When Assist Becomes Insist . . .

  • June 21, 2023

How long do you suppose it will be before “advanced driver assistance technology” goes from assisting to insisting?

The answer is probably to be divined in the fact that this “technology” isn’t something most people wanted – and opted for. Like heated seats, which people are still free to not pay extra for if they don’t want them. Try buying a 2023 model year vehicle – no matter the make, no matter the model – that does not come standard with “advanced driver assistance technology.” Including cars that are bought by people who almost certainly would not have checked the option boxes for them.

For instance, the Mazda Miata I test drove and wrote about a few weeks ago. It is a sports car in the truest meaning of the term. It comes standard with a manual transmission and while Mazda does offer an automatic, it is not even optional with two of the three available trims. To get one, you must buy the most expensive Grand Touring trim. Point being, most Miatas are bought by people who specifically want to drive them. Yet it comes standard with three “advanced driver assistance technologies” – including what is styled “forward collision mitigation,” a cumbersome term for a “technology” that hits the brakes when the car’s programming decides it’s necessary to stop.

Do people who drive Miatas think this is necessary? Do people who are ambulatory think a wheelchair is necessary? Would they buy one – in either case-  if they weren’t forced to?

Of course not.

So why does Mazda (for all practical purposes) force them to? Why does every manufacturer force the people who want to buy one of their cars to buy the “technology” many of them would surely elect not to, if that option were available to them?

The answer to that question is – essentially – the same reason that every manufacturer also forces you to buy a bevy of air bags, which probably many people would elect not to if they were optional.

But with an anticipatory twist.

Air bags are, of course, mandated – there’s that word, again – by the federal government, which somehow acquired the power under the Constitution to decide and decree just how “safe” new cars must be. We take this strange assertion of federal authority that can be found nowhere in the Constitution as a given, for the same reason an abused spouse expects to get beaten up again by her drunken lout of a husband again.

It is what she is used to.

At any rate, there are air bags in all new cars because the federal government insists there must be. It is evident – as regards “advanced driver assistance technology” – that the car manufacturers expect the federal government to insist once again. So why not just make the “technology” standard before it is mandated? People will have already gotten used to it by the time it is made officially mandatory – as the federal government has already made clear is in the works. The car industry having already gotten used to being treated like an abused spouse. Maybe this evening there won’t be another beating if the turkey pot pie is one the table, hot and waiting.

But why is the federal government so keen to mandate “advanced driver assistance technology”? The answer to this question ought to be obvious. It is to further the end-goal of taking the steering wheel out of the driver’s hands. The brake pedal, too. At least, whenever the driver attempts to drive in a way that is contrary to the way the government insists he drives.

One of the “advanced driver assistance technologies” styled “speed limit assist technology” gives us a preview as it is already embedded in pretty much every new car. If you exceed whatever the speed limit is – anywhere – the car is aware. A warning icon shaped just like a speed limit sign will typically flash in the instrument cluster, turning angry red whenever you are “speeding.” It is a mere over-the-air-update away from “assisting” to insisting. It is the specifically intended end-goal of this “technology.” You won’t be able to “speed” because they car won’t let you.

Und so weiter – as the German saying has it. As for instance when there is a climate emergency – and the government decides no one (except essential government workers, of course) shall be allowed to move.

The car I am currently test driving has another permutation of “advanced driver assistance technology” styled a “drowsy driver alert” system. If it thinks you’re falling asleep at the wheel or not paying attention to the road, it pesters you with a flashing icon that looks like a cup of coffee, urging you to stop for one.

Even if you do not need one.

One of the problems with “advanced driver assistance technology” being it is “advanced” in the sense that EV “fast” chargers don’t cost time. The “drowsy driver” system depends on the monitoring of eye movements – who wants this “technology” in their car? – as you drive but if the sensors aren’t seeing clearly you still get hassled by the “technology.” What happens when it transitions from assisting to insisting you stop for a “break” you don’t need?

Keep in mind that, beginning with the 2026 model year, all new vehicles must be fitted with a kill switch, per the federal government – which has somehow discovered the “constitutional power” to shut down your vehicle any time it likes.

The car may do that anyhow, without the government even having to throw the switch. Some of the “advanced driver assistance technologies”rely on sensors – on cameras – built into the car’s bumpers, for and aft. When these cannot see – because of ice or snow or fog, even – the “technology” no longer “assists.” When people have been conditioned to fear driving without “assistance,” it may not be necessary to insist.

Either way, it amounts to the same thing.

. . .

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