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Asleep at the wheel!

Tooling from Boston down to Providence on I-95, I'm cruising along—but getting nowhere fast!

Let me explain.

Currently I'm driving a 2010 Infiniti EX35 AWD Journey crossover. It has a boatload of the latest automotive electronics gadgets, wrapped in a quality interior (and gets decent mileage (I'm averaging near the EPA highway rating of 23 mpg)). But the car also serves as an example of the downside of progress.

Now I'm not knocking technology development—I looking forward to the not-too-distant future when cars will more or less drive themselves (which is great for baby-boomer seniors who value their independence). After all, once the lawyers are satisfied, it won't require that much more engineering to take warning systems (such as lane-departure or blind-spot warning) and have them make control inputs.

In fact the Lane Departure Prevention system on the EX35, at the driver's option, produces a "breath" on the brakes on the side opposite the departure direction, mildly drifting the car back into the lane without affecting steering.

Today's adaptive cruise control (ACC) also applies brake input—and that's where my specific concern comes in. In setting the system, you not only choose a desired speed but the relative following distance to the car ahead. If someone cuts in, you'll have noticeable braking to restore the distance. No problem.

The difficulty for me comes in the normal flow of the traffic when you realize after awhile, you're going much slower than the set speed. These systems are so smooth that one doesn't realize how much slower you are going in keeping pace with the slower traffic ahead. It's the cars going by in the left lane that make you aware of the situation—in other words, what's happened serves as an example you've become lazy and less in touch with what's going on around you because of reliance on technology.

While that one example is not necessarily critical, it serves to point out that electronics could make us duller as drivers (a bad thing safety-wise)—until they fully take over control!

(Find out more on the cool technology in the EX35, a quirk in the audio system, and more video here.)

(Follow me on Twitter @rickdemeis)

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