During my test of the new Ford Bronco—a vehicle I liked a lot—I tried out its Trail Turn Assist feature, as you can see demonstrated in the video above. TTA drastically shortens the turning circle of the vehicle by applying the brake to an inside wheel, essentially dragging it through the turn.
Of course, in a normal scenario you wouldn’t be initiating a 360-degree turn such as in my demonstration above, conducted in a heavily used wash and cleaned up afterwards. Its utility would be negotiating a tight maneuver when, say, a boulder threatens the outside corner of the vehicle, or a drop-off threatens the entire vehicle. However, there’s nothing to prevent an owner engaging it simply to show off how tightly he can reverse course. And no matter how briefly one engages it, it will impact the trail.
My approach to driving, or to teaching someone to drive—as with all instructors I know—is, at all times, to try to minimize or eliminate wheel spin, which causes both a loss of traction and control and results in degradation of the surface, particularly in places where multiple vehicles are likely to lose traction. And wheel spin while the vehicle is stationary does more or less precisely the same thing as a locked wheel while the vehicle is moving: It wears away at the substrate, increasing erosion.
I’m not going to claim I would never use TTA if I owned a Bronco, but I would be extremely reluctant to do so.
As potentially damaging as TTA is, it pales before the much-hyped “Tank Turn” the much-hyped Rivian electric pickup can accomplish. By powering both wheels on one side forward and both wheels on the opposite side backward, The Rivian can essentially spin in place. The resulting destruction of the trail is easy to see in the videos produced by the company itself. Look at the bird’s-eye view of the video still:
Nice, huh? You can see the entire sequence here.
The Tank Turn “feature” has actually been delayed for an unknown period after the Rivian engineers recognized several issues—including the fact that when the turn is enabled, traction is completely lost. Thus if an owner were to initiate it on a slope, the vehicle would immediately begin sliding downhill.
Rivian will undoubtedly warn that the feature is only to be used on a “closed course,” just as they say for their “Drift Mode,” designed for “advanced drivers wanting to drift their R1T on a closed course.”
Sadly such hypocrisy is by no means limited to the Rivian company (see here). Every truck maker loudly proclaims adherence to Tread Lightly practices, while producing advertising material expressly promoting the exact opposite. There are certainly those consumers who are responsible enough to eschew aping the ads, but there are tens—hundreds—of thousands who are not. I see the results every single time I head out on a trail, and it has been getting exponentially worse. Blame it on what you will, but there has been an unmistakable increase in self-centered behavior on public land in the last half decade or so. More litter, more driving completely off trail, more hooning on the trail. These are not the type of people who will respond to a friendly lecture. Yet they are the ones who will scream when severely damaged trails are shut down by overworked and underfunded public lands managers.
Short of funding a sniper division in the BLM, I really don’t have a solution.
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