Driving hi-tech cars feels like flying
I am sitting in a friend’s car.It is a high-end sedan. It has soft leather seats, wood trim, plush carpeting and enough bells and whistles to form a jug band.It is nighttime, and when the vehicle is started the dashboard comes alive with a sensory overload of flashing and glowing lights. Then things ping, buzz and bong, after which a series of verbal greetings, warnings and instructions follow. Although I am seated in front, I don’t feel like a passenger. I feel like a co-pilot. I also realize that if I could master the complexities of this dashboard, I could probably fly a jumbo jet.There are buttons everywhere: the dashboard, the steering wheel, the ceiling, the console, the visors. The seats, mirrors, windows, door locks and sunroof are all power, of course, and there are buttons dedicated to each of these operations. There are not only a lot of buttons, but many have multiple functions. It’s very intimidating. If I were behind the wheel of this car, we would still be in the driveway.Don’t get me wrong. I am not a complete moron when it comes to technology. I’m more of a partial moron. I have a decent relationship with my phone, computer, television and iPod, although, in truth, they are all smarter than me. That said, I definitely have a few IQ points on the blender.Anyway.With our seat belts on, we begin to move. It seems premature. “Shouldn’t we have gotten clearance from traffic control?” I ask. “Not to worry,” the captain assures me. “Turn right,” a stern yet sultry voice suddenly instructs.“Who was that?” I ask.“I call her Trix,” the captain tells me.“Trix?”“Yeah, short for dominatrix. She’s very bossy. To tell the truth, I’m a bit afraid of her.”What is even more frightening than Trix, however, are the vehicles which allow one to program the navigation system while driving. I can’t imagine doing this, but then I get road rage trying to navigate my navigation system while parked.As we travel, our progress is charted in real time on a touch screen as the pilot, my buddy, interacts with the technology and other drivers. He is assisted by Trix, who provides directions and warns of disabled vehicles, construction and police. I find myself becoming attracted to Trix. I find myself wondering what she is wearing.Music drifts from the superb surround-sound system. Not only does the satellite radio show the station, but the name of the song and the artist, as well. I assume the video is also available. Was there actually a time when the car radio was controlled by a couple of knobs?It is very comfortable in the cockpit. This is due to an advanced climate-control system that can generate the weather in various regions of the vehicle. I ask if the climate control can make it rain. My friend says he thinks so, but would have to check the manual.When we finally reach our destination, the vehicle takes over and parallel parks itself. I find this depressing. If a car can parallel park, what does it need us for?When the captain has turned off the seatbelt sign, I get out and find myself a bit disoriented. Why am I looking around for baggage claim?A recent study commissioned by AAA says the explosion of technology (and buttons) in vehicles has become a major distraction for drivers. Although the technology is great, is it a case of too much too soon? Maybe we need to tone down the jug band until the driverless car catches up?In the meantime, we might want to take a driving tip from Jim Morrison:“Keep you eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel.”Jim Shea can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @jimboshea.