Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Who Needs A.I. When You Have a Stick Shift?

As the father of two teenage boys, I was intrigued by Vatsal Thakkar’s piece in Sunday’s New York Times: Forget Self-Driving Cars. Bring Back the Stick Shift.

This summer, my sons will be fighting over the use of our 2003 Subaru Forrester—the black bomber with the leaky roof, the passenger side window that never quite closes and the odometer well into the six-figures. Rarely a day goes by when they don’t remind me it’s time to upgrade them to something sensible like a Porsche, Tesla or Maserati (used of course, to save money). At which point I remind them I’ll go car shopping with them when they get a full-time J.O.B.

Besides, numerous studies show that even beat-up Subarus hold up well in accidents—even better if the car has a manual transmission like ours—which keeps the driver 100-percent engaged. Thakkar, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU, said: “A car with a stick shift and clutch pedal requires the use of all four limbs, making it difficult to use a cell phone or eat while driving. Lapses in attention are therefore rare.” Apparently our auto insurer agrees.

I would add to Thakkar’s list the following:
  • A stick shift significantly reduces the driver’s ability to text.
  • A stick shift significantly reduces the driver’s ability to fiddle with the radio dial or sound system.
  • A stick shift significantly reduces the driver’s ability to check their hair every five minutes in the rearview mirror.
  • Since fewer and fewer cars now come with manual transmissions, a stick shift significantly reduces the driver’s ability to loan the keys to a friend—especially past curfew.
The point is that technology designed to save us from distraction can make us even more distracted. As Thakkar noted, the percentage of new cars sold with backup cameras doubled between 2008 and 2011, but the backup fatality rate declined by less than a third, while backup injuries dropped only 8 percent.
According to a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “Many drivers are not aware of the limitations” of the technology. The report also found that 20 percent of drivers had become so reliant on the backup aids that they had experienced a collision or near miss while driving other vehicles.

“The fact that our brains so easily over-delegate this task to technology makes me worry about the tech industry’s aspirations — the fully autonomous everything,” related Thakkar. “Could technology designed to save us from our lapses in attention actually make us even less attentive?”

A government study on the driving performance of teenage boys with A.D.H.D. found that cars having manual transmissions resulted in safer, more attentive driving than cars with automatic transmission. “This suggests that the cure for our attentional voids might be less technology, not more,” added Thakkar.

Technology is the future and a key “driver” of innovation, but we can’t let it become all-consuming. From the mishaps with self-driving cars to the faulty software on the Boeing 737 Max 8’s, over-reliance on technology can often turn against us.


I know that several of you on this distribution list are car enthusiasts. I’m sure you’ll agree that driving with a manual transmission is a lot more fun than driving an automatic. It also reduces wear and tear on the breaks and if done reasonably well, will get you better gas mileage.
My boys like to make fun of my clumsy texting, lame emojis and app-nophobia, but when it comes to cars, I’m keeping it old school. Now where can I get my Blackberry fixed?

# Vatsal Thakkar     #AI    #manual transmission  #overreliance on technology #Subaru

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