The Interstate 680 South and Highway 24 West interchange in Walnut Creek, California, is a manic maze. It’s often a showcase for drivers’ worst behaviors. You can drive it a thousand times, prepare for a safe move to the proper lane and still face peril.
The freeways’ designs don’t help. Rather, the awkward connection between the roads often prompts motoring lunacy. Cars cut across lanes at the last second and merging traffic from freeway ramps isn’t given proper access.
But there’s a still a potential positive in the chaos. However hectic the traffic gets, modern automotive technology can help, except for when it doesn’t.
Such was the case recently while approaching the 680 South to 24 West traffic mess in a 2016 Lincoln MKX. The sport utility vehicle’s 10th-anniversary issue is a small, well-furnished, leather-dominated apartment on wheels. It has 335 horsepower and advances with authority.
The new Lincoln is a well-constructed, attractive and modern machine. It has 22-position front seats with massage mode. There’s an automatic shift mode that can inflate or deflate air bladders to relieve muscle fatigue.
Push-button shift squares positioned in a vertical column to the left of the navigation system replace a traditional gearshift lever. It’s a unique approach and an ultimately refreshing alternative.The MKX’s cabin is spacious, and the panoramic vista roof makes it seem even more like a moveable penthouse priced at $58,000.
But the Lincoln MKX also ideally positioned in a new, expanding automotive segment — vehicles hampered by technology overload. The SUV has a detection system so sensitive, it doesn’t know when to shut up.
If you merge right to advance to Highway 24 or left to Interstate 680, the side mirror detection system lets you know with a blast if another vehicle is too close for you to change lanes. It’s innovation at its best.
But at other times, when the vehicle is seemingly within a block of animals, curbs, trees, buildings, parked cars, passersby or other vehicles barely in the same zip code, be forewarned. You’ll get an abrupt alarm or see sudden flashing side mirror lights even if the situation doesn’t appear to warrant a warning.
Do when need all that commotion? Is the vehicle’s engine about to drop onto the freeway? Did all of the engine’s lubricants abruptly evaporate? Is the apocalypse imminent?
Detection systems can help prevent catastrophe. But the sensors on the new Lincoln, and on many other new vehicles, are super sensitive. They can create the risk of a driver’s over-reaction to an obstacle too far away to be problematic.
Technology overload in new vehicles has been a concern for several years as manufacturers try to do each other out with stuff drivers may or may not need.
David Lyon, a former General Motors designer, speaking at the 2015 Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) World Congress in Detroit, stressed the need for an industry “features intervention.”
Likewise in 2015, J.D. Power, the global market research company, detailed in its first Driver Interactive Vehicle Experience Report, new car drivers on the average have not used 16 of 33 technology features in their vehicles.
Further, a report earlier this year from Research and Markets, the international business data company, summarized: “Distraction or driver discomfort may also arise from any limitation of the product feature that may be detrimental to the safety of the driver, vehicle, and surrounding traffic environment.”
Lincoln has done well with many passenger safety and security features. The MKX has the government’s top five-star rating for front and side crash tests and is a “recommended buy” by Consumer Reports.
But like in most areas of life, too much a good thing, in this case, automotive technology, may be well intended. But it’s detrimental to safe driving.
(Originally published Nov. 20 in the San Jose Mercury News and East Bay Times.)