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Prescription For Disaster

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On: Tue, May 11, 2010 at 9:58AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

Prescription For Disaster

A scenario I would like to pose to you:

Say you haven’t been feeling well lately and decide to make an appointment with whichever local physician currently accepts your insurance. You walk in, and see all the doctor’s giant-sized degrees nailed to the wall in all of their monumental, well-earned pride.  Then you proceed to give all your information to the medical assistant and explain what the problem is. After she leaves, you find yourself waiting a little longer than you are comfortable with. You might even start to go so far as to wondering if the doctor has gone home for the day. Several seconds after you complete that thought, he walks in with a brilliant smile and makes you feel right at home… and terrible for getting angry with him.

He asks you very pointed questions, and you give him the best descriptions of the pain you’ve been suffering from. He then asks you to pull up your sleeve so he can check your blood pressure. He starts to pump, and after a couple awkward squeezes, can’t quite get the nozzle open quickly enough and has to start over. Then, he tries again, and this time says he lost count of your heartbeat. After half a dozen more tries, he laughs and says that was the one part of medical school he just could never get quite right. So he brings in a machine that will take it instead. It doesn’t actually make your visit any faster, and, in fact, takes longer because he has to engage the machine, but he assures you that the machine is much more efficient than he is anyway, so no big deal. At this point you might start feeling a little uneasy about what those big paper documents on the wall represent .

What does this scenario have to do with an automotive blog post? Please allow me to explain. Much the same as that medical degree your doctor has, your driver’s license signifies a few things to the world. It says you can legally operate a two-on piece of machinery at potentially fatal speeds with no problem. It says you can read and understand all of the signs and signals on the road and follow their instructions. At its most basic, your license to drive says you passed a test at the local DMV and maaaaybe failed one aspect of the test.  More than likely, as is the case with most people that fail something, it was parallel parking. But hey, it’s allowed right? Eventually you’ll get it, won’t you? Well, maybe not.

In 2007 Lexus introduced the world to an automatic parallel parking assistance feature on their flagship LS model. It was a somewhat controversial unveiling, but it was a new gadget to add to the high-end ’must have’ list. In the expensive luxury sedan market the premise is simple: He who has the most toys wins the sale.

Then in 2009 Ford brought this previously unattainable technology to the middle class with its own version called “active park assist” that is currently available on the Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner, Ford Flex, and the Lincoln MKS and MKT (the latter three only with the EcoBoost engine). Ford even one-upped the Japanese giant by making its system more techno-savvy. The sophisticated Ford system uses sonar like sensors instead of a video camera on the Lexus and promises to be a better version than Lexus’ in almost every way imaginable. The Ford system will be programmed to park in 41 different situations (uphill, downhill, with a car behind you, with a car in front of you, etc.) and will be three times faster than the Lexus version, at speeds up to five times faster and get you two times closer to the curb.

Not to be outdone, BMW is hot on the heels of this growing trend and going to be using a system similar to Ford’s on the 2011 5-Series. It seems uppity Bimmer owners not only want the Ultimate Driving Machine, they want the Ultimate Parking Machine as well…

The car that parks itself! It’s not science fiction anymore; it is right down the street at your local Ford (or Lexus or BMW) dealer. The question is: is this a good thing?

Obviously your author is not to keen on this, but maybe I’m just old school. Maybe I’ve reached that point in life that everyone seems destined to hit… the place where you stop being a forward-thinking youth, and you start becoming an old man stuck in your old ways. Maybe this is just technology doing what technology does: make life just a little easier. Maybe.

Or maybe this is a very bad idea packaged as a helping hand to aging, lazy consumers that never really got that parallel parking thing down. It may have something to do with the fact that they’ve never really practiced it, but we don’t have time to delve into semantics.

Maybe I am being a bit too cynical about this, but no one ever said, “Has a Ford driven you lately”? I had a ‘parking assist’ feature with my first car soon after I got my license. It was a no-cost option that entailed me being in an empty parking lot with my mom and four big orange cones for about two hours. I learned, and haven’t forgotten a dozen years later, no matter what the weather condition or how many cars there are around.

So just remember, when your ‘parking assist’-aided car blows a sensor one day and you’re stuck roaming the streets for a head-on spot, I’ll be the one who will be one spot ahead of you in the waiting room.

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James Roberts | 11:01AM (Thu, May 13, 2010)

I really enjoy sitting at an outside cafe or restaurant and watching southerners try to parallel park. I always choked it up to practice makes perfect, living in a city there were no other options. It is like riding a bicycle, you never forget.

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