only a sliver of buyers ever chooses it.
8. Restricted Access to Features:
Distracted driving is a serious issue car companies must address. They also need to leverage existing technology in obvious, no-brainer ways to maximize feature access when it’s safe. Yes, as a driver I shouldn’t have full access to navigation and phone features when the car is moving. But my passenger should. Is it really that difficult to use the airbag and seatbelt sensors in every modern vehicle to allow my wife to program a street address while I’m driving? Forcing me to pull over and stop in this circumstance might present its own set of dangers, depending on my location. At the very least it’s hugely frustrating to have a passenger ready and willing to safely use these systems when the car won’t let them.
9. Dumb Display Screens:
Back-up cameras are common today, and by 2018 they will be required by law on every vehicle sold in the U.S. This is a good example of technology making cars safer, particularly for young children who are often the victims of low-speed accidents when a car backs up. The problem is the implementation of the camera’s view, which takes over the central display whenever a car is put in reverse — at the exclusion of all other functions. Need to turn the blasting heater fan off? Is someone calling and you want to answer? If you’re car has a back-up camera and is in reverse you can’t do either, or anything else controlled through the screen. These displays need to get smarter about combining functions when it makes sense.
10. Reduced Car Control:
Have you ever turned the steering wheel rapidly to avoid a collision? How about squeezing between two cars in an adjacent lane to keep from hitting a disabled vehicle or clueless pedestrian suddenly blocking your lane? Sometimes we’re forced into less-than-ideal maneuvers to avoid a more destructive and deadly situation, right? Lesser of two evils and all that. Well, that option is slowly evaporating. For the past 10 years I’ve watched stability control systems exert greater influence over driver input in the name of “safety.” The issue? Sometimes the system doesn’t recognize a threat that’s obvious to a human driver. Turning the wheel so quickly that I risk a moderate skid or colliding with a parked car is acceptable when I’m doing it to avoid a kid chasing a ball. But what happens when the computer disagrees and overrides my ability to control the vehicle and won't let me take the avoiding action I need?
I've dedicated this column for more than fifteen years to the premise that us ordinary motorists were being blamed and penalised by econazis, who wanted us to stop driving and start cycling.
As as I have long surmised, the whole global warming theory, now known as climate change, is based on the most fragile of so-called scientific knowledge and is,
and always has been, a ploy to denigrate western affluence and transfer our assets to the third world.
Of course, the manufacturers have had no choice but to try and comply with Obamadness, but we apparently are not so easily fooled and battery cars are about as popular as the Ebola virus among those of us who have to hand over hard won dollars to drive our cars.
You no doubt remember when, it was rumored, oil supplies would run out and we would have to find alternate means of energy? Today oil is more plentiful than ever and prices have dropped enormously. Not that this will continue, oil prices will rise again, but in the meantime Mother nature continues on her wayward way, laughing as she goes.
Okay, here's the scoop. The volcanic eruption in Iceland has, in just FOUR DAYS, NEGATED EVERY SINGLE EFFORT you have made in the past five years to control CO2 emissions on our planet - and that means all of you.
Of course, you know about this evil carbon dioxide that we are trying to suppress - its that vital chemical compound that every plant requires to live and grow and to synthesize into oxygen for us humans and all animal life.
I know....it's very disheartening to realize that all of the carbon emission savings you have accomplished while suffering the inconvenience and expense of driving Prius hybrids, buying fabric grocery bags, sitting up till midnight to finish your kids "The Green Revolution" science project, throwing out all of your non-green cleaning supplies, using only two squares of toilet paper, putting a brick in your toilet tank reservoir, selling your SUV and speedboat, vacationing at home instead of abroad, nearly getting hit every day on your bicycle, replacing all of your 50 cent light bulbs with $10.00 light bulbs.....well, all of those things you have done have all gone down the tubes in just four days.
The volcanic ash emitted into the Earth's atmosphere in just four days - yes, FOUR DAYS - by that volcano in Iceland has totally erased every single effort you have made to reduce the evil beast, carbon. And there are around 200 active volcanoes on the planet spewing out this crud at any one time - EVERY DAY.
I don't really want to rain on your parade too much, but I should mention that when the volcano Mt Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991, it spewed out more so called greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the entire human race had emitted in all its years on earth.
Yes, folks, Mt Pinatubo was active for over one year - think about it.
Of course, I shouldn't spoil this 'touchy-feely tree-hugging' moment and mention the effect of solar and cosmic activity and the well-recognized 800-year global heating and cooling cycle, which keeps happening despite our completely insignificant efforts to affect climate change.
And I do wish I had a silver lining to this volcanic ash cloud, but the fact of the matter is that the bush fire season across the western USA and Australia this year alone will negate your efforts to reduce carbon in our world for the next two to three years. And it happens every year.
Just remember that your government is trying to impose a whopping carbon tax on you, on the basis of the bogus 'human-caused' climate-change scenario.
Hey, isn't it interesting how they don't mention 'Global Warming' anymore, but just "Climate Change" - you know why?
It's because the planet has COOLED by 0.7 degrees in the past century and these global warming bullshit artists got caught with their pants down.
And, just keep in mind that you might yet be stuck with an Emissions Trading Scheme - that whopping new tax - imposed on you that will achieve absolutely nothing except make you poorer.
It won't stop any volcanoes from erupting, that's for sure.
You may have noticed that I don't generally bother to mention air bag recalls on my recall page.
Even though, this week, 6 million of them have been recalled. For 15 years, now, I've been saying that forward facing airbags are a waste of time and money
IF you wear your seat belt.
The problem is a typical engineering situation. Normally when an idea is tried out and proves to have serious drawbacks, the idea is abandoned.
Which is where the phrase "experience is a large pile of ruined equipment" comes from.
However, when nanny state politicians get involved, engineers are forced to continue to try and improve a fatally flawed idea.
Bags come out too fast and break childrens' necks? Start weighing the passengers.
Then modify again so that the bags deploy at three different speeds and so on and so on.
This is why I have long held the opinion that airbags are credited with saving lives, when their effect in any given crash is debatable.
People call me up and ask how many air bags a particular model of car has, as though that was the only criteria by which a
new car should be chosen.
The real question is how many seat belts does the car have, because all the responsibility for your safety lies with the belts
and not with the air bags.
For instance and in confirmation of this, when New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine was critically injured in an SUV crash,
investigators now concede that the SUV was doing 91 mph in a 65 mph zone with its emergency lights flashing.
Corzine – who was in critical condition – was on his way to a meeting between radio personality Don Imus
and the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, and was reportedly running late.
The SUV crashed into a guard-rail and Corzine, who wasn’t wearing a seat belt at the time, suffered multiple broken bones.
Even though the air bags deployed on both sides.
The trooper behind the wheel was wearing his seat belt and had minor injuries.
Corzine broke a thigh bone, ribs, his breastbone and collarbone. Doctors say it could be six months before he regains the use
of his leg.
My question is:
Where were the air bags in all of this and what were they doing? They undoubtedly deployed, but as long has been the case, they
were absolutely useless without the primary protection provided by the seat belts.
Air bags were initially designed to protect an unbelted adult male in a 30 mph crash. But do air bags protect a child passenger?
And are air bags really effective in protecting unrestrained adults?
Air bags are said to reduce the overall risk of passenger death in all crashes by 12 percent, but for some passengers
- including young children - air bags may increase the overall risk of death.
While air bags reduced the risk of death by 15 percent for restrained passengers in crashes, air bags afforded no protection
against death or serious injury for those passengers who weren't wearing seat belts.
Air bags are associated with a net increase in the risk of death among children ages 12 and under.
Because the effect of air bags may be related to passenger age, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ruled in
1997 that vehicle owners could have a switch installed to deactivate a passenger air bag and I wonder what that tells us
- exactly? Probably that the air bag is not considered to be vital to the survival of passengers in a crash.
The agency also advised that children younger than 13 years old should ride in the rear seat and that, of-course, is a no brainer.
Children do NOT belong in the front seats of a vehicle, although I think that the specified age of thirteen is probably a bit restrictive
and over zealous.
Although air bags were intended to offer protection to passengers who aren't restrained, they are a hazard to unrestrained children
and offer little benefit to unrestrained adults. This unfortunate accident last week once again supports the conclusion that the theory
of "no seat belt, no protection" really holds true.
Sometimes it isn't possible to put a child in the rear seat because the vehicle may lack a rear seat or that seat is already filled with
other children, in which case, a bigger vehicle may be needed, or if the transportation of children is a regular occurrence,
a seat belt switch may be installed, with a special release from the DoT.
A lot of pick up trucks already have passengers side air bag switches for this very reason..
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