I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I hate smart cars. 

The other day I was barreling down the highway at 70 mph or so when a warning flashed on the console of my wife’s Nissan Nag. 

“Tire,” this warning said, and nothing more. No input on which tire had been deemed problematic, no suggestion of what the nature of the problem might be. 

Super helpful, Car of the Future. With such vague and ominous information at my disposal, it was unclear if I was to put air in my tires at my earliest convenience or if I should shove open the door and bail out of the speeding car stuntman-style at once. 

I imagined going into a doctor’s office only to be greeted by the grim-faced, clipboard-clutching M.D. who puts a reassuring hand on my shoulder, shakes his head sadly and says, “spleen.” 

If vague and ominous messages were the only source of irritation coming from this overbearing mom of a car, I wouldn’t be here grousing all over your Cheerios. But wait, there’s more! 

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One recent afternoon, I was backing out of my driveway, head spinning nearly all the way around on my neck as I checked for potential obstacles. Nothing to the left, nothing to the right, nothing straight behind me. Good to go. 

So I started to back out and BAM! On went the automatic brakes, slamming me against the wheel, sending my heart into thudding overdrive and leaving me half in and half out of my driveway with no idea why it was so. 

I got out of the car and examined the landscape around me: nothing to the left, nothing to the right, nothing directly behind me. The car had apparently braked at a shadow, a low-dipping bat or possibly a ghost. 

It’s happened going forward, as well. Once, on Sabattus Street in Lewiston, this let’s-keep-’em-guessing bonehead of a car slammed on the brakes for ABSOLUTELY NO REASON as I was traveling at a smooth 35 mph with no other traffic in sight.  

Sunglasses flew off my face. Bags of groceries went flying from the back seat. I peered around all frantic and confused. 

No pedestrians, no animals darting into the road, no nothing at all, yet the invisible safety coach under the hood — who thinks he knows better than I do about when to use the brakes — brought the car to a shuddering stop right there in the middle of Sabattus Street. 

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And these cars aren’t satisfied with bringing the driver to an inexplicable stops, they have to do it with great drama, as well. There’s a sudden grinding sound as the brakes are applied. Lights on the console flash their dire (and obscure) warnings like a pinball machine at an Old Orchard Beach arcade. Everything about the experience is designed to exclaim “WHOA! CAN YOU BELIEVE HOW CLOSE THAT WAS? HOLY MOLY, GOOD THING YOU HAVE A SMART CAR!” 

The car locks the doors all by itself, with no input from me whatsoever. The high beams will go on and off by themselves, a reaction to things no human can see but which apparently the car can. There’s always one message or another flashing on the dashboard and you can’t help but take your eyes off the road for a second to look at them. How is that a safety feature? 

Idiot lights have always been a thing, but the makers of these smart cars have doubled down on the concept, creating dummy lights for every conceivable situation and presenting you with a variety of symbols that look like they might have been painted on a cave wall in France. 

Here’s one that looks like a plate of spaghetti tucked inside a set of parenthesis. That’s a brake warning, in case you didn’t notice on your own that your brakes had failed. 

Here’s one that looks like an exclamation point trapped inside a coffee pot. This symbol has all the drama of an incoming, life-ending comet, but it really just means your tire pressure is a little low. Possibly. 

Exclamation point inside a triangle? That’s a “master warning light,” and you better heed it because it probably means something. Maybe it means you’re about to slam into a pyramid, I have no idea. 

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Here’s a symbol that to me looks like a man in a hard hat who’s had his lips sewn shut. Front fog light indicator. I’m not even sure this car has fog lights, but it’s got a warning message for one, anyway.  

The big PS that pops up isn’t your car remembering it had one more thing to tell you, it’s an indication that something is wrong with your power steering. Possibly. You should probably just pull into your nearest dealership and hand over your life savings so they can run diagnostics with that diagnostic thingamahoo you’re not allowed to look at. 

And if you need one more circle of Hell to enjoy on your long ride to Aggravationville, the newer cars sync up with your phone now, too, so phone calls and text messages will come pouncing straight out of your radio whether you want them or not. 

So convenient. So helpful. So damn wonderful, it’s hard not to drive directly into a lake sometimes. 

The truck I drive is 18 years old and it doesn’t link up to anything. If I asked it to read an email for me it would just laugh and laugh. 

That big old truck has seemingly thousands of dashboard idiot lights, it’s true, but since every single one of them is lit up permanently, I think of them as mere decorations. Why, they’re kind of pretty all glowing like that; sort of like a Christmas tree year-round. 

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But the truck allows me to brake when I want to. The doors don’t lock unless I physically push the button. If I’m just driving across a parking lot and forget to buckle up, it doesn’t sound a warning so loud and so dire, you’d think we had just gone to DEFCON 1. In fact, my old clunker doesn’t have alarms for anything. It trusts me to make the big decisions on my own and I appreciate that. 

Give me the choice, and my next ride will be some creaky old rust bucket 40 years old or possibly older. Because I genuinely cringe at the thought of what car safety and “convenience” features will be like five years from now. Seat sensors that detect you’ve put on a few pounds during the holidays. Seat belts that monitor your blood pressure and heart rate so the car can nag you about your personal habits. The rear mirror will feature an eyeball scanner that knows if your eyes wander away from the road. 

“Hey there, big fella,” an alarm will screech. “I’m up HERE!” 

I tell you, my dudes. I’ve never missed my 1978 Chevy Vega as much as I do right now. That old beast belched blue smoke and had to be started with a screw driver, but by gum, it never nagged me about a single thing. 

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