Why the manual transmission can save us from the machines


Not long after purchasing my first car with parking sensors, after a few delighted first days marveling at how they helped me park in the tightest of spots, I found myself in some situation where they were beeping incessantly, so I turned them off. A half-hour later, I listened for beeping that never came as I backed into a wall, bruising my ego and the bumper skin. In a New York Times op-ed over the weekend, psychiatrist Vatsal G. Thakkar tells a similar story in which he placed blind reliance on proximity sensors — in a car that didn’t have them.

He cites the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, who says, “Many drivers are not aware of the limitations” of driver-assist technologies, while one in five drivers have had an accident or near miss because they too fully relied on these systems.

Thakkar points out something we often say at Autoblog: Driver-assistance technologies can be useful, but they require increased attentiveness, not less. It’s not even a trust-but-verify situation — if you have these technologies, don’t trust. Ever. Do have a thorough understanding of how they work, how they can be fooled, and be prepared to override them at a second’s notice.

One might ask: If I have to be so attentive operating these technologies, then why have them in the first place? Why not just … be attentive? Good question. I think we all have a pretty good sense that the impetus for lane-keeping, adaptive cruise and various other systems, in part or in full, is driver distraction brought on primarily by smartphones and infotainment screens. Driver distraction is undoubtedly a big factor in our alarming trend of traffic fatalities. But as Thakkar asks, “Could technology designed to save us from our lapses in attention actually make us even less attentive?”

In his concise piece, Thakkar makes the case that over-reliance on technology can be blamed for recent Tesla crashes, medical errors and even the recent crashes of Boeing 737 Max 8 jetliners.

But his solution is one after our own hearts, and why we suggest you read his piece. The answer to all of the above is simple, engaging and beautiful — it’s the manual transmission. When your brain and all four limbs are fully engaged in the driving experience, who needs beeps?

So get one today, while you still can.

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