All the time, both on the internet and the real world, we hear about the dangers of distracted driving and how the sooner all the cars drive themselves the better, people are stupid, blah blah blah. The culprits are many: smartphones, infotainment systems, yoga pants and the propensity for certain people to daydream. But I think part of the problem lies in modern cars themselves.
Over the past 25 years or so, cars have largely been focused on minimizing NVH levels - noise, vibration, and harshness. The argument is that after a hard day at work, the last thing anybody wants to deal with is some rough-riding rattletrap. So carmakers fill the cabin with sound-deadening materials and hide the engine under a set of plastic covers. Then they soften up the suspension to soak up all the bumps and throw in thickly padded seats so they’re less like seating in a vehicle and more like furniture (tie this into the chair-like seating position the most popular crossovers have). They pass this off as “refinement”, but what it is in reality is isolation. Isolation from the elements, isolation from speed, isolation from what’s really going on when we travel from Point A to Point B.
So, what’s really going on? We’re filling small chambers with highly flammable liquid, which gets ignited by spark-producing devices, causing the fuel to explode and push a set of pistons (or in some cases, rotors) down (around in the case of rotors). Said pistons are attached to a moving crankshaft, which in turn attaches to a driveshaft, which causes the wheels (mostly the front, but sometimes the rear and more and more all 4) to move forward or backward, depending on what gear the car is in. Pushing down the accelerator causes the chambers to fill up with more highly flammable liquid, which makes the pistons, and in turn, the car, move faster.
If you remember from high school physics or the second season finale of Orphan Black, force equals mass times acceleration. Mass is expressed in more practical layman’s terms as weight. The average weight of modern cars, according to Google, is 4000 lbs/1.82 kg. Factor in the weight of the driver/passengers (average 167 lbs/75.75 kg/12 stone) and that most cars have the driver plus 1 or 2 passengers, and the average weight, or mass, of the average car is around 4340 lbs/1969 kg.
Now let’s do some math(s):
- 25 mph = 367 newtons of force
- 35 mph = 513 newtons of force
- 45 mph = 660 newtons of force
- 55 mph = 807 newtons of force
- 65 mph = 953 newtons of force
I’m likely way off in my math(s) (or I’ve oversimplified things too much), but the point is that moving objects have a ton of force behind them. Which is all well and good - until they collide with other objects. Then the force is released as kinetic energy, which causes an automobile to deform into a mass of twisted metal and broken glass, and breaks the bones/disrupts the internal organs of the occupants inside.
“What,” you’re likely screaming at me right now, “does any of this crap have to do with the topic of this post?!” Well, in isolating the occupants from noise, vibration and harshness, car makers have isolated drivers/passengers from the gravity of the situation that is driving! Take a drive in your average point a/point b personal transit appliance and the difference between 35 and 65 mph is negligible. You’re just sitting there pushing the pedals and occasionally turning the steering wheel, while gently feeling the effects of inertia and seeing your surroundings go by around you. It’s boring. More importantly, when people become bored, they become disengaged. Their minds wander. They start focusing on “more important things”, like the song on the radio, disciplining their kids, or fantasizing about that hot chick at the gym/office they want to ask out/have a date with this weekend. Meanwhile, the physics of the situation don’t change. A large amount of metal-twisting, bone-breaking kinetic energy will be released if you hit something/someone and you will likely go to prison/hate yourself for life if you run some kid chasing their ball/dog into the street over.
A car that is engaging to drive is safer because the driver is enjoying the act of driving too much to worry about the text they just received or the girl on the sidewalk in hot pants and a croptop. Plus, fun cars are more likely to instill pride of ownership, so you’ll want to drive safer for fear of scratching/denting it up. I have little doubt that the cause of the Camry Dent is the car’s inherent blandness; perhaps it won’t appear as much on the new model.
So what do we do to improve the situation? As auto enthusiasts it is not only our duty to buy interesting cars new so manufacturers profit from building them and continue producing them in large numbers, but to also ensure our less automotively-enthusiastic friends buy the best-driving car in whatever class of car they’re interested in. If someone talks about getting a RAV4, steer them toward a CX-5 instead. If someone asks about the Impala, tell them it’s nice for what it is but suggest maybe they look at a Charger first.
Boycott boring cars! The life you save might be your own.