Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The 2018 Nissan Leaf gets rid of the brake pedal.

I'm not quite sure what Nissan are thinking, but their 2018 Leaf comes with what they call "E-pedal" which is single-pedal driving. One pedal accelerates when you push it, and brakes when you let it go.
Where to begin with all the problems this will cause?
The most obvious is that everyone pushes a brake pedal to stop. Now we have to do the opposite? There's the first lawsuit - people pushing the pedal because that's what you do to stop a car - only in the Leaf, pushing it will make it accelerate because it's actually the accelerator.
How do you coast? I barely ever use the brakes - almost all my slowing down (unless I'm coming to a total stop) is done by letting off the accelerator and coasting using engine drag. In the Leaf, letting off the accelerator will appliy the brakes so - I have to constantly 'wiggle' the single pedal to balance the car between accelerating and braking?
I just can't get my head around this at all. Nissan have apparently included a brake pedal too, but it's disabled by default so you have to enable it every time you get in the car. Even then the e-pedal does most of the work and you only use the brake pedal in an emergency. Again - the muscle-memory to do this is horrendous. You train yourself to brake by lifting off a pedal, but then when you REALLY need to brake, you have to press a pedal. But not the same pedal - no - you have to go back to regular car mode where the ACTUAL brake pedal is properly separate.
I just can't see this lasting much longer than a week after launch without a major software update to disable the e-pedal and permanently activate the brake pedal.

Monday, August 14, 2017

You can't have a "partial zero emission" vehicle.

If you live in the US you'll have likely seen a little badge on the back of some vehicles that reads "PZEV" which stands for "Partial Zero Emission Vehicle".
Of course the only true zero-emission vehicle is an electric car, and even then that only considers the car itself, because emissions are created during the production of electricity (to charge the car) and during the manufacture of the vehicle, so there really is no true zero-emission vehicle in existence. So what is PZEV?
It's just a marketing gimmick. PZEV is a label manufacturers can put on a car if it has no evaporative emissions from its fuel system, has a 15 year warranty on the emission control components and meets SULEV exhaust emission standards.
Let's deal with each of those one at a time.
No evaporative emissions from the fuel system. Seems logical, right? I mean you don't drive around with an open container of fuel so surely every vehicle manages to meet that criteria? It depends on what you mean by "no evaporative emissions" because as soon as you take the petrol filler cap off, petrol starts to evaporate - it's why you can smell it. If that description refers only to the car when it's not being filled up, then it applies to every car built pretty much for as long as filler caps have had bayonet fittings and rubber seals. So that items is a bit of marketing BS.
A 15 year warranty on the emission control components? Don't make me laugh. If that were true, oxygen sensors and catalytic converters would be covered by the vehicle warranty, meaning owners would not be charged for having them replaced. Clearly that's not true - go to a dealer with a 6 month old car with a dead oxygen sensor and you'll be $200 out-of-pocket. So that item is also marketing BS.
So what about SULEV? That stands for Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle. In theory these engines produce "90% less emissions than equivalent petrol powered vehicles". That's a really woolly and vague statement, but all you need to know is that there are only 22 vehicles in existence that meet this criteria and 8 of them are either hybrids of natural gas vehicles and one of them isn't manufactured any more.
So in summary, "PZEV" really means nothing. Feel free to go ahead and remove that label from the back of your car.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

New American Top Gear

Not keen to accept defeat, the BBC are trying again with Top Gear America and their latest incarnation aired this weekend. They've gone away from the old US format and are trying the old UK format - studio audience and three blokes standing talking. The three blokes are Tom Ford (who's a lot smaller than he used to be), Michael Fichtner (a US actor who appears not to know much about cars), and Antron Brown (????). As Tom Ford put it himself, three people who've never met, who aren't friends but who have to manufacture chemistry because of program and budgetary requirements.
And sadly that sentence laid the groundwork for what was to come which largely involved Fichtner banging on and on and on about fuck-yeah-murica, Tom Ford going on about how this wasn't Top Gear UK and Antron Brown trying to explain to people who he is and what he does.
The Honda NSX segment could have been good, but was too short. The star in a reasonably priced car was as dull as dishwater to watch. The main event - a VW Buggy run across Baja should also have been exciting but somehow wasn't (but Brown did complain about how these old buggies couldn't do 300mph). Fichtner's piece on the US obsession with trucks started out wonderfully and was instantly ruined with fuck-yeah-murica-Ford-Raptor and five more minutes of screaming. There was no news.
I think this might be another trainwreck-in-making, not helped by the fact that their new home is the Speed Vegas track where a driver and instructor were killed earlier this year in a fiery crash. It would seem like a good place to film except the track is open during filming, meaning you get some awful edit cuts where one presenter is talking and you can hear and see cars on the track behind them, and when it cuts to one of the other presenters, the sound of the cars just cuts off and the track is suddenly empty.
It's not as bad a start as the original Top Gear America which just outright sucked from the opening 10 seconds, but it's pretty close. The difference here is that these three hosts aren't trying to be comedians like that idiot New Yorker and the fat guy in plaid. So there's a glimmer of hope.
We'll see what next week brings.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Newsflash : Tesla Model 3's will be delivered starting on friday.

Or not.

Friday is apparently The Big Day for the Model 3. It's the day Elon Musk has scheduled an event to hand over the first 30 Model 3's to their owners.
There's a slight wrinkle though - nobody knows what the finished spec of the car is, or even 100% what it looks like. The photos and videos that surfaced two weeks ago were supposed to be the first cars off the production line. Or not. And nobody knows at all what the interior looks like because there've been no photos or renderings and the ones shown off at the original event were known to be mock-ups.
The other problem is the sub-version. It doesn't matter if you wanted a fully-loaded 4WD version with a sunroof, Tesla will hand over the simplest, most basic versions on Friday. Musk has said previously that the initial production run will only be the bare-bones stripped-down version in an attempt to not replicate the over-complex Model X fiasco.
Or not. Nobody really knows, least of all the owners. Tesla hasn't contacted the people on the deposit list. (see this Bloomberg article). So right now, 30 people will be (or not) getting cars on friday, but those 30 people don't know who they are yet. In all reality they're most likely to be employees. Of the other owners, nobody has been contacted about final price, spec or delivery dates. That's troublesome because most people don't have $40k lying around to drop on a whim so they need to arrange financing, but without an actual price or date, they can't do that.
Tesla said originally that 373,000 people put down deposits on the car but that number hasn't been updated since mid-2016. What we DO know is that in the absence of ANY information from Tesla, some of those have now cancelled their reservations and received their money back. But again, we don't know HOW many that is. Of those still holding a deposit, many of them might pull the plug depending on what they see on friday.
The other option is that on Friday, Tesla just open up the order portal and if those people are not paying attention (and/or when the website crashes), they could lose their place in the line even if they DID put a deposit down.
Readers of this blog know I have no time for Musk or Tesla, hence my (sadly too) frequent bashing of the both of them. But be honest - if you look at the clown show going on right now, would YOU want to give that company any money?
Is the Tesla 3 going to be the No Man's Sky of cars?

Sunday, July 16, 2017

I said it last week. I'll say it again. Kvyat needs to lose his license.

Simple enough. Another race weekend, and Danny Crash causes another crash. This time he took out his own team mate. The FIA have to act. Kvyat will get someone killed.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

When will Daniil Kvyat be banned from F1?

Throughout his career in GP3, Daniil Kvyat became known as "Danny Crash" because of the sheer number of times he wrecked either his car, or his and one or other competitor cars during races. It seems that habit hasn't gone away as this weekend he caused yet another crash in F1 - this time hitting Alonso and bouncing him into Verstappen, taking both out.
This is nothing new. Just off the top of my head, these are the crashes he's caused recently that I remember:
2015 Japan, Q1 - crashed and missed everyone
2016 Russia, Lap 1 - crashed into Vettel twice and Ricciardo once. This was when he was demoted.
2016 Austria, Q1 - crashed and missed everyone
2016 Monaco, Lap 21 - crashed into Magnussen.
2016 China, Lap 1 - crashed into Vettel, who was bounced into Raikkonen.
2016 Brazil, crashed into Palmer.
2016 Spain, crashed into Magnussen.
2017 Spain, pre-season testing.
2017 Monaco, crashed into Perez.
Kvyat is a dangerous F1 driver. Yes, all F1 drivers take risks but most of those are calculated risks and when there just isn't room, the other drivers tend to back off and try again. Not so for Danny Crash - he'll jam that car in where it just won't fit and his attitude is "me first, and screw everyone else".
At some point the FIA are going to have to step in and take away his F1 license because at the rate he's crashing into other cars right now, he's going to get someone killed.

Friday, July 7, 2017

It's a bad week for Tesla fanboys.

So we learned this week that Tesla will start production of the Model 3 on time. That's a surprise for the company. That's also the end of the good news.
Tesla claimed they would produce 200,000 by the end of 2017. That figure has been revised down to 20,000 - 10% of what they promised. Which is largely what everyone with any common sense predicted, because there was no way Tesla was ever going to meet their target - they still don't have the capacity to build cars at the rate required to make those sorts of numbers. According to Tesla, the sales figure issue stems from a "severe production shortfall" of 100 kWh battery packs. This in turn is because their gigafactory is both late getting up to full speed, and running into production and QA issues in the parts of the factory that are operating (the gigafactory is a phased factory, meaning they're already in production at one end of the facility while the other end is still being built and fitted out). This is classic Tesla, with Musk personally overselling something and Tesla ending up under-delivering.
Add to that the increasing wariness about the Model 3 by both customers and the motoring press because at this late stage there are still no official photos or information of the production-ready version of the car. Pile on to that the sales figures released this week that show sales of the Model S are 'flat' and the Model X are 'declining' and the result of all of this is that the Tesla share price is down 20% from last week.
But wait! There's more!
The Model S just failed a crash test; the offset-frontal test is one of the most common accidents in almost every country in the world. It happens when cars turn across oncoming traffic and about 35% of the front of the car hits the same 35% of the front of the opposing car. This is the one test that every manufacturer wants to ace because it's so important and so common. It's been around in Europe since the late 1990s and the IIHS introduced it in America in 2012. Notable failures to date include the Dodge Challenger and Fiat 500.
The Model S was put through its paces and passed four of the crash tests but failed the critical offset-frontal crash, giving it a score rating of "acceptable" - which translates to a four star safety rating, not five. The reason was because the driver dummy smashed it's head on the steering wheel and driver's side A pillar, through the airbag, the front wheel shattered, and the brake caliper and rotor penetrated the passenger compartment.
So Tesla's stock price will likely drop a little more when the market opens on monday - how much nobody knows but don't be surprised if this drop totals 25% by the middle of next week. I'm not a stock-watcher but even in I know that when a company loses 20% of it's share price in a week, that's A Bad Thing.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Even racing drivers get red mist

If you didn't watch the F1 race from Baku yesterday, spoiler alert.
The face-off between Hamilton and Vettel yesterday demonstrates that even the best trained, fittest drivers at the top of their game suffer from red mist. Hamilton had been told to maintain 10 car lengths behind the safety car twice, and twice he didn't. Under the second safety car, he brake-checked Vettel (correction : telemetry would seem to indicate maybe he didn't), who then ran into the back of him and then made it so much worse by going around Hamilton and deliberately bumping wheels with him whilst giving him the finger.
Vettel got a ten second drive-through penalty - totally agree with that. But Hamilton got nothing for the brake-check (or the double safety car rule violation). In the end it didn't matter - Hamilton had to come in for a replacement cockpit bolster and once he came out behind Vettel, he lost his fire.
When it comes to dangerous driving, where do you draw the line in racing? Vettel risked both their cars when he deliberately bumped wheels with Hamilton. But then so did Hamilton with the brake-check and SC rules violation. In my mind, Hamilton should have been handed two separate penalties - the first for not maintaining proper distance from the safety car (twice), and the second for what he did to Vettel. (correction - maybe just the SC violation).
Apart from that, Baku was a good event again - I hope it stays on the F1 calendar.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Auto high beams

AHB, Auto high beams, high-beam assist - there's a dozen different ways car makers sell this particular driver aid and for the first time in years, it's something I'd actually want in a car. I was in England last week and had a rented car with auto high beams. On dark country roads and unlit sections of main roads, high beams are a must-have but you need to be on-point about dipping them when there's oncoming traffic. AHB systems do that for you. Rather than flick the light control between high and low, there's an intermediate setting for 'auto high' which dips the beams back to main headlights when the car senses something coming the other way (or the tail lights of the car in front) and then goes back to high beams automatically when the system considers it safe to do so.
This is a total godsend when driving on dark roads as you can concentrate on driving and not worry about dazzling oncoming drivers.
Long-time readers will know I'm not exactly the world's biggest fan of driver aids (I won't even get in a car with auto-braking and lane-change assist after that disastrous Volvo experience a couple of years ago). But AHB is something I'd actually want in a new car.
Side note: the owners manual on this particular car (Skoda Octavia) was less than useless when it came to explaining what the AHB system was. I had to figure it out by trial and error.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Drivers are prone to error, but so are coders.

I'm finding it difficult to understand why, in an era when so many people interact directly with software on a regular basis — and know first hand how temperamental and buggy it very often is — we are so uncritical of the idea of the driverless car.
People are fond of saying that most car accidents are the result of human error. Consider this : 100% of software defects are the result of human error. Untold thousands of person-hours have been spent building operating systems (both smartphone and desktop) and the programs that run on them: systems that have a prescribed set of machine-readable inputs. And still we get bugs, software updates that render our computers unusable, viruses and other malware, the Blue Screen Of Death, the Spinning Beachball Of Death, core dumps, system panics, and the rest of it. No one has shown us why we should believe that the software running driverless cars — where the set of possible inputs is much larger and much less predictable — would be any better.
A driver-augmentation system that helps with lanekeeping in a prepared environment? Sure. Heads-up displays to conserve and focus driver attention? You bet. Awareness-management systems that alert drivers to potential trouble? Absolutely — as long as that much-maligned but still miraculous human situational intelligence is there to quarterback the whole thing.
Here's a funny thing about driverless cars and safety: people talk about humans being inherently dangerous behind the wheel, but we know for a fact that not all humans are equally dangerous behind the wheel. Even better, we know which humans tend to be most dangerous behind the wheel — because insurance companies know it, and they convey that data to us in the form of the premiums they charge. By a significant margin, the most dangerous drivers — that is, the most expensive to insure — are young people in their 20's. Want safer roads? We could start by raising the minimum driving age or enforcing better driver training and stricter testing.
Software is written by humans that work for corporations. Delphi, Intel, Volvo, Google - it doesn't matter. Reality check: corporations are driven by the bottom line. I don't want to be sitting in a car knowing that the corporation behind the software hit some quarterly deadline by taking shortcuts to get something out the door to ensure the board got it's compensation and the shareholders got their dividends. This happens every day. That's the reality of driverless cars.
If my smart home thermostat has a bug in it, the house might be too cold or too hot, but it's has zero potential to kill me. That is simply not true when it comes to driverless cars.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Right of way is there for a reason

Right of way, or priority if you're American, is a basic driving concept that exists for a reason. For example when you're on a fast main road, you have right of way over people turning from side roads. You'd think it would be obvious but too many people today don't understand that.
Enter this Morgan 4/4 driver who, rather than wait in the central reservation for he traffic to pass, decided he had right of way instead and went on to cause a pretty substantial accident. The instant karma is so gratifying to watch.
Weirdly - and if you have any more info I'd like to know HOW this happened - the police apparently found the Peugeot driver to blame! Despite the Peugeot having right of way, despite the Morgan not looking, not giving way, not stopping in the designated area, despite the video evidence of it clearly being the Morgan's fault, somehow the police blamed the other driver.
This accident was 100% the Morgan driver's fault and the Peugeot driver should not be shouldering any of the blame or cost.

Monday, May 22, 2017

"Magic vision" wipers?

Sometimes car companies come out with stuff which is so bizarre you wonder if any common sense was involved at all. Mercedes are advertising their "Magic Vision" wiper system at the moment, which seems to have been designed by a committee of pedestrians rather than anyone who actually drives a car:

There's a couple of problems here.
The first, obviously, is that they only spray on the down-stroke, meaning the up-stroke will be a skipping, scratching, scraping bounce across a dry windshield.
The second is that there's now 50 nozzles to clog up with calcium instead of just two. The chances of all those sprayers working like they do in the video, in the real world, after a month of use, is zero.
Third, you're being locked into the MB parts chain. You can't go and replace your wiper blades with a better product from your local parts store. And blade/arm mechanisms with built-in sprayers? Yeah those will cost a bomb to replace.
But perhaps the biggest issue I have with this gimmick is that they think that the washer spray interrupts your view of the road, and that it's distracting. The wipers themselves are far more distracting than the washer spray. I hate driving in the rain with wipers going. Instead, I apply RainX to my windshield every couple of months. At any speed much above 20mph, the airflow across the windscreen clears the water off it. At motorway speeds, you barely even see the rain because it's blown up and off the screen so quickly as soon as it hits. On occasion I've been able to do 500 mile trips in the rain without ever once using my wipers.
So Mercedes - if you want to solve the distraction problem - figure out how to permanently treat a windshield with a water repellant what won't wear off. A bonded hydrophobic coating. THEN you'll solve this problem.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Automatic brakes and car washes.

Here's an interesting side effect of all the meddlesome technology finding its way into modern cars: many of them won't go through automatic car washes now without some considerable knowledge and planning by the driver.
The biggest issue is auto-hold parking brakes. Because people are idiots (google for how many people get run over by their own car every day), more and more manufacturers are adding this 'feature' to their cars. Basically, if the engine is running (or off) and the car is in neutral, the parking brake is automatically applied. This means for the conveyor-belt type car washes, where (you guessed it) the car needs to be in neutral with your foot off the brake (or you need to be out of the car with the engine off), the car won't move because it's decided the parking brake needs to be on.
Many vehicles have defeats and overrides for this but none of them are simple, none have these instructions readily published and easy-to-find in the owner's manual, and all are multi-step processes. Some cars - for example the full-size Range Rover Sport - don't have any published method to do this, so if you own one of those, you're not going through an automated car wash whether you want to or not.
The other big problem is all the automation that is creeping in. Pedestrian collision avoidance and low-speed auto-braking might work well when you're crawling in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the city, but when you're crawling along in a car wash tunnel, the brushes, water jets and sponge fins all register as obstructions and the car will automatically apply the brakes even if you're in neutral.
The end result of all this is that more and more vehicles are being damaged in automatic car wash tunnels because they're stopping dead in their tracks (or flat refusing to enter). The ones that stop dead in the tunnels can end up causing pile-up accidents because the conveyor systems might want to just keep pushing the cars behind through the tunnel. Newer systems can detect stalled vehicles and shut the tunnel down, but older ones can't.
If you're expecting the employees at the car wash to know what to do, think again. You're on your own here and almost every automatic car wash will have an iron-clad policy that they're not liable for any damage, and you accept that condition by purchasing a wash.
So be warned. If you drive any of the 33 cars on the (growing) list in the following link, you're in for an adventure (or an accident) if you go to an automatic car wash:
33 vehicles that need special help to drive through a car wash.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Spring motorcycling

If you’ve read my site, you might have come across the page on motorbikes. I ride less now than I used to but I’ve ridden bikes in one form or another since the mid 1980’s. They’re a lot of fun, and a lot of car drivers cold learn a thing or two about driving if they were to spend any time on a motorbike.
Spring is here, which means I want to get out riding again. Around here, the valleys are flat and uninteresting so it’s the mountain roads that see the most motorbike traffic, and when Wolf Creek opens, that’s when the riding really becomes great because it opens up a lot of fantastic roads. Sadly it’s still 5m deep in snow right now.
Nevertheless, knowing that that time is coming, time to get the bike out of hibernation and make sure it’s good for the year. I used to ride year-round, but commuting 120 miles a day in all weathers in all seasons took its toll. I’m firmly a fair-weather rider now – I don’t have to do 100-plus miles in pouring rain. I’ve been there and done that. Yes, you’re on a bike, but it’s a shitty experience all-around.
Inevitably stuff needs attention. Already I’ve found a minor oil leak on the sump – probably the sump gasket. I could go down to my local Triumph dealership and be given the runaround from them, or I could pick up the parts online. I’ve relied pretty heavily on over the last few years for oddments like this. Odd screws and bolts, the occasional mechanical part, and two years ago a pair of sprockets and a new chain:
The tyres are good this year – they’re relatively new. I threw some Metzeler tires on last year and only put about 300 miles on them so they’re basically new. They’re one of my three go-to brands. I used to use Pirelli motorcycle tires a lot, but more recently I’ve tended to switch back and forth between Metzeler and Avon. I cleaned my bike too, which isn’t a vanity thing. When you spend time hand-cleaning a motorbike, you become re-acquainted with it if you’ve not ridden it for a while. It also helps you find leaks, broken fasteners, rust, sketchy brakes and any number of other things you might not normally be looking for. Yeah it looks nice once it’s cleaned, but the benefits of getting up close and personal with it are not to be scoffed at.
So now I just need the augers and plows to get rid of that last 5m of snow and I’m good to go.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Umm. Electric cars don't use petrol....

Ourisman Chevrolet of Rockville, Maryland claim that the Chevy Bolt's "precision tuned electric drive unit engine [...] will wring every last mile it can out of a drop of fuel":
I don't want to be Captain Obvious here, but an electric car doesn't use petrol.....

Monday, April 24, 2017

Justice is served - William Crum rots in jail

If you're a motorcyclist, you likely already know who William Crum is. If not, read on.
William Crum is a driver who decided that he'd had enough, and decided to try to kill two motorcyclists. I don't mean this in the sense of him getting angry, showing them the bird, or chasing them down. No - he swerved into a motorcycle and knocked the rider and passenger off deliberately as they were passing.
Fortunately, another rider in the group had a camera running and caught the whole thing, even when Crum told the other rider he didn't care that he'd basically attempted to murder two people.
The issue he had was that the bikes were passing on a double yellow line. Now I don't care how self-righteous you are, or how you feel about people passing on double yellows (even when it's perfectly safe to do so), it's not up to you to be the law. By all means take numberplates, take photos and call the police. But you don't try to murder two people because you think you're entitled to.
Crum was finally convicted of two counts of aggrevated assault with a deadly weapon and sent to jail for 15 years. That's not enough if you ask me, but maybe when he gets out (at 84, with no license) he'll think differently.
In case you should think that Crum is somehow deserving of sympathy given his age, or some other reason, bear in mind he's also previously threatened to murder two children by telling them he was going to run them down with his car. One of the kids in that case testified.
This guy is a career lunatic and having him behind bars is the best solution for everyone.
Drivers tend not to understand just how quick motorbikes are. We can pass cars in the blink of an eye. The rider in this case was doing nothing to harm Crum - he gave plenty of room, he didn't badger Crum before passing. He just pulled out and attempted to pass cleanly before Crum tried to kill the pair of them.
I'm convinced that if everyone was forced to ride a motorbike for 12 months before ever being allowed to drive a car, the number of motorbike accidents and incidents like this would be cut dramatically. People who've only ever driven around in a two ton cage, surrounded by music, insulation and airbags, have little to no idea what's going on outside, and to have Crum's attitude towards others where he clearly treats his vehicle as a weapon, is reason enough to throw this piece of garbage away.
This link has more details including the original video where you can see him at his asshole best from the attempted murder right up to the point where he tells the other rider that he simply doesn't care that he tried to kill two people.
William Crum gets 15 years in jail for attempted murder of two motorcyclists

Monday, April 17, 2017

Driver training and vehicle maintenance is the key to road fatalities

"Drone cars will cut accident rates" is what the headlines scream. Sure - they might but we have no proof of that yet.
What we do have proof of is that proper driving training cuts accident rates. I'll use America as my baseline because this is where I live at the moment, and in this country the driving test is laughably easy. In some states the theory test is open-book (meaning they give you the answers) yet people still fail it. And the practical test can be 5 minutes in deserted suburbia. There's no training or testing for motorway driving, driving at night, in snow, on ice, or in the rain. There's no training or testing for driving in congested city centers. Driving licenses are handed out like free candy.
This is reflected in the driver fatality numbers for America. You can't just look at the number of accidents - it's high because there's a large population. You need to look at the number of accidents per-capita. This helps give a meaningful number. Even more meaningful is the accident rate per-capita-per-mile-driven but that's a harder number to come by. So we'll use the number of deaths per 100,000 people. In America, this averages 10.6 deaths for every 100,000.
Looking at Germany, where speed is of the essence, vast stretches of the autobahn are still unrestricted, and driver training is considerably more involved (and expensive) than it is in America. Their rate is 4.3 deaths per 100,000 people - less than half that of America.
But we can do better - the Nordic countries, where getting a driving license can take up to a year and involves training and testing in all weather conditions and times of day. Norway - 3.8 per 100,000. Sweden - 2.8 per 100,000.
These numbers don't tell the whole story though. The condition of the vehicles also has a large part to play. In America, the average age of a car on the road is nearly 12 years. That's the AVERAGE, meaning there's a considerable number of old bangers still driving around with drum brakes and no airbags. In Europe the average car age is 9 years. In Sweden it's less than 5 years.
So the key to reducing road deaths is pretty obvious - better driver training and safer vehicles. I'm sure there's still a lot of people who look forward to the day they can get into their soulless automated minicab and be driven everywhere by an AI that is programmed to sacrifice their lives if the need arises, but this driver prefers to use traditional methods. I do occasional driver safety and top-up courses. Everyone should, but of course barely anyone does.
And that's the real reason drone cars are coming - because drivers have become too stupid to take responsibility for their own actions.

Monday, April 10, 2017

There are too many 'stop' signs in America

Coming from Europe, where drivers are generally much better trained than they are in America, we're sort of used to looking out for other vehicles, and giving priority where it's due (although I still don't like Priorite A Droit - that makes no sense if you're on a main road).
But here in America, we're plagued with 'stop' signs everywhere. In my neighborhood they even put in a roundabout then put 4-way stop signs on it. That destroys the entire concept of a roundabout (better traffic flow, less waiting).
My problem with 'stop' signs is that it increases wear and tear on vehicles, it reduces gas-mileage, and the signs themselves are placed with so little logic that they're easy to miss. Many of the streets where I live have vast long stretches with no 'stop' signs, then at one intersection - for no apparent reason - there is a 4-way stop. These intersections look no different from any of the dozen or more leading up to them - it's like the city just decided "here's a good place to mess with people".
My other problem with 'stop' signs is that we're expected to come to a complete stop at every one, every time. Even on a deserted road in the middle of the night. To be honest, I've given up with those situations. If it's patently obvious that there's no other traffic around, I just go straight through them now. And I don't feel bad about it because I'm exercising due care and attention because I'm watching the side roads as I approach to see if there are any vehicles, bikes or pedestrians. If not, then there's literally no reason at all why I should stop other than the arbitrary 'stop' sign placed there by a city that doesn't understand how traffic flows.
This has become so out-of-control here in America that we have 'stop' signs in the most idiotic places now. The picture below shows a street near where I work. That's a corner there. Nothing more than a bend in the road. I've circled the 'stop' sign. You'll notice there's only one. This makes absolutely no sense. Nobody observes this sign any more because there's zero point in it being there.
Now I can already feel people getting on their high horse about breaking the law, but let's be honest - show me someone who says they've never broken a traffic law and I'll show you a liar. You / we all do it whether you want to admit it or not. Whether it's rolling through a 'stop' sign, jumping a yellow light, going faster than the speed limit, not using your indicators, not using your fog lights appropriately - literally EVERYONE breaks traffic laws.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Uber suspends all its drone cars after a crash

One of Uber's drone Volvos has had a pretty bad crash where it ended up on its side. It was in self-driving mode at the time. The crash happened when another car failed to yield and Uber's software couldn't compensate and kept going.
Chalk this up to the growing list of crashes involving cars that we're told can't crash, and will make the roads safer. I don't care if this was caused by another driver, the software should have contingency code to deal with the fact it's operating a 2-ton car in a world where it is surrounded by human drivers.
To-date they've had problem with pedestrians, other drivers, stop signs, parked trucks, lane closures, debris in the road and now other vehicles failing to yield.
Fortunately this time nobody was killed.
Uber suspends self-driving cars after Arizona crash

Monday, March 27, 2017

New F1 season, new Hamilton complaints, new arms race between the FIA and the engineers

Regular readers will know two things about me and F1. First, I love the sport no matter what it's detractors have to say. And second, I think Hamilton is quick to blame everyone and everything but himself when stuff doesn't go his way. It's never his fault. It's the team, the pit crew, the chassis, the tyres, the suspension - and this time it's the floor of the car.
Could it be that he's just not the amazing driver everyone thinks he is?
Anyway the F1 season kicked off in Australia this weekend with some good racing, some interesting incidents and failures, and with Albert Park possibly being slapped with the mother of all FIA fines for letting the crowd on to the track while the cars were still present.
The cars look so much better this year than they've done in the last few years - lower, wider, better-looking aero, smarter wings, more doodads around the radiator intakes, and the raked front wing looks so much better. Of course this was yet another attempt by the FIA to slow the cars down, and as always happens, the drivers and teams have found ways to make the cars faster again.
As usual at the beginning of the season, the arms race between the engineers and the FIA is in full-swing. Right now it's the 'whale tail' T-wing up on top of the shark's fin behind the airbox. It's an "unregulated area" of the car from the FIA's point of view, so the aero guys instantly found a way to capitalize on that.
I expect that particular feature will be ruled out by the second or third race, just like when Brawn Racing had their blown double-diffuser a few years back.
It will be fun to see how the technical regulations change during the season. It'll be fun to watch everyone complain about Verstappen's blocking (because - you know - he's a race driver). And it'll be fun to play the Hamilton drinking game where you drink every time he complains.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Tesla Model S autopilot crashes. Again.

I'll just leave this here. A Tesla model S, a couple of weeks ago outside Dallas. A lane-shift comes up, the autopilot doesn't see it and slams into the bright yellow barrier. Airbags deployed, a lot of smoke, car comes to a total stop. The insurance company wrote it off. This is another case of autopilot missing a really obvious obstruction or change of circumstance. Not only did it not alert the driver (who should have been paying attention anyway) but it did absolutely nothing to avoid the barrier. Never slowed down, never steered.

But tell me again how accidents will become a thing of the past with drone cars ....

The exploded left-front wheel, left-side damage and all the detonated airbags:

The full sad, sorry story is over at Reddit for everyone to enjoy: My Tesla hit a barrier while I was on autopilot

Monday, March 13, 2017

How to ACTUALLY drive in the snow

After the last couple of weeks of how not to drive in the snow, this week a short primer on what you should be doing. This is true for snow, ice and wet weather, but also holds true for dry roads.
It's simple: let your tyres do one thing at once and you'll be fine.
Brake in a straight line, then let off the brakes and corner, then as you're leaving the corner, begin to accelerate.
This doesn't seem too complicated but I'd wager 95% of drivers don't understand this. You see if you brake and turn at the same time, you're asking the tyres to do two things instead of one. The forces on the contact patch become divided between the braking force and the cornering force, and both become compromised. You can't brake as efficiently and you can't turn as efficiently.
The same is true for accelerating out of a corner - if you plant the right pedal half way through the corner, again you've compromised the tyre's ability to do its job.
This is why ABS anti-lock brakes exist. In the good old days, people would lock up the brakes and try to steer. Once the wheels have locked, the tyres are compromised and they're not even gripping properly for braking. Turning the wheel does nothing at this point. ABS prevents that by allowing the wheels to keep turning meaning more of a chance of the braking force being able to slow you down and more of a chance of a cornering force allowing you to turn. It's compromised because you're braking and turning at the same time, but it's better than nothing.
This whole principle is why - if you start to get out of control in a corner - any corner in any condition - the last thing you should do is touch the brakes. Once a car starts to skid, the contact patch has been compromised and if you hit the brakes, you're going to destroy any last chance of the tyre gripping. Take your foot off the throttle gently and steer into the skid until you feel grip again. ONLY once you have grip should you be using the brakes.
So to snow, ice and wet weather : when you come to a corner, brake in a straight line. If it's snowing or icy you should have snow tyres on which means you'll be able to control your car slowing down in a straight line. Once you're down to a decent speed, let off the brakes and turn into the corner smoothly. If you've done it right, there will be no side-slip and no drama.
Driving in snow is not inherently dangerous - it's drivers who don't know what they're doing that make it dangerous. Drivers with summer tyres, bald tyres, drivers who are texting, reading, eating, screaming at their kids. If driving in snow was somehow dangerous and accident-ridden, then countries like Sweden, Norway and Greenland would have the highest accident rates in the world. But because they train their drivers to drive in the snow, they actually have some of the lowest accident rates in the world - much lower than the US for example. Using road fatalities per 100,000 head of population, the average annual rate for those countries is Sweden (2.8), Norway (3.8), Greenland (3.5) and America (10.6). Driving in snow is NOT dangerous if you know what you're doing.

Monday, March 6, 2017

How not to drive in the snow - part 2

Last week I showed you some special little snowflakes who had no clue how to drive around snow plows. This week I'm going to talk about the drivers who come out in the morning to find their car covered in snow or ice, and just drive off. Take a look at this guy - I took this photo last week at some traffic lights on the way into work:

The rear window is completely covered in snow, so he has no idea what is behind him. When I passed him, the side windows had not been scraped and the only part of his windscreen that was clear was the bit being swept by his wipers. This is so unbelievably dangerous. At this point this driver has zero rear or peripheral vision. It doesn't matter that the wing mirrors are clear - he couldn't see them because of the snow on the side windows. Sadly the police don't pay any attention to this sort of thing (unless he was doing 0.1mph over the speed limit in which case he'd become a career criminal in the eyes of the cops).
It takes literally seconds to clear your windows of snow. Buy a snow brush - they're less than a tenner - and keep it in the car. You can clear all six windows in 30 seconds. It will make exactly zero difference to when you get to where you're going, and you'll be able to see out of your car and potentially not kill someone else because of your reckless stupidity.
If it's icy instead of snowy, here's an idea - leave the house 5 minutes earlier so you can scrape the ice off the windows, and let the engine warm up so the heater blows warm air inside to help the ice outside. PLAN AHEAD. It's really not that difficult.
(Point to note: don't leave your car idling with the keys in it, unlocked, to warm up the engine. The chances of it getting stolen go up thousands of percent when you do something stupid like this. By all means warm the engine up to help melt the ice, but either sit in the car, or wait next to it. Yes it's cold, but you'll survive, you're not that delicate).

Monday, February 27, 2017

How not to drive in the snow - part 1

If you live anywhere where it snows, you'll be used to people driving like dicks because apparently it's just not "the thing to do" to learn how to drive in snow. So people go about their lives, on bald summer tyres, driving as if it was a lovely, dry, sunny day. Texting, doing their hair, eating their breakfast, reading books, surfing their snapchats and generally not giving two shits about anyone else. This is doubly true on snow days and more so around snow plows where people seem to lose their mind completely.
You'd think this would be common sense (but I guess there's nothing "common" about common sense any more): don't overtake snow plows. At the back they're spewing grit, sand, salt and chemicals that will rust your car before you get where you're going, and at the front there's a huge plow with a tidal wave of snow coming off it. In between there's 10 or more tons of angry truck.
Of course the texting, hair-drying, book-reading brigade are entirely oblivious to this with their "me first" attitude, meaning that stuff like this happens.
In the first video we have a typical Utah driver who barely knows what a car is let alone how to drive. Sadly they got away with a spin but happily they didn't kill anyone else in the process:

And then we have this special individual who decides to hip-check a snow plow with his trailer because he's going too fast and overtaking too close on a downhill, off-camber bend covered in ice (why the hell he wasn't in the inside lane I'll never know). Fortunately this plow driver survived but not before being subjected to a 100m sheer drop off the side of the canyon:

The message is pretty simple - leave the plow drivers to do their jobs. The road behind them will be clearer than the road in front. You're gaining absolutely nothing from trying to pass them.

Monday, February 20, 2017

If you're a nervous driver, perhaps you shouldn't be driving .....

I understand that there are people who don't like driving, otherwise why would we be rushing towards a soulless future of self-driving cars. But we're not there yet, and we won't be for decades. So my advice to you - if you're a nervous driver - is that maybe you shouldn't be driving.
Let me explain.
I live in Utah. We have mountains here. Lots of them. There are wide mountain passes - like I-80 which is a six-lane motorway. And narrow mountain passes, like Huntington Canyon, which is a single lane in each direction. It's sunny, and it rains, and it snows. These are all known facts around here. This makes it all that much harder to accept when I get on to one of the narrower roads, when I get stuck behind someone doing 20mph in a 50mph zone because they either don't like the curves, don't like how narrow the road is, or don't like the drop-offs either side.
Here's an idea - if you don't like driving on those sorts of roads, then DON'T. People that do this are a danger to themselves and everyone else on the road with them.
I'm talking about this today because this weekend I went up one of the narrower canyons to go skiing. The roads were wet but not snowy and I came across a tailback of cars and at the front was someone barely doing 15mph. You know they were going slow because not only were all the cars passing them on a double yellow line, the ski buses were also passing them. Going uphill.
When I finally got to the front, the guy driving was grabbing his steering wheel so hard that he literally had white knuckles. He was pale his eyes were forced wide open. He was absolutely terrified. But he kept going. He didn't do what a logical, sane person would have done which was pull over in any of the many, many, many places that are available to do so. He didn't turn around at any of the parking areas. No - he kept crawling up the road, pissing off everyone behind him so much that we were all passing him at speed on double yellow lines.
I've seen the same in California in the mountains. I've seen the same in England in the narrow hedge-lined roads in Cornwall. I've seen the same (albeit not very often) on the Autobahn in Germany.
Learn to figure out your driving weaknesses and either do something about them (courses, training), or don't drive on roads that expose you to the things you don't like. You'll be safer and everyone else will be safer.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Shared responsibility for accidents

I find the law to be an ass when it comes to vehicle accidents. It seems like it's always one person's fault and not the other, when in truth, every accident is the product of shared blame.
For example if you're driving and you hit a pedestrian who has walked into the road without looking (the most common type of car-pedestrian accident), it should not be solely the driver's fault. The pedestrian should share responsibility because it was their carelessness that created a situation the driver was then forced to deal with. Right now, the driver would always be to blame for this, which means a pedestrian could literally step into the road 5 meters in front of a car doing 120km/h - the driver would of course have zero chance - but it would become the driver's fault in almost every country.
The same would be true for a truck driver who collects a car across the front of his truck. The truck driver would always be to blame but the car driver must typically have done something to get themselves into that situation. The most common of these is drivers who merge on to motorways without properly waiting for an empty spot, and then get themselves picked off by a truck.
Sadly, without a dashcam, most accidents fall into this legal soup and the blame gets apportioned where it always has, irrespective of what actually happened.
Given the amount of crappy driving I see every day, I'm seriously considering a dashcam for no other reason than making an offshoot website or youtube channel that does nothing but show how incapable drivers are around here :)

Monday, January 23, 2017

I've said it before : winter tyres - just do it.

I post on this topic often at this time of year : winter tyres. If you drive in snow or ice or rain, and/or in temperatures that are regularly below 5C / 41F, just get winter tyres. They're not a luxury item. They're not something that is only for "a driver's driver". Everyone should be using them.
If you don't believe me, take a look at Tire Rack's snow and ice tests of all-season versus summer versus winter tyres. All-season tyres are just not up to it. They don't work in snow, they don't work on ice, and they're not especially good in the rain. The rubber compound and tread design just isn't designed for slick or cold road surfaces.
Get summer tyres for warm weather, and winter tyres for cold weather and you'll massively increase your chances of not ending up on youtube in one of those multi-car-pileup videos.
I mean - as long as you're not texting or playing Pokémon go, or eating cereal, or reading or doing your hair or any of the other number of stupid things drivers seem to do now.
All-season vs winter tyres on snow
Summer vs all-season vs winter tyres on ice.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Dieselgate continues with Jeep

I'm not sure why this took so long to come out - I wrote about Jeep's diesel cheating problem on October 19th 2015 - 15 months ago. But sure enough, it's finally come to light this week that yes - Jeep have the problem too.
So now we're just waiting for the other ten to be named : Mazda, Honda, Mitsubishi, Mercedes Benz, Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, Citroen, Fiat and Volvo.
I'm honestly not sure why it's taking so long. Emission Analytics proved the diesel vehicles from all those manufacturers emitted way higher NOx levels than stated, which means in order to pass any sort of smog or emissions test, they must have some sort of defeat code or device in them.
I suppose that now Trump is in charge, and now the EPA is going to be run by climate-denier Scott Pruitt, those other ten manufacturers will probably be let off the hook.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Dakar 2017 minus Robby Gordon is a win for everyone.

The Dakar Rally is well underway this year, and as usual, the trucks are amazing, the motorcyclists are daredevils and the quad riders are just plain mental. The competition between the Peugeot, Toyota and Mini teams has been interesting to watch as it unfolds with some early failures and some unexpected successes. There have been the usual retirements - broken legs, wrists, arms and in some cases spectacular crashes where veteran drivers were lucky to walk away (I'm looking at you Carlos Sainz)
There is of course one welcome absence : Robby Gordon. After 12 years of utter failure, he's thrown in the towel. Some (like me) would say it's 11 years too late, but like 2016, we can bid him good riddance. Between punching his co-driver, melting down at his team, cheating (and being caught) multiple times, berating every team driver he's had, and a hundred other despicable acts, Gordon did not belong in the Dakar. A reminder of what a child he is (this was never aired on US TV):

It's cute that he thought he could place - he certainly seemed to think a win was somehow his right, but the Dakar is not the Baja 1000. The Baja is a drive in the park by comparison - something Gordon never accepted. Now he's gone, the real drivers are able to get on with the race without having to worry about a boorish American trying to ram them off the track.
The news reports from the bivouac have also suggested that things are a lot more 'back to usual' this year too. The officials and marshals are not having to put up with Gordon's incessant abuse, and the drivers and riders don't have to worry about shattering his fragile ego with the truth. There's no idiotic showboating, no crashing into spectators, no crashing into support vehicles - it's amazing how much more convivial the Dakar is now Gordon is gone. Competitor camaraderie is alive and well with drivers and riders alike stopping to help those in trouble. The Dakar is a dangerous race and it's a given that if you see someone badly in need of help, you stop and offer assistance (like the riders did with Toby Price this year). Gordon never understood that. He drove past injured drivers. He drove past (and in three cases, nearly over) stranded motorcyclists. When Nasser Al Attiyah made the mistake of being a team driver, Gordon abandoned him by the roadside. He doesn't understand team spirit. He doesn't understand camaraderie. He doesn't understand the spirit of cooperation. In Robby Gordon's book there's only one person that matters - himself - and that attitude is neither safe nor welcome in the Dakar Rally.
So long Gordon, and don't ever come back.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Brits want driverless cars when they're drunk, but don't trust them with their kids

A new survey has revealed how much Brits actually trust driverless cars.
Following a BBC report on the government's plans to have driverless cars in operation in the UK by 2020, car dealership Citygate wanted to find out how Brits really feel about autonomous cars.
10,000 UK drivers were asked in which circumstances they would use a driverless car - and the results have revealed that pioneers of this new automotive tech may still have some convincing to do.
Long-distance travel took the top spot, with 34% of Brits saying they’d welcome a break from driving during lengthy journeys - suggesting there’s some support for welcoming self-driving cars onto the UK’s roads.
Designated driver
29% of survey participants admitted they’d be most interested in using a driverless car while under the influence - compared to just 17% of people living in the North East.
38% of men between the ages of 35 and 44 also said they’d like to use a driverless car for trips to the pub.
Almost a third of respondents said they’d happily hand over the morning commute - a feeling that was shared by almost half of female respondents in Scotland.
Driving in the dark
A quarter of all respondents, and 40% of people living in the South West of England, said they’d be most likely to rely on a driverless car after dark.
With 22% of the vote, driving during social outings may be another chore Brits are happy to hand over to the machines.
Over 65s were keen to hand over their keys - as 35% said they’d use self-driving cars for social calls and 30% revealed they’d rather not do the driving at night.
Backseat drivers
Just 15% of Brits said they’d be happy to delegate the school run to a driverless car - suggesting that our trust in these autonomous vehicles may expire when it comes to our children’s safety.
Scottish respondents were even less willing to relinquish control - with just 7% of parents entertaining the idea of using driverless cars for school drop-offs.
6% of all participants revealed they wouldn’t use a driverless car under any circumstances - indicating that further technological developments and research will be needed before Brits agree to let go of the wheel.
Steven Crouch, Marketing Manager at Citygate said: "With the rapid growth in technology supporting us in our day to day lives, making us safer on the roads seems to be a big priority for UK drivers. Whether it’s after a night out or a long journey, drivers want to look after themselves and others around them - but it appears that, when it comes to their kids, Brits would rather stay in the driver’s seat."
Which of the following would you use driverless cars for?
Topline results:
  • Long-distance travel: 34.3%
  • When you’re under the influence: 28.8%
  • Commuting to work: 26.5%
  • Night driving: 24.3%
  • Social driving: 21.8%
  • The school run: 14.8%
  • I wouldn’t use one: 6.0%