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Safety

Is The Speed Limit Outdated?

It’s been argued that because today’s cars and today’s roads are better and safer than they used to be, the old speed limits ought to be raised to reflect this.  After all, they’ve got a limit of 130 km/h in some bits of Northern Territory (which, incidentally, came in about 10 years ago after having no speed restriction at all – road safety was cited as the reason for introducing limits).  Why shouldn’t the rest of the country get a higher speed limit?

We’ve probably all experienced the situation when road signs seem hopelessly out of date when approaching a corner that has one of those advisory speed limits.  You know the ones – those yellow signs with a number that usually accompany a curvy arrow indicating a bend in the road ahead.  The number is supposed to be the speed at which you can safely go around the corner.  However, in practice, we know that you don’t really actually HAVE to go at 55 km/h around a corner that’s marked 55.  If your tires are in good nick and if there isn’t anything nasty on the roads (oil, water, gravel, ice, etc.) and if your car has reasonably good handling, then you can go around the corner at a somewhat higher speed.  Not the full open road limit, of course – if you kept sailing around the corner at 100 km/h, you probably would come to grief and end up in the ditch.  But you don’t need to slow down to 55 km/h.

A lot of us treat those advisory speed signs as a sort of index giving an idea of how tight the corner coming up, kind of like a stationary rally navigator. A recommendation of 65 or 55 (on the open road where the speed limit’s 100 km/h) means that it’s a reasonably gentle bend, 45 means it’s a bit sharper, and so on all the way down to advisory signs reading 25 or even 15, which means you need to get ready for a hairpin turn and certainly need to slow down to negotiate it (but probably not all the way to 15 km/h).  After all, the camber of the road and the car features like stability control, traction control and the like all help to keep the car on the road.  Cars and roads are designed better these days.

We all know the recommended speeds for corners with advisory signs (known as “design speeds”) are well below the actual speed you can get around said corners comfortably and safely.  Are the open road speeds similarly outdated?

We’ve come a long way since these days – but do we need to go further?

The only trouble with the proposal to increase the open road speed limit to reflect the capabilities of new cars is that not every car on the road is a nice shiny new Mercedes  or Volvo  with all the latest safety features.  There are plenty of people driving beloved old classics, people driving ancient old bangers for budget reasons and those driving cars that aren’t in the category of old bangers but are still over 10 years old and don’t have all the latest whizz-but-not-bang active safety features.  The open road speed limit still applies to these drivers as well as to those with new cars.  And these older cars may not be able to handle the corners the way that newer ones can.

What’s more, some road users aren’t cars.  Trucks, bikes, motorbikes, farm tractors and horses are legitimate road users that one encounters out in the countryside.  You’re not going to find a pushbike, a horse or a farm tractor going anywhere near even the existing road speed limit, and the greater the mismatch between the speed of your car and the (lack of) speed of what’s in front of you leads to greater frustration, increased impatience and an increased likelihood of taking stupid risks.  And we know that although higher speeds are fine when everybody does what they’re supposed to, if things go wrong, they make the consequences worse.

We also need to remember that the cornering design speeds and the like are often designed with heavy trucks (including road trains) in mind.  These need more space and a lower speed to negotiate corners for obvious reasons.  Because these vehicles are very important for trade and the economy, all the government-funded researchers into road design, etc. spend quite a lot of time considering the needs of trucks.

The other thing is that even with a higher speed limit, you still need to slow down to go around a corner.  If they do decide to put up the speed limit, I doubt they’ll go and fix all the advisory signs to reflect the new speed limits for cost reasons.  They probably won’t add new ones either.  (Possibly it’s this cost factor (plus the fact that they could lose out on some speeding fines) that stops The Powers That Be from raising the speed limit.)  This means that if you’re cruising along at 130 km/h and spot a sign telling you that there’s a bend with a rating of 55 (OK, a design speed of 55 km/h), you’ve got less time to slow down to the right speed, which means that you have to brake harder… and that’s probably going to be tougher on your car and/or create a few extra risks.  You do know that you’re supposed to brake on the straight approaching the corner, don’t you?

The other issue is that the speed limit (and the speed at which we all go around corners) is safe when conditions are good, i.e. when the light, road surface, traffic conditions, vehicle conditions and road surface.  If it’s rainy, if it’s dark, if the sun’s at a horrible angle shining right in your eyes, if there’s gravel on the road, if bitumen has bled onto the road surface thanks to a bout of extra hot weather, if there’s ice on the road… it’s not safe to go full speed.  To paraphrase The Stig, if the road surface is shiny for any reason, slow down.

There’s one other argument against raising the speed limit: what I’ll have to call the larrikin factor.  No matter what the speed limit is, having any limit whatsoever will irritate a certain type of driver who doesn’t want to be told what to do.  She/he (I’m going to stick my neck out here and make the generalization that it’s more likely to be “he”) doesn’t want their freedom curtailed at all, and any speed limit – even if it was 150 km/h – feels like an imposition.  There will always be those who push the limits, no matter what those limits are.  It’s a bit like the drinking age or age limits at night clubs: no matter what the age barrier is, we all know that there will be people sneaking in underage… and nobody really wants 13-year-olds in the nightclub, so it’s best to keep the age limit at 18 so the underage sneakers-in are going to be 16 or 17.  The same goes for the speed limit.  Some speeds really are stupid on public roads and places where the unexpected can happen, and if you raise the speed limit, there will still be idiots who go at these ludicrous speeds.  And if you raised the limit to 120 km/h, there would be people who whinged about this being too slow and how it ought to be 140…  Where are you going to stop?

So what’s the answer?  Should we raise the speed limit?  Here’s my personal take on the topic:

  • Definitely raise the speed limit on long straight stretches of open road. I’ve driven along these being good and going at the legal limit, and it felt like crawling.
  • Keep the limit on the rest of the open roads where it is. However, there should be tolerance so the cops don’t jump all over you if you stray 5–10 km/h over the limit.  After all, we don’t all have cruise control, and we are supposed to keep our eyes on the road rather than glued to the speedo.
  • Remember that the speed limit is a limit, not a target. If the conditions don’t permit it, don’t try to go at the full limit.

As for roads around town – well, that’s another story!

Speed Doesn’t Kill People; People Kill People (aka There Are No Bad Speeds, Just Bad Driving)

In the past fortnight, I’ve seen the results of two smashes on the open road, one at least of which left a driver with serious injuries.  In one, a late-model SUV had been driving in a downpour and had rolled completely onto its side, collecting another vehicle in the process.  In another – the more serious of the two, where I and my family were some of the first people on the scene and hung around with a bunch of others to help before the emergency services arrived – a fairly new Mini (probably a JCW Clubman ) had drifted across the centre line on the open road and gone straight into an older Mitsubishi campervan.  Both cars were a real mess, although the driver of the campervan was in better shape and was able to walk away from the accident, albeit with a nasty bruise on the leg that made her limp and a few cuts from broken glass (I know this because I was the one who did the first aid check on her).  The driver of the Mini was trapped under a caved-in windscreen and was screaming her head off (we found out later she had a badly broken arm and possibly some internal injuries).  The campervan was in pieces and there was diesel (thank heavens it wasn’t the more inflammable petrol!) all over the road.  It was traumatic enough for me and my family, who had been setting off for a quiet weekend away.  It was worse for the two drivers concerned and their passengers.

How do we get the road toll down?  Is the answer to reduce the speed limit?

It’s a tough and controversial question.  On the one hand, we’ve got all the cops and the safety experts telling us to keep our speed down, and spending tons of taxpayer money to get the message out there (as if we haven’t heard it since goodness knows when). On the other hand, we have better roads and cars with better safely systems, so is it really realistic to insist on a speed limit that was set back when you were lucky if a car had seatbelts in the rear seat?

Of course, the more cynical type of driver is going to note that the speed of a vehicle is something that is very easily detected by speed cameras and radar traps, and fining drivers in the name of safety is an easy way for the government to pick up a bit of extra money… which they will spend on marketing campaigns to tell us to slow down, etc. Of course they’re not going to change the speed limit when keeping us to it is such a good cash cow.

However, let’s leave the issue of fines and money aside and look at the actual issue.

The main reason why the powers that be focus on speed is not just because it’s something that’s easy to measure. It’s because of the physics.  Anything travelling at a high speed will have a lot of kinetic energy that requires a lot of force to maintain in the face of friction, and when that object travelling at high speed stops, that energy has to go somewhere. In the case of a deliberate slow-down, friction will take up a lot of the energy (and, in the case of regenerative braking, turn it into electrical potential energy). In the case of a fast and unintended stop (i.e. a crash), all that energy is transferred all at once into not just the vehicle itself, what it’s hit and the road, but also what’s inside that vehicle.

If all is going well, the raw speed of a car is not a problem.  If it were speed per se that killed, you’d expect that the German authorities would have noticed this by now and changed the rules about the limitless autobahns.  According to a news report from last year, fatal accidents on German roads had reached an all-time low since it kicked itself back into gear after the war in the late 1950s.  The number of accidents, however, has increased.  The rate of fatal accidents has dropped dramatically since the 1970s in Germany, and they say that it’s thanks to better car safety design (the rivalry between German makers like Mercedes and Swedish companies like Volvo as to who’s got the best safety systems seems pretty intense), as well as things like insisting on seatbelts and motorbike helmets.  A lower legal limit for blood alcohol also helped curb road deaths.  The fact that cars have got faster and more powerful over this time and roared along the autobahns at 250 km/h as often as possible doesn’t seem to have played a role.

If things do go wrong, however, then the speed of a vehicle makes the consequences a lot worse.  It’s a situation like you get with guns and pitbulls.  A gun used responsibly in the right way by the right people is fun and is a useful device for removing pests or putting meat on the table.  However, if someone loses their temper and goes on the rampage, a gun will do worse damage in the hands of a maniac than, say, a knife, chainsaw or wooden club.  Pitbulls, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and Rottweilers can be soppy, affectionate and obedient animals when well trained, but if you mistrain or mistreat one (or make the mistake of attacking its owner), then they’ll do a lot more damage than a Chihuahua or a Labrador (which, in fact, are a lot more likely to bite people – they just don’t make headlines when they do, as they don’t cause much carnage).  The same goes for speed.  Staying in your lane and going along a deserted bit of open road at 120 km/hr or even higher is not going to be a problem.  However, if you go around the corner way too fast for the conditions, try to do this sort of speed in heavy traffic, drift out of your lane into an oncoming vehicle, go over a patch of gravel or ice, or hit a roo (or any combination of the above), then the results are going to be a lot worse than if you had been going at, say, 50 km/h.

Those protesting gun control will argue that it’s not guns that kill people; it’s people who kill people.  Similarly, owners of Rotties, Pibbles and Staffies will protest breed-related legislation by arguing that there are no bad dogs; there are only bad owners.  It’s just the same with speed limits.  It’s not speed that kills; it’s bad driving that kills. Bad driving, notice, not bad drivers.  Even The Stig, Mario Andretti, Peter Brock and Mark Skaife have off moments, as they’re only human.

So what’s the answer to the problem of getting the road toll down?  How are we going to prevent people getting injured the way that Mini driver was injured?  There are no easy answers – it’s definitely not as simple as just saying that we need to keep the speed down.  In fact, I’m going to have to devote more than one post to this topic and analysing all the factors.  With the help of your comments, perhaps we’ll find the answers.

2018 Suzuki Swift Sport Readies For Release.

It’s been hotly anticipated since Suzuki updated its iconic Swift range for 2017 and now it’s here. The 2018 Suzuki Swift Sport, complete with 1.4L turbocharged petrol engine and six speed manual or auto, is sharply priced at $25490 or $27490.

The BOOSTERJET engine produces 103 kilowatts and 230 Nm of torque, with a quoted fuel consumption of 6.1L/100 km for a combined cycle thanks partly to a weight reduction of eighty kilos compared to the previous model. The auto will come with paddle shifts.

Ride and handling is improved, with a lower and wider stance in the chassis. The Sport will roll on 17 inch polished alloys and will turn night time to day time with LED head lights. There’s also LED daytime running lights, twin chrome tipped exhausts, and a sports body kit comprising rear diffuser, side skirts, and black honeycomb grille.

Inside there’s Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Suzuki’s user friendly seven inch touchscreen with satnav, climate control, Bluetooth and USB sounds connectivity, keyless Start/Stop, and red stitched semi-bucket seats.

The chassis has new safety engineering with TECT, Total Effective Control Technology for greater energy dissipation in the event of an impact. A five star safety rating comes courtesy of six airbags (no driver’s kneebag), stability control, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control.

Outside there’s a choice of five colour choices: Pure White Pearl, Champion Yellow, Super Black Pearl, Mineral Grey and Speedy Blue.

There’s Capped Price Servicing for five years and should a customer ensure their Swift Sport is serviced under that plan, the warranty gets extended from three to five years.

The 2018 Suzuki Swift Sport is available for test drive and orders from your local Suzuki dealership or enquire through here: 2018 Suzuki Swift Sport

Auto Industry News – Q4 2017

We review some of the major news events in the automotive industry from the fourth quarter of 2017.

 

Sales and Manufacturing

The war of words in the autonomous vehicle sector began to heat up, with General Motors singling out Tesla. A director for the long established auto manufacturer suggested that Tesla’s claim it has already developed ‘Level Five’ self-driving technology is “full of crap” and “irresponsible”.

Locally, Holden drew the curtains on its local manufacturing operations, with doors closing at the Elizabeth plant in South Australia.

Drive announced their ‘Car of the Year’ for 2017, with the Hyundai i30 SR taking out the top spot.

 

Safety and Environment

As the Takata airbag saga continues to drag on, and with a recall in effect following a local death, industry stakeholders have raised the possibility of cancelling vehicle registrations of motorists who have ignored recall notices. The ACCC will provide the Federal Government with a recommendation, although the consumer watchdog is still engaging with manufacturers to work on the issue.

Elsewhere, counterfeit oil filters have been discovered by Toyota and Hyundai after months of investigating. The incident continues a persistent and worrying trend, as unscrupulous rackets take advantage of independent workshops and motorists.

In Europe, the EU has sought to tackle emissions, unveiling proposals which would cut the 95g/km fleet average in 2021, to 66g/km by 2030. At the same time, governments in Holland and France (Paris) are looking at different measures to ban petrol and diesel sales by 2030 and 2040 respectively.

 

Technology

The NRMA and Electric Vehicle Council have been calling on the government to push the adoption of electric vehicles. Together, the bodies have prepared an action plan, highlighting the fact there are currently no incentives on electric vehicles.

Uniform standards for EV charging are also in focus within Australia, which could pave the way for a national approach. The measures have been proposed by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.

At a global level, Toyota has wider plans to transform its vehicle lineup to an all-electric offering by 2025. The company will partner with Mazda and Denso to work on structural technology for electric cars. The move comes as competing auto makers in China receive the hurry up from their government to boost EV production in 2019 – and as China also plans to invest heavily into autonomous driving infrastructure.

While several companies shift away from diesel engines, Mazda reaffirmed its support for the fuel technology despite governments around the world setting plans to phase out diesel powered vehicles.

Looking at the issue of emerging fuels, and Toyota is tipped to release a hydrogen fuel cell car in Australia during 2019. The news comes as tech developments leave the door open to the possibility that hydrogen powered vehicles may one day source energy from the sea.

In separate news, Mercedes has been testing autonomous tech within Australia between Sydney and Melbourne. Overseas, and the UK is aiming to have driverless cars on the road by 2021.

 

Legal and Regulatory Issues

The Australian National Transport Commission opened a can of worms, suggesting occupants of fully autonomous vehicles shouldn’t be subject to existing alcohol and drug laws. Any mooted amendments would require a change in current legislation to account for the arrival of self-driving cars within 2 years.

Following the Takata airbag saga referenced earlier, Toyota and Lexus have been nominated in a local class action among other potential defendants alleging the companies breached their consumer law obligations.

The ACCC’s final report into the new car industry has called for better protection of buyers, nominating multiple reforms and taking aim at dealers.

Finally, legislative changes led by the government include a suite of draft amendments which would see an impact on ‘grey’ and low volume import cars.

Safety and Propaganda.

The NSW government’s road safety office has saved a squidzillion on PR spin doctors over the last decade as they continue to repeat the same mind dangerous mantra of “slow down, speed kills” and have added “distractions aren’t the problem”.

Not once though has any statistical analysis shown anything more than 43% of crashes being related to excess velocity for the conditions.  According to the NSW Centre for Road Safety it was 40% in 2017. Let’s face it folks, that’s really what speeding is. Too many roads and areas are limited to what really should be a higher velocity over distance. But of course it’s due to a spurt of fatal crashes in a the space of a week or so late in 2017 that drives (no pun intended) the monotonous drone from the pollies and certain police PR people.Let’s go simple for a moment: speed doesn’t kill. If it was the underlying reason then deaths on Australian roads would be in the thousands per day. Here’s what killed people: Crash causes NSW 2017 What’s disturbingly noticeable is how high a proportion of fatalities were country roads based and on a non-straight road, followed by head on impacts.

What does kill are drivers that Simply Don’t Care. They don’t care if they pull out in front of you. They don’t care if they stop in a merging lane. They don’t care if they’re on a motorbike and will travel at twenty below a posted limit whilst shaking their head at the driver behind them. They don’t care about amber and red lights. They don’t care about having headlights on when they should. They don’t care about indicators. They don’t care about you, themselves, and they certainly don’t care about road rules. The link above shows that speed may be factor but it’s nowhere near as big as the real reason: bad driving.

Don’t laugh at this seemingly innocuous statement. You’ll hear of “cars losing control” and unless the car is fully autonomous and has a does of the HAL 9000s, it’s utterly wrong. Any decent driver training organisation will tell you, without smiling, that it’s the failure of the organic component of a car that causes crashes. Not accident. Crashes.
This is why people die on the roads. It’s stuff-all to do with excess velocity. It’s got plenty to do with attitude. It’s got plenty to do with the tunnel visioned focus of governments and road bodies that are in it to promote ONLY their way of doing things.
Speed doesn’t kill. Government refusal to see past speeding and acknowledge they’re wrong, and people that don’t care, kill.

What’s needed is a complete and utter wholesale change to how the government sees road safety. A massive rethink is needed, and, as hard as it may appear to see, a reversal of the “speed kills” policy. Back to basics. Check the standards of driver educators. Educate and inform people that the basics that are being overlooked are why higher levels of driving standards that should be followed. Mandatory driver training sessions with properly accredited groups should be paired with a minimum of ten hours.

Driving a car at any speed isn’t hard. Driving appropriately isn’t hard either. But speed doesn’t kill. Bad drivers do.

Be Coming Home After Christmas

It’s just five days until Christmas 2017 at the time of writing. It’s a time where we relax, maybe have a break from work, and we go driving just that little bit more. However we’re also told that this is a dangerous time of year to be on the roads and perhaps there’s some validity in that. Here’s some things you can do to help make our roads just that little bit safer.

Indicate.
This is constantly seen as the number one irritant to drivers in just about every survey about what annoys drivers. But why then are so many cars seen to have “broken indicators” or, as some cynically put it, “have run out of indicator fluid”? Cars are designed and engineered so the basics of driving are a fingertip away, and indicator stalks, be they on the left or right hand side of the steering column, are such.
Indicators are not optionable extras, nor are they difficult to use. If you’re changing lanes, indicate. If you’re merging, indicate. If you’re in a roundabout, indicate. And this doesn’t mean just a cursory flicker or two. Current laws state that “sufficient indication must be given”. Far too many drivers think one/two/three is enough. You should be indicating before leaving your lane and finishing indicating once the whole of your vehicle is the new lane. “NSW Roundabout indication rules” and “Top 10 misunderstood road rules
Roundabouts require you to to indicate as well, especially with three lane roundabouts. Let’s say the roundabout is a Y shape and you’re going left; it’s simple, you indicate left. If you’re going right, you indicate right to go in and then indicate left when exiting. That’s the law.

Headlights.
If you’re out and about and cars are coming toward you with headlights on, there’s a fair bet there’s a good reason why. Most cars today are built with either an auto headlight on function or with LED DRLs fitted. DRL stands for Daytime Running Lights and are in no way intended to be a replacement for headlights. When your car starts and these come on, it also doesn’t mean the lights at the back come on either. When you activate your headlights, then your taillights will come on, and it’s a great idea to do so if you have a dark metallic or silver car and the weather is rainy or clouded over. It REALLY does make your car so much more visible and so much more safer.

Passing the vehicle ahead.
Planning for a lane change isn’t hard. As a driver you should be looking ahead more than to the rear, and too often vehicles are seen almost touching the rear of the car ahead before they suddenly swoop left or right, and again generally without indicating. A well prepared driver should be able to judge the of the traffic and be able to switch lanes smoothly. One simple yet safety improving reason is: what happens if the vehicle you’re getting close to suddenly brakes hard? Bang, you’re in their rear.

Looking ahead also helps with vehicle behaviour; if one car only swerves, well, maybe it’s a tired driver, but if a succession of cars suddenly do it’s a possible indicator there’s something untoward on the road, like a pothole or something that’s fallen off a vehicle. Keep an eye out and be in no doubt.

Red lights/amber lights/green lights.
Cynics would say there’s a lot of colour blind people on our roads, thinking amber means speed up and jump the red. MOST intersections are researched and have their traffic light timing adjusted for traffic flow, with the change from green to amber to red set and a predetermined interval. There’s a set distance that is allowed for along with time in order for drivers to utilise the amber light for its intended use: to slow down and stop safely.

Distractions.
It seems unbelievable that having earphones in whilst driving is still not illegal as it isolates you from an important part of driving; the aural connection to what’s happening outside the car. Sure we can up the volume of the audio system but by having earphones in you’re actually locking out more of the ambient sound.
Kids are always a “good” distraction and we’re certainly not about to tell you how to deal with your children but it’s worth reminding you.
Also, bugs, cigarettes, drinks, and the like need to be considered. And please! if you have bluetooth in your vehicle for calls and audio streaming, use that rather than using your hands.

Car Maintenance.
Tyre pressures and tread depth, windscreen wiper fluid and radiator fluid levels, oil levels, all of these are easily checked before taking your car out. Tyre pressures are marked on the sidewall or on a sticker mounted somewhere inside your vehicle. Tread depth is easily identified visually and a bald tyre is simply no good on a wet road. If the tread looks more worn on one side than the other then a visit to your local tyre shop is recommended. Windscreen wiper fluid is specially formulated so good old Windex as a replacement is not recommended. Oils too are specific to certain types of car (petrol v diesel generally) but an older engine may also need a different oil compared to the new Mustang your Lotto winnings have bought you.

How does the dash look? Is it dusty? Does the touchscreen have fingerprints all over it? Give these a clean before heading out as these can sometimes catch the eye at the wrong moment.

Don’t. Drive. Tired.
It’s far too easy to misjudge your own endurance levels when it comes to long distance driving. Sure, we can sit inside our car for an hour plus in peak hour traffic but we don’t cover the same distance as Sydney to Canberra, Perth to Geraldton, Melbourne to Albury. Sometimes long drives are taken on Boxing day or New Year’s Day, and the body hasn’t recovered from a belly full, be it alcohol or a good roast. Studies show that Microsleeps are a major contributor to crashes, so keep fluid levels, like a sports drink or water, available.

BA.
That’s Bad Attitude. And it sucks. Road rage incidents are full of bad attitude and generally because someone can’t be bothered following the road rules because they don’t they the law applies to them. Tailgating, lane hogging, pulling in front of someone and suddenly braking, and so on are fine examples of BA. If you have BA, stay away.

Speeding.
Finally, the big one. Speeding in and of itself is not dangerous, otherwsie our roads would be populated by ghosts. It’s when combined with tiredness, alcohol, inattention, a bad attitude, mistiming the traffic lights, worn tyres, that excess velocity over distance causes the heartbreak it does.

Use your mirrors, look at the traffic ahead, look for the one or two vehicles that seem to be travelling a whole lot quicker than they should be and do your safest change of lane to get out of the way. Because unless you think WW2 was a fantastic comedy, you don’t want to be that person to answer a knock on the door and see two sombre looking members of the constabulary about to tell you a loved one has died at the hands (wheels?) of someone else driving badly.

Please, do have a safe Christmas for 2017, a wonderful New Year’s as we move to 2018 so we can all be coming home after Christmas.

Goldilocks Goodyear* And The Three Tyre Pressure Bears

 

Getting the tyre pressure right is a bit of a Goldilocks process – it can’t be too hard or too soft, but has to be just right.  If you don’t get it right, it could result in an accident that leaves you looking like you have indeed had an encounter with three grouchy, hungry grizzly bears. Or it could turn your vehicle into a beast with one heck of an appetite for fuel. (On a complete sidetrack, wouldn’t Ursus or the word for Bear in some other language make a great name for a 4×4?)

The most common scenario is that you end up with Mama Bear’s tyres: too soft.  This is because valves aren’t perfect and slow leaks happen over time, what with little air molecules being sneaky.  Ideally, we ought to check our tyre pressure monthly but not many of us actually do this (and that’s me at the front of the queue for the confessional!).

The problem with too-soft Mama Bear tyres is that they bulge out.  This leads to two problems.  Firstly, because the walls of the tyre weren’t designed to balloon out like that, you’re increasing the chance of the tyre going boom on you.  Yes – underinflation and being too soft is what increases the chance of getting a blowout, not being too hard.

The second problem of having too-soft Mama Bear tyres that bulge out is because this increases the area of tyre contacting the road.  A moment’s thought will tell you that this has to be better for grip, right?  Well, yes.  It does increase the amount of grip between the tyre and the road surface, and that’s just the problem.  This means increased friction, and this means that your car has to work harder to get up to the speed you want to.  Remember what it was like when you were a kid and your bike tyre started getting a leak so you had to pedal that much harder when the tyre was flat?  Well, the same thing happens when your car tyres are flat (or your trailer tyres for that matter).  What this adds up to is terrible, terrible fuel economy.  If you’ve wondered why you don’t get the same fuel economy as the stats in the car ads say you should, this is one of the reasons why (the other reasons are because the vehicles are tested minus any load at all and in the lab where there’s no crosswinds or headwinds).

OK, so having the tyres too soft is a bad thing.  However, is there such a thing as being too hard?

As Goldilocks would tell us, yes, tyres can be too hard.  Papa Bear tyres might not increase your chance of a blowout the same way that Mama Bear tyres do, in spite of what the cartoons tell us. Papa Bear tyres are dangerous in another way.  Because they make the bottom of the tyre narrower and more convex, there’s less of the tyre touching the road.  This means less friction.

Less friction, of course, means less grip around corners and greatly increased braking time.  If it’s wet, then proportionally less water can be channelled out of the way, so the friction decreases even further.  Let’s stop and think about the implications of that for a moment, but not for too long.  The results certainly won’t be pretty, especially if speed is involved.  It’s a wonder that the cops don’t have random tyre pressure checks the same way they do random breath testing and random speed checks.  Oops, maybe I shouldn’t have written that – I might give them new ideas and new ways to milk our wallets.

So how do you get those nice Baby Bear tyres that aren’t too hard or too soft but just right, where you’ve got enough friction to make the car handle well but not so much that your car guzzles petrol?

The answer, of course, is to check your tyre pressure regularly.  Some say that you should even check the pressure every time you fill up with fuel, but this may be going a bit too far.  Maybe.  Most modern vehicles are very, very nice to us and have tyre pressure monitors installed and provide us with an alert when the pressure strays out of the Goldilocks Zone.

OK, so how do you know what pressure you should inflate your tyres to?  The answer to that is usually provided very kindly by the car manufacturers, either in the owner’s manual or on the door pillars (either on the driver’s or the passenger’s side).  In my Volvo  S70, the info is in the manual.  In my Nissan  Terrano, the information is on a sticker on the door pillar on the driver’s side… unfortunately in Japanese where it hasn’t totally faded away.  Curses and naught words!  Fortunately in situations like this, you can use online tools and good old Google to help you out (here’s one possibility: http://www.tyre-pressures.com/).

Tyre pressure, like porridge, can’t be taken too hot.  However, there is no such thing as too cold when it comes to measuring tyre pressure.   This is because heat makes the rubber a bit softer and the air inside take up a wee bit more space.

When you check the tyre pressure, you need to be sure that you use the right units.  Car tyre pressure is one of the few things that we still like to think about in Imperial units rather than metric (the others are height and the birth weight of babies).  The Imperial unit is pounds per square inch (psi) but the metric equivalent is kiloPascals (kPA).  The conversion formula is 1 psi = 6.8947 kPA, so if you use the wrong unit, you’ll either be underinflated or overinflated by sixfold.

Of course, getting Baby Bear tyres isn’t as simple as that.  If you’ve got a heavier than normal load in your vehicle, this will press down on the tyres so they bulge out and get a Mama Bear tyre profile and will therefore act like a Mama Bear tyre.  This really adds up to a beast with a big appetite, as the engine doesn’t just have to cope with the extra load, it also has to cope with the extra friction if you don’t increase the tyre pressure.  And don’t forget to make like Johnny Farnham and take the pressure down once you’ve dropped off the load!  Oh yes – and make sure that your tyres aren’t too worn or getting the pressure right won’t do diddly-squat.

To make things even more interesting, if you’re into off-roading, you need to adjust the tyre pressure according to the surface you’re driving on.  In sand, for example, you need the extra friction, so Mama Bear might be able to help you out if you get stuck.

Catch you later – I’m off to check the tyre pressure in both cars.

* This is not the name of a blonde model in the Goodyear equivalent of the Pirelli calendar.

A Wee Rant About Road Works

I’ll slow down… if there really are road works ahead.

Yes, yes, I know that roads need to be repaired regularly so they stay safe to drive on.  I also know that we need to keep the guys and girls working on the roads safe and that we shouldn’t just roar through road works at our usual speed.  However, there are times when seeing those “road works ahead” signs up ahead really makes me see red.

I particularly see red when I’m on my pushbike and the road works people have decided the bike lane is the best place to put out their warning signs, forcing me to either nip into the main stream of the traffic or onto the footpath.  However, there are times that even when I’m behind the wheel of a car that those road works signs arouse my ire.

Not that I’m complaining about the road works themselves.  I don’t mind slowing down when something’s actually going on or there really is something I need to take care with – lots of busy people, a single lane or stacks of loose gravel.  If there’s one of those traffic controllers with a stop/go sign on a pole, I’ll give them a friendly smile and wave, or even say hello if I’m close enough – after all, traffic controlling work is one of the most mind-bogglingly boring jobs out there, although it’s probably better than it was 25 years ago, seeing as one could now probably listen to a podcast or audiobook on the smartphone through one ear.  And I’d much rather see a real human employed for traffic control duty than one of those temporary traffic lights that keeps going at night and will hold up a huge line of cars for no reason whatsoever thanks to its internal programming.

The problem happens when the road works warning signs are the only type of road works out there.

You know how this scenario goes.  You’re travelling along and you see one of those temporary warning signs on the road up ahead of you, so you slow down. However, as you get closer to where the signs are, what do you see?  Do you see bulldozers and bitumen mixers?  Do you see sweaty guys in high-viz with power tools jackhammering the road surface open?  Is there a massive hole in the road or similar amusements?

Nope.  The only thing that you can see is maybe a single road cone marking where the road works have been… and beside that sits a tiny little patch of loose gravel over where they’ve repaired a pothole. Alternatively, all you can see is a few spraypainted marks where they’re going to repair something.  Or possibly, there’s a half-done kerb on the side of the road that they’re going to finish off when it’s stopped raining or when the weekend is over.  Or the road works are taking place on a side road that intersects with the road you’re driving on (but don’t affect the road you’re driving on, except indirectly).

You have to ask yourself sometimes: are the warning signs the first things that they put up before beginning a job and the last things they take away?  Honestly, I’m convinced that the road signs go up as soon as they’ve decided to fix something on the road and stay there until they’ve finished the paperwork to sign the job off after it’s done.

And then they wonder why people don’t like to slow down when they see those signs.  Haven’t they all heard the fable of the boy who cried wolf?  You’d think that they’re trying to condition us to ignore the road signs. I know for one that my reaction upon seeing those road signs is “What road works where?” I’m probably not the only one who gets into the very bad habit of not quite slowing down to the temporary speed limit when seeing these signs.

Dear road workers, us drivers appreciate all your hard work, we really do, and we don’t want to put you in danger.  However, you guys need to do your bit.  Let’s do a deal: you put the warning signs up when you’re actually working on the road, not three weeks beforehand, take them down when you’re finished and maybe even lay them facedown during the weekend if the road isn’t actually hazardous.  It can’t take you that long to put them up and take them down. In return, we’ll pay much more attention to the signs and really will slow down to 80, 50 or 30 as the case may be, and we’ll probably be nicer to you when we drive past.

Particularly annoying road works signs I have seen over the years (with specific locations removed) include:

  • The ones on a large chunk of main road that could only be fixed on a sunny day… and the road signs went out in the rainy season when sunny days were few and far between. They stayed there for at least three weeks with no sign of action on the roads before the work began.  I’m not sure when they came down, because by that stage, I’d found an alternate route on a minor road.
  • The traffic control light that stopped a major highway for ten minutes (I was counting) just so they could set up a line of road cones. Honestly, after having waited that long, I was expecting to see something major going on!  Couldn’t they have maybe set them out in small batches rather than letting a long line of traffic build up?
  • Not quite so annoying this time: the sign warning that road marking was going on ahead. We’d kind of guessed, as the tank of yellow paint had sprung a leak and there was a thin trail of yellow in the middle of the lane near some very new, very white centre lines.

Right, that’s my rant over.  Now it’s your turn.  What’s your worst experience with road works and pointless signs?  Have a good old grizzle in the comments and let us sympathise with you.

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

One of the things that I’m sure you’ve noticed in a lot of new cars coming out these days is all the adjustable this and that in the seats, especially the driver’s seat.  You can adjust the seat angle, the seat back and how far the seat is from the steering wheel.  With a lot of seats, you can also throw in lumbar support and (oh glory – one of my favourite bells and whistles) heating and even cooling in the seats.  Then you’ve got the ability to adjust the steering wheel itself.

With the ability to adjust the seat to a position that’s just right, it’s something of an irony that a lot of us don’t really adjust the seat much at all, or not really beyond how far forward or back the seat is, plus the seat angle. And if this is all you do, you could be making a big mistake.

Believe it or not, seating position is actually a safety issue. This is for at least three reasons. Firstly, where and how you are seated affects things like how well you can see the road around you, including the mirrors and what’s over your shoulder (even if you have blind spot warning sensors on your vehicle, you still need to do a head check like your driving instructor told you to, just in case).  Secondly, the position of your legs and feet affects the speed of your reactions if you need to bang on the brake and/or the clutch – and the same applies to your hands and arms working the steering wheel. Thirdly, bad driving position also increases driver fatigue, which is a contributing factor in a lot of crashes.

Given the importance of proper seating position for road safety, you might wonder why cars don’t just come with one configuration. Fortunately, the powers that be haven’t decided that this is the best solution, mostly because even the densest pen-pushing analyst knows that you can’t have just one ideal seating configuration because humans don’t come with the ideal proportions of the Vitruvian Man, crash test dummies, Barbie, etc. etc. I’m thinking of the four drivers in my family. My son is tall and lanky to the extent that he nearly hits his head on the roof of little hatchbacks, but my daughter is petite. My husband is stocky with long arms and has long since traded his six-pack for a grown-up keg, and I’m average height but with a long torso in proportion to my legs. There is no way that a single seat configuration would suit every single member of the family and the mathematical average would end up with all of us sitting in less-than-ideal positions.

So you’re going to have to adjust your seat and make sure that you’re sitting comfortably – and properly.  Unfortunately, for a lot of people, what’s “comfortable” for them is not the best driving position. The worst of these “comfortable” positions are the two extremes: the driver (stereotypically young and male) who has the seat as back from the pedals as possible and the seat tilted back with the steering wheel low, and the driver (stereotypically older and female) who has hunches over a high steering wheel and the seat so far forward that she could just about steer it with her boobs or teeth.  These positions will be hell on your back and neck if you stay in them for a long time, and they don’t make for great road safety.

So what’s the right way to sit in the driver’s seat?

First, get yourself ready.  You want to have your back and front pockets free of house keys, wallets and cell phones (and put that phone somewhere you can’t reach it so you’re not tempted!). You also want to have footwear that plays nicely with the pedals. Footwear at both ends of the formality spectrum are unsuitable for driving, with work boots, flip-flop thongs, stiletto heels and wedge heels all being atrocious.  Even bare feet are better than those.  Flats and low heels that aren’t at the risk of coming off your feet or jamming around the pedals. Wear comfortable clothing, too. Anything that’s too tight, too baggy or itchy will distract you.

Now you can get into the car.  Firstly, let’s get the seat at the right distance from the pedals and the wheel.  Get it where you can rest your heels on the ground ready to operate your pedals and so your knees are slightly bent. Having your knees bent slightly but not too much reduces fatigue (a lot of us sleep with slightly bent knees) and also means that you can use more of your leg muscles if you need to bang on the brake hard and suddenly. Also play around with the seat height and tilt so that your hips are level with your knees.

Now for the seat back.  You want it somewhere so that you can have your elbows bent so that your wrists are straight when you hold the steering wheel correctly.  And the correct way to hold the steering wheel is the way that your driving instructor told you: 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock with your thumbs up as if you were holding wine glasses – or 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock if you want a bit of variation. What you need to avoid is 12 o’clock, or 5 o’clock and 7 o’ clock – and definitely not 6 o’clock!   The seat back should be tilted somewhere so that your shoulders can press against the back – if you have to hunch forwards, your seat is too far back. Now pull the headrest forward so it cushions your head.

Your bum should be pressed all the way back to where the seat back meets the seat of the seat.  You’ll strain your back if your bum is too far forward and there’s a big triangular gap between you and the seat back.  Lumbar support helps but your bum should still be well back.  Use cushions if you have short legs or if your car doesn’t provide you with lumbar support.

Some suggestions you see for ideal seat position go to the bother of telling you the ideal angles for this, that and the other thing. These are all very well in their way but forget that people don’t always have the proper proportions for the proper angles. I know that I don’t and if I have my seat back to the proper 100-degree angle recommended by some, I can’t bend my arms when holding the steering wheel.

Next, adjust the steering wheel.  You should be able to hold it correctly as described above. It should also not be squashed against your thighs or your stomach or any other bits. You should also get the height of the steering wheel to that happy medium where it doesn’t block your view of the windscreen or of the dashboard controls.  If you have to obscure some of the dashboard, make sure that you can see the important bits of the speedo so you can tell if you’re going over the speed limit.

Next, adjust all of your mirrors so you can see the road behind and around you. Never think that you can rely entirely on rear vision cameras and blind spot sensors.  You may also adjust the vents on the climate control system so you get a nice cooling breeze on your face or warm air to toast your chilly toes.

Lastly, put on your seatbelt so that the lap belt is resting on the top of your hip bones (or where they’d be if you could see them) and so the sash runs from shoulder to hip and doesn’t press against your neck when you lean forwards.  This is a bit of a nuisance for female drivers with bigger boobs, as the sash part of the seat belt is continually sliding up to the throat area.  The right bra helps – something that separates the girls so you can get the sash between them rather than a hoist-me-high cleavage enhancer if possible.  (Yes, I’m the wowser who says that it’s best not to drive in tight clothes that enhance your cleavage and stiletto heels – change when you get to the party!)  It’s another story again if you’re pregnant – but that’s worth a whole post of its own.

Now, are you sitting comfortably?  Good – then you can begin.

Should Motorists Complete First Aid Training?

It’s a topic that rears its head every now and then, yet continually the issue has been overlooked by authorities. We pay particular attention to the road toll, yet for some reason one of the efforts we could employ to mitigate this issue hasn’t warranted a national response. Why is first aid training not compulsory for every motorist, and should it be part of our licensing requirements?

When you put things into perspective, we spend a considerable amount of our lives driving from point A to point B. We may be lucky to escape accidents but the chances of seeing one, either take place or the result thereof, are far greater. And even though our cars have become a lot safer through technological innovation, poor driving habits and behaviours have crept into our society and created larger issues. The result has been a recent increase in the number of fatalities on our roads, although many of these fatalities have often been preventable, even after the accident.

With this concerning trend already in motion, it’s time we also start to prepare drivers by training them to engage in reactive behaviour in the form of being a first responder. As it currently stands, the overwhelming majority of drivers and bystanders are ill equipped to administer first aid at an accident scene. In fact, in what should be viewed as a major concern, many wouldn’t even know where to begin. Even I know, that despite my former first aid training, it’s a moment you can never be entirely prepared for as shock sets in and time stands still.

Now let me clarify, bystanders and other motorists shouldn’t be expected to fill the void of professional emergency services personnel. However, in the event of an accident, every second matters. Early treatment can be the difference between life and death. And in the moments where emergency services personnel need to fight traffic to make it to the scene of an accident, those seconds are potentially ticking away.

Even in the absence of specific treatment, a bystander with composure to secure the scene, or calm the anxieties of those involved in the incident is an invaluable asset. These are specific elements to first aid training, which every motorist should be taught as part of their licensing requirements. Whereas drivers cover a gamut of issues concerning driving technique and etiquette, there is no reason why we shouldn’t all be equipped to administer first aid as a first responder in the event of an accident.

The course would be easy to include as part of our license tests, and it could also be renewed on a periodic basis along with our licenses. Several countries in Europe already adopt this approach, and if we want to keep up with the rest of the world, it’s time we start paying attention to the issues on our roads that really matter.