Piston Slap: Save Bacon or Save Face?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap save bacon or save face

Isaac writes:

Recently my family was sitting around the table discussing how my youngest sister will obtain her driving permit in a month to begin the wonderful process of becoming a licensed driver. The interesting part of this conversation, and the part I hope you can offer some advice, is when we talked about safety. Are modern cars too safe for beginner drivers?

While many publications and parents say new drivers should be placed in the safest vehicle possible, I have struggled with this concept and can only wonder how safety equipment in car affects new drivers. Comparing the two vehicles that my parents are considering giving to my youngest sister, my older sister’s 2002 Saturn SC2 or my mom’s old 2008 Ford Taurus X, there is a big difference in the safety between these cars. My sister and I were given cars that lacked ABS, side or curtain airbags, ESP, and traction control. Not having features, like AB, taught my sister to be more attentive in slippery conditions.

While I will not argue against the safety these systems provide, nor their existence, I can only wonder if we are hindering the drivers of tomorrow. I wonder how modern features like blind spot monitoring, radar based cruise control, and backup cameras will affect new drivers. Personally, I like to think I am a better driver today because of the lack of safety features I had in my first couple of cars.

Any thoughts?

Sajeev answers:

My gut says that net-net, improvements in driving safety technology make us safer. My reasoning concerns other technologies distracting drivers at an alarming rate. Even if you pump your brakes faster than ABS, catch oversteer better than any yaw sensor, you can’t protect distracted drivers from injuring/killing themselves. Or bumping you, forcing you off the road and skidding into a tree.

There are valid reasons to create these features, once safety became a legitimate selling point. Safety features are a profit center: automated or electronically-assisted driving enhancements on an otherwise low(er) margin car make good money while contributing to the motoring public’s overall health.

A win-win, no?

Perhaps you are a better driver because you mastered driving a vehicle without modern safety tech: go prove it on a roadcourse during an instructional event if so inclined. But I am sure you can’t out brake ABS on a slick road, especially after a long day at work with an exhausted mind and a weary body.

My first car was a ’65 Ford Galaxie with, among other glaring tech deficiencies, possessed manual brakes and a windscreen that fogged up with every rainstorm (no factory air conditioning). I can assure you it was unpleasant when the going got rough. While I loved the Galaxie dearly, during the two weeks I used my brother’s 1985 Thunderbird 30th Anniversary before it was sold, it “sold me” on tech advancements.

So when that distracted driver crosses the middle line on wet pavement, forcing you off the road while active handling straightens up rear end wiggle on that dirt/gravel shoulder so you can re-enter with minimal shock and stress, you’ll thank your lucky stars you have those goodies to save your bacon.

[Image: Jeffrey Sauger/General Motors]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Join the conversation
13 of 111 comments
  • Ericb91 Ericb91 on Mar 03, 2016

    I think the stuff designed to protect occupants in a collision is amazing and has proven to save lives. I don't think the OP was questioning the crashworthiness being a hindrance. I've had the same thought as the OP- our teens are learning to drive in cars that park themselves, stop themselves and steer themselves. I think this is an important issue. I believe it was Ford who proudly touted their parking assist with a learner's permit-equipped teenage boy talking about parallel parking. What happens when that kid is driving any other car and can't parallel park? With all of these built-in safety nets like Adaptive Cruise, Lane Keeping Assist and Collision Mitigation Braking, kids have no incentive or reason (in their one-track minds) to pay attention behind the wheel. Why stop texting when the car will stop for me if I get too close to another car? Why look at the road ahead when the car can keep me centered in my lane? Then there's the issue of Pedestrian Detection. It's a legitimate technology that will no doubt save lives. But what does that technology say about drivers? What message does it give to teenagers who are being told to pay attention behind the wheel? "Always keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. But don't worry; if you are 'distracted' momentarily, the car will intervene." These new driver-assistive technologies are an absolute marvel. They will no doubt save lives on the road. However, I fear that driving students who are trained up with these technologies at their disposal will become a danger on the road if they ever operate a car that is not so equipped, or if the system is switched off. Sorry for the long-winded post. In a nutshell- new drivers need to be trained as if these technologies don't exist. They are designed to supplement (NOT replace) common sense and awareness behind the wheel and they need to understand that.

    • See 9 previous
    • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Mar 03, 2016

      @DenverMike "My kids will never be taught to ‘pulse’ the brakes, or to extend their arm to stop the passenger from hitting the windshield . . ." I hope not. Nobody's that strong! Reminds me of a time I was driving 1980 Wagoneer through a parking lot as a high school student, looking for a spot to park. My buddy was in the passenger seat and his girlfriend in the back. I hadn't noticed that he unlatched his seatbelt and was on his knees facing the back seat. I was doing my typical aggressive driving and braked hard to turn into an available spot. I noticed motion to my right and looked over to see him seemingly suspended in the air against the dash/windshield/roof. His 160 lb body hung there for a moment until the vehicle came to a stop, then fell straight down to the floor. I found it amusing. He was a bit shocked but uninjured. The tires and brakes on that Wagoneer weren't great, so that wasn't even any serious decelerative force. Still, some people truly don't realize the forces involved. Within the last couple years, a friend actually told me that he reached over to hold his girlfriend in place at the start of a low speed gravel road rollover, and he sounded serious that that was a reasonable thing to do. Then again, I am talking about people who weren't wearing seatbelts in the first place.

  • Carlisimo Carlisimo on Mar 03, 2016

    When I was young I drove like a maniac in an unsafe car. I wouldn't have driven even worse in a safer car. Why would I? I was invincible. I wasn't thinking about my odds of crashing at all. So get all the safety stuff. It's not the source of overconfidence. A faster car would've been a problem.

    • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Mar 03, 2016

      Yeah, kids aren't worried about their safety. They do typically have some concerns about getting in trouble or damaging their vehicle though. I think a communicative, underpowered car would be ideal for most. No reason to leave off the safety stuff though. They might get smoked by a negligent driver, or might even lose control of the vehicle themselves. A novice is probably best just learning to drive to the limit of the nannies anyway. The true safety equipment is good. I'd stay away from any of the features that exist to enable the driver to divert their attention from the task of driving, or to avoid learning low speed maneuvering and developing spatial awareness. Regardless, if you can afford the extra cost of fuel, larger vehicles are the best option so that your child "wins" any collision regardless of fault.

  • Scott ?Wonder what Toyota will be using when they enter the market?
  • Fred The bigger issue is what happens to the other systems as demand dwindles? Will thet convert or will they just just shut down?
  • Roger hopkins Why do they all have to be 4 door??? Why not a "cab & a half" and a bit longer box. This is just another station wagon of the 21st century. Maybe they should put fake woodgrain on the side lol...
  • Greg Add me to the list: 2017 Sorento EX AWD w/2.0 Turbo GDI 68K miles. Changed oil religiously with only synthetic. Checked oil level before a rare long road trip and Ievel was at least 2 quarts down. That was less than 6 months after the last oil change. I'm now adding a quart of oil every 1000 miles and checking every 500 miles because I read reports that the oil usage gets worse. Too bad, really like the 2023 Tuscon. But I have not seen Hyundai/Kia doing anything new in terms of engine development. Therefore, I have to suspect that I will ony become a victim of a fatally flawed engine development program if I were to a purchase another Kia/Hyundai.
  • Craiger 1970s Battlestar Galactica Cylon face.