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Smart Cars: The solution for dumb drivers

Like most people, I was caught off guard when the first wave of smart cars arrived on the market a few years ago.

Now, by smart cars I don't mean those vehicles that look like they have a wind-up key on the roof and are designed only for those whose waist size doesn't exceed 28. I mean, cars that can do things that drivers have been unable to master, such as staying on the road without crashing into other people at random or using a rear-view camera to avoid backing over neighbours and crossing guards.

Since the average North American will pay huge amounts of money for anything that promises to save even a second of work – case in point: the electric knife – the fact that auto makers finally got around to these kinds of things wasn't that surprising.

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What was surprising was that one of their first choices wasn't a device to make driving safer or more economical or even prevent that disgusting goo from building up around the cup holder. It was parking.

Seriously? Of all the innovations that could benefit humanity and help drivers avoid frequent trips to the collision reporting centre or jail, this is what they came up with?

That's like the world's greatest scientists saying, "We have the technology to solve famine and end all wars, but what we're really excited about is this chewing gum that keeps its flavour for 24 hours."

But after a thorough investigation involving hours of undercover observation from my car, I have concluded that the auto industry – even GM – is right on this one.

Take a look at any parking lot or, if you have the stomach, any street that allows parallel parking and you will conclude that most drivers are challenged by the task of placing their vehicles inside white lines. And by "challenged," I mean "don't have a clue."

No matter how small the car or how large the space, somebody will find a way to turn a simple driving manoeuvre into automotive mayhem.

They'll park so close to the adjoining car in parking lots that the poor wretch who got there first will require the jaws of life to get back in.

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And don't get me started on the horrors of parallel parking. My battle-scarred car is testament to the parallel-parking abominations of others, though I must admit to a particularly painful encounter with a concrete lamp post that stands as my own personal badge of ineptitude.

But while the parking-assist features on new vehicles could mean fewer cars looking like mine and fewer visits to remedial parking school, it won't do much for the real parking crimes that plague our society: parking in disabled spots by the able bodied, double-parking while making an emergency run for a caramel latte, parking under No Parking signs and straddling two spots in a crowded shopping mall lot.

If there's a god, that feature – the anti-piggishness device – is already in the works.

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