Automation is great. Until it isn’t.

After 145,000 trouble-free miles, it was time to trade my beloved Miata in on a new car. The red convertible had exceeded expectations in every way but one. Touted as a “Chick Magnet,” my experience was that the only babes attracted were north of 70.

So am I, but still.

My personal credo is that “cowards live 40 percent longer,” and in striving to live FAR north of 70, I sprang for a bunch of the new electronic safety stuff on the new car.

One of the neatest features is a lane-keeping assist thingy that actually steers the car, following lane markers. Couple that with adaptive cruise control, and the SUV now knows what Susan learned years ago… I serve no purpose.

There’s a caveat… remember Edward Hines? He was driving behind a leaky milk tanker in 1911, and cleverly figured out that a white line in the middle of the road created lanes that improved safety. What happens if the new SUV gets behind a milk truck? My hope is to end up at an ice cream place, rather than the more likely… dairy farm.

By most accounts, the safety technology available on new coaches is working. Some forms of accidents are down, and folks smarter than me feel it’s in large part due to the plethora of electronic acronyms now in use. Some of the stuff that is not standard equipment can be costly, but it does a couple of things. It can prevent, or mitigate, accidents, saving lives and money.

It also answers questions before they’re asked. In the lawsuit following your bus being struck by a meteor, you can count on the plaintiff’s attorney demanding to know why you hadn’t bought adaptive cruise control.

I’m a bit schizophrenic on this. It’s important that drivers acquire and retain safety skills for a variety of reasons. Coaches last a long time, so part of your fleet likely lacks some of the newest safety goodies. Golly gee, sometimes these jewels don’t work, either because they break or their sensors are covered with snow (you know, just when you need them most).

In ye olden days, our boss often assigned the best driver to a gimpy bus, assuming that anyone could drive the good ones. It takes a manly man to wrestle with a bad one. The limping coach was a status symbol.

Not only should drivers know HOW to drive, but they need a basic understanding of how this stuff works… so they don’t fight it. If ABS is working, you plant your foot on the brakes, if it’s not, a bit of pumping is in order. Every acronym has its own druthers.

We’d driven the Flxible 600 miles and were refueling it when the diesel pump clicked off at 35 gallons. Wow, great fuel mileage, and if you couldn’t trust the automatic nozzle, who could you trust?

The bus coasted silently to a stop 400 miles later in front of a diner. Apparently pump shutoffs lie, so “trust but verify” when it comes to automation. Who knew that you could prime a 6-71 Detroit Diesel with a ketchup squeeze bottle? Don’t go to THAT diner.

The next couple of years are going to be interesting as we sort out how to integrate automation with traditional skills. It might be wise to err on the side of tradition.

Ask the lady whose Smart Car was robbed. Bad guys stole the GPS. She asked the police officer where she could buy a new one… so she could find her way home. Her skills didn’t include map reading. Smart Car? You can’t make this stuff up.

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