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David Millhouser
May 5, 2023
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Cybernate

Darn… I was hoping to accomplish every writer’s dream and invent a word. Sadly… someone beat me to it… and “cybernate” is already in Google.

My definition would have been “Becoming so dependent on computers taking care of us… that we hibernate.”

In ye olden days we drove with one eye on the dash gauges, looking for signs of minor problems OR impending doom. When a needle was moving in an undesirable direction, we’d tap (then slap) the dash, hoping to intimidate it back to normal. On rare occasions that actually worked. If we paid attention, we had plenty of warning before the aptly named “idiot lights” illuminated our failure.

Many modern dashes work differently... with computer monitoring systems, and, as an afterthought, throwing a little information the drivers’ way. In some cases, gauges appear on the dash screen only when retrieved by a magical sequence of keystrokes… or when the world is turning to poopie. 

For example… you can be blissfully cybernating down the road unaware that the engine temperature is gradually rising. The gauge pops up on the dash display when it reaches a threshold, and lights glare at you. If you don’t quickly make the computer happy, it decides whom it likes best... the engine... or you. You lose.

If you had been watching the gauge, it might have caught that underhanded engine headed for overheating. If you were climbing a long grade... slowing down and/or gearing down might help. If it’s something more serious, catching things early provides an opportunity to stop safely where YOU want, instead of having that cranky computer choose.

Oil and air pressure are just as sneaky as temperature. The coach’s computer will respond to their desires too, so keeping an eye on them is a good idea. Heaven knows what the electrical system is thinking.Models of coaches differ in terms of what is displayed full-time. On some you can scan all the important things like in ye olden days, on others you have to call them up. It’s worth the effort to do that periodically but pick your spots (flailing at dash buttons in traffic MIGHT be counterproductive while checking engine temperature climbing a grade makes sense). 

Cybernating isn’t limited to monitoring a bus’s health… increasingly computers are enforcing driving safety.

Adaptive cruise control helps reduce tailgating, and lane departure warning makes an electronic effort to keep you on the “straight and narrow”. Your GPS tells you where to turn, and Automatic Stability Control keeps you from turning too fast. No need to thump the tires before heading out, because now they’re monitored. Event recorders, electronic logging… aw heck you get it. 

Pretty soon employers everywhere are gonna be saying the same thing ALL my bosses have said... “What do I need you for?”.

First… this stuff breaks (and the jury is out on how reliable it will be as coaches age, as this is still relatively new technology). When it works, it does a decent job of overcoming our momentary lapses, but it’s never as smooth as a good driver.

Second, when we cybernate down the road, we’re failing to do the one thing that real drivers excel at... anticipating traffic conditions so that sudden evasive maneuvers aren’t necessary. Alert (and experienced) drivers see flashing blue lights ahead and recognize their significance and can react accordingly. They can spot erratic drivers and avoid them. Drivers who pay attention can interpret what they see and avoid problems that a computer can only react to. Good drivers have the ability to “understand” what is developing ahead of them, a skill that grows with experience and training.

The new “stuff” will probably enhance safety in the future… but it’s best to use it as a backstop for those moments we all have, not as a primary instrument of safe smooth driving.  Cybernating comes with a couple of risks. In addition to the fact that mechanical things can fail, and software isn’t all-knowing, the temptation for some drivers to cede responsibility to a machine can lead to all sorts of legal mischief down the road. Remember the computer HAL in “2001 a Space Odyssey”?  BTW, you may have noticed that HAL is only one letter off from IBM.  Coincidence? 

Several years ago, after dropping off a demonstrator bus in Maine, I caught a Concord Coach schedule out of Portland and headed to Boston. About halfway through the two-hour trip I felt mildly uncomfortable and couldn’t, at first, put my finger on what was “different”. 

The bus was quiet, a movie was playing, and the temperature was fine. In fact, it felt like I was sitting in the First-Class section of an airliner… so much so that it felt wrong not to have a seat belt on. (This was years before they were available).

The driver was doing such a good job of anticipating stops and lane changes, even avoiding rough pavement… that I forgot I was on a bus. No computer can drive a bus that smoothly…yet. 

Article written by David Millhouser
Dave Millhouser started driving buses cross-country for a non-profit Christian organization called “Young Life” as a summer job in 1965. They carried high school kids from the East Coast to ranches in Colorado in a fleet that consisted of three 1947 Brills, a 1947 Aerocoach, and a 1937 Brill. Their fleet grew to 23 buses and traveled all 48 contiguous states and much of Canada.When Young Life dropped their bus program, Dave ended up selling parts for Hausman Bus Sales. In 1978 Dave was hired by Eagle International to sell motorcoaches and spent the next 30 years doing that… 13 years with Eagle, as well as stints with MCI, Setra, and Van Hool. His first sale was an Eagle shell for a motorhome, and his career ended selling double-decker Van Hools.Dave had a side career in underwater photography/writing, and Bus and Motorcoach News asked him to do a regular column in 2006. Millhouser.net is an effort to make those columns available to bus people.If you find value in them, feel free to use them at no charge. Dave would ask that you consider a donation to the AACA Museum aacamuseum.org in Hershey, Pennsylvania. They recently merged with the Museum of Bus Transportation, and maintain a fleet of 40 historic coaches, lots of bus memorabilia, and hundreds of antique automobiles.If you are anywhere near Hershey… Dave says, “You will love it.”In May of 2015, the Editor of Bus & Motorcoach News called Dave a Bad Example for Motorcoach Drivers… his proudest accomplishment to date. Read the columns and you’ll see why.

Click here to reach Dave by email: davemillhouser@icloud.com Click here to visit his website: https://www.millhouser.net/

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