Clarkson on: parking
It is a fact that 80 per cent of all aeroplane crashes are attributed to pilot error. So the safest thing we could possibly do is get rid of the humans in the cockpit. The only trouble is that if we did this, we’d also get rid of all the humans in the passenger compartment as well. No really. Would you get on a plane that was being flown entirely by computer?
Weird isn’t it, that we take comfort from being in the hands of fallible beings which may be drunk, or menstruating, or tired, or bored out of their wits.
And the thing is that fully automated planes are science fact. I’ve actually filmed on board an Airbus which was told, by Chicago airport, which runway to land on at Gatwick, 4,000 miles away. It cruised right across the Atlantic on its own and landed not just on the runway but so perfectly dead centre I could feel the catseyes bumping against the nose wheel. All the pilot did on the entire journey was throttle back after we’d touched down.
And don’t think this was some stunt. Because sitting behind me were 300 or so passengers. It was a normal, everyday transatlantic flight. This is remarkable technology, up there with the 2580 phone service that can identify any record ever made, just by listening to it as a series of ones and noughts. Or the phone network that now routinely turns your words into a series of tiny packages. Some are then set through cables, others go up into space but whatever the route, they’re all reassembled perfectly at the other end, even if it’s in Wichita.
So, if it’s now possible to do all this and make a satnav system steer, in perfect safety, the entire population of a small village halfway round the world and drop them off, precisely where required, how come we have not yet made a car which can go from the middle of the road into a parking space two yards away?
I’m talking about parking this month for two very good reasons. First, because I’m about to get a Ford GT and, second, because I’m 43.
Because I’m 43, bits of my body that worked perfectly well yesterday, do not work so well today. Things just break in the night. And the latest component to come over all hopeless is my left buttock, which suddenly has the give of elm.
Getting into an armchair hurts like billy-o. Getting out again is pretty much impossible. And I do wish friends would stop recommending chiropractors and osteopaths because: (a) I don’t want to pay a man to rub my bottom and (b) how the hell am I supposed to get there? Unless someone can invent a pair of hover-shoes, I’m marooned on my own little island of pain.
Which brings me on to the Ford GT. Yes, passers-by will nod appreciatively as I burble by, but, boy, will their nodding turn to open laughter when they see me trying to get out.
“Parking sensors are not the answer. In a crowded city like London, parking is measured to the nearest 2mm”
Exiting any supercar is an undignified process, no matter how old and fit you may be. If I ever parked the old Ferrari 355 against a high kerb, I found the easiest way out was to crawl onto the pavement on my hands and knees. I’m aware, of course, that this looked a bit poor.
But the GT adds to the problem because, when you open the door, half the roof comes with it. So even when it’s open, it’s not, if you see what I mean. In a tight parking space (and the one at my flat in London is barely wide enough to accommodate Kate Moss on a Microscooter), I’ll have to turn round and slide sideways head first out of what may as well be a letterbox.
This would be difficult at the best of times but when your torso is joined to your leg by a buttock made of solid wood, I fear it may be impossible.
There are some solutions. I could grit my teeth and see the bum-bandit osteo-wotsit. Or I could move house. Or, I suppose, I could cancel my order for the Ford and buy a Kia Rio instead.
But would this help? In the olden days, when my bones weren’t brittle and my muscles rippled like pythons in a sack, I could rotate my head almost as well as Linda Blair in The Exorcist. I’d pull up in front of a space, swivel in my seat and, whoosh, I’d have the car alongside the kerb. After 18 years in London, people would come from all over the world to watch me do it.
Not any more. Now, no matter how small the car, or how light its steering or how good its visibility, I just don’t have the physical dexterity to turn round any more. And if I attempt to compensate for this by swivelling my eyes, I end up looking backwards at my own brain.
I therefore have to use The Force. And weirdly, this doesn’t work very well. I don’t understand why, because on the last census, I put my religion down as Jedi Knight and yet, I can never ‘feel’ the car behind until I really do feel it. Parking sensors are not the answer. For some strange reason they start beeping when you are half a mile from the obstacle and then become a solid wall of sound when you’re two feet away. That’s no good. In a crowded city like London, parking is measured to the nearest 2mm.
Very quickly, you learn to ignore the warnings in the same way you ignore an empty fuel tank: ‘Oh, it doesn’t mean I have to stop now. I can just keep going another... crunch!’ If you look at my Volvo, there’s a crack in the bumper and a smashed light right above one of the sensors.
There’s another problem too, which is that they cry wolf. Driving slowly, they scream away at every pedestrian or every gust of wind, so you’ll be guaranteed to tune them out on the very day you really are reversing over a pram.
No. What we need is fully automated parking. We need to pull up, push a button and then read a book until we’re stopped. How hard can it be? Radar could measure the space and feed the data to a computer, which simply calculates how much lock is required at any given moment. It’s not like there are any variables; a 14-foot space will always require the same set of actions whether it’s in Barnsley or Barnes.
Much is being done to make cars easier to drive fast. But as middle age sets in, I need an equal amount being done to make them easier to stop.