A Flaw In The Safety

Following on from the post a while back about driver assistance things, I had another interesting one a few days ago.

I’d hired a Vauxhall Insignia in order to ferry people around a bit, and the weather was disgusting – heavy rain, lots of spray, and lots of idiots with no lights on.

Anyway, on the section of the M4 I was driving on, there were roadworks, and the lanes had been narrowed as a result. And that was where the problem came in.

The Insignia had the Lane Change Warning thing, which detects when the driver is drifting across lanes without indicating – and in the case of the Insignia, it also tries to push you back into the lane you’re departing. Not my favourite thing at the best of times, but in this case it was actually picking up on the wrong lane markings (because they were glossy and shiny in the rain) and so actually kept on pushing me “back” towards the crash barriers, and would have left me scraping along them if I’d not been paying attention.

I can understand why it happened, and how. It was also easy enough for me to sort things out (eventually by turning off the Lane Change completely) but I can also easily see how things could’ve gone wrong, if I were the sort of driver who relied on these aids, who didn’t pay attention, or left those aids to do things because they’re there to help.

And what would’ve happened in that situation if it were a fully autonomous (“self-driving”) vehicle with no controls, or potentially people who didn’t drive, or couldn’t understand the danger signs?

There’s still a way to go on these things, I think…


Self-Incrimination

It’s no secret that I tend to assume people with dashcams are usually shit drivers.  Obviously that’s not always the case, but in my experience it’s predominantly true – as though there’s an attitude of “Well I’m perfect, and it’s all these other idiots on the road” or something.

I also know that it’s now far easier to upload one’s dashcam footage to report driving offences when the police haven’t been there.

What I do wonder is how many people self-incriminate on those uploads?  For example, if one were to upload video of someone undertaking on a motorway, only for that footage to also show that the reporting driver had been middle-lane-hogging for the previous ten miles, and thus being at least a partial cause of said undertaking…

And no, this doesn’t involve my own driving. Just something I noticed occurring in front of me on the M1 this morning, and then started thinking about the extrapolations.


Road Muck

It’s that time of the year again where the roads are filthy, and all the grut ends up on cars.  I’m not quite sure how it all works out – I think it’s a combination of grit/salt for expected sub-zero temperatures, plus rain lifting and loosening the daily-wear dirt off the tarmac and making it airborne.

It surprises me how dirty everything gets, and also how unaware people are of how vile their cars are – I regularly see lots with their number plates completely obscured and unreadable because of that caked-on junk.

Personally, I don’t get that – regardless of how well one drives, why draw the attention of any passing police, and give them a reason to stop you?

Admittedly, last week when I was driving home one night I did think I’d had a headlamp blow, as there was considerably less light/illumination than usual – but I checked when I got home, and it was just congealed gunk on the lenses. Easy to sort (and I took the car to the car wash the next day) but still, I don’t get why/how people leave their cars to get into a state where you could pretty much scrape off layers of dirt…


Ciara

Today the UK got hit by Storm Ciara – nothing in the scale of American weather and so on, but still, enough to be entertaining

Among other things, it meant that there was a record-breaking subsonic crossing of the Atlantic – just under five hours, arriving at Heathrow a full 80 minutes ahead of schedule – because of the storm’s effect on the Jetstream.

Fortunately, the area I live in wasn’t too affected – we had several trees come down and so on, but they were all apparently cleared away pretty quickly, and a couple of trucks on the M1 were blown over, which must make life interesting. However, other areas were hit far harder, with some winds over 90mph, as well as flooding and so on.

Thankfully, I wasn’t doing much today. I had thought I was back down in London to see a play, but it turned out that is actually on a different day/weekend completely. And I can’t deny, I’m really quite pleased about that.


Petrol and Diesel

This week, one of the main stories in the news was about the UK announcing it had brought forwards a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel-fuelled cars to 2035 from its initial target of 2040.

That’s all well and good, but it does have its problems as well. To my mind, the biggest of these is the necessary infrastructure.

You can tell that the great majority of the people proposing these requirements (and expecting everyone in the country to follow suit) live in houses with driveways – or at least off-road parking – as well as the funds to pay for a significant increase to their electricity usage.

However, lots of people don’t live in those situations. Those in blocks of flats, for example, wouldn’t necessarily have access to anything. For those who (like me) live in a house with on-street parking – and even then it’s not guaranteed or reserved parking, so I regularly end up parking a distance away from my place – but even if I were parked outside the house, an electric car would mean dangling a power cable out of the house, and across the pathway that’s regularly used.  For that scenario, I’m honestly not sure what the infrastructure requirements would be – and I don’t think anyone else knows either.

The costs are another matter. Yes OK, you’re cutting out the costs of fuel, but if the demand for electricity shoots up that much, then so will the costs of it. Additionally, there are plenty of people who are on paid-supply meters, or high tariffs (whether because of laziness and not changing, or because that’s all they can get because of debt, income, whatever) and that can also be an issue.

Alongside those concerns – and just using myself as an example – there are plenty of drives that fall outside the range of all but the most expensive electric vehicles.  An ‘affordable’ vehicle like the Nissan Leaf, for example, apparently has a range of 135 miles. So I could do a return journey from home to London, no worries. But I couldn’t do a trip down to see my friends in Somerset (which I can do in 3 hours currently) without a recharging stop each way. (And again, they don’t have a power point for charging a car down there)  Same when I go to see friends in Manchester, or Newcastle.

Hell, I’ve even done daily commutes that would take me past that kind of mileage – and the office was (again) somewhere with no connection to a decent charger, it would’ve been power-cable-tastic – which would have been entirely impractical.

If that kind of target for everyone to have electric vehicles is to be realised, I think there need to be quantum leaps in several aspects, including (but not limited to)

  • Infrastructure for charging vehicles
  • Battery technology, to improve both the range of electric vehicles, and to improve the speed of charging
  • and to improve at-home-storage, allowing the potential for using home-based renewable generation – solar, wind, whatever – that can be stored to provide the charging without draining the grid
  • A huge review of the costs of that electricity, and to ensure increases to the supply that will handle all that extra demand
  • Consideration of the impact on petrol and diesel industry – including the effects of all the staff who might then be in less demand at filling stations and so on

Personally, I think a lot of stuff round electric vehicles is a load of old cock. I’m not convinced that they’re any more efficient (among other things, there’s a lot of power lost in the transmission over cables, so it needs a *lot* more generation in order to provide the supply) and while they’re less polluting at the point of use, I’m not convinced that it’s doing anything more than moving that around. We don’t know what happens with the constituent parts of the car batteries, or what happens when they expire (or when a car crashes or whatever)

I don’t claim to know what the answer is – but I also don’t think that a wholesale change like this is necessarily the best plan.  It needs a lot more thought, and a shitload more planning than currently seems to be happening.


Driving Assistance

During the last three months of 2019 I ended up hiring a few cars for longer rides and so on.  There was no particularly good reason for it – the primary motivation was that some of the drives were likely to involve heavy traffic, so having an automatic seemed like a decent plan. Outside of that, cutting down some of the mileage on my own car, and also well, it was just fun to play with some different cars.

Out of it all, it was interesting to me to see how much driving has changed, and primarily the plethora of driving assistance things that’ve been added in the last few years. Things like auto start/stop, lane-change warnings, automatic lights, automatic windscreen wipes, intelligent cruise control (the one that automatically adjusts speed based on vehicles around you, rather than just ‘70 mph and that’s it) , road-sign recognition, and speed limiters.

In general, I’m really not a fan of these aids and “helpers” – as has been noted before, I’m a bit of a control-freak, and I don’t like ceding driving decisions to them. My main reasoning on this though isn’t actually about my own driving, it’s about the driving of others.  It seems like a lot of these things help to make drivers feel that they don’t need to be so aware of what’s going on, and so they become less conscious of their surroundings, which makes for things being more dangerous, rather than less.

In the end, there were only two that I found to be useful, and even then there’s only one that I’ve “missed” having at all.

I used the speed limiter more than I thought I would – mainly on trips where I’d been an idiot and done big day-trips (three or more hours each way) or where I was coming back after a long and active day. On those occasions, knowing that I couldn’t take the car over whatever I’d set meant it was something I didn’t have to concentrate on, and that meant I could give more awareness and concentration to the actual drive.  I wouldn’t use it on a day-to-day basis, but it was definitely useful on the times when I did activate it.

The only thing I’ve actually missed though is the automatic windscreen wipers. It’s more about reducing my own annoyance than actually being useful as such, but I’ve noticed its lack. Particularly on motorways (which is still the great majority of my driving) I find rain is too changeable, too random for regular windscreen wipers to be effective without occasionally squeaking when there’s not been enough rain, or not clearing rapidly enough when a sudden dollop lands (or there’s more as one passes a truck or whatever)  So you end up changing the intervals, or only triggering a manual sweep when it’s needed, or whatever.  Anyway, it annoys me whatever happens.

The automatic wipers took all of that away. Leave them on auto, and they’d handle it all without hassle.  Yes, it’s odd (in some ways) to see them go from nothing to a sudden three wipes, or increasing the cadence in response to that truck chucking up a load of water or whatever. But it still meant it was something that wasn’t annoying me, which tends to be a positive…


Unaffected

There are times where I really wonder about our legal system. Today is one of those days.

There’s this story on the BBC, about a driver who killed a cyclist while driving like an utter dickhead. He drove away from the crash – still driving like a dickhead, and nearly causing another crash as well – and sold the car (his girlfriend’s, so he wasn’t even legally able to sell it) that afternoon in order to try and avoid being caught/blamed/arrested.

That all failed, he was caught, and yesterday he plead guilty to a whole range of driving offences.

He pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving and has been sentenced to six years in prison.

He also pleaded guilty to causing death by driving whilst disqualified, causing death while uninsured, dangerous driving and two counts of leaving petrol stations without paying for fuel.

He’s never passed a driving test – indeed, he says he’s never even taken a driving test.

He’s been jailed for six years, which means he’ll likely be out in three.  But that’s not where I wonder about the legal system.  This is…

Dellaway has also been banned from driving for six years and was told he would have to take an extended driving test before being allowed on the road.

Now, I’m sorry, but if someone has already shown that they’re quite willing to drive without passing a test, what on earth makes them think that a prison sentence is going to change him enough that he takes a driving test when he comes out, let alone an extended one?

Come to that, what on earth makes them think that being banned from driving will stop him from being back on the roads as soon as he’s out of prison?