Have we forgotten how to drive?

Are we forgetting how to drive, or are we just simply counting on new technology to do it for us?

This newest rant/observation of mine is due to a number of factors; the public response to the whole “Toyota Recall Fiasco” and the fact that I still have to deal with other drivers in the winter. I’ve been writing this article in my head on and off for two weeks now, debating on whether the internet even needs another long diatribe about how drivers today ‘suck’, or to mock those at Toyota. This weekend, I finally had time to sit down and write it all out, and to think it over.

When I first heard about the Toyota ‘issues’, I had the typical ‘knee-jerk’ reaction: “Oh yay, Toyota in their thirst for money has put millions of cars on the roads that are going to kill us all!”  Then I started looking on the net for more information. And boy, was I surprised. Two of the main issues reported are of course, gas pedals sticking and unintended acceleration. Now, to be fair, Toyota has issued hints and suggestions to help protect their customers. When I first read these supposed ‘crucial suggestions’, I didn’t know whether to laugh or shake my head.  I kept asking myself  “Why would someone not know what to do in this situation?”

So, if you find yourself in a runaway car, or the pedal is sticking here’s what they suggest:

Number 1: Hit the brakes.

Hit the brakes? Really? I want to stop my car and I need to be told that this is step one? Even more surprising and terrifying,  I’ve seen numerous online posts from people on many forums offering their opinions, saying; “If they had pumped the brakes right, they wouldn’t have crashed.” Does anyone understand how ABS works anymore? You simply do not do this.

Number 2: Shift to Neutral or Park

Neutral means just that. The engine may sound like it’s revving out of control, but it is no longer giving power to the wheels. Even if you throw it into park, most (if not all) automatic cars have a mechanism to prevent you actually going into park at higher speeds. You’re not going to lock up your wheels and go into a death spin. Besides, I’d rather lock up my wheels and leave pieces of transmission on the road than die in a crash.

Number 3: Turn the car off.

Turn the ignition to the off position, but leave the key in, or, and I know this sounds insane, read your manual, and see the way to shut off a car with one of those newer push-button systems. Again, I was surprised at how many people would not think of this, or even disagree with it. Several friends have told me that if they did this, they would “lock up the steering wheel and have no brakes.” Except that you wouldn’t. Yes, you would lose power steering, and the brakes may have less force, but they are not magically removed.

I’m not even going to go into the issue of removing the floor mats if the gas pedal gets stuck under them. If I ever saw the floor mats interfering with the gas or the brake, I would know to take them out myself at that point. I don’t need a recall for that. I am not the best driver in the world, nor am I the most intelligent woman who ever lived. But, I’d like to think I have a few brain cells kicking around in the old noggin. And that after driving for over, oh…20 some years, I know how to operate and control my car on the road. It really all boils down to common sense.

As I type this, I have about 5 other windows open from Toyota and various online forums. I see post after post from people who are complaining about their cars having these same issues, and how Toyota either misled them or lied to them. I see people screaming to high Heaven about Toyota selling them ‘deathtraps’ and how they put their family at risk, about how they are terrified to drive the car now.

But look at when they bought the cars. I see people complaining who bought their cars all the way back to 2005. And mention that yes, they may have had an incident like the one in the recall, but didn’t think anything about it. Or have had the car for years, but are now scared to drive to work because they don’t want to die. In a car they’ve owned for 6+ years or so and to date have ignored the issue. One case I read that really ticked me off was the woman Rhonda Smith, who testified that her Lexus was ‘possessed’ at congress’. After a death defying ordeal in which she was too shaken and frightened to ever drive it again, and blasted Toyota for selling it to her, sold the car. Yes, she sold it. Sold her ‘deathtrap of a car’ to another family, in exchange for money I assume. Then shoved all responsibility off to the car maker.

But, back to the subject of this article.

Does it really take a recall for us to figure out how our cars work? And what to do if it malfunctions? I am not absolving Toyota or any other car manufacturer for making a faulty car. Yes, it does appear that there were some issues that should have been taken care of up front.  And yes, even in the best of circumstances, no machine is perfect. But when you get behind the wheel of any car, you are the driver. Not the software or the engineer. You are. And frankly, we all need to be reminded of this.

A car is not a fashion accessory. Nor is it just a means of transport. As much as we love cars and have made them safer, we forget how dangerous they inherently are. We have rules that say children cannot drive for a reason. We have rules that say you cannot drive under the influence for a reason. It’s not safe. People, you went to a car lot, and purchased a piece of machinery that can weigh more than a ton or so. Then you take it out in public and drive it at a speed of more than 65+ miles per hour where there are other people. But you have no idea what all the buttons do, how to stop it if something goes wrong and what’s normal and what’s not.

It used to be you bought a car and learned how to drive it. It was a normal expectation that you would drive carefully and pay attention to what you were doing. If you didn’t and crashed, it was your fault. Now, we have cars with ABS, airbags, backup sensors, cruise control, OnStar to unlock the car when we lock the keys in again, satna, hell, we even have cars now that can parallel park themselves! Yet we have no idea what do to if there’s a glitch in the system and we are forced to rely on our own brains or experience in an emergency. And so, we still crash cars because we haven’t taken the time to remember that what we are driving a piece of machinery that can kill.

Rant over.

Photo credit: WreckedExotics


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