Monday, September 19, 2016

Another driver dies in another Tesla crash and MobilEye abandons Tesla.

Tesla is already under investigation for the death of Joshua Brown when his Model S slammed under the back of a truck and killed him whilst driving on autopilot. It turns out this isn't an isolated incident. In a remarkably similar crash in China in January, another driver was killed when his autopilot also didn't see a truck, and similar drove under the back of it at full speed. In the Chinese crash, a dashcam was recovered that shows the vehicle making no attempt to avoid the parked truck.
On top of these two autopilot deaths, a third driver has now died in his model S because of a severe electrical fire. In this latest case, the Dutch driver died when his Tesla crashed into a tree at 155kmh, in an accident so vicious that it split the battery in two and sparked the electrical fire. It seems autopilot wasn't responsible for this crash but it does call into question the integrity of the battery tub again (already investigated once due to a severe fire from road debris a couple of years ago).
Dutch first responders are extremely well-versed in dealing with electric cars - they're some of the best-trained first responders for these sorts of accidents. So when they tell you that the nature and severity of the wreckage was so bad that they could not be certain whether the car might be under high voltage, you ought to listen to them.
At the time, the driver was doing a reported 155kmh which would be a bad crash whichever way you look at it, in any car, but it ought to have been survivable.

With two confirmed deaths, it's not surprising then that the Israeli company that provides Tesla with part of the Autopilot system has broken ties with them. MobilEye don't want to be associated with a vehicle manufacturer that is killing it's driver with a flawed system. Ammon Shashua, chief technical officer for MobilEye said "No matter how you spin it, Autopilot is not designed for that. It is a driver assistance system and not a driverless system."
MobilEye abandons Tesla
Tesla autopilot caused second driver death?
Dashcam shows Chinese Tesla crash

Monday, September 12, 2016

Corporate ticket-buying at motorsports events.

With the Singapore GP just around the corner, I'm reminded of something my wife and I noticed at last year's race. Corporate ticket-buying is ruining F1 for genuine fans.
We had front-row seats - right on the start line. We got to see the drivers up close and personal during the national anthem. We got to watch Vettel and his crew fussing with the Ferrari, so close we could have thrown popcorn and had it land in the cockpit. We got to listen to all the sounds of the grid work and teams, and we got to enjoy the race from a fantastic position in the stands.
Three seats down from us, on the front row, there was a block of 12 seats that were empty for practice, and qualifying, and for the beginning of the race itself. About 10 minutes in, a group of people all turned up wearing identical IBM shirts, all carrying theme-cocktails, laughing and joking and generally being a nuisance to everyone else. They occupied those 12 seats for about 15 minutes, before all getting up and leaving, never to come back.
We saw the same thing up and down the pit-row grandstand - blocks of seats all being temporarily filled by corporate clones, only to be left empty for 90% of the time. I find this repulsive. Genuine F1 fans would love to have had any of those seats, but instead, some corporate raffle bought a block of seats and gave the tickets to people who had no idea why they were there, no idea what they were watching, and were genuinely disinterested in the whole race.
Perhaps the companies that do this should find out first if the people they're giving the tickets to actually want to go to the race, rather than to just turn up on the company's dime and get drunk. Or better yet - don't waste the company's money at all, don't buy the seats, keep the ungrateful corporate drones at home and let REAL fans have the opportunity to sit in these prime locations.
Like I said: close to the action....

Monday, September 5, 2016

I'm cured of my lust for a Dodge Charger.

Forever and a day, I've lusted after the Dodge Charger. The current version - not the old one. I love the looks, front and rear. With larger wheels and lower profile tyres it looks amazing. I love the wraparound red tail lights and the similar part-wraparound daytime running lights on the front. It just looks like it means business.
Then I rented one. An R/T version with a Hemi.
And now I don't want to own one any more.
Driving it was fun, for sure, but it was not a pleasant concert of well-balanced parts that were easily orchestrated. It was more like three drunks racing shopping carts down a back alley at night.
The engine was very urgent - too urgent. With an alleged 370 horsepower and 395 lb-ft of torque (although it really didn't feel like it), the lightest touch of the accelerator and it took off, meaning it was largely useless in stop-go traffic. Once in the open though, it felt a bit more natural, at least until it came time to overtake. If left to it's own devices, the command to kick-down for an overtake is faxed to the engine, to arrive with great delay, to the point where you end up pressing harder on the accelerator thinking maybe it didn't realize what was going on. Apparently this 8-speed box is a vast improvement over the older one but if that's the case I'm wondering just how bad the older one must have been. I mean this current generation one is so indecisive it spends a great deal of time hunting between gears. Far better is to use the paddle shifters on the steering wheel to force it down a gear - that's nearly instantaneous. And mercifully once in manual mode, after a short period of time the gearbox goes back to full auto (unless the shifter is in the "M" position).
The steering had three settings, which Dodge optimistically refer to as sport, normal and comfort. Those translated to vague, vaguer and vaguest. Compared to even the cheapest European runabout, the Charger's "sport" mode steering was sloppy and vague and to be honest there wasn't much difference between the three modes.
Oddly, there was a dedicated "sport" mode button in the center stack, which seemed to tighten up the gear ratios but didn't switch the steering to 'sport' mode - I had to do that three levels deep in the touch screen menu.
The brakes were pretty good - big-ass rotors with 4-pot calipers, and the feel through the pedal was not bad given the amount of power assistance in the way.
But again - driving it felt disjointed and awkward, not fluid and smooth like I'd hoped. I think some of this was down to the suspension. Calling it "choppy" is being kind. After five days of driving on regular roads with ruts and potholes, it was actually becoming painful and distracting to drive. Every small bump became a crashing, jarring punch in the spine.
I put a lot of these observations down to the car being a rental, but then I released it only had 900 miles on it, so it was basically brand new. It showed two previous Bluetooth phone connections and the registration document was dated 5 weeks ago so I was probably only the fourth or fifth renter.  
In the end I think they went 100% muscle, all-out for straight-line speed without a lot of consideration for turning, and I think THAT might be why it feels so bizarre to drive.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Things I learned while in Florida

Following on from the recent post on things I learned in California, here's some things I learned in Orlando last week.
1. They have the most incredibly out-of-balance red/green signal ratio. Around where I was - near UCF - the red signals were anything from 2 to 4 minutes, followed by about 15 to 20 seconds of green. That was for crossing streets. The main roads had the opposite. Meaning that the side streets had queues on them that lasted for 3 to 4 red cycles before you got to the front. Meaning to get ANYWHERE was at least 6 minutes sitting at every red light. If I timed it wrong, it was 16 minutes. To travel the 0.75 miles from my hotel to the nearest supermarket and back took a little over 35 minutes. Including the 3 minutes I was in the store.
2. The Florida stereotype is very true - little old ladies with purple hair in gigantic cars with the left turn signal forever stuck on.
3. People can actually turn right without coming to a dead stop. Are you listening, Utah?

Driving was OK overall - too many toll roads though. It must be cripplingly expensive to live down there if you own a car. Petrol is $1 more than in Utah and with toll roads everywhere, as soon as you get on the motorway or any large bypass road, you're in it for $1 there and $1 back. To get to UCF from the airport is $2 each way. To get to International Drive from the airport is $4 each way. I swear if I lived there I'd burn more in tolls than I did in petrol.
Between the cost of petrol, the toll roads and the bizarre light timing, if it wasn't for the awful weather (35°C and 90% humidity) it would be making a good argument to walk everywhere.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Things I learned while in California

On our road trip a couple of weeks ago, we passed through Nevada and Arizona but spent most of our time driving in California. I made some observations about California driving.
  • Shop around for petrol. This is true everywhere but doubly so in California. In Utah, from one end of the state to the other, it's not unusual to see prices differ by up to 40 cents per gallon. In California I saw big-branded petrol stations - Shell, Chevron etc - within a couple of miles of each other with huge price differences. The most extreme was in Huntington Beach where one was selling premium for $1.96/gallon and 1.3 miles away, the same brand was selling the same gas for $4.69/gallon - over double the price. I expect to see price differences like that on the motorways, but these were both on the side of Highway 101 and within sight of each other.
  • Californians don't seem to like breaking the speed limit. From crossing the state line coming in from Reno, driving 2000 or more miles inside California, to leaving via I-15 after Barstow, the average driver seemed to prefer to be at or under the speed limit rather than over. And the speed limits are appallingly low in CA with many freeways still stuck in the 1950's with 55-60mph limits. Compare to Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and other surrounding states where people generally drive 5-10mph over the limit. Of course once you talk about the 405, I-5 and I-10 anywhere near L.A, speed limits are a moot point because you're inevitably sitting in 5 or more lanes of 10mph crawl.
  • Californians have a dangerous inability to drive hilly or mountainous roads. Not only do they spend the entire time on the brakes when going downhill - to the point where you can't tell if they're slowing down or not because you've been following brake lights for 30 miles - but they brake at EVERY CORNER going downhill. On I-80 from Reno to Sacramento, it's two lanes and about a 35 mile descent. The limit is 55 to 60 depending on the section of road. We were stuck in 35mph traffic almost the whole way for no apparent reason other than every car in front of us - for as far as I could see - was on the brakes. All the time. It's as if they don't know that going down a gear will do a much better job than the brakes will on a long, shallow descent. The same was true when trying to get to and from Palomar observatory on S-6, and on the hilly sections of I-15 and SR76 near Pala Mesa. I'd say some of what they were doing on the mountain roads was downright dangerous. You don't ever, EVER come to a complete stop because of a corner on a freeway, no matter what. Doing it on blind downhill bends would be something I'd start ticketing drivers for if I was in the highway patrol. Yet we saw this time and time again - any slight deviation from a dead straight line and everyone dropped their speed to the point where we ended up in phantom traffic jams of stationary traffic at almost every bend.
  • Like Utah drivers, Californians don't like to overtake. On one of the more open sections of Highway 1, we came across an armored truck bumbling along at 30mph - slower uphill obviously. We joined the tail end of a line of probably 10 cars who seemed to be quite happy to sit behind this truck. As the opportunities presented themselves, nobody would overtake. So we did. Two or three cars at a time, until we got to the truck. We had to wait a little for another broken yellow line in the middle of the road, but when it came, off we went. After that we had no traffic behind us for nearly an hour. It was only when we got to some roadworks near Bixby Bridge that the armored truck caught us up with a massive line of traffic behind it. Overtake, people. It's easy and it makes your drive a lot more enjoyable.
  • Californians love the left lane. Doesn't matter how many lanes, they'll get into the left lane and sit there, normally 5mph below the limit. I lost count of the thousands of cars we passed simply by staying in the right lanes. The left lane was always full of nose-to-tail slower-moving traffic so we hardly ever used it. It was more efficient to use the right lanes to pass.
  • Lane splitting is now legal in CA. It used to be "not illegal" but now it's actually legal and the motorcyclists embrace this law with a vengeance. I'm a motorcyclist too and I used to lane-split all the time in England. In Utah it's illegal which just kills me when I'm riding, so I'm fully, 100% behind the law in CA and it made me smile every time a motorcycle passed us between lanes.
  • Californians seem bizarrely tolerant of people pushing into queues. When we came to the toll plaza at the San Mateo bridge, we joined the lines of traffic waiting to pay cash as we didn't have a SpeedPass. We then watched as 12 different cars drove all the way to the front of the line and just started nosing in to the line. Every time, someone let them in.
    So top tip - if you want to get through a toll plaza quickly in California, drive to the front and push in because there's a 100% chance someone will let you do it without so much as a honked horn or a shouted insult.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Road tripping

Last week we drove 2500 miles in six days. We went on a road trip from Utah over to California, down highway 1 and back up through Vegas to Utah again. It was a fun time - we got to see a lot of different things. What's interesting is how large distances and empty highways are something that lead to being able to do 500 miles in a day without any problem. When I used to live in England, I wouldn't voluntarily get in a car and drive 200 miles anywhere, let alone 500. I'd sooner have shot myself in the head. The congestion is terrible everywhere and the motorways are choked with centre-lane drivers and nanny cameras that issue fines without remorse.
In America, especially in the west, things are considerably different. The stretches of I-80 and I-15 that lead to and from our home city all neck down to two lanes once you're out of the main city area. The speed limit is either 75mph or 80mph depending on where you are, and the traffic is so relatively light that you can set the cruise control and literally not touch the brakes for 400 miles. It's still tiring to drive that sort of distance in a day but it's not difficult (unless you're in that f*cking Chevy). Rest stops are pretty well placed - normally 60 to 70 miles apart so there's plenty of opportunity to pull over and have something to eat, stretch your legs and such.
Then there's the "we've passed them before" game. There's always slower-moving traffic - larger trucks, motor homes etc. Very often we'll pass a bunch, then stop for something to eat, and when we get on the road again, we'll end up passing all the same vehicles again because they kept going when we stopped.
Road tripping isn't some romantic, idyllic thing though - that's not the point of this post. The point is that when I tell my friends back in Europe that we're driving 500 miles to get somewhere, their response is always the same - "what!?". Yes it would be different if we were on the East coast, but where we live, it's not a problem. And with the assholes at the TSA, the checkin and waiting times and all the other hassle at airports, it's pretty much a wash in terms of travel time now whether we drive 500 miles or fly.