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Modern safety features encourage sloppy driving in the youth. Discuss

Dear Car Talk,
I’ve noticed your partiality to all the new safety features available on today’s cars - automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and rear cross traffic alert, amongst others.
Now, with my grandchildren soon to start learning to drive, I have determined that I should find a good, low-mileage1997-2000 Toyota RAV4 AWD in good condition with a 5-speed stick shift for purposes of teaching them to drive properly and be fully aware of their surroundings. It has excellent all-round visibility and none of these modern aides which encourage sloppy driving habits and render people oblivious to what is going on outside of the touch screen. Don’t you feel it is important for new young drivers to understand what defensive driving is all about? Once they have mastered this concept, then, sure, let them wallow in all the technology.
And, if I can’t find my dream RAV4, my grandchildren can always take their driving tests in my 1964 Corvair, although it is only a 4-speed.

This is a subject that will generate quite a bit of discussion, I believe. The things you’ve read on CarTalk are not created by people on this forum (save one). There are lots of opinion about that subject. For instance;

As much as I love manual transmissions, I disagree with your thoughts that new drivers should learn on one. That is a recipe for a burnt clutch. It will happen, it will be expensive. Why not introduce the manual after the kid drives for a year? Driving is difficult enough, in the modern world without trying to coordinate all 4 limbs, 2 eyes and one mind.

Some of those modern aids could save the kid’s life. Do you plan of taking the grandkids to a skidpad and paying a professional driving instructor to teach them how to control a skid? How to threshold brake without ABS? How to corner at the tire’s limit without losing control? If you aren’t willing or don’t understand why that is important, I’d say at least buy them a car with ABS and Stability Control - both required after 2011 - rather than letting them learn on their own the hard way.

By the way, I am a retired racer and engineer that has helped develop some of these systems. They can exceed my abilities and yours as well. Why not give the kids a better tool set that we had learning to drive?

Now the 2000 RAV might have front airbags, that’s good, but what about side bags? Even a self-aware driver can get T-boned buy a Suburban driven by someone texting on their phone running a red light.

As for letting them drive your '64 Corvair, why not let them play on the highway in rush hour traffic? Probably be safer. That said, I like the Corvair, especially the '65 - '69 cars since it has a revised rear suspension making it less likely to spin but it is not a car for modern traffic problems.


I doubt if Michael Brittan will return but is he ever wrong. I hope his children have more sensible thoughts about the safety features than he does. As our insurance agent says it is not if a new driver has an accident but when will it happen.

Lighten up, guys. That was a tongue-in-cheek piece. My everyday car has cross-traffic warning, forward collision auto braking, blind-spot monitoring, and all the other mod cons. This is the kind of vehicle my grandkids will be driving when they start in a few years. But, if they learn to drive on one of these, they will never know what defensive driving means, and will be poorer drivers because of it.

And how was anyone supposed to know that ? And you are wrong about those features not helping with defensive driving.

I disagree. I have driven stick shift cars with only air bags (RIP 94 Saturn), I have driven cars from the last 5 years with backup cameras, ABS, Stability Control, and the works. The modern gizmos and gadgets don’t prevent you from learning how to drive defensively…but they can help keep new teenage drivers alive in an accident (whether their fault or not!). I think you should consider paying for them to have on road driving instruction if you’re really that worried about them learning good defensive driving habits. (For the record, I actually prefer cars without ABS to cars with them, but I am a big fan of the stability control (and since you can’t get one without the other :wink: ), it helped me get our minivan home in a snow storm last winter that I wouldn’t have wanted to try and maneuver around in our Focus)

To some extent, I’m with @MichaelBrittan on this topic, but I’m not going in to the extent he describes.

My kid (17 years) is currently learning to drive on 2013 Mazda3: modern enough for safety features, not new enough to have too many gizmos I tend to think are not needed at her first year of driving.

Also, although I used to be an avid proponent of stick-shift, she is learning to drive on automatic, as other posters above noted - it’s enough complexity to tackle during this initial phase.

I think down the road, I’m gonna buy her some car with some of “new gizmos” like blind zone assist, collision warning/assist, etc…, but I do agree with Michael, that she has to learn first on how to live with bare car to control.

People old enough to remember drum brakes, no power steering, slow acceleration (by today’s standards) will tell you they noticed more reckless driving habits once those limitations were removed. Not many people would dart out into traffic or risk rear ending someone by following within a millimeter of someone’s bumper in the old cars. Time and technology marches on and enables less and less attentive driving habits and risk taking…


I learned to drive in a 1979 Jeep CJ 5 with a 3 speed manual and a V8. I do believe I’m a better driver now, from learning to control that short, top heavy little suv that handled like a roller skate going down a staircase. But I wouldn’t want my kids in one. And I don’t think I’d want to try to keep up with modern traffic in that beast myself.

I doubt my kids will have backup cameras, side impact airbags, blind spot monitoring, or collision avoidance in the car they learn to drive in. It would be nice, but I doubt they get anything that modern. I don’t have anything that modern yet myself, although my wife’s suv does have side airbags, backup camera, and esc.

You have me trying to remember my first American car with factory seatbelts. All 4 of my British roadsters had them. I have decided it was the 1971 Chevrolet Vega in 1976!

When I was a kid, we didn’t need modern safety systems to encourage us to drive like idiots. We had the gumption to get the job done ourselves. :wink:

Kids almost always drive like morons. My neighbor’s kid smashed up the front of his car driving like a moron. His dad bought him new body panels and he installed them, and he went right back out and still drives like a moron.

Those safety systems might make it so that when the kid drives like a moron, which he is going to do no matter what, the car slams on the brakes before he rearends me and then dies because I murder him. :wink:

What about your stated vehicle of choice for young drivers?
Do you REALLY want to see your kids in a '64 Corvair, or were we supposed to deduce that this reference was also tongue-in-cheek?

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Completely disagree. Defenses driving is not a result of technology, but the behavior of the driver.


But on the other hand, all this tech will eventually reduce the drivers attention to the task at hand. But with all this tech the accident may never happen. The car will stop for you, keep you in your lane, maintain your speed and distance, except for the possibility of you missing your turn off, or needing fuel/oil added you pretty much don’t even need to be awake.

That’s a good thing these days. It’s not just teens driving like idiots. Ever since smart phones got popular, driving has been a daily exercise in near-misses. People from 16 to 60 are cruising down the road reading their text messages or shooting live video of themselves driving (because apparently someone is supposed to care what I do 24/7). The phones have turned a large percentage of drivers into dopes, and they’re going to be dopes no matter what safety systems are or are not installed on the car. Might as well install them and try to protect those of us who wait until the car is stopped to send email.

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Oh, do modern cars have telephone wire in them? If they do then would you use a voltmeter to detect a current?

Melissa, telephone wire ? You have heard of cell phones and vehicles that can use that feature.

they are invisible.

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I still get too many lane departure beeps to keep wifey happy, Bright side she gets some also. 50 years of driving, still learning.

Maybe, certain features could be faster if automobiles were outfitted with telephone wire.

If there was telephone wire in autos then would you use a voltmeter to detect current?