I wonder if I could beg a little of your splendid correspondence columns to congratulate December correspondent D. R. Kelsey on his most timely letter about switch ergonomics. Surely every thinking reader must agree with his outspoken condemnation of steering column stalks for lamps and wipers. As we know well, Continental cars have had these for many years and now our own car designers are following their fashion: Sheep!
Originally these controls were designed to suit the limited ability of Continental peasan try who obviously lacked the physical and mental stamina of even the most mediocre British driver. Judging by the design of these column stalks, foreigners neither have the ability to distinguish between closely or randomly placed identical dashboard switches, nor the physical attributes to keep reaching out to operate them. In fact the unfortunate continentals evidently have so little ability that they feel uncomfortable unless they can keep their hands on the steering wheel, using only their finger-tips to operate two or three levers. You can well imagine the results:
Firstly the drivers of such cars rapidly lose their sense of directional judgement, which in most British cars is maintained by arranging the switches in a programmed self-teaching arrangement. This ensures that if you are stupid enough to forget exactly where the right switch is in an emergency, you get a nasty fright or, even more elucidating, an accident. This is probably the best known method of keeping a driver’s directional judgement up to scratch.
Secondly, by placing the switches out of easy reach, the stomach and back muscles are kept continually toned up. Fitness is most important in these days of coronary troubles due to lack of exercise.
Thirdly, by placing the switches within easy reach, the continental’s driving alertness slowly deteriorates because he is able to minimise his risk of injury in an accident by wearing a tightly adjusted static seat-belt, which in many UK cars is impossible because of the control positions. This is another way of reducing awareness because, as was pointed out recently, the inertia reelbelt, so necessary in many British cars, is not as safe as the static belt at preventing injuries, and therefore makes the driver more alert to avoiding such risks. Better still, no belts at all is the best way of ensuring constant driver vigilance.
And finally I’m surprised Mr. Kelsey didn’t remark on the other related feature at which fortunately Britain still leads Europe, namely in the amount of leg-room provided for drivers. By carefully restricting the fore and aft travel of driving seats, most popular British cars ensure that probably a quarter of all drivers cannot attain a comfortable driving position. This is a fourth and most valuable feature in keeping drivers alert, as was recognised publicly by Sir Alec Issigonis many years ago.
Personally I wouldn’t be without my new Chrysler Hunter which embodies all that is best in Mr. Kelsey’s philosophy. The light switch is fourteen inches from the wheel rim —even better than a Mini’s—and grouped with several similar ones; the wiper control is only ten inches beyond but makes up for the inadequate distance by being behind and under the wheel—very subtle design there. First and third gears require a firm forward stretch and the steering wheel requires very large wheel movements which is excellent for keeping my arms and shoulders fit. And finally the driving seat does not go far enough back to allow me to relax into a a dangerously comfortable position, which puts the ultimate touch to the carefully devised package at ensuring alertness and fitness. My word, those Chrysler stylists really learnt something from the errors of the steering column controls of the original Imp and current Avenger. I suggest that the Hunter is probably the ultimate in Mr. Kelsey’s philosophy and I must say I’m surprised he doesn’t own one.
However, I’m sorry to say that these insidious continental ideas are slowly brainwashing the British public. My local dealer tells me that people are actually beginning to complain about these “alertness” features: Apparently more than one driver in five, has the nerve to gripe about the lack of leg-room alone, which just shows how far this decadence has spread. Fortunately most British car makers seem to realise this danger and use a carefully devised system whereby dealers are trained not to relay complaints from the public, and if they do (inadvertently) the complaints are automatically routed to dead files. I also understand that they are strongly resisting the introduction of ergonomics—the devilish science which seems to be the cause of all this trouble—by a crafty pretence that they know all about it.
Keep up the good work Mr. Kelsey. Let’s all tell these car designers where their errors lie and help preserve the British pedigree. Long live a thinking and independent Britain.
Crick C. R. Smith