gadgets

SEAT’s safety-conscious Leon – Guardian Angel or gadget overkill?

SEAT is now displaying its new Leon safety car at motor shows

A SEAT Toledo, a sun-kissed dual carriageway and a few generous dollops of over-confidence are all you need. Forget track days; if you want to experience some on-the-edge motoring just hop into a taxi at Barcelona Airport.

Every time I’ve ever taken the journey it’s been exciting and terrifying in equal measure, because the chap behind the wheel drives like a stunt double from one of the Bourne movies. There’s tailgating, brave overtakes, questionable undertakes and last minute manouveres that’d make an F1 driver wince. I’m never sure whether to give the taxi firm’s number to the police or to Red Bull’s talent spotters.

Yet it’s obvious that someone at SEAT’s headquarters – based just up the road from Barcelona, of course – has partaken in a few of these pulse-raising outings too. Because it’s just come up with a car that on the face of it aspires to make all of us safer, but is surely engineered entirely with Mediterranean taxi drivers in mind.

On the outset its new experimental car is ostensibly a Leon hatchback but it has no fewer than 19 safety systems on-hand to make sure you don’t bin it into the central reservation, which when used in conjunction become what SEAT calls its Guardian Angel mode.

Deep breath. It includes a built-in breathalyser that won’t let you start the car if it detects any hints of John Smiths or hears you bigging up some bloke you met two hours earlier as your new best mate; an eye sensor that tracks your peepers to make sure you aren’t about to nod off; a voice assistant that gives you a patronising pep talk if you’re doing more than thirty, and a system that lets your mum set the speed limit remotely when you’re popping to the shops in it. At least that way you can’t be grounded for misbehaving in it. Oh, and of course there are black boxes monitoring your every move.

Obviously if all 19 of these high-tech helping hands do make into every taxi in the whole of Catalunya then I’ll be able to depart the airport a bit more confident that I’ll make it into Barcelona intact, but I worry if SEAT genuinely thinks this is the future of driving. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for safer driving, but festoon a car with this much mumsy gadgetry and I worry the impression it’ll give is that you needn’t bother with sharpening up your own skills. Why bother when your Guardian Angel has got things covered?

Let’s have gadgets later and proper, in-depth driving tuition first. Starting with my taxi-driving chum, naturally…

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The police have some great car tech. It’s time for the rest of us to catch up

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I’M SURE I’ll read this in 2027 and be acutely embarrassed but I’ll say it anyway; today’s technology is amazing. I’ve no doubt Champion readers of the future will look back at right now and sneer at our primitive Trump Age inventions, but I’ll happily defend them.

Last Sunday I was at a car show at Brooklands, more than four hours’ drive away in deepest Surrey. Yet by the powers vested in my smartphone I was able to snap an Austin Seven being driven in anger, and a few seconds later you could see it in all its hi-res, technicolour glory on Facebook. A few hours later my pocket-sized miracle worker was able to harness the might of 31 satellites in space to seamlessly guide me around the M25’s traffic jams. Oh, and you can ring people on it on as well.

Yet in this seemingly enlightened age you can still be asked to produce good old-fashioned bits of paper if you’re pulled over by the police and need to prove you have insurance or an MoT. Yet – and you probably won’t be the slightest bit surprised to learn this – record numbers of drivers simply don’t carry them around with them. 

The police have their own system to check on this – it’s called Automatic Number Plate Recognition, or ANPR for short. I’ve seen it in action and it’s brilliant. Even when they’re driving past another car at 50mph it can read your plate and in an instant deduce whether you’re a wrong ‘un or not, and whether you’re likely to appear in an upcoming episode of Traffic Cops.

But I reckon it’s time we, the ordinary motorists, caught up. We’ve already worked out how to do away with paper tax discs and paper driving licences, but surely it’s time to look at how we can do away with the other bits of paper that inevitably end up clogging up a box file in your study too? If we can manage paperless bank statements and paperless gas bills then doing the same – and securely – for registration documents, insurance documents and MoT certificates can’t be that tricky.

Surely giving your friendly constable chum a single card to swipe through on their system – or even a smartphone with a bit of electronically-generated code – would save plenty of trees and avoid the need to pop to a police station with said documents within seven days. Certainly it’d avoid the situation of record numbers of drivers not having their details to hand, for sure.

I can only hope in some sort of Skunk Works in deepest Swansea that the DVLA’s brightest minds are already working on just such a thing. Then they – like my future self of 2027 – can look back on this primitive age of paper-dependent motoring and wonder what all the fuss was about.