R2D2 hate from Simon Hill

There’s no denying that modern cars are amazingly smart. Or if not smart, exactly, then certainly a whole lot better equipped than before when it comes to driver assistance technologies. There are blind spot information systems, cross traffic alert systems, collision warning systems, parking distance sensors, seatbelt warnings, frost warnings, lane departure warnings, pedestrian proximity warnings, even warnings to tell you that you should stop for a coffee (no, seriously). And they’re all useless.

I mean imagine if your passengers were as helpful as your car: You’re driving down the road, chatting away, and suddenly your passenger says “Bing!” Not “It’s getting icy,” or “Careful of that guy,” or “Brakes!”. Just, “Bing.” So helpful.

Even so, I suppose if your passenger suddenly called out “Bing!” it might in fact get your attention, since it would be such an odd break from their usual conversation (at least, I hope that’s the case – unless you have some really strange friends). But now imagine if most of what they said consisted of similar random noises. “Ping, ding, beep, bong, bing, chirp, dong.”

“Wait, did you just say bing?”

Which is exactly what it’s like driving most modern cars. These days, when a car beeps at me, my reaction typically isn’t to do anything useful or think in a coherent fashion, but simply to wonder “What the bleep is that beeping?” I could drive woefully uncaffeinated into a concrete wall without my seatbelt on while changing lanes into a semi-truck sans signal light, and my last thought would be “What the bleep is that beeping?”

It shouldn’t be this way, and it doesn’t have to be: I remember back when I was a kid visiting a transportation expo, and one of the exhibitors had a cockpit simulator setup demonstrating their latest and greatest helicopter. The pilot let me have a go. One of the features they were proud of was their transmission wire detection system. Quite a few aircraft crashes are related to flying into transmission lines; they’re skinny and difficult to see, like gigantic spider webs for unsuspecting pilots. When this helicopter sensed wires ahead, it didn’t go “Bing” or “Beep.” It said “Wires! Wires!” in a rapid, urgent voice. No need to stop and interpret that one.

Cars should do the same thing. Programming the various languages isn’t that difficult. It would help, too, if the cars would just shut up about non-urgent things. Like seatbelt warnings that chime before you engage drive. What’s with that? It drives me nuts, and simply adds to the auditory clutter. Too much auditory clutter and the natural reaction is to start ignoring it all, both the trivial and the critical. (Cadillac, to its credit, is on the right path with its vibrating seat that physically alerts you of parking obstacles, lane departure and such by vibrating the appropriate side of your seat, without disturbing the calm inside the cabin or freaking your passengers out.)

So let me start the engine in peace, and get my seatbelt fastened (that’s the order I do it in, like most people I know). If the outside temperature drops below three degrees Celcius, notify me with a calm “Frost warning.” If I’m changing lanes into semi-truck, vibrate my seat or bark “Blind spot!” If I’m about to drive at full-clip into a line of stopped traffic, shout “Brakes!”

Not only would it be a whole lot more informative and therefore safer than random beeping, but hey, it would be another excellent selling feature. And I’ve got the perfect name for it: Intuitive Warning Alert Notification Talk, aka I-WANT. You want it too, right?

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