Tag Archive | "driving"

The Dangers Of Fog

The recent horrific pile-up involving around 130 cars on the A249 Sheppey crossing in Kent is a shocking reminder of the dangers of driving in fog. Some experts have mooted that the design of the bridge may have contributed to the numbers involved in the crash, but the police and eyewitnesses believe that fog was to blame.

We are all given a wake up call by events such as these and should, you would think, learn lessons from it and yet the sight of a car following way too close behind the car in front is an all to frequent occurrence. At this time of year fog could make this sort of stupidity even more unbelievable.

The fact is – we never learn. Hundreds die on our roads each year yet some drivers continue to believe that they are inviolate. Tailgating, the lack of fog lamp use, not slowing down in the rain or leaving much larger gaps in icy conditions – the very basics of safe driving – still occur with alarming frequency.

In their defence for once, successive governments continue to try to educate but it seems to have only a minor effect that soon wears off. A couple of years ago after a particularly nasty crash in the West Country it was suggested that there should be a mandatory reduction in speed limits in adverse conditions. This is law in France and it works.

On our motorways and main arterials digital signage is used to control speeds and this is monitored by cameras but elsewhere no such scheme exists. Governments are wary, quite rightly, of interfering too much but our roads are becoming increasingly crowded. Certainly our cars are much safer than even a few years ago, but who wants to crash regardless?

The solution seems to be in education from the outset. Learners of all ages should really have to go through thorough training on all roads, including motorways. It is at this point the tenets of safe driving should be instilled and become second nature. If drivers were taught correctly in the first place, we would need fewer nannying laws to prevent dangerous driving. At the time of posting this the government is talking about making changes for new drivers. The suggestions include raising the drive age, an extended period of learning that includes day and night driving and a ‘probationary’ period after the test has been passed.

It just makes sense. Making the learning more comprehensive and teaching beginners about the dangers of tailgating and making allowances for the prevailing conditions is the only way forward or we will continue this desperate annual round of road tragedy.

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Driving The Range Rover Vogue SE

Once in a while the sun shines and something nice happens. Very recently Motor Blogger experienced such a day. A very nice person from the Jaguar Land Rover Group handed your editor the keys to a ‘Corris Grey’ Range Rover (the mad impetuous fools!) and told him to have fun. Well, MB doesn’t need telling twice and this is what happened.

Vogue trim features metallic paint, 20-inch wheels and Oxford leather trim as standard along with 12-way electrically adjustable seats, xenon headlamps and laminated front side windows. Plenty of power comes from a 255bhp twin-turbo V6 diesel, and it’s the first time this engine has been offered in a Range Rover. It is equipped with a standard ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox and stop/start.

Also incorporated is Land Rover’s excellent and new Terrain Response 2, which automatically selects programs; standard on this car, the cheaper Vogue trim has the early manually selected Terrain response. Also standard is a touch-screen sat-nav, DAB radio, digital TV and the more powerful 825W Meridian audio system.

RR1web Driving The Range Rover Vogue SE Motor Blogger at first found that he was sliding around on the otherwise supremely comfortable seat. Finally, a couple of buttons revealed themselves which bolstered the side bolsters – like blowing up a balloon. Problem solved. This car was smooth, refined, powerful and much more agile than the outgoing Range Rover. The new Range Rover has a double-skin bulkhead and the engineers have clearly done significant work to subdue the diesel noise. It works. Land Rover says the TDV6 offers the equivalent performance to the outgoing TDV8 thanks to the new alloy-shelled Range Rover’s lighter kerb weight, and that seems right as power was available in bucket loads.

Acceleration is strong, helped by the excellent ZF gearbox, which slips up and down the gears smoothly. There is some body roll, which is more pronounced in the TDV6 since it doesn’t have the active roll control of the SDV8 and V8 Supercharged models. This is a shame because, through twisting lanes, the roll was a bit irritating. The steering, now electric, has a light weighting and allows easy placement on the road, but for MB it was short on feel and feedback, even at higher speeds when you‘d think it would weight-up more. Still, it isn’t a sports car and for the most part the drive was super-relaxing with the sensation that driving all day wouldn’t be an issue.

The TDV6 is 200kg lighter than the SDV8. Most of the saving is over the front axle, which might go some way to explaining the entry-level TDV6’s agility. On our roads the air-suspended ride really breathes over bumps and dips. Our verdict: Superb. The best Range Rover yet. All that was missing was a bit of mud-plugging but you can’t have everything. The Range Rover Vogue SE TDV6 is an automotive tour-de-force.

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Goodbye Sealant Hello Spare Wheel

In an enterprising development a well known organisation has come up with a novel idea for dealing with punctured or damaged wheels and tyres caused by potholes and other road menaces. They are calling it a spare wheel.

Yet it is not a humorous matter. For quite a while now manufacturers have taken to leaving the spare out and replacing it with a can of sealant. This is to enable them to either (or a combination of) save on manufacturing costs, make more room in the car and sell it as a space improvement or reduce the overall size of the vehicle; for example, city cars.

A tin of sealant is fine as a ‘get-you-home’ for, say a slow puncture but – as is more likely – it cannot fix a blow-out or sidewall damage. If this happens the driver is stuck and so, inevitably, is his family of young children. Not good. Certainly, cars are much more reliable these days and wheels and tyres are stronger and better made but it still happens and usually at the worst time.

The organisation – and they will no doubt soon be promoting the service – plan to offer an almost universal spare wheel (similar to the one pictured) when their service is called out. This takes the form of a seventeen inch wheel with adjustable mountings which should allow it to be fitted to any car that uses five studs on the hub. Effectively it is like the more standard space-saver wheel fitted to some cars already and will work with all but the largest and smallest cars.

The wheel is strictly a temporary measure and a speed limit applies but for the stranded motorist it will be heaven-sent as it avoids the need for a tow and additional time lost on a long wait. Sufferers will need to cough up a two hundred pound deposit on their plastic but this will be refunded once the stricken driver goes to a tyre depot to effective the repair on the original wheel. That’s a fair deal for the organisations’ members.

This is an issue that has been angering motorists for some time. Amazingly, up until recently, it was not incumbent on dealers to even tell customers there was no spare wheel. They got to find out the hard way. Clearly it behoves the new car buyer to establish this small but important fact before signing on the line that a vehicle is so equipped or at least is fitted with a space-saver, which are fine. Buying a car is supposed to be a pleasure and it is little things like this that spoil the party.

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The Advantages Of Potholes

That’s got you thinking, hasn’t it? What, you might well be asking, is there anything good in any way about potholes? Well, some very clever people have realised that, in a similar way that energy can be reclaimed from vehicle braking, it is possible to recover energy generated when a car goes over any sort of bump.

In a purely non-scientific assumption, it seems reasonable to assume that any action generates energy. In this case apparently, it is possible to convert the energy developed in the suspension dampers into electricity as we know it, which is then fed to the car’s system to help the power drain caused by headlight use and air conditioning systems. We know this sort of thing works.

As you can imagine, should any vehicle manufacturer decide to bring something of this ilk to their future vehicle production then UK drivers would benefit more than most as British roads are increasingly not unlike abandoned goats tracks in Nepal.

It has been estimated that last year the nation’s highways had no fewer than 2.2 million potholes. That’s quite a lot. In fact it is alleged that we have managed to achieve the disgraceful number of six per mile of road on average. Did you know that Honda built an especially rutted test track in Japan to better enable them to test the cars heading for our shores?

Not only would this new regeneration system work with potholes, it would be equally successful with speed humps. This idea is being seriously engineered by an American/German partnership and in testing it does actually work. This is the only single occasion when it is possible to say that bad roads are good. Even on those smooth freshly surfaced EU funded heavenly highways of the Continental mainland even very small ripples would have a regenerative effect. So it’s all good news then.

Or is it? Apparently, UK motorists stump up around a million quid a day to repair wheels, axles and suspension damaged by potholes. Everybody knows how notoriously hard it is to get money out of those responsible for our roads so it’s the good old insurers who are often having to foot the bill with the inevitable subsequent rise in premiums. This is without even thinking about the risk to health caused by accident potential. A car would have to do some really serious energy regeneration to recover those costs for the blighted drivers of Britain.

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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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Mobile Phone Confusion

In the UK we have a law dating from 2003 that states we must not use mobile phones whilst driving. Despite this legislation many people still do, thus earning the opprobrium of fellow motorists. This is probably made worse by the fact that the likelihood of being caught at it is slim at best. Nevertheless it is against the law and it is believed that doing otherwise increases the chance of having an accident fourfold.

Even hands-free phones are not immune. Although they are legal drivers can still face penalties starting with the usual three points / sixty quid opening offer. This is possible and we quote “if the police believe you are distracted”. This may be a valid argument but it is very subjective and will largely depend on what side of the bed the officer got out of. Now, however, comes some news that throws the mobile phone debate wide open again.

Let’s be clear from the outset. Motor Blogger is reporting the facts. We are not and will not offer a value judgement as to the rightness or wrongness of what you are about to read.

The news comes from America – where else? Some new research states quite clearly that using a mobile phone whilst driving is not linked to accidents. The research was carried out in the USA by a team from Carnegie Mellon University collaborating with, surprisingly, the London School of Economics. The team found no link between the number of US drivers making phone calls while on the road and the number of accidents recorded.

They analysed more than eight million incidents of car crashes and all fatalities on roads in eight US States. Additionally, they reviewed data before and after 9pm local time over a three-year period because after 9pm many American operators offer free mobile calls during week days. Despite the additional incidence of use, the data did not show any increase in attributable accidents. In other words, despite the huge and sudden increase in the use of mobile phones there was no impact on the crash rate. So there you are.

The research did not include even more stupid actions like texting or browsing at the wheel but the inference is clear. Are we in the UK getting overheated about nothing? It is however important to note that the USA has much more space, wider roads and, basically, more room for cars. British roads are generally tighter and more narrow and less well maintained.

Also, the research does not differentiate on demographic grounds. For example, older drivers are less likely to use devices than young drivers. Would the figures be any different is the groups were split? The basic premise needs to be that drivers who are rash have more accidents anyway. It is unlikely that the UK will amend its stance on the subject but being safe with mobiles is no hardship anyway. It’s against the law so don’t do it.

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Petrol Head Weddings

One of the dangers of planning a wedding to a petrol head is the worry that he or she won’t turn up on the day because of a double-booked diary date at a motor racing track, that had not previously been mentioned. You could of course get married in the week but usually work commitments prevent that. You could get married late in the day after the sport but who wants a new spouse sunburned or windblown and reeking of burgers? It’s a thorny issue.

Thankfully some well organised folk at a famous British motor racing circuit have come up with a genius solution. Get married at the track! Brilliant – all the boxes ticked in one. The bridal march up the aisle can be accompanied by the sound of trackday specials or BTCC cars at full chat. Who could ask for more on their wedding day? Mendelssohn’s Wedding March is so last year.

Many entrepreneurial owners have opened the doors of impressive halls or conference areas at the heart of their circuits. Now one at least has obtained the official approval to host civil partnerships and weddings. What a great idea for motor sport fans; fun and unique. No doubt the venues can be customised to taste and the guests will have scenic views of the track and the chequered line. After the ceremony, all the guests – instead of receiving a party bag – could be taken for a ride around the track at high speed. The prospects for a special day are endless.

Motor Blogger doesn’t know anyone who has yet experienced this but it seems like just the sort of thing for a modern exchanging of rings. Most brides would struggle to get into a Ferrari wearing a conventional dress but who said marriage was easy? Furthermore, it doesn’t have to stop there. Whole new vistas for honeymoons come to light.

Instead of hitting the beaches, Spain boasts several motor racing circuits where lovers can while away many happy hours or perhaps, for the more daring, how about hurtling your Fiesta over the jumps of the Ouninpohja rally stage in Finland after tucking in to a wedding breakfast of pickled herring? These are the memories you cherish forever.

More practical couples could perhaps go on car maintenance courses. Marriage is about doing things together – why should this not include vehicle maintenance or the detailing of paintwork or popping down to the shops to select a pressure washer? Such is the stuff happy marriages are made of.

As you travel the road of life together secure in the knowledge that the oil is freshly changed and there’s some hand cleanser in the boot, always remember this – the family that tinkers together stays together.

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Summer Silly Season

We all like to assert our individuality. We like to have something about us that is unique, interesting or quirky. Some men will walk about nonchalantly sporting inadvisable summer shorts whilst wearing socks with their sandals. Other men would sooner bleed copiously from their sandal-chaffed feet than do such a thing.

This is why, when driving around, we see British cars festooned with wholly inappropriate trinkets and additions completely out of keeping with our traditional reserved values. This is the driver or owner asserting his or her right to be different or cutting edge.

It is said that you can tell a persons occupation by the colour of the car they drive. To a certain extent this could well be true as it is borne out by insurance company stats. Hairdressers favour purple cars – which seems obvious – whilst florists apparently select orange ones. This probably also applies to tanning salon owners. Accountants favour grey cars. Sadly there are no details on the preferences of politicians – as far as cars are concerned anyway.

So colour doesn’t make a motorist as individual as they may think but rather a member of the employment group they belong to. So they go further with the embellishments. Some manufacturers have even offered twinkly lights in the headlining of the car’s interior, presumably to emulate the night sky. It just looks over-the-top and distracting. The only really useful thing about it is that it could bring a whole new showbiz dimension to, erm, nocturnal activities.LIGHTS3 Summer Silly Season

Being a proud parent is one thing but publishing the fact all over your car is quite another. Americans are fond of this in the form of bumper stickers. “Proud Parents of a J. F. Long Honor Student” shrieks one. “Proud Parent of the Child Who Beat Up Your Honor Student,” announces another. Eventually, the poor mortified offspring become more notorious than Honey Boo Boo Child of trailer park and TV fame. Before you think otherwise – it is happening here. People, a ‘Baby On Board’ sticker is sufficient; she is not a little princess! There”s only one car that carry a “Little Prince On Board” and actually mean it.

Then of course there are the body parts. Eyelashes on headlights or Santa’s legs or a set of fingers poking out of the boot lid come to mind; but it’s not just car buyers – manufacturers are keen on pointless novelties too. On a couple of their convertible models one company offers a neck heater in the head restraint. It”s just a novelty and like all novelties interest palls after about five minutes. They might work but why would you pay for such a thing? Wear a scarf. These options don’t make the buyer individual they just make them slightly less wealthy than they were.

Why bother with it all? Punks wanted to be individuals but they became so numerous as to negate the very thing they were trying to achieve. The clothes became a uniform. That’s what happens. A hot hatch with a body kit is just a daft hot hatch. Don’t let any of it bother you. Just save your money. Don”t try and buy individuality – just be yourself. That’s all most of us can hope for.

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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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