Tag Archive | "driving"

The Most Dangerous Roads In The World

Much is written on this subject and usually it forms part of the warnings and advice freely doled out to unwary drivers planning to travel beyond these shores, or indeed, just up the road.

For example, this writer has had personal experience of the ‘Ruta de la Muerte’ on the south coast of Spain. Fortunately there is now a major road for safety’s sake but it is easy to miss the turn out of Malaga and end up on the coast road at which point the hunched and terrified driver, white-knuckled hands gripping the steering wheel, will still encounter massive trucks, sozzled Spaniards and boozy, beery Brits who left their brains behind in Bromsgrove.

Depending upon who you ask, Spain has several ‘roads of death’ and the name can also be found in every other Spanish speaking country. In Norway they have the Trollstigen (The Troll Ladder – is it any wonder that trolls get such a bad press?) and Italy the Stelvio Pass. Even in the UK we have roads to die for and they are many and various. Mention the Peak District’s Cat and Fiddle to any automotive health and safety officer and you’re sure to provoke a reaction. Basically, it depends where you live.

The A682 between junction 13 of the M65 and Long Preston has a very bad reputation yet it doesn’t even appear on a BBC News top ten dangerous roads listing from 2010.

The road outside your children’s school could well head the list merely because you deem it so. There need not have been any injuries or fatalities – a near miss will turn mild-mannered parents into car-hating zealots overnight. This is an understandable reaction and this brings us finally to the point.

Traffic rules and regulations abound. Never a day seems to go by when there isn’t another restriction put in place and yet still people die on dangerous roads. Why? It’s a bit of a conundrum. Do some drivers and riders see these highways as a challenge? Does a red mist descend when the long and winding road appears? Whatever the cause, there seems to be a point at which the rules cease to have meaning to some people.

Most motorists understand the clear and present dangers inherent in operating a car. They enjoy their driving but draw the line at recklessness. Ultimately all roads are the most dangerous roads in the world. They are made dangerous by daredevils and the terminally stupid. The problem is, an attitude of mind is hard to legislate against. At some point we need to learn the lesson before cars become nothing more than state controlled shuttles.

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Spoil Your Dad This Coming Father’s Day.

You know your Dad, right? He’s that suspicious looking old guy sitting at the computer reading Motor Blogger and paying scant attention to your long-suffering Mother. The one who leaves oily engine parts on the kitchen table and towels on the bathroom floor and who consistently refused to lend you his wheels when you first passed your driving test. Your Dad. The man who has driven you crazy but has also driven you all over the country; to friends and sporting venues and nightclubs and A&E. The man who, possibly through gritted teeth, bought you your first car. Well, once a year you are officially allowed to show your appreciation. June 16th is Father’s Day, so get planning.

Forget the male grooming products, he gave up on that caper as soon as he said his marriage vows; but there are many gifts available that are auto-orientated and will bring a smile to his face – but you have to get it right. For example, if he drives a Suzuki there is a whole range goodies available in the form of clothing or merchandise with a subtle Japanese motif; but not all Dads drive Suzuki’s. Most manufacturers have a selection of products.

It is not possible to separate a man and his motor so how about some driving music? There are many compilations out there but they have to have a driving beat so none of your soppy Coldplay or that incessant EDM racket. Dads are like Lemmy from Motorhead: old and warty but always ready to rock. Inside every middle-aged man there lurks a head-banger just under the surface. In true Jekyll and Hyde fashion this ‘dad-dancing’ alter-ego often appears at weddings and family celebrations.

If you’ve got some cash on the hip, why not treat him to a race or rally driving experience day at your local circuit or venue. Times are hard and there are some great deals on offer. Or you could rent him a classic car for the day or take him karting – there are a wealth of opportunities to spend some time together.

If however you are cash-poor or just irredeemably tight-fisted then how about doing something for him? Cleaning the car is always appreciated. A proper clean mind, no taking him to the supermarket to get one of those trolley blokes to do it. Give his pride and joy a good going over with some familial TLC.

There is nothing like some parent/child activity, no matter what your age and remember – Mum’s appreciate the children taking Dad out on Father’s Day too. They see it as a form of respite.

What do you mean you’re too busy? It’s one day of the year for pity’s sake. So give the old guy a break. Treat him. You never know – if you don’t have a car of your own he may lend you his before the tears of pleasure dry in his eyes. It’s called bonding. Get used to it.

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Swift Justice For Motoring Offenders

The announcement has been made today that dedicated traffic courts are to be set up to mete out swift punishment for minor traffic offences. It seems that the half million or so offences that occur each year are clogging up our courts. The government thinks that by setting up these summary centres of justice it will free up the magistrates for more important issues.

Apparently this has been trialled at nine areas around England and is about to be rolled out across both England and Wales. Scotland has its own system. The pilot schemes have simplified the legal process according to the police. By April 2014 every police area will have one of these traffic courts.

They will be overseen by so-called ‘specialist prosecutors’ who will deal with up to one hundred and sixty cases a day. This is where the idea gets a bit more concerning. Magistrates are appointed from the populace. They don’t need specialist legal qualifications but that do have to meet long established standards of fairness and community spirit, amongst other things. They receive training and have a legal adviser on hand.

In what way then are these traffic courts any different? Who appoints these ‘specialist prosecutors’ and where do they come from? If they are members of the public who volunteer to serve and who receive training for the job, doesn’t that make them magistrates? Get the idea?

We sincerely hope that these court officers are not members of the police force for example. Neither should they be legal professionals. Mind you, they only have jurisdiction in the ninety percent of cases where the miscreant motorist pleads guilty to the said minor offence. Thankfully, if the driver wants to contest the case it has to be heard in a proper magistrates court. So maybe that nagging concern isn’t justified, although it is still hanging in the air like a bad smell from the boot of the car.

Perhaps it is because motorists have been a cash-cow for local and national governments for years that it smacks a bit of being a money-making exercise. We’ll see. In the meantime the law obviously has to be enforced and if it speeds things up for all concerned and saves tax payers money in the long term it may not be a bad thing. Let us just hope that the rule of fairness and impartiality still applies.

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The Auto Name Game

Americans are christened with really cool names. Amongst the car guys past and present, there’s Boyd Coddington, Wayne Carini, Chip Foose, Ryan Friedlinghaus and the legendary Carroll Shelby to name but a few. Why aren’t our names like that? Even the great John Wayne changed his name from Morrison so as not to reveal his early life as a British grocer.

The same goes for their cars. The Ford Mustang is one of America’s most iconic motors. Say it out loud – Muss-stang! It conjures up images of the great sweeping plains of the West where rugged men in lumberjack shirts – with the sleeves rolled up over their biceps – neck Bud from the bottles. (Top tip: If they are drinking Piña Coladas then you are probably in the wrong bar). Would it have been the same if Ford had just called it The Pony?

Then of course there’s the Dodge Charger, the Challenger, the Plymouth Barracuda, the Corvette Stingray and the Pontiac GTO and loads more, often with really butch names that belie their automotive incompetence. And what do we get here? The Fusion. The Picanto. It is names like this that make the British and European car market so devoid of any real auto expectations.

Even when manufacturers decide to get trendy there is no real flair. The Juke. The Roomster. These names don’t really give a sense of the open road or driving as it should be. They are just names. Even the soft Yank tanks have good names like Eldorado or Lacrosse. To be fair, there are also mistakes. Ford made a car called the Probe. It wasn’t very good and if nothing else brought to mind a variety of medical procedures. Plans to use the names ‘Thrust’ and ‘Lunge’ were subsequently withdrawn.

Manufacturers seem to go out of their way to find safe names like the made up ‘Mondeo’, which one assumes is meant to suggest a world car vision but very little else. Unfortunately, the new Mondeo (pictured) will, in America, be known as the Fusion which just goes to show that you can take a car out of Britain but you can’t take the Britain out of the car.

It all begs the question as to whether or not names sell cars. These days new car buyers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and they will look at factors such as economy, luxury and accessories before they worry too much about what it is called. They may be concerned with the maker’s badge – which explains the otherwise terminally dull number sequence on BMWs – before they are concerned about the name, but there is a limit.

Chrysler/Dodge once offered a version of their ongoing Dart model which they called The Swinger. It would be a brave man who would consider driving this car today. That is unless he wanted to make some new friends.

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The State Of Britain’s Roads

Sometimes we might well wonder if our European masters have any awareness of the word ‘parity’. We also might wonder if our representatives were behind the door or in the car park having a fag when the money pot was opened (that we helped fill) and cash for roads was handed out.

Here’s an example. If you drive from Motril on the coast of Southern Spain and head up country to Grenada you will use the A44/E902 route (pictured). This is one of the finest pieces of smooth blacktop you will ever see, winding up through the foothills of the Sierra Nevada to that historic city. This road project was EU funded. We helped pay for it. Spain has many such roads. Certainly their economy is even worse than ours but all this happened before the current crisis.

We take you now to the beautiful country of Poland which, until recently, was in receipt of a 770 million pound (equivalent) funding exercise for road building projects until it was established that there was, basically, a bit of fiddling going on – some creative accounting, as it were. The upshot of this crookedness is that ultimately the cost to British taxpayers will be something in the order of £100 MILLION!

Moving on to more familiar territory, we arrive on a section of the A21 near Tunbridge Wells where, tragically, a young woman lost her life in a skid during heavy rain. Her sister was badly injured. The road surface was found to be entirely the reason for the crash following a botched re-surfacing job four years earlier.

This was a tragedy that need not have happened. It is now known that the Highways Agency and local officials had been aware of this dangerous road for up to two years prior given that there had been a spate of accidents. A year before this accident, one local resident demanded that a skid resistant surface be laid ‘before someone gets killed’. No action was taken and it took the death of this poor young woman to get a reaction from those responsible.

Authorities tell us that millions of potholes have been repaired. This is true but there is still plenty more that haven’t; but it isn’t just potholes, it is road surfaces in general. Our roads are in a terrible state because of decades of under-funding that has failed to keep pace with the volume of cars on the road. Where, in other words, is our EU road-funding package?

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Is It Time To Sort Out Speed Once And For All?

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk, one Stephen Bett, recently said in an interview that experienced drivers should be allowed to travel as fast as they want to. He went on to say he would, “abolish speed limits on motorways and other major roads” and, “take down all the signs and say all villages are 30mph and you drive on roads like they do in Germany and Italy, as road conditions say (sic). We ought to drive to road conditions rather than set limits.” Why, thanks, Stephen.

Later, when his world inevitably came crashing down around him, he back-peddled faster than Sir Bradley Wiggins on maximum re-wind and said his comments were ‘tongue-in-cheek’ and a tad flippant. Later he fully retracted – thus saving his career – and said, “I fully acknowledge that speed is regarded as a contributory factor in determining the outcome of collisions.”

Therein lies the whole problem. On the one hand we have the school of thought that we should increase the speed limits on motorways, and on the other we are told that speed is largely responsible for accidents. This is not always so: it is inappropriate speed that may cause accidents coupled with people’s inability to drive properly for the prevailing conditions.

The male 18 to 25 age group are, and always have been, on the receiving end of the big statistic numbers when it comes to accidents and fatalities. This is the gung-ho nature of youth. Clearly there is a need for greater driving education because the driving test is just that. Only experience improves driving standards.

In a sense, Mr Bett was not entirely wrong. He may have been trying to suggest an idea and it simply came out the wrong way. Most people, if left to their own devices, can drive perfectly safely and do not need to be perpetually nannied or bossed about. What complicates the issue is that young drivers lack experience and older drivers become lazy. The modern cars we all drive are safer than the automobile has ever been but they can’t protect us against our own complacency.

The faster a car is going the less time the driver has to react. The dangers of speed are directly related to the prevailing conditions. If it is raining then stopping distances increase, for example. Knowledge of how a vehicle works, coupled with an awareness of surroundings and an ability not to be distracted by all the features of the car are key. Speed cannot be blamed because some idiot is texting.

The solution can never be simple but it needs to be found. We must control speed in built up areas and villages – that’s a given – but there is nothing wrong with an 80mph speed on, say, a dry lightly used motorway but when conditions change so should the driver’s response.

This is probably what Mr Bett was getting at. Greater emphasis needs to be put on education. Young drivers should have a probationary period in low-powered cars and so on. Older drivers need to buck their ideas up and pay attention. What we don’t need is more signs and increased regulation. Views are conflicting and as confused as ever. Time to sort it out.

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“Sorry Officer; It Won’t Happen Again.”

Yeah, right. Did you hear about the man whose wife ran away with a policeman? When he saw the flashing blue lights in his driving mirror he put his foot down because he thought they were bringing her back. Or how about the woman who assumed her speedo was deficient because she was at high altitude in the mountains?

“It never does that at home!”

Just two of the many excuses used to try and get away with a speeding offence.

No doubt any experienced traffic officer will be able to regale an audience with excuses, both clever and lame, that motorists use when caught going too fast. He probably will not reveal those where he was in the wrong – that’s another story.

The trouble with an excuse is that there is no excuse. Sure, you might get away with it if your passenger is about to give birth, but that’s about it; and anyway, there’s never a pregnant woman around when you need one (Curiously, there sometimes is when you don’t!). So, apart from matters of life or death your card will be marked, matey. Names will be taken. Heads will roll.

Modern cars have very accurate speedometers but they don’t measure how fast a vehicle is going; they work on how many times a wheel, or axle or driveshaft rotates. Then, by the power of electronics, they convert that to what a driver sees on his or her gauge. There is a variable. New tyres make the wheel ‘bigger’, if that makes sense, as does increasing the tyre pressure.

As a consequence the car will appear to travel further which will extrapolate to a greater speed. The same thing happens conversely. Thus, a small difference in wheel diameter gets exaggerated because the wheel is turning maybe six or seven times a second. Compounded, this can mean a difference of a few miles per hour. It’s a good idea to really learn the science of this. You can explain it to the boys in blue; they love a good lecture at the roadside. Can’t get enough of them.

Some people prefer to use the information provided by their navigation devices. These work by measuring the exact distance covered over time by GPS tracking. They can be affected by signal quality and, in some instances, struggle to factor in steep hills. Whichever system a driver uses there is always a margin of error.

The law requires that speedos must never show less than the actual speed and must never show more than 110% of actual speed. To counter this, manufacturers tend to calibrate their gauges high, thus helping to save drivers from themselves. This is also why the cops allow a margin of error although the same can’t be said of speed cameras which, as you know, have no soul.

Overall then, car speedos tend to read higher than sat-navs. It is not however the place of Motor Blogger to recommend one device over another. If you remain resolutely below the advertised speed limit you should be ok. If all else fails you could try slipping a fifty pound note on the ground and ask, disingenuously, if the officer had perchance dropped it. This is an especially good plan if you need a bed for the night.

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When Safe Could Mean Sorry

Not that many years ago motor racing was considerably more dangerous than it is now. Tragedy was fairly common but as time and technology have moved forward so safety precautions have saved many lives, as Mark Webber can surely attest after his horrific F1 crash at Valencia in 2010.

The good news is that these racing test beds allow the science of safety to filter down to the cars that we drive today. Current studies however seem to be showing that the more aware we are of the safety features on our cars, the more likely we are to take chances on the basis that we will probably walk away from a shunt.

We have ABS, ESP, TCS, EDS and others that are variously scattered around the new and used cars on sale today. Couple these with any number of airbags which, if they all went off in a crash, would give an understanding of how it would feel to be inside a blancmange and it is no wonder that drivers are possibly being overconfident.

Surrey County Council have published research on road deaths in the first ten years of this century. Previously, give or take the odd aberration, motoring deaths have steadily been decreasing but between the 2000-2006, the number remained broadly level. There has been a drop off in the three years up to 2010 but that is thought to be the result of the economic downturn.

From these figures the researchers have deduced that some car users are being a tad reckless in their driving habits. This may well be so but it could also represent the increasing numbers of cars on our roads and possibly just a drop in driving standards because the cars have become too easy to drive. Nevertheless, it is valid research and a timely reminder to complacent drivers.

Just because there is a greater likelihood that drivers and passengers will walk away from an accident doesn’t mean to say that this will necessarily be so. That is the nature of accidents; they are unpredictable, as the tragic death of the great Ayrton Senna showed.

In the first one hundred years of the automobile drivers were more aware of the fact that they were operating machinery. Clutches and steering were heavier and suspension more basic. If you wanted to throw a car around then an accident was sure to result unless you could really drive. This isn’t the case today. Cars are so technologically advanced that they virtually drive themselves. Yet in the rush to more and more legislation inspired safety options, are we in danger of forgetting that we are in charge of a tonne or so of metal travelling at speed?

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Holiday Home From Home

This is the time of year when the caravans of Britain make their annual appearance on our roads and as usual they are sure to polarise opinion. Some drivers will become instantly enraged or frustrated as soon as they see that swaying fibreglass rear end far in the distance. This will happen even if the driver is himself off on a family holiday to a static ‘van based at the coast.

Most drivers, however, will understand that a caravan makes a lot of sense for UK vacations, especially during these hard financial times. As a consequence their popularity is increasing despite the murderous movie ‘Sightseers’! Modern caravans range from functional to luxurious and make an ideal base to explore Britain and Europe.

The choice of tow-car can be critical. Most cars are capable of towing a ‘van but in truth some are probably unsuitable. It is usual for manufacturers to quote maximum towing weights which should be the starting point of any buying decision. It is both illegal and dangerous to breach that figure. The vehicle doesn’t have to be large but it should have a strong engine which ideally would be a diesel for the extra pulling torque they can deliver.

The choice is large. Some people prefer to choose to use panel vans or pick-ups but most ‘vans will be seen behind family sized cars.  Possibly the ideal vehicle would be the Land Rover Discovery. The latest version has a feature called the ‘Trailer Stability Assist’. This automatically detects the presence of a hooked-up trailer. Once a speed of thirty seven miles per hour is reached this device monitors the behaviour of the caravan and uses selective braking to counter any swaying or other unsuitable movements. It’s the perfect safe towing feature.

The snag with the Discovery is the price. Lesser mortals may have to settle for something like a Volkswagen Passat or even a Golf – which was an award winner in the entry level class up to 1424kg. The VW 2.0L diesel is a fine engine that packs real towing punch. Broadly speaking, the heavier the caravan the bigger the vehicle should be to tow it, but it all depends on the manufacturers figure and, of course, the law.

Finding a tow-car is the first step towards a caravanning holiday but there is still much to learn. In essence, the driver is in control of not one but two vehicles. Any novice who has tried reversing with any sort of trailer will attest to how tricky this can be and how quickly things can go seriously pear-shaped!

Since 1998 all subsequently registered vehicles, their tow-bars and tow-balls must be type-approved and all electrics and lights should be fully connected. Any hint of transgression will find the unwary driver at the side of the road with blue lights reflected in the sleek flanks of the prized  caravan. Caravanning is a great way to take the family on holiday but it is not something to try on a whim.

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Porsche Panamera Gets Greener

Once known as the brand that supped from the cup of the yuppie culture a couple of decades back, the Porsche name has managed to get well past all that nonsense to enter a new phase of popularity. The latest 911 is a state-of-the-art masterpiece (if you can get beyond the divisive electric steering) and the Cayman is simply one of the best drives that money can buy. The Cayenne is hugely popular with customers worldwide but it is the Panamera that is the big surprise.

On first impressions the car is not a looker – at least that’s what the reviewers at the time of launch thought – but it is clear from sales that customers don’t agree. In the USA it is a best seller and is sought after elsewhere around the world. Various styling tweaks have since made the car more appealing and the latest version should finally silence the critics.

As with other manufacturers in the prestige car sector, Porsche have been working with hybrid technology and it was first introduced into the Panamera in 2011. Now there is going to be a new version – the S E-Hybrid -which will be formally announced at the Shanghai Motor Show later in April. The original was good, this new one (pictured) should be even better.

The S E-Hybrid is the first plug-in Porsche. The plug is in the front grill and the lithium-ion battery can charge from a domestic point in about four hours, less from a fast charger. A full charge will give twenty two miles on electric power alone. The battery is topped up in use via a regenerative braking system.

The 4.8L V8 has gone and is replaced by a three litre V6 bi-turbo which on its own will produce around 320bhp. Add in a further 95 from the electric motor and the car will whisk the person with the requisite £90k (est) to 62 miles per hour in a sparkling 5.5 seconds and on to 168mph in fairly short order.

The most amazing aspect of this – remember this is a Porsche – is that the company are claiming 91mpg! Owners won’t get this in the real world of course but even a more modest figure of, say, about 70mpg is a bit of a triumph in a car like this. Even more impressive is the road tax and congestion charge busting 71g/km.

All the usual goodies are there including bi-Xenon lights, climate, parking sensors and so on plus the added security benefit of the Porsche Vehicle Tracking System approved to Thatcham’s category 5 level. Buyers will even get a complimentary driving experience at  Silverstone to learn more about their car. If the funds are available this has got to be the premier eco-drive available. All the joy of Porsche ownership with pleasure of knowing that the very best green credentials are on show.

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