Generally, it’s pretty good to be a member of the great ape family. We’re omnivorous, which makes restaurants more fun, we have opposable thumbs, which are super-useful, and some of us are even tool-users. But, our lower primate pals have one thing we don’t: tails.
Since all we have is some dinky little coccyx-bones, we humans never knew the joys of prehensile tail ownership. We often long to have a third hand, an extra way to grab something, or even something attached to our ass that we can swing from, but that’s not how biology and evolution wanted it.
Still, I can’t help but wonder what if. What if we had tails? And, more importantly, how would cars be different if we had tails?
I can almost hear the collective sighs of relief from here, in my subterranean work-pod. “Finally,” you’re all saying, “someone’s answering the questions that matter.” Damn right I am.
After a lot of careful, occasionally even sober, consideration, I think that, generally, automobiles would remain quite similar to what we know even if we had tails. Our fundamental body shapes wouldn’t differ that much, nor would our need for transportation or our sense of style and utility. Essentially, cars would still be cars. But I think there would be three key differences:
• Controls: We’d be so used to using our tails, the idea of controlling a car without them would seem absurd.
• Seating: Well, duh, right? Those tails have to go somewhere.
• Signaling/Communication: Based on other tail owning/operating animals, tails seem to do a lot of nonverbal communication. In many ways, they’re similar to facial expressions when it comes to the involuntary communication of mood. I suspect we’d be predisposed and encultured to look to tails for communication and information, and I think that would carry over to our design of cars.
So, let’s go through these, one by one.
Control. I think if we had tails, we’d be less inclined to develop the usual three-pedal system for cars (well, manual cars, at least, which, of course, were developed first). I think we’d have standardized on a system where right foot would be gas, left would be clutch, and our tail would operate the brakes. In automatics, the left foot would get to just chill, like most people do with automatics, anyway.
Prehensile tails are used for balance and occasionally supporting an animal, and I think that a tail being behind us lends itself well, conceptually, to the concept of braking and slowing down. A tail-operated automotive brake would be a floor-mounted pull-handle that actuated the brake system, sort of like the opposite of how our push-operated brake pedals work today.
The harder the pull, the more braking, as you’d expect. The tail would remain gently looped about the handle while driving, ready to brake as needed. This would also allow for easier trail-braking and heel-toe-ing and other maneuvers that require both feet at once.
Also, I think other rear-oriented, non-driving controls would tend to be clustered, differentiated by handle shape, by the tail: hatch/trunk releases, fuel filler door releases, and rear defrosters. No one knows where to put the rear defroster switch, anyway, so why not by the tail?
Seating. Of course, for those controls to work, the tail has to be able to reach them, which is why front car seats would be built with a tail access hole in the backrest, and a tail-accommodating channel in the seat. Etiquette rules would be established for how to best keep your tail out of the way of rear passenger’s legs.
At the rear, it’s not really as easy to let the tail pass through the seat, so I think rear seats would have indentations or depressions in the seat bottom and back to allow for a tail to comfortably sit behind you. Maybe fancy cars would have integrated tail-warmers?
Signaling/Communication. In some ways, this is the most obvious departure from what we know. I realize it may seem absurd or simplistic to assume that just because we have tails, our cars would, but I think we’d be so used to getting information from a tail-like appendage, that it would seem a natural way to convey the idea of things like stopping and turning on our cars, at least for the rear.
Also, I know it looks sort of like a big mechanical penis in that animation, but I ask you to just try and look beyond that.
You have to admit, a big waving, red-glowing tail would be very obvious for a stoplight, and would eliminate the need for a CHMSL. Also, it could wave faster with brake intensity for that extra level of safety. For hazard lights, I think it would blink orange and wave back and forth across the full arc.
I only drew conventional small reverse lights on that car, but it’s possible that a third clear bulb (along with the red and amber ones) could be in the tail-tip and just light up for reverse when in the upright position. Oh, and stationary, upright, and red on would be the standard basic taillight position.
Perhaps there would be some other smaller differences with tails; maybe car jacks and tire changing procedures would be designed to allow for tail usage, auto repair would always be able to count on an extra limb to help hold or move things, and racers would have to buy special nomex tail-sheaths to be allowed on the track.
Generally, though, I think we’d all still be gearheads in an alternate universe where we all have tails. But now I’m starting to think maybe it would be just that little bit better?
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