The Amateur Parker
Cars Can Park and Spy on Your Kids
by Melissa Bean Sterzick
Sometimes your whole world revolves around parking – especially if you’re visiting downtown Los Angeles. The folks at Ford are a little parking-obsessed these days, too.
I recently read about the new features on the Ford Focus. Now, I don’t work for Ford, and they aren’t paying me to write about their vehicle.
I did drive a Ford as a teenager – a giant 12-passenger van that was more than reliable and a huge amount of fun for me and my friends. It wasn’t the car of my dreams, but it was transportation, and that was all that mattered.
I have indifferent feelings about Ford as a carmaker – not the confidence I have in my Toyota, nor the disdain my dad taught me to have for Chevrolet. As long as we’re clear on that.
The Focus offers a parking-assist feature that partly automates parallel parking. Sensors mounted on the car guide the vehicle into a space, while the driver controls the gas and brake. There’s also a new feature that partly automates backing out of a perpendicular space. And these sensors enable a system that warns drivers if vehicles or pedestrians are about to cross behind them when the car is in reverse.
I love safety – I’m praying for it every day, even though I know the laws of physics and nature are not listening to my prayers. So I think these automated features are pretty smart. We’d all like to live in a world where your car won’t let you run over anybody.
My question is, will these technological capabilities prevent people from developing good driving skills? I’m not against automated parking in any sense – I’m only curious how it will change our definition of a driver. Do you have to be able to park to be a good driver?
We had a rotary dial phone when I was a kid, and I once used it to call the operator just to say hello. She laughed and asked me if I was supposed to be on the phone. I hung up really fast. The police didn’t show up, like I thought they might, but I never tried it again. The point is, I was 5 years old, and I picked up the phone and knew how to use it.
My 10-year-old still struggles to figure out our cordless house phone – and forget about the cellphone. It’s the same with the TV remote, the microwave and the water filter. Some kids don’t learn to tie their shoelaces because all their shoes are Velcro. I’m not even sure they’re going to have to know how to type.
I firmly believe certain skills build on one another, and I think that even if your car can park for you, you should know how to park it yourself.
You must develop an innate understanding of the size and turning radius of your car in order to be a good driver – parking’s a great way to do that. You must know how your speed affects your stop. And you must know that reverse requires a visual confirmation that nothing is behind you, whether you walk around your car on the way to the driver’s seat, check your mirrors, look out the window, or make your passenger get out and look for you – or all of the above.
Of all the new features on the Focus, the one I like the most is a system called MyKey. It restricts the top speed and maximum volume of the audio system when a certain key is used to start the car. If the driver and passengers are not using seat belts, the audio system won’t play at all. It can also be used to prevent deactivation of safety technology systems.
In about six years, my oldest daughter will be driving, and my husband and I have already discussed how pleased we are that we’ll be able to follow her movements in her car. She’s a good kid, and we don’t expect to have major trouble with her, but we were teenagers once, and we know how stupid and reckless teenagers can be.
We’ve also talked about how we’ll be able to use her cellphone against her – tracking her movements by GPS and possibly knowing if she’s used her phone while driving.
If I sound like the mean kind of mom who would read her daughter’s diary, I can honestly say I would if I felt it necessary. But if I sound like an overprotective helicopter parent, I’m really not. I like knowing I could follow my child’s every move, but I doubt I’ll do it.
I wish my daughter could experience the kind of freedom and anonymity I had, but technology has made that impossible. In six years, she’ll be happy to have a license to get away from my endless lecturing. We’ll both know that I can check where she’s gone and how fast she got there, but that I trust her, and she’ll be as safe and feel as free as she possibly can.
But if she wants to drive, she has to know how to park for herself – parallel and perpendicular.
Melissa Bean Sterzick is Parking Today’s proofreader, staff writer and amateur parker. She can be reached at
Article Abstract from April, 2014