Monday, May 23, 2016

A thought experiment for you, on the subject of self-driving cars.

I've blogged about this before, but here's a thought experiment for you (Given that Tesla are now involved in two high profile cases where their autopilot crashed the car and they're saying they're not to blame):
It's the future, you're in your self-driving car, minding your own business. You're on the motorway, commuting to work. A minivan full of kids on the school run is to your right, a motorcyclist is to the left. Traffic is moving at a steady pace. The truck in front of you has a badly-secured load, and as it hits a pot-hole, a large sheet of steel is dislodged and slides off the back, catching the wind and flipping up. At this point a crash is inevitable. At the very least, someone is going to be seriously injured, and at the worst they could potentially be killed. Your self-driving car has logic built into it for a situation like this, so who's it going to choose to kill?
Does your car kill the motorcyclist to avoid the steel sheet and save your life? Does it defend the motorcyclist (because they are the most vulnerable road user in direct proximity), leaving the option of killing you or the van full of kids? If that's the case, who's life is more valuable? You on your own, or the children next to you? Can your car make that life-changing decision in a split second, taking into account all the variables and inputs from all its sensors? What if the self-driving minivan is also trying to make the same decisions at the same time?

Think about it. When you buy a self-driving car, there will be a clause in a contract you will have to sign, that indicates that you're OK with the idea that the car you've just bought might one day choose to sacrifice you for the common good.

Now how do you feel about self-driving cars?

Monday, May 16, 2016

It's a sad day when car performance and handling is lowest on buyer's list of influences.

A recent study reports that in the grand scheme of things, car buyers are ranking the performance and handling of cars as very low on their list of things that influence their buying decisions. The highest ranking item is, according to this study at least, the entertainment system.
As a gear head I find this yet more evidence of a troubling trend; people just don't like driving any more. They're not trained properly and have no real interest. Driving standards have been plummeting for the last decade and as manufacturers add more and more distractions in the cab, with more and more isolation from the road. Honestly if the performance and handling of a car are that low on people's lists, I wonder why they buy a car at all and don't just use cabs, public transport and Uber. I wonder if I'll see the end of drivers who enjoy driving, who are allowed to drive in a spirited manner in my lifetime? I wonder if legislation and insurance will just make it too expensive to actually drive? I wonder if we're all going to be forced into joyless self-driving mobile entertainment centers? If that's the case then just shoot me now. I still rate performance and handling as number 1. If my phone can connect via Bluetooth so I can stream Spotify then that's really all I need. I don't need to text from the steering wheel, or get Twitter updates from celebs with inflated egos on my dash display. But it seems I'm in the growing minority. It's a sad day for driving for sure. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Regular oil changes DO make a difference.

I think a lot of people believe that modern oils mean they can neglect their oil change interval on their cars. Too many products advertise "lifetime" guarantees, and 20,000 mile oil changes. I've seen plenty of engines that have been ruined by poor oil change discipline. The photos below were sent to me by a reader who was doing a cam swap. They show a pair of Hyundai Coupe engines. The older engine is in much better condition internally because the owner changed the oil regularly. The newer engine was owned by someone who either didn't care, or just couldn't be bothered.
Oil changes: cheap insurance for your engine. Just do it.

Monday, May 2, 2016

ALL diesels fail the emissions test - not just VW.

In a test that should surprise nobody, the UK DfT concluded recently that all diesel cars fail the emissions standards. They tested 37 cars on the road, and despite all of then passing the NoX emissions test in lab conditions, once on the road, every one of them failed. The degree of failure varied but a 100% failure rate is enough to tell us what we already knew - the emissions tests are flawed in the same way that the gas-mileage tests are flawed.
What would be entertaining at this point would be if it turned out that of all the failing vehicles, VW were actually the smallest offenders....
The question is how to solve this? Obviously the manufacturers can't recall all their diesel vehicles - mostly because there isn't a "fix" for this issue. The only realistic solution is to raise the emissions limit and test all cars under real-world conditions, not in a lab.
Ultimately I suspect this is another nail in the coffin for diesel cars. At this point manufacturers will be pondering whether it's worth the hassle and expense of trying to pass even a new emissions standard. Honestly if I was making policy decisions for any of the large car companies, I'd abandon diesel and put the money into electric R&D instead...
DfT emissions testing program results.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Do bicycle helmets make any difference?

In 2014 a neurosurgeon went on record stating that bicycle helmets make no difference to the safety of the cyclist. I've long held this view. Being a motorcyclist, I wear a full-face helmet. Those are solid shells, with shatter-resistant face shields, filled with high density polystyrene, surrounded by a strong loop in the chin bar to help with structural integrity. From direct personal experience I can tell you motorcycle helmets absolutely do save lives. I wouldn't be writing this entry if I'd not been wearing my helmet in the two crashes I've had. But I've long questioned the flimsy little foam things that cyclists wear. The don't cover the sides of the head, they offer no protection to the face and they have no structural integrity (you can snap most of them in two just with your hands - even the expensive ones).
In January this year, another study was completed that largely came to the same conclusion, but discovered in addition that cyclists take more risks when wearing a helmet because they think they're safer (the same is true of car drivers who drive in airbag-laden cars that are soundproofed - they take more risks because they think they're safer).
A study published in The British Medical Journal last year looked at hospitalisations in 11 countries with varying helmet laws, and found that wearing helmets did not lower injury rates.
Considering the various studies on this issue and the real-world data, you have to ask whether it's worth wearing a bicycle helmet at all.
I'll support motorcycle helmet laws to the end of time because data proves time and time again that they are worth it. But when all the science shows that bicycle helmets almost do more harm than good (because of their placebo effect) I'd be quite happy to support a call to make them optional rather than mandatory.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Your responsibility as second-in-line

A quick post this week. If you read this blog regularly you'll know that I regularly talk about the importance of traffic flow. So this post is about your responsibility as the second car in line when stopped at a red light. It's simple; if the person at the front hasn't noticed the green light within 2 seconds, use your horn with a single 'toot' to attract their attention. This way you don't all sit at a green light while the driver in front finishes their text, and end up missing the entire green cycle.
Although if you're the driver at the front, it's your responsibility to be paying attention ....