Friday 30 September 2016

Cars: Happy times and bah humbugs on Digital St

We're driving 'laptops on wheels'

Published 27/12/2015 | 02:30

Tablet on wheels
Tablet on wheels

I'll keep the main motoring event of the year nice and brief because I don't think people care that much any more. It's Christmas and who wants to be reminded of grimy old NOx emissions and cheating software? The Volkswagen scandal rocked us all - the sheer nerve of them to fool so many for so long.

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But you know what? Most people don't give a Stephen's Day hoot so long as it doesn't affect the price or road tax of their car. Sorry to ping your conscience as you relax but we do have major double standards when it comes to emissions and health. So long as it doesn't adversely affect our pockets, what the hell if carmakers get away with crazy fuel consumption claims and polluting emissions?

Coincidentally, the emissions subterfuge did underscore the major trend of the year: our increasing recourse to digitisation in cars. It was, most definitely, the year where more of us than ever met at the Digital Crossroads (computers and cars).

Every car launch was 'on message'. This year, in particular, was the one where cars morphed in computers on wheels.

Thanks to digitisation, cars can stop you from crashing, straying over the lane line, nodding off, drive and park themselves.

I've been privileged to have experienced the acceleration of progress this year. Yes, I have reservations about taking the 'driving' away from the driver. But I do feel these cars can make travel so much safer as they reduce the margin for individual driver error.

The big surprise has been how quickly the technology has passed down to ordinary, family cars many of which now have the likes of City-Brake, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, High Beam Support System, Blind Spot Information, Cross Traffic Monitor, Traffic Sign Recognition, Intelligent Speed Limiter etc on board. Indeed these systems are becoming so commonplace I (we?) take them for granted. Their absence is noted far more than their presence. I was also lucky enough to enjoy 'real' on-track driving several times this year. The technology is there in abundance to help keep you safe but ultimately driving a pulsing powerhouse at 250kmh means you truly are in the hot seat.

That can be both thrilling and chilling. My best drive was on the Bratislava track with Honda's Civic TYPE-R and my most frightening/humbling was in the Mercedes C-Class Coupe AMG63 S around Ascari, near Malaga where I nearly lost it but some digital intervention or other did the needful and kept me off the grass.

I mention on-track driving because I have a mad sort of notion about it. If I could, I'd make it compulsory for all drivers to spend half a day on a track such as Mondello to experience the fright, thrill and danger of speed.

It is, I firmly believe, a wonderful, hopefully safe, way to confront your limitations and to give you an idea of how so little can do so much harm at speed. I can truly say my experiences have helped me cop on.

Finally, no Christmas would be complete without a 'bah humbug' or two.

My main 'bah' for the year is the disappearance of full-size spare tyres. Instead of their reassuring presence on a wet night, we are now presented with either a gelatinous mess of a quick-fix kit (which most people can't manage) or a mini-wheel that wouldn't be out of place on a baby's pram.

We know why this is happening: spare wheels weigh more; therefore cars with them use more fuel, emit more and cost more in road and buying taxes. Well bah! to the lot of them.

And my 'humbug' goes to those sat navs that never seem to work for me. I'm no techno-genius but some of them act downright silly. I went mad sorting out one route recently. It even took a guru 10 minutes. Why can't it be a simple matter of keying in an address, plotting your route and getting you there? I'll use their own language to make my appeal for change: 'Please make a U-turn where possible.'

Happy and safe driving.

Facts & figures

The country's biggest selling marques this year are Volkswagen, Toyota, Ford, Hyundai and Nissan.

The best-selling models are the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus, Nissan Qashqai, Skoda Octavia and Ford Fiesta (according to SIMI statistics).

Black remains the most popular colour. Henry Ford would be happy.

Diesel is far and away the most popular fuel (71.1pc of new cars, according to CSO figures).

And 62,955 of the 85,479 diesel cars licensed to the end of November were in the lowest A-band for road tax and Vehicle Registration Tax; 21,566 of the 32,753 petrols were in that band too.

My side of the road

It's simple. You've had your food and your drink. Now don't go spoiling everything by taking a chance on driving to see family or friends if there is the slightest risk you still have alcohol in your system. People drink a lot this time of year and even the next morning, alcohol levels can get you in trouble.

It's just not worth the risk.

ecunningham@independent.ie

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