If you’ve ever happened across a fast food restaurant late at night, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen the ‘yoofs’ congregated there were doing their best to test their handbrakes to the limit, and show off their driving skills to all onlookers.

As adults, we find it pointless & annoying, and we do our best to discourage that behaviour; a shake of the head, a silent ‘tut’ and withering stares, usually to no avail. If I’ve described you (as the adult), there’s good news: just 3 in 10 new cars on sale today have manual handbrakes, and only two mainstream manufacturers (Suzuki & Dacia) offer them across their range.

The likes of Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Land Rover and Lexus have all ditched the traditional, manual handbrake – none of their new models have them fitted.

Electronic handbrakes

In an age of connectivity, smart cars and electrification, manufacturers are looking toward improving systems and processes even further. Certainly, there isn’t much wrong with the traditional handbrake, but as a system, it’s crude and offers little innovation – essentially, the handbrake has remained unchanged since its introduction.

There are a number of reasons why the manufacturers are pushing toward electronic systems, not only does it free up space in the cabin, and remove the unsightly lever, but they also offer built-in safety features – no more slipping (or even forgetting), automatic hill-start assist, automatically disengaging when pulling away, and of course, it can’t be applied while on the move. Sorry kids.

Cost cutting

The first electronic parking brake was fitted to a 7 Series BMW in 2001, but of course as with any technology, as it becomes more widely adopted, the prices plummet, and it becomes more affordable. Given that it uses servo motors and intelligent control (so must have some form of ECU), the price of the electronic brake would outweigh the cost of a traditional brake, but they’re easier to fit, and in theory, shouldn’t need any maintenance above the regular servicing, so the overall price differential isn’t that great.

There may also be an element of allowing the manufacturer to lower the specification of other components – think of the clutch for example; if automatic hill-assist takes care of the dreaded hill start, there should be a drop in the number of drivers that ride the clutch while they wait to move off.

But we shouldn’t forget that the same as prices coming down, new technology usually has some inherent faults that have been unforeseen.

Volkswagen recall

Back in 2017, Volkswagen had to recall 134,000 UK models from the Golf, Touran, Tiguan and Passat range for problems with their handbrakes, Tesla recalled 53,000 cars worldwide to fix problems with their system, and Toyota, Renault and Audi have all had to recall models at some point for handbrake problems.

While electronic handbrakes do have their positives, you’d have to say that if there’s a problem with incorrect tensioning, there’s very little you can do – it’s not like you can just pull on the lever a little harder. Equally, if it fails to engage, or even disengage, no amount of scrabbling around underneath the vehicle will help you – it’s a trip to a main dealer, or a well-appointed independent garage with a diagnostic machine.

The future of driving

It would seem that this is just another small step to the future of autonomous driving – one less thing that new drivers will have to learn, another process that’s moving toward the car taking complete control of the driving process, albeit in small steps.

We’ve already reported on the fact that intelligent cars will monitor, and if necessary, adjust your speed if you’re driving too fast, and that newer cars have the ability to spy on you and report back, and while a great deal of these features have come about for safety or convenience, you can’t help feeling that the art of driving, is slowly dying, and I believe we’re already seeing the repercussions.

All too often, we see drivers that use a car purely as a means of transportation, that give no thought to situational awareness, driving conditions, or other drivers; automatic emergency braking systems mean that drivers don’t need to be as aware, lane-assist stops them wandering between lanes, blind spot systems stop them from pulling out into traffic approaching them from behind, and in-car entertainment systems with full connectivity and Wi-Fi means distractions are plenty.

I’m not advocating a roll-back to steam power and a man with a red flag, but just as many F1 drivers say that it’s now too safe for enjoyment, you may just start to think about hanging on to your current, pre-safety conscious car just that little bit longer.

Do you think driving standards are slipping? Do these safety systems lessen the skill needed to drive properly? Let us know in the comments.

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