Tag Archive | "driving standards"

A Layman’s Guide To Handling

Whenever there is talk about cars the conversation will eventually come around to handling. Television pundits talk about this as if of the holy grail but if the average owner tried what he saw on the box then pretty soon he would be disappearing backwards into the local undergrowth. Because of this passion for driving and the need for safety, manufacturers tend to invest quite a lot of time and money into the science of how a car handles.

Handling refers to how a car responds to driver input in corners. In other words, the better the handling the faster a corner can be dealt with although, of course, you don’t always have to exploit this to the max! How well a car handles is largely a function of the car’s suspension – comfort issues aside — which comprise the parts that attach the wheels to the car and allow them to move up and down. The steering and tyres as well as the vehicle’s weight also play major roles.

It is easy to assume that handling is only really relevant to high performance cars but that isn’t so. Handling comes into play in emergencies and we all experience those from time to time. If you have to swerve to avoid an accident, your car’s handling is very relevant. A car that handles well will respond more crisply and predictably to your  steering and braking inputs, for example. Understanding how this works makes for a better driver.

A poorly handling car will lose grip more quickly and loss of control is swiftly followed by a spin or slide as the inevitable outcome. Better handling requires stiffer suspension, which makes for a harder and often less comfortable ride so the car makers have to come up with a decent compromise. Some manufacturers do a better job than others in this regard but by and large this compromise is, ahem, handled well. Obviously the cheaper the car the less likely it is that it will handle well but then that is to be expected.

It is of course perfectly possible to change how a car behaves. Changing tyres, for example, will have an effect. A car fitted with tyres built to improve economy and wear will not be as effective at the limit than tyres built for performance. That’s the trade-off. It is also possible to change suspension components to give a better handling ride but this will always be at the expense of comfort.

This sort of do-it-yourself approach is all very well but the car has to be up to the job. A vehicle that is meant as a family run-around will not really be up to sports car handling whatever you do. Best to buy the right vehicle from the outset. If you want handling to be a priority then buy a car that’s built for performance straight off the shelf.

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Crackdown On The Uninsured

Having a car accident is bad enough; having a car accident with an uninsured driver is worse. Some of these people will claim poverty in which case how can they afford to run a car; others just couldn’t care less about other people’s property and treat society with contempt.

Apparently, the actions of this, it has to be said, large minority group leads to an effective surcharge of £33 on all our insurance premiums. Not for the first time there is a bit of an uproar about this. Despite it being a known problem it is still going on. A reduced number of traffic police doesn’t help but, with the added advantages of modern technology like ANPR cameras, you’d think that this is something that should pretty well be eliminated.

In short, four out of every five of Britain’s law abiding drivers are fed up and want a crackdown on these misery makers. According to a leading insurance provider around one in twenty five drivers are not insured. There are millions of cars on our roads. Think about it. This statistic means that the chances of being hit by one of these people is greater than almost all other European countries. How come they can do it and we cannot?

New rules have recently come into force raising the fixed penalty for driving without insurance from £200 to £300. Big deal. Uninsured drivers know their chances of being caught are slim and even if they are, £300 is hardly a deterrent. Many of these illegal motorists have a string of convictions anyway and, even for those that don’t, the fine still will probably be less than they would pay for a premium! For example, offenders are often young men, but the typical cost of car insurance for a man aged between 17 and 22 with a clean licence is four times the size of the new fixed penalty at £1,211. So, in insurance terms that’s a pretty good deal.

It is sobering thought that uninsured drivers are responsible for the deaths of around one hundred people every year. Thousands more are injured. It seems that a majority of drivers favour prison and even more believe electronic tagging is also a viable choice. Obviously cars should be confiscated and crushed. Of the 11,000 illegally driving individuals that were actually prosecuted last year most had already been banned from driving! No wonder safe drivers in the UK are up in arms!

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Drink-Driving Deaths On The Rise

Figures released by the Department for Transport have shown a rather dramatic rise in the numbers of deaths resulting from accidents where a driver was found to be over the limit. It would not be too much of a stretch to suggest that this could have something to do with the lack of traffic police on our streets. The drink-drivers are once again showing their true colours.

The provisional stats show that around 290 souls lost their lives amongst the debris of 6,680 accidents where an over-the-limit driver was involved. Nearly ten thousand folk were injured in some way. This is a staggering twenty six percent up on last year. 26%!

Aside from the lack of bobbies in panda cars, it is also suggested that the increase is also partly due to the axing, in 2010, of DD television commercials, presumably as a cost-saving measure. Some cost saving when they are supposed to be for life saving. It is clear that relying on Facebook campaigns (Note to government – the whole country is not on social media as you seem to think). Thankfully, the ads have now been reinstated, although Motor Blogger is yet to see one.

The ministers concerned want to be seen to be doing something about it. This is why they are “taking forward a package of measures to streamline enforcement”. This apparently includes new “portable evidential breath-testing equipment which will allow for more effective enforcement”. Not without the cops to use it, it won’t.

It seems that some drivers – including the celebrities who can afford the lawyers – have been trying to evade prosecution by claiming that the breathalyser readouts are unreliable. The new equipment is presumably meant to counter this but it cannot operate itself. That is the basic problem.

Police forces up and down the country have had to cut back to save on costs. Fine, nobody wants waste but where’s the thin blue line? The world can offer up as much fancy gear as anyone could want but until it can be used by trained and trusted operatives then it is just so much extra junk. If accidents and deaths are rising then some fully manned pro-active policing is the answer; not words or gimmicks.

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In The Summertime When The Weather Is High

Do you realise that ‘In the Summertime’ by Mungo Jerry is forty three years old this year? It is one of those tunes that radio stations bereft of fresh ideas rock out as soon as the sun appears. The irritating thing, of course, is that when you hear it – at whatever age – you put on your metaphorical sun-hat and plan to go on holiday in a cheerful frame of mind.

The euphoria doesn’t last long though because, unless you are single and fancy free, there are complex logistical plans to work out to ship the family from wherever to wherever, mostly in the UK because nobody’s got any money.

The simplest answer is to get the motor out, but long car trips are fraught with difficulties. Sharing the driving is a good plan. Exhausted drivers are bad drivers. Driving standards can be a test of a familial partnership but there is no respite anyway for the resting pilot because someone has to see to the festering group of ankle-biters on the back seat. These creatures are mercurial in their habits and the carer is kept on his or her toes at all times. Priority one is wet wipes.

Stopping regularly for a break is a must; not just for the driver but also the rest of the tribe. The chance to stretch legs and empty bladders makes for a more relaxing journey. Driving requires concentration so it is vital that the drivers especially drink plenty. In this country we are unaccustomed to hot weather and it is easy to become dehydrated.

Petrol stations on major routes and motorways tend to be more expensive so one thing to consider is fuel stops. It may seem a bit anal but identifying cheaper prices en route is a good idea. There’s almost certainly an app for that. Driving desperately around a remote area of unknown countryside with an almost empty tank is not recommended.

It pays to be well rested before setting off but tiredness – as you all well know – can kill so take a sleep break if needed. Ten minutes and a coffee can make all the difference. Children need plenty to eat, drink and do. Probably the worse thing in the world – worse even than a party political broadcast – is bored kids. The horror.

Cars are very useful things. They can get you to new and interesting places in comfort and convenience whilst transporting all the holiday necessities. A stretch of open road can bring on that sense of harmony between man and machine that makes driving a pleasure, but it is easy to be complacent. Plan a trip, take a break and have a wonderful time. Tip: Put some Mungo Jerry on the MP3! Cheesy but it works!

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Maptastic Days Are Here Again

Somewhere in the bowels of your car there may be a symbol of the great days of real motoring. Hidden away, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, at the back of your boot or under the back seat you might well find – a dog-eared paper road atlas. Technophobes will be familiar with this archaic form of direction finding, often used with limited success by your dad. Technophiles will not understand this reliance on map reading skills when there is a perfectly adequate device on the dashboard to do the hard work for you.

The sat-nav, like sliced bread, has been one of the great inventions. They have never been cheaper or better featured. They are programmable and settings can be altered to suit. How can something so small be so clever? Well, that’s the official line, but there’s an unspoken issue. Your Editor, whilst being forced-marched on a health inducing walk high up on Barbury Castle in Wiltshire, came across a nonplussed German driver coming up an ancient track in an expensive car. Being a man, he blamed, in halting English, a ‘broken GPS’. Therein lies the problem.stuck Maptastic Days Are Here Again

The news is occasionally filled with giant lorries becoming trapped in villages because their device directed the driver down a country lane and they blindly obliged with the inevitable result. Sat-nav’s are great but they are not infallible. Neither are drivers. Especially not drivers. Despite the fact that the chosen route is clearly unsuitable they follow it anyway. Simply by turning round and forcing the device to ‘recalculate’ would probably solve the issue.

This is why more than half of the UK’s experienced drivers still prefer to use maps. Real map-reading is a disappearing skill (which should be taught in schools) but most motorists can understand a basic road map once they’ve got it the right way up. Older drivers with more than twenty five years of driving under their belts prefer to stick with maps. This is according to a recent national survey by a road rescue organisation.

As mentioned above they mistrust some of the information but what they hate most is the constant babble of instructions. The survey mentions that just forty five percent of respondents owned any form of sat-nav at all, whether portable or built-in. That’s a surprise. We are led by promotions and advertising to believe that the latest thing is indispensable to our lives and yet here we are still relying on ancient texts to move about the country.

Many people have no problem with sat-navs. If kept up to date they can guide drivers through complex and hitherto unknown one way systems; they can place a car within ten metres of the required destination whilst avoiding toll roads, ferries and traffic jams. What’s not to like?

On the other hand, it is quite nice to know that some things never change. Maps bring out the pioneer spirit in motorists. They can take married couples to distant lay-bys for spousal arguments about the innate inability of women to read maps, for example. It’s true. There is something special about a map and the more detail on it the better. Perhaps car makers would do well to heed this and start offering a full set of Landranger ordnance survey maps as an alternative option. It’s a thought.

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New Drivers Need To Be Better Trained

One day soon parents and relatives all around Britain may suddenly wake up to howls of anguish coming from their older children – at least, the ones that are learning to drive. This is because – as revealed by a very recent survey – experienced motorists are becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of learning requirements for new drivers – and not just the youngsters; learners of any age.

A very large majority of the UK’s motorists believe that there should be a minimum driver training period prior to any practical driving test being taken. Most seem to think that a six month period is appropriate. As things stand at the moment there is no minimum period. A precocious seventeen year old could learn and pass in a week which may be commendable but does nothing to add to the real life experience of driving on our busy roads.

Motorway driving and manners are of primary concern given the generally higher speeds and volume of traffic. Respondents to the survey reckon that motorway training should be part of the learning process and indeed part of the driving test. As far as new drivers are concerned it gets worse.

A majority believe the mandatory probation period should be followed by a further driving assessment. Vehicles, the respondents believe, should be fitted with speed limiter devices to slow the more gung-ho element of the newbies and instil a sense of security in the more nervous newcomer to the world of wheels. This is a bit of a contentious area given that most motorway drivers expect a higher level of speed to be maintained. There would need to be a happy medium.

Experienced drivers believe that the government should do more by adding more stringent requirements and regulation to ensure newcomers benefit from the process. Other road users would feel reassured by this, they say. Most seem happy with the age 17 rule, but they want the punishments to be more severe. For example, any miscreant with more than six points should be busted down to learner status again and forced to repeat the cycle.

Additionally it is felt that there should be passenger restrictions on the carrying of under twenty-fives by under twenty-fives, presumably to neuter youthful exuberance and that there should be an even lower limit for drink driving. Presumably the former wouldn’t apply to older newbies but it isn’t made clear.

All of this, of course, is easy to say for drivers with many years of experience behind them but it needs to be balanced with a sense of fair play. We were all learners once. Certainly the roads are busier today than they have ever been but as most young people will grow up to be sensible drivers they should at least be given a fair crack of the whip and we don’t mean that in the literal sense.

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The Daily Drive

Imagine this scene. It’s 7am on a cold Monday morning. Ice is going to be a hazard on the roads and you have a touch of bronchitis but you must still get the car out and drive to work. With a sinking heart you just know you’re in for forty five minutes of hell. Welcome to the world of the daily drive to work.

The nature of our climate and the tragic standard of our roads stand between you and your job; but that’s not all. The philosopher Jean-Paul Satre is quoted as saying ‘hell is other people’ and he worked from home. That might be a little unkind to our fellow man but a fifth of drivers wish their fellow road users would be a little more considerate and take a bit more care.

Car commuting will obviously vary depending on where you live. For some it may be a pleasant country drive when the sun always shines but for most it is a daily grind we could do without. Research has shown that stress levels amongst regular drivers is rising and a third of motorists admit to this. When you consider that most work drivers travel pretty much the same route for over two hundred days of the year, it is hardly surprising. Arriving at work completely stressed out is no way to start the day and driving home tired is just plain dangerous.

There is also the worry of cost. Petrol is expensive and sales of it are dropping as motorists find ways around it. Because they lose revenue accordingly, governments think the best plan is to raise taxes on fuel still further. If a product is selling poorly it is a good idea to lower the price rather than raise it. Cheaper fuel would help drivers, boost the economy and increase revenues. It would also relieve one of the worries of car use.

So what’s to be done to make this part of your working day a bit less of a stressful chore? Here’s some tips that may help, bearing in mind that things are always easier said than done.

Give yourself more time. It may be a wrench getting out of a warm bed but why not leave earlier? Possibly much earlier. If your journey takes an hour, allow an hour and a half. You may get to your employment early but at least you’ll have time for a coffee and a chance to rest and relax a bit.

Try to stay calm when all about you are getting fraught. Play relaxing music (note: AC/DC are not relaxing but you should draw the line at Enya). Keep your interior environment clean and at a comfortable ambient temperature. Carry a favourite snack and have a refreshing drink to hand, especially if you are one to skip breakfast. A hungry driver is a grumpy driver. Depending on finances, try to ensure your new or used car is up to the job and will be comfortable for the duration.

It might be an idea if possible to plan alternative routes to vary the boredom and if your employer will allow it, try to commute outside of peak times. In short, do everything you can to make this part of your life more bearable. Never forget the immortal words of Master Po: ‘Each journey begins and also ends’. Never a truer word.

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The Domino Effect

No, not a new thriller starring a handsome windblown driver but rather an everyday effect that we have all experienced from time to time – the motorway tailback. Traditionally these occur at the most inconvenient time, when haste is of the essence and the clock is ticking.

There is that sinking feeling as you look up ahead and see brake lights behind a massive queue of almost stationary cars. The really annoying thing is that it always happens just as you’ve passed a convenient exit, and the really, really annoying thing is that there is no obvious reason for it.

Of course, there is always a reason and it is called the Domino Effect. This is usually caused by a phenomenon known as brake tapping. It happens when motorists bunch up and drive too close together because, as often happens on motorways, attention has been lost and everyone is on autopilot.

One of the classic tips is to always watch the road ahead and not just the back end of the car in front. The driver in front taps his brakes so the driver behind has to and it has a knock-on effect to the cars behind. The result is that all the drivers are brake tapping and slowing down until it reaches the point when someone has to stop.

Although you might think you are above such things, you are probably wrong. It is quite conceivable that most of us have caused a domino effect at some point, even if only as a minor incident caused by slowing down to look at something in passing or, heaven forbid, gawping at an accident.

The key to good motorway driving is to stay alert and yes, it is easier to say than do. Lack of attention could mean a driver is in the wrong lane or has been inadvertently easing up on the throttle, resulting in variable speeds. Always allow a bit of space and indicate intentions to other road users so that they too keep their distance. As previously mentioned, keeping an eye on the road far ahead will help pre-empt problems.

The thing is that motorway users are all part of a team keeping the major arteries of our nation flowing. Be patient with each other even as the commercial vehicle in front of you pulls out to overtake an even slower vehicle (which is seriously irritating it must be said).

Slower drivers who feel they have to use the outside lane will slow down the fast boys coming up who will then tap their brakes, ultimately causing you know what. They may also give you a crash course in basic Anglo-Saxon expletives and gestures and just like the domino effect, nobody wants that.

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With Age Comes Experience

Here’s a New Year  resolution for you. The next time you are out driving and come up behind an old car – usually a Rover 25 – being driven by what appears to be Gollum’s dad wearing a flat cap, spare a thought and have a bit of charity because, by the grace of your deity, one day this will be you. Only after you’ve done this is it acceptable for you to overtake whilst muttering “shouldn’t be allowed on the road” under your breath.

Only now, you can’t even do that because older drivers, it is established, are just as safe as anybody else – and that’s official. They might well be slower but that’s just because they have a better attitude to road safety and deal with hazards in a more experienced way. So there.

Historically, it has often been accepted that as a person ages so their reactions become sluggish and the opportunity for disaster is increased. To an extent this is correct but a recent survey reports that drivers over the age of seventy five reacted just as quickly as any other age group in a straightforward emergency situation – the sudden appearance of a car out of a side road, for example. The effects of old age – less physical mobility, sight problems and so on don’t make that much difference. Apparently, drivers over 70 make up some 9% of motorists but only 6% of the casualty statistics.

The reasons are probably obvious. Older people do not drive as fast and they leave larger gaps behind leading cars. These old codgers don’t have it all their own way though as they are likely to make less use of the rear view mirror and have a habit of stopping short at junctions.

It is officially recommended that ageing motorists get the once-over from their GP to check on things like arthritis or similar debilitating problems as needed for their general fitness to drive. We are all advised to take regular breaks and refreshments on long journeys but, it is suggested, the aged ones should maybe take more. With driving, good observation is vital. Older drivers can misinterpret or misjudge situations which may well be why they tend to drive more sedately.

So give these old timers a break. Old age comes to us all and, at some point, there will come a time when we’ll know in our heart of hearts that it is time to hand over the keys. But look on the bright side – when you are in your dotage and a passenger in your family’s car you can look out the window at the ageing slowcoach in front and hurl abuse as you flash by. It’s your entitlement.

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Merry Christmas – Be Nice To Each Another

There are a lot of pressure groups around these days in all walks of life usually voicing a loud, if minority, opinion. Cars and motoring in general have more than their fair share. Sometimes they make sense and sometimes they are the ravings of some blinkered single minded individuals who will accept no opinion but their own.

The trouble is that in this country governments are frightened by people who shout very loudly about this or that issue and get bulldozed into taking action that affects the majority, usually adversely. Thankfully, on this occasion we can report that someone is spreading some peace and love.

Just in time for Christmas, a new courtesy campaign has been launched to get us to be nice to one another on the roads of Britain – and why not indeed? With the stress of winter and the festive period we could all do with calming down and chilling out behind the wheel so it won’t hurt if Motor Blogger passes on some of these helpful hints to put you in a happier place.

Obviously, we more saintly souls can do little to prevent others from becoming steamed up behind the wheel but we can certainly protect ourselves from becoming the victims of road rage. Stay calm and bite your tongue – don‘t rise to it, dude. Before you get all medieval on your nemesis count to ten and take some deep breaths. Try it now – there, that’s better isn’t it?

We all have to share the world. Share the road as well; you don’t own it. Remember – others are not deliberately put on this earth to annoy you, it just feels like that. Try not to compete and certainly do not retaliate. If some lunatic cuts you up at a junction just lean back, smile and think happy thoughts. Revenge is a dish that is not worth eating. You know it makes sense.

Be patient in traffic jams, at junctions and when someone who has clearly got all the driving skills of an arthritic amoeba is manoeuvring in front of you. Put yourself in their position and try to see the world from their perspective. They can’t help being brainless dolts.

Please and thank you go a long way in these mean times. Be nice to people and they will be nice to you. Bring a little love to the roads. Turn on some charm, tune into some relaxing sounds and drop out of the rat race. Peace and love, brothers and sisters.

Merry Christmas to all our readers.

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