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Safety

Getting It Right In A Roundabout Way.

Using an indicator seems to be the ONE major issue that the overwhelming majority of Australian drivers have. Pulling away from a curb, merging lanes, entering and exiting roundabouts, the little bit of flash seems to elude drivers on Aussie roads.
From the NSW Roads and Maritime Services website are the following regulations for indicating at a traditional four point roundabout.
Turning left: On your approach to a roundabout you must select the left lane, signal left, stay in the left lane to exit.

Going straight ahead: Do not signal when approaching the roundabout but always signal left before exiting a roundabout.
You may approach the roundabout from either left or right lanes (unless there are road markings with other instructions), drive in the same lane through the roundabout and exit in the same lane.

Turning right: On your approach, to a roundabout you must select the right lane, signal right, stay in the right lane and signal left before exiting into the right lane.

Making a U-turn: When you use the roundabout to make a U-turn on your approach signal right from the right lane, stay in the right lane, but signal left before exiting into the right lane.

Exiting a roundabout: If practical, you must always signal left when exiting a roundabout.

In many areas of Australia a three point roundabout can be found. It’s here that one part of the where to indicate equation isn’t really pushed as a safety measure. Once listed as a “complex roundabout” the regulations are to indicate in which direction you wish to go to then indicate left to exit, especially if making a major direction change as per the design.  Here, though, the overwhelming majority of drivers coming into the roundabout from the right hand side and wish to continue to the left, do NOT, as per the regulations signal their intentions. Quite a few do not indicate from the lower left to the top left, nor from the lower left to the right hand side.

From the W.A Government’s site when it comes to merging: Always use your indicator to signal your intentions to other drivers when merging; Keep a safe distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you and take turns to merge if there are long lines of merging traffic; You need to match the legal speed of the road you’re merging into. Again this part of the road safety argument is forgotten.  Finally, when parents that have themselves not had a driving lesson in ten twenty, thirty or more years and have accumulated a lifetime of bad driving habits are in a car with a L plater, and fail to have them adhere to the same basic laws, then our roads will continue to not see the zero level our governments purport to seek.

Car Review: 2019 Tesla Model X 100D

This Car Review Is About:
One of the two vehicles currently available from Tesla. The Model S and Model X are very closely related and come with a choice of drive combinations. A new model, a smaller car called Model 3 is scheduled for Australian release from July 2019. The vehicle tested is the non-P 100D. P for Performance, 100 for the kiloWatt hour drive, D for Dual motor (or, if you will, all wheel drive). The Model X can be specified with different seating configurations and the test vehicle was fitted out as a six seater. What About The Dollars?
Cost for the car tested started at $129,500. Metallic paint is $2,100, with the big black wheels $7,800. The seating colour scheme was $2,100 with the dash trim, a dark ash wood look, a standard no-cost fitment. It’s the electronic bits that add on, with the full self driving option and auto-pilot $7,100 and $4,300 each. With options fitted, Luxury Car Tax, and GST, plus charges such as government taxes, the car as tested came to $186,305.

Under The Bonnet Is:
Empty space. Yup, the Tesla Model X has a “frunk”, a front trunk, or in Aussie speak, a front boot. It’s big enough for a travel case of hiding the home charge cable that Tesla supplies. The engines for the 100D are located underneath at the front and rear, and engage via a single speed transmission. It’s this combination that gives the Tesla Model X startling acceleration, and in Ludicrous mode, a drive option available in the “P” designated cars, it’s quicker again. Call it three seconds to 100kph and you’d be on the money.On The Inside Is:
A choice of seating options. The test car came fitted with a white leather covered set of six seats. The three pairs all have their own form of power adjustment. Up front the driver has fore and aft movement, seat back adjustment, and lumbar support. The middle row are also adjustable for fore and aft, allowing access to the rear seats. However they do not have seat back adjustment. The third row are powered in a slightly different way, with a button locking or releasing them for raising or lowering.

Tesla fit a massive, vertically oriented, 17 inch touchscreen that houses virtually all of the functions. Audio, navigation, music access, air-conditioning, doors, car features, settings, online user manual, and some special features are all here. The map system is from Google and rendered in superb high definition on the screen. Drive orientation is in the upper right corner and can be set to swivel in direction or North as a permanent upper orientation.The overall front section presence is clean, uncluttered, traditional even. The driver’s binnacle has a full colour LCD screen that shows information such as energy usage, map, radio, and more. The steering column is perhaps the weakest part ergonomically. A left hand side indicator sits above the cruise control lever and both can be easily confused for the other as they’re very close together. The drive engage lever is on the right and is simple in operation.The centre row seats move forward and as they close towards the front seats gradually nose downwards to allow access to the rear. The rears are not adjustable for anything other than folded or not. Behind them is another storage locker with a lift away cover that otherwise provides a flat floor.The touchscreen itself houses “easter eggs”. At the top centre of the screen is a “T” symbol. Hold that for a second or two and a graphic that describes the individual car shows. A second or two later a screen appears above that and has an Atari games symbol, a Mars map symbol, a reindeer, a Christmas tree ornament and others. The Atari symbol brings up five games including Asteroids and Missile Command. The reindeer has the car’s driver display show a Father Christmas and sleigh, and rings Christmas bells on the indicator stalk. There is also an “emissions testing” icon that brings a grin to every ten year old boy when a sub-menu of different farts comes up.

On The Outside Is:
The extended roof version of the Model S. Extended as in the Model S formed the basis for the Model X. A higher roof line houses the famous folding gull wing doors, and there’s another part of the delight. When the Christmas ornament is pressed from the easter egg list, it invites the passengers to exit, and close the doors. A few seconds later if it works, as it’s sometimes hit or miss, the front windows roll down, the superb sound system pumps up, and the exterior LED lights up front flash in synchronisation. The doors themselves open and flap in unison and it is one unbelievably entrancing sight to see.The rear view sees an embedded airfoil otherwise the same looking tail lights at Model S. The nose is slightly different but unmistakeably Model S. The footprint is huge, with fan shaped alloys painted in black spanning 22 inches in diameter. Rubber is Goodyear Eagle and are 285/35.

The doors are normally hinged at the front, gull winged for the rear, and the driver’s door can be set to open on the approach of a person carrying the Tesla key fob. Unlike the Model S the door handles don’t extend out from the body, and require a firm press on the handle or via the key fob individually. A tap or two on the top can open or close all doors.

On The Road It’s:
A mix of elation and mild levels of meh. The meh is the steering feel. Although there are three drive modes that change the weight of the steering, it feels artificial and isolated. That’s not unexpected in such a technologically oriented vehicle. But that’s the worst of the on-road feels.

The time with the Model X coincided with a trip from the Blue Mountains to Bega via Canberra. Door to door it’s just on 500 kilometres. The full charge range of the Model X is knocking on 480km. An app that can be installed into your smartphone shows, once the car is linked to your account, the range expected, and when charging, the charge rate and charge distance. The AMOUNT of charge can also be adjusted, from zero through to 100%, with 80% being the default.

All Tesla cars come with a charge cable to hook the car up to a home’s electric network and Tesla themselves provide a higher output charge station to their buyers. These charge at 7 to 8 kilometres of range per hour. The first stop was at the supercharger portal in Goulburn. That’s a two hour drive with a supercharger near Canberra airport approximately another hour away. Superchargers will add in somewhere between 350km to 400km of range in an hour according to the app.Cooma is the next supercharger stop, another hour or so from Canberra, and this one is in an off the main road and not entirely welcoming location. It’s a set of six in a carpark entrance for a shopping complex, and on our visit half of the supercharger bays were taken up by non electric cars. The drives gave us a chance to properly evaluate, in a real world, family usage situation, and although the range expectations were one thing, proper usage delivers another.

Cargo was two adults, two children, a small dog, and a few overnight bags. Then there is the weight of the car and the topography to consider. Autopilot and cruise control were engaged and a small point on the autopilot. The lever needs to be pulled toward the driver twice to engage, and the cameras strategically embedded around the car will then “read” the roadsides in order to keep the Model X as centred as possible. The autopilot function itself was in “Beta” testing mode and again accessed via the touchscreen.The biggest appeal of the the Model X, and Model S, for that matter, is the sheer driveability of the chassis and drivetrain. Electric motors deliver torque constantly, as per this and acceleration across any driving condition is stupendous. The “P” designation adds in “Ludicrous” mode, which amps up the “get up and go” even further. Engage the drive, and it’s a double pull to bring the car out of hibernation mode, and plant the foot. That mountain you could see on the horizon is suddenly there before you.

The braking system can be set for two energy harvest levels and on the ten kilometres worth of downhill running at Brown Mountain, some forty kilometres west of Bega, added an effective twenty kilometres of range. It’s the uphill runs that pull the range expectations downwards, and severely at that. The ever-growing network of destination chargers alleviate range anxiety and a visit to the beautiful coastal town of Merimbula found a destination charger at a bayside motel. The navigation system can provide locations of chargers and when a destination charger shows, a tap of the screen advises the usage, as in in this case, passing through holiday makers. A big thanks to the good people at the Albacore Apartments, by the way. There are two Tesla destination chargers and these add range at 75 to 80 kilometres per hour.

The return trip was via Cooma without stopping and heading to Canberra’s Madura Parkway charge stop. Handily located next to a major fast food store and a number of other shops, an hour’s break saw the Model X arrive back at its Blue Mountains lair with perhaps 70km worth of range left.

Actual ride quality is on the high side of decent considering the size of the wheels and low profile rubber. Ride height can be ajusted via the touchscreen but a high ride setting lowers the car back to its standard height once a preset speed is reached. The Model X is stiff but not bone-shakingly so, taut, but not uncomfortably so. It’s flat, exhibits minimal body roll, and is surprisingly compliant on unsettled and rough surfaces. And although the steering lacks “humanity” it also points the Model X exactly where the wheel tells it to. Naturally, brake feel is spot on too.

The Safety Systems Are:
A solid list of 360 degree cameras, parking sensors that measure in millimetres and show on the driver’s screen, distance sensing radar cruise control, AEB, overhead and knee airbags, plus the usual electronic driver aids. The cruise control can be set to one to seven seconds of distance between the Model X and the car ahead. It’s worth noting that the braking can be on the hard side so driver involvement is still required to watch the road ahead. The same goes with the autonomous steering. Hands on the tiller are recommended at all times.

And The Warranty Is:
Four years for the body and structure. The drive systems and battery get eight years. Extra information is here.

At The End Of The Drive.
The timing of the drive came just after the leader of the Australian Opposition party put forward a proposition that by 2030 fifty percent of cars to be made available for sale be electric. Naturally this sparked the conversation about costs, range, and the time taken to recharge versus refueling a petrol or diesel car.

There’s an undeniable time factor in regards to recharging. But there is a welcome upside. The Goulburn stop provided an opportunity to visit a street mall, the Cooma break a visit to a park with historic significance. The Merimbula stop provided a chance to sample the local lifestyle and the Canberra stop a welcome half way point, lunch, and a leg stretch. The Model X itself is not a tiring car to drive meaning driver fatigue is minimised.

Therein, as the saying goes, lies the rub. The return trip from Bega took as much time as a normal petrol/diesel powered trip, even allowing for the hour or so to recharge. The upside was the break allowing a safe, straight through, return drive and the lack of fatigue from driving a comfortable vehicle. The downside was the evidence that range expectations versus the real world have some way to go before the two meet with a lesser margin in between.

And yes, the cost is significant, especially with the extra Australian government charges involved. However there are plenty of cars that start at the same price and offer an extensive option list. And there is the fluctuating cost of fuel. Depending on location it is theoretically possible to not pay a cent in recharge costs with an electric car.

Tesla will be releasing a lower cost version, effectively, of the Model S, and a new, smaller, SUV called the Model Y is in development. With battery technology improving and the uptake of solar power and batteries for home usage also on the upswing, plus the promise of further electric cars as standard from makers, they all mean that for the Australian market our driving future is in for an undeniable change.

Model X information and more on the other cars from Tesla can be found here.

Traffic Sign Recognition: What Is It?

What’s one of the more common scenarios for picking up a speeding ticket besides simply being leadfooted?  Apart from accidentally letting the speedo creep up because you’re looking at the road ahead rather than at the dial (avoidable with cruise control, of course), the other time speeding tickets happen to nice well-behaved drivers who weren’t meaning to go too fast and wanted to keep to the limit is when you’re driving in an unfamiliar town or (even more annoyingly) a part of town that you knew but has recently been redeveloped.

You know how this one goes.  You’re toddling along through town and then you get to a bit that looks like the houses are coming to an end and you’re getting into more rural areas so you press the accelerator down a wee bit to get up to 70 km/h.  Or you know that there’s a town coming up ahead but it still looks like you’re in market garden and lifestyle block land so you keep your pace up a bit. but next thing you know, there’s disco lights in the rear view mirror and you’re getting a ticket. Because what you thought was now a 70 km/h area actually wasn’t one at all and you should have been doing 50 km/h.  Dagnabbit!

The problem in this situation is that you either didn’t see the sign or you thought that you’d gone past the sign without seeing it, and instead, you relied on the visual landscape cues around you to decide on your speed.  Traffic psychologists say that most experienced drivers rely on these visual stimuli all the time and if the Powers That Be could afford to do it, this would be the most effective way of making sure that the typical driver stuck to the speed limit (we’re not talking about those leadfoots that scream through quiet streets at 80 km/h, making you worry about every single dog, cat, cyclist and small child in the neighbourhood).  In fact, I’m sure I’m not the only person who drives through certain small towns at 50 km/h thinking “No way should this area be a 70 km/h zone!  Too many houses and shops!  I’m going slower.”

However, they can’t afford it and they probably need the revenue from those speeding tickets (we all know this happens) so they rely on the traffic signs – the lollypop signs, as we call them in our house.  What every driver needs is a navigator in the passenger seat whose job is to keep an eye out for said lollipops and remind the driver.  This is precisely what traffic sign recognition is supposed to do for you when you’re driving alone.  It keeps a lookout for those traffic signs and displays what the current speed limit is on the dashboard display.

When I first heard of traffic sign recognition technology, which is now a safety feature or driver aid in a lot of high-end luxury cars like Mercedes and BMW, I groaned a little bit.  Not because I didn’t like the idea of having a feature that let me know what speed I’m supposed to be going but because I had this dread that the technology would pick up on every single sign on the road ahead and display that.  Information overload isn’t good for decision-making processes so this sounded like more of a distraction than a help.  The cynical part of me also wondered when they’d monetize this so that certain ads or signs would pop up, notifying you of particular businesses ahead – the dreaded golden arches, for example.

However, I needn’t have worried.  The designers are all too aware that most modern roads are awash with signage, which is why it’s so easy to miss those lollipops in the first place.  The tech uses pattern recognition technology, so that it only picks up on actual traffic signs – the ones with the white backgrounds and a red circle around them, with the number displayed in black.  The software and the front-facing camera home in on these patterns and can recognise the numbers, and it’s this that gets displayed on your dash.  The software can also pick up useful signs like Give Way, Stop and No Entry – and warn you if you go ahead anyway!

The exact tech goes through a very complicated process to extract the necessary data at the right speed – my eyes started crossing while trying to wrap my head around it, so I won’t attempt a simple explanation here. If you’re the more nerdy sort, then here’s the low-down.

Traffic sign recognition (aka traffic sign assistance or TSA) is quite a handy little feature and it’s no longer found exclusively in high-end executive saloons.  It’s found in new versions of familiar little family cars like the Ford Focus.  In fact, there’s a rumour going about that this will become mandatory on all new cars sold in the EU from 2022 (2020 is just next year, so this is no longer the Big Benchmark and planners will lose their favourite pun about 2020 vision).

At this stage, at any rate, the vehicles are sticking to the basic signs rather than adding in all the safety warning signs.  This is partly because traffic signs around the world vary somewhat.  Software that recognises a Swedish polar bear warning sign would be useless in Australia, where we have kangaroo warning signs, for example.  What’s worse is that even signs that mean the same thing vary slightly from country to country.

But what happens if the sign in question is obscured by vegetation or has been shot out of recognition or knocked down by some hoodlum?  Well, the software can’t recognise what it can’t see, so once again, you’re back to your visual cues.  At least you can try arguing that the sign was obscured to the cop.  It sometimes works, especially if you did see the edge of the sign but couldn’t read it thanks to a tree.  If you’re unlucky, they’ll spend your speeding fine on clearing that vegetation or upgrading the sign.

 

Should You Buy Your Teen A Safe Car?

I recently came across a couple of articles that had been inspired by some research put out by the British Medical Journal’s Injury Prevention* .  This research looked at the type, size and style of cars driven by teenagers who were killed in car accidents over 2008–2012, and ended with a recommendation that “Parents should consider safety when choosing vehicles for their teenagers.”  Automotive bloggers seemed to break out with the advice that parents should buy cars for their teenagers that had absolutely every safety feature, active and passive, under the sun.

Now, I am the parent of teenagers and young adults, both of whom drive.  I know that heartwrenching feeling when you know that your beloved son or daughter is heading out solo onto the roads, where horrible things can happen.  I’ve also had two of those phone calls that begin “Hi Mum, I’m all right but the car…”  (In both these cases, the car in question was owned by the teenager in question.)  I would be the last person to be reckless and to advocate putting your teenager in a tinny little piece of aluminium. Nevertheless, I’ve got one or two issues with those articles that other automotive bloggers have put out.

First of all, let’s look at that assumption that the parents are going to buy the car for the teenager – and the best thing is that you buy them one of the latest models with all the gadgets.  My reaction to this was “What?”  I don’t know what circles you move in, but even among the more well-heeled of my friends and acquaintances, very few of them, if any, are going to go out and plonk down a sum with five digits for a brand new SUV that will have the teenager’s name on the ownership papers although Mum and Dad are the ones forking out.  Do people actually do that?

Society is seeing a few problems coming from young adults entering the workforce with the idea that they can get the latest, best and most expensive without having to work for it, also known as an entitlement mentality.  My teenagers won’t and didn’t get something expensive of their very own without having to work for it and pay for it.  This was my first issue with a lot of those other articles out there.

Buying a car for the family that’s a new one and that’s got the right safety features, that’s another story, however.  I know that in our family, we did indeed go and purchase a big 4×4 with good safety features that our teenagers could learn to drive on.  However, the purchase of this car came with a little speech that stressed the following points:

  • The car in question is ours, not the teenagers’.
  • Use of the car is a privilege, not a right.
  • With privilege comes responsibility, such as keeping to the conditions of your provisional licence and paying for your own fuel.

Other families might like to add other things to this speech if following this course of action, such as expectations regarding running errands. You don’t want your teenager to turn out a spoilt brat who expects everything to be handed to him/her on a plate, so this sort of set-up is necessary.  Even if you are paying for the car for your teenager or young adult, they should contribute in some way so that they understand the value of that vehicle and treat it with respect (especially in the matter of things like servicing, changing the oil, etc.).

There will, of course, come the time when your teenager or young adult wants a car of their very own with their names on the papers.  Exactly what happens here will depend on your individual family and your circumstances.  Some parents buy the new car for their teen or young adult outright – usually something second-hand.  Others provide the funds for said car from the First National Bank of Mum and Dad with no interest.  Others leave their teen or young adult to make his or her own way, which is what my parents did.  I used bike, foot and public transport all through my tertiary education years, then once I was out in the big wide world of work, I took care of my own transportation needs.

If your teen or young adult (there really needs to be a word for your sons and daughters when they reach this stage of life – let’s refer to them as “young drivers”) is buying his or her own vehicle, it is very likely that this will not be one of the newest vehicles on the market for the simple reason that on the salary that one gets when leaving home and entering the workforce isn’t going to be enough to handle the repayments.  This leads to my second problem with those articles that recommend that parents buy a car with all the active and passive safety gear for their teenagers.

You see, during the early years of driving, you’re developing habits that might stick with you for life or at least a very long time.  If your car has blind spot monitoring, your young driver might get a bit slack about doing a head-check to make sure nothing’s in the blind spot.  If the car has front and rear parking sensors or cameras, your young driver might rely on these completely for parallel parking and not know how to do this manoeuvre relying on just the mirrors (double this in the case of parking assistance).  If your young driver learns how to drive on a car that “does it all for you”, then what’s going to happen when he or she purchases their own vehicle that doesn’t have said features?  Your young driver won’t know how to drive without all the aids, and that really is an accident waiting for happen and, in the long run, is more of a hazard.

So what’s a concerned parent to do?  How do you help your young driver not only stay safe but also learn how to be a good and skilful driver?

Let’s take a look at the original research again.  This research found that the majority of teenagers in question who were fatally injured were driving smaller cars – little hatchbacks.  Now, let’s face some facts: firstly, younger drivers are more likely to crash than older, more experienced ones (that’s biology and psychology); second, in a collision, a smaller car is going to come off worse than a larger one (that’s physics).  Straight away, this lets you know that if you’re helping your young driver choose a car in any way, from buying it outright to merely offering advice, then steering your teenager towards a larger vehicle such as an SUV, ute or stationwagon is a safer option.  There are the issues of fuel costs to consider, but there are some frugal SUVs out there.

The other thing that the research article found was that the teenagers who were killed on the roads tended to be driving vehicles that didn’t have certain features: ESC (stability control), airbags (especially side airbags) and side impact protection.  No mention of blind spot monitoring, cameras, autonomous braking or lane keeping assistance.  Just basic safety features that you’ll find in most vehicles from before 2006.  Even marques that aim for straightforward simplicity such as Great Wall  have these.

And that’s a relief in several ways.  It’s good to know that it’s not that hard to ensure that your young driver is behind the wheel of something safe – something safe comes in the form of a vehicle that’s sizeable and has basic safety features such as ESC, side impact protection and airbags.  And it’s really not hard to find a vehicle like this.  It’s also good to know that putting your young driver into a safe vehicle doesn’t end up producing long-term problems with drivers who haven’t learned how to drive without assistance but who own cars that don’t provide that assistance.

Of course, if you are not quite in the “parents of teenagers” stage but the years of having a learner driver in the family are looming, then maybe it’s time that you looked at your family vehicle and possibly upgraded to a nice new car (that will have your name on it!) so that you’re ready for those years.

 

*McCartt AT, Teoh ER. Type, size and age of vehicles driven by teenage drivers killed in crashes during 2008–2012. Injury Prevention 2015;21:133–136.

In Praise Of Old-School Windows

I’d find myself rather pushed to find a car that’s new onto the market that doesn’t have fast glass or automatic windows or whatever else you want to call them. You know the ones: the ones that have a little button, one on each door for the appropriate window, which gets pushed one way to make the window go up and the other way to make the window go down.  There’s usually an array of similar buttons on the door of the driver’s seat, which controls all of the windows in one handy place.  And if you push the button in the right way, it whizzes all the way up or down in one go.

If you remember electric windows when they first came out, they were very, very cool.  The early types, however, had some snags, especially if you had small bored children (or slightly older bored children) in the back seat. If you weren’t careful, small children could operate the buttons and put the windows down all the way, letting freezing cold blasts of air into the cabin of the car and allowing the possibility of precious objects being dangled outside of the window and eventually dropped, requiring sudden halts and U-turns to retrieve Teddy after Teddy had had a flying lesson.  The other snag was that small fingers could get pinched very easily as the window closed.  Not so small fingers could get pinched as well.  This happened to me and gave me a very painful insight into what the Medieval torture device known as the thumbscrew felt like.  Had a black thumbnail that couldn’t be covered properly by polish for at least a week.

These problems were overcome by a few simple tweaks.  The problem of small children opening windows was overcome by the driver’s side override button that shut off the other buttons, meaning that Mum or Dad was the one who controlled the level of the rear windows.  The other important development was the introduction of a pinch-sensitive mechanism that detected if something was stopping the window going all the way up and wouldn’t keep trying to squeeze all the way home.  These stopped fingers getting pinched but this mechanism is no good at all for long hair that’s been blowing in the wind or for silk scarves.  Believe me, suddenly discovering that your hair is trapped in the closed window when you try turning your head is pretty painful, though not quite in the league of the old thumbscrews without pinch sensitivity.

So all’s well, right?  Modern automatic windows are safe and convenient, aren’t they?  So why am I hankering for the old-school windows that wound down with a handle?

The first thing that I miss about them is their precision.  You see, when you had to wind it up or down manually, you could stop at the precise point where you wanted.  OK, this was a pain when you wanted to go all the way from fully up to fully down – which is what fast glass is good at doing – but there are times when you just want a little bit of window open.  Getting it exactly right so that you can let a bit of ventilation into the car while you nip into the supermarket but without offering an invitation to sneak thieves was pretty easy with manual windows but it can get frustrating with fast glass.  You poke the button and it moves down to about three centimetres from where you want it, then you poke the button again and the window flies all the way down to the bottom.  Then the reverse happens when you try to ease the window up again to stop at the right place.  It probably takes a couple of goes until you get it right.  Similar things happen when you want to do things like let enough fresh air in but not so much that a gale buffets the people in the back seat or you can’t hear what the other people in the car are saying.  This really makes me wonder if it’s really worth having a mechanism that goes from top to bottom in one hit after all.

Next comes the fact that automatic windows work by electricity, not by magic. This means that in order to make the windows up or down, the key needs to be in the ignition so the car knows that it’s all systems go.  If you are in a parked car and want to put the windows down to stop them fogging up (oh, put that dirty imagination away – I’m talking about waiting in the car while your kids are at football practice on a freezing cold day) then you have to switch everything on to do this.  It gets even more annoying when you find that you’ve left the back window wide open and you’ve just locked the door. OK, even with old-school cars, you had to unlock the door (which you could do by reaching through said window if there wasn’t any central locking) and wind up the window but now you have to unlock, put the key back into the ignition and then put the windows up.  Then as soon as you’ve dealt with that and locked back up again, you realise that there’s another window open…

The driver’s window lock switch can also be a nuisance at times.  They are wonderful things when your children are small because you don’t want Teddy to have flying lessons, the interior to receive an Antarctic blast and the mechanism to be worn out as the windows go up and down and up and down during a traffic jam.  However, if your rear passengers are teens or adults, the window lock is a pain.  Uncle Alfie in the back seat has just let off after a meal of cabbage and pickled onions, and by the time Uncle has tried to surreptitiously let the fart out of the cabin, discovered that the window mechanism is locked and asked “Excuse me, can you open my window?  I just farted,” it’s too late and the car cabin will smell of Eau De Uncle Alfie’s Fart for the next hour.  It’s kind of like leaving the kiddie locks on the doors and is rather insulting to the adult passenger in question.

The other thing that really makes me hanker for old-school windows is when I drive along roads that have a sharp drop-off into water or deep water below a bridge.  You see, if your car goes into deep water, you only have a very, very small window of time to open the windows before water hits the electrics and the fast glass won’t budge.  In this case, you have to try breaking the window, which is easier said than done, as car windows are tougher than, say, your windows at home.  The windscreen is especially tough, so don’t even try this.  (They say that the edges of the window are easiest to break and that at a pinch, you can use the metal spikes of a removable headrest to do this).  Manually operated windows keep on winding in water, so breaking the glass isn’t necessary.  I’m getting the heebie-jeebies just thinking about this, as having the car going into deep water is one of my worst nightmares.  Just so you know (and to remind myself), here’s what to do if it happens to you:

Lastly, if you or someone in your family is into doing their own car repairs whenever possible, it’s a darn sight easier to repair a manual window mechanism, as this is a screwdriver-type job.  With an automatic window, you’ll need to know something about electrics and wiring things up, which most of us don’t, so it’s down to the local mechanic you go!

Besides, what on earth do younger people who have seldom seen manual windows do if they want to mime opening a car window during a game of charades or when playing theatre sports?

Safe and happy driving, especially near deep water!

AEB. What Is Autonomous Emergency Braking?

A recent announcement that says Australia has signed off to have all vehicle brought to the country fitted with Autonomous Emergency Braking has some far reaching implications for how people drive and the potential for lives to be saved. But what exactly is AEB?

Autonomous: the system acts independently of the driver to avoid or mitigate the accident.
Emergency: the system will intervene only in a critical situation.
Braking: the system tries to avoid the accident by applying the brakes.

Most AEB systems use radar, a pair of cameras and/or lidar-based technology to identify potential collision partners ahead of the car. This information is combined with what the car knows of its own travel speed thanks to internal sensors and direction of travel to determine whether or not a critical or potentially dangerous situation is developing. If a potential collision is detected, AEB systems generally, though not exclusively, first try to avoid the impact by warning the driver that action is needed.

This could be in the form of a visual warning such as dashboard mounted flashing lights, or physical warnings. If no action is taken and a collision is still expected, the system will then apply the brakes. Some systems apply full braking force, others may be more subtle in application. Either way, the intention is to reduce the speed with which the potential collision takes place. Some systems deactivate as soon as they detect avoidance action being taken by the driver. However, some vehicles provide false positives, where the system reads an object not in the path of the vehicle as a collision potential.

But wait, there’s more. Most early systems were configured to warn of larger objects such as cars. Developments have seen these being finessed into providing pedestrian warning as well, a boon considering the semeing rise of those under the thrall of smartphones and screen time as they walk blithely unaware into the path of oncoming traffic.

The aforementioned agreement now means that it won’t be just passenger vehicles such as a sedan or wagon being fitted with AEB, it means that SUVs and vehicles such as 4WD capable utility vehicles must also receive the upgrade. ANCAP and Euro NCAP found in 2015 that the inclusion of AEB led to a 38 per cent reduction in rear-end crashes at low speed. That will change under UN requirements which set strict minimum standards requiring vehicles to be able to take action from speeds up to 60km/h, and come to complete stop when traveling at 30km/h or less. Therefore the expectation is that the percentage will increase. However the technology will not stop one crucial part of the driving equation occuring: the idiot that believes road rules don’t apply to them.

It’s School Time!

By now, all the schools around the country have re-started for the year, which means that a lot of us will have gone back to Mum’s Taxi and Dad’s Taxi duties again.  For some of you, your teenager has finally got their provisional license and can drive him/herself to school.

This means that there are going to be a lot more cars buzzing around schools, especially at the start and end of the school day.  Depending on where you live and what your school does, there may be school buses and shuttles involved as well.  In short, there’s a ton of traffic in a small area, and vehicle traffic isn’t the only sort around, as there will also be kids on bikes, kids on scooters and lots of kids walking.  In some cases, especially in rural and small-town schools, you can see other forms of transport being used – farm tractors, for example.

Nobody wants to make the news by being involved in a horrible accident involving school kids, so it’s probably about time that we thought about a few things we can do to make sure that our kids are safe as they go to and from school.

As a quick aside here, this is another area where autonomous cars are a real no-go.  Autonomous cars work by predicting what ought to happen or what is likely to happen.  Unfortunately, small children can be pretty unpredictable, especially when they’re all excited as they get out of school, and their erratic behaviour hasn’t been programmed into the control centre of an autonomous car.  So I’m thankful that the typical Aussie Mum and Dad still drive cars the old-school way!

First of all, although the designated school zones – the ones marked with flashy lights, road markings and signs – are the real hot spots, the activity around schools during the pick-up and drop-off times spreads further afield, so don’t just keep alert for kids in the actual areas. The precautions apply for at least a block further than that during busy times.

There are three general guiding principles that will help you negotiate this part of the school run safely:

  1. Slow down.
  2. Expect the unexpected.
  3. Don’t get in other people’s way.

Slowing Down

Slowing down to 40 km/h is the law in designated school zones, and failing to do so will (at least in New South Wales) get you double demerit points if the cops catch you at it.  The reason for this is simple: if you’re going slowly, you have more time to react and more time to stop when little Bella decides to rush across the road yelling “Mummy!  Mummy!  Guess what happened at school today!” or when the family dog who came along for the ride whizzes out of the car when little Charlie is putting his schoolbag in the boot.  What’s more, if the worst comes to the worst and an accident happens, lower speeds mean less damage.

I know we’ve discussed speed limits and whether or not speed is what kills in other posts, but nobody in their right mind should want to go at screaming high speeds around a school, even if their car is capable of it.  This is one place where the speed limits really do apply.  In fact, around the busy schools in my area, I’d actually prefer to go even slower than the 40 km/h limit during the active hours.  (The open road is another story.)

Expecting The Unexpected

Kids aren’t adults.  They are immature.  They are impulsive.  They are still learning that the world does not revolve around them (and some people seem to never learn this lesson!).  Some of them have been sitting down in school for the whole day and have serious ants in their pants.  This means that they can do some weird things and they can move quite fast.  We can drum the road safety message into them as much as possible, but there will be those moments when they forget it all and rush out into the road, or they’ll be so busy talking to friends that they don’t stop, look and listen.  This means that you, as the adult who’s got a driver’s license to prove that you’re responsible, have to be the one on high alert, ready for anything.  This means no phones, not even hands-free ones.  It probably means switch the radio off and get rid of anything else that could distract you.

You may need to be extra careful if your car is an electric vehicle or a hybrid (which will be using the electric motor at school zone speeds).  This is because a lot of EVs and hybrids are quieter than petrol and diesel engines, even if they have that little noise (which some older hybrids don’t have).  This means that the Listen part of the old Stop, Look and Listen is a bit harder.  Even adults can have near misses (that’s me with my hand up here) if they’ve looked one way, looked the other, thought it was clear and didn’t hear the oncoming hybrid/EV and started stepping out.

The flip side of this is that if you’re a parent, you should take a few steps to minimise the risk of your child running across the road.  This usually means parking on the same side of the road as the school, which is what the official advice says.  However, if everybody parks on the same side of the road as the school, the trail of parked cars will stretch well beyond the designated zone.  This might mean that your child will have to cross a road to get to where you’re parked.  It’s best if you get out of the car and walk to the school gate to collect Bella and Charlie (and the rest of the kids if you’re part of a carpool scheme).

You also need to make sure that you’re not the person doing unexpected things.  This means no U-turns, no sudden manoeuvres, no three-point turns, etc.  Plan your route so these aren’t necessary – and go around the block instead of doing U-turns, etc.  The only sudden manoeuvre you’re allowed to make is hitting the brakes if you see a child about to go where they shouldn’t.

Staying Out Of The Way

You can see some people doing silly things around schools, and I’m not talking about the children this time.  Yes, I know that you’re in a hurry.  I know that you think your child is amazing and you love him/her to bits.  I know that you’ve got to scream across town for soccer practice.  However, there is no excuse for parking in the school bus zone, double-parking or parking really, really close to the school crossing point.  It’s absolute chaos when every single Parent’s Taxi tries to park as close to the school gate as legally possible.

Congestion near schools during the busy times is a bit of a problem that councils and schools are trying hard to address because it can be chaos and an accident waiting to happen.  My preference (at least when my kids were still at school and didn’t drive themselves) was to park a bit further away, then walk that extra block or so.  After all, it won’t hurt you or your kids to walk a little!

In the case of picking up kids from secondary schools, you may have to park even further away, as a lot of the close parking spots are taken by the P-platers who drive themselves to school.  High school kids, however, are usually a bit more streetwise and are less likely to suddenly rush into the road without looking, although there are times when they’ve got their earbuds in or when they’re madly catching up on social media…

I’d also strongly argue for other initiatives as well as a way of reducing congestion around schools.  Setting up a carpool scheme with other parents who live near you is a popular option and it means that instead of four cars arriving with one child each, you get one car with four kids.  Walking school buses and “Kiss and Ride” drop-off spots are other options.  Of course, if you live within 2 km of the school, then walking to and from the school is an option (and it’s free!).  You’ll need to walk with your child until he/she is old enough to have the street smarts to do it solo – and this is usually the age when they are embarrassed to be seen with parents, so that works out well.

If you haven’t got school aged children and you’re not doing the Parent’s Taxi run, then it’s best to plan your journey so that you don’t have to drive near a school during the busy hours.  Go another way if you have to or make that trip at another time.

If we all do our bit, then our kids will stay safe as they go to and from school.

Self Driving Cars Set To Map The Path Says JLR

Jaguar Land Rover has partnered with an autonomous vehicle development company to develop a system that projects the direction of travel onto the road ahead of self-driving vehicles which will other road users what it is going to do next.The intelligent technology beams a series of projections onto the road to show the future intentions of the vehicle. One example is when it’s about to stop, another is a change of direction, and it’s all part of research into how people can develop their trust in autonomous technology. In the future the projections could even be used to share obstacle detection and journey updates with pedestrians.Aurrigo, a company specialising in developing autonomous vehicles, has developed autonomous pods, and the projections feature a series of lines or bars with adjustable spacing. The gaps shorten as the pod is preparing to brake before fully compressing at a stop. As the pod moves off and accelerates, the spacing between the lines extends. Upon approaching a turn, the bars fan out left or right to indicate the direction of travel.

Jaguar Land Rover’s Future Mobility division set up trials with a team of advanced engineers that were supported by cognitive psychologists, after studies showed 41 percent of drivers and pedestrians are worried about sharing the road with autonomous vehicles.Engineers recorded trust levels reported by pedestrians after seeing the projections and before. The innovative system was tested on a fabricated street scene at a Coventry facility.

The trust trial programme – which also included fitting of ‘virtual eyes’ to the intelligent pods in 2018 to see if making eye contact improved trust in the technology – was conducted as part of Jaguar Land Rover’s government-supported UK Autodrive project.

“The trials are about understanding how much information a self-driving vehicle should share with a pedestrian to gain their trust. Just like any new technology, humans have to learn to trust it, and when it comes to autonomous vehicles, pedestrians must have confidence they can cross the road safely. This pioneering research is forming the basis of ongoing development into how self-driving cars will interact with people in the future.” said Pete Bennett, the Future Mobility Research Manager at Jaguar Land Rover.

Safety remains the priority as Jaguar Land Rover, investing in self-driving technology, aims to become automotive leaders in autonomous, connected, electric and shared mobility. The trial is aligned with the brand’s long-term strategic goals: to make cars safer, free up people’s valuable time, and improve mobility for everyone.This commitment extends to Jaguar Land Rover’s current models with a suite of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems including Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Assist and Intelligent Speed Limiter available across its range of vehicles, including the Jaguar F-PACE and Range Rover Velar.

(With thanks to JLR and Aurrigo).

A.N.C.A.P.

All new vehicles sold in Australia and surrounding areas MUST undergo testing to determine, in a level of stars up to five, how safe that car is. The higher the number and, ostensibly, the safer the car. The Australasian New Car Assessment Program is what is used and it’s a substantial overview of what makes a car tick the boxes safety wise.

From January 1 of 2018, ANCAP changed the parameters in what they were looking for in categories. There are four key areas: Adult Occupant Protection, Child Occupant Protection, Vulnerable Road User Protection, and Safety Assist.

First up is Adult Occupant Protection. ANCAP looks at the kind of protection, the kind of safety, offered to the most likely passengers in the front and second row seats of a car. They look at offset impacts, side impacts, whiplash injuries for front and second row, Autonomous Emergency Braking in a city setting, and rate the categories appropriately. Full width and frontal offset are the highest for adults, with a score of 8 being applied along with 8 for Side Impact and Pole (oblique). That last one is not uncommon, as it’s been found that drivers looking at an object in a crash situation have a higher tendency to impact that object.To achieve a five star rating for Adult Occupant Protection, the areas must achieve a total of 80% of the possible maximum score of 38. 80% is also the minimum requirement for the Child Occupant Protection, which has a maximum score of 49. There are just four margins here, Dynamic (Front) at 16 points, Dynamic (Side) with 8, 12 points for Child Restraint Installation, and 13 for On Board Features.

On the star rating, Adult Occupant and Child Occupant both have 80% to reach five stars. 70% is four stars, 60% for three stars, 50% for two stars, and 40% for just one star. Vulnerable Road User Protection and Safety Assist have 60% and 70% respectively.Vulnerable Road User Protection takes a look at Head Impact (24 points), with 6 points apiece for Upper Leg Impact, Lower Leg Impact, pedestrian related AEB (Autonomous Emergency Braking) and cyclist related AEB. The specifications here are about looking at frontal designs of vehicles; will it mitigate injury to a pedestrian and/or cyclist, and will it overall mitigate or avoid impact with pedestrians and/or cyclists?

The final sector, Safety Assist, measures the amount of safety features (the presence factor) and effectiveness of those systems. The current maximum score is 13, with 2020 moving that to 16. Speed Assistance Systems are rated to 3 points, Seat Belt reminders also rate as 3, and Lane Support Systems as 4. AEB in an inter-urban environment is current 3, with that increasing to 4 in 2020. A new category, Junction Assist, with two points, comes in next year.

A.N.C.A.P. themselves says:

In the real-world…

AEB systems use camera, radar and/or lidar technology to detect the speed and distance of objects in the vehicle’s path and automatically brake if the driver does not respond in order to avoid or minimise the severity of a crash.

At our test centre…

Over 100 different AEB test scenarios form part of our assessment with a vehicle’s ability to autonomously brake at lower city speeds (AEB City); at faster highway speeds (AEB Interurban); at stationery vehicle targets; at moving targets; and at braking targets all taken into consideration. Vulnerable road users are also considered, with collision avoidance testing undertaken to encourage and determine the effectiveness of more sophisticated AEB systems, detecting and preventing or minimising collisions with pedestrians and cyclists (AEB VRU) – at daytime and at night.

Autonomous emergencybraking diagram

Scores achieved in each physical and performance test feed into the respective area of assessment. The overall star rating of a vehicle is limited by its lowest performing area of assessment.

(With thanks to A.N.C.A.P.)

 

 

 

Best In Class: Euro NCAP Releases The Safest Cars In Each Class For 2018

It’s that time of year when a lot of us are making like Chris Rea (driving home for Christmas) and thinking about the year that’s been.  The boys and girls in blue are also starting to ramp up the usual Christmas and New Year clampdown on drunk driving (fair enough) and speeding (sometimes getting a bit too picky). News announcers are going to dampen our festive mood by letting us know what the holiday road toll is for this year.  In keeping with this combination of wrapping up 2018 and keeping our minds on safety in a way that isn’t quite such a buzzkill, let’s take a look at the stars that Euro NCAP rated as being the safest new cars in each class for 2018.

Euro NCAP puts out its list of Best in Class vehicles (sounds like a dog show).  This list shows you who came out top out of the new vehicles in each vehicle class for that year.  It’s based on a bunch of different aspects of safety: protection of adult occupants, protection of child occupants, pedestrian safety and safety assistance.  These four factors have different weightings when they’re added together to get the final score.  Tests are carried out on the vehicles with standard safety equipment.

Some categories of vehicle don’t have a Best in Class for the year.  This happens when Euro NCAP hasn’t tested enough in that particular category to really make it a contest.  They only tested one in the Fleet category and none in the Vans category this year, for example.

And now (drum roll), here’s the winners for 2018:

Large Off-Road Vehicle: Hyundai Nexo

This one’s not currently available in Australia but it should come in a limited edition in 2019, according to Hyundai Australia.  This 5-door SUV (which isn’t exactly a big brute but was classed as a large off-roader by Euro NCAP) used hydrogen fuel cell technology plus electric, making it a hybrid among hybrids.  Looks pretty nice, too, so it’s going to be worth the wait! It scored 94% for Adult Occupant, 87% for Child Occupant, 97% for Pedestrian and 80% for Safety Assistance.

Large Family Car: Lexus ES

Euro NCAP is talking about a large car for families, not a car for large families, and this luxury hybrid sedan will certainly carry your family in style.  It got a score of 91% for Adult Occupant, 87% for Child Occupant, 90% for Pedestrian and 77% for Safety Assistance.

Small Family Car: Mercedes-Benz A-Class

This snappy little 5-door hatch scored 96% for Adult Occupant, 91% for Child Occupant, 92% for Pedestrian and 75% for Safety Assistance.  Its automatic brake assistance scooped it a whopping 11.8 out of a possible 12 in the safety features category.

Euro NCAP also has a separate class for electric and hybrid vehicles.  This year, the Best in Class in this category was the Lexus ES.  Something tells me that as Europe phases out straight ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles and brings in more and more hybrids and EVs, this category is going to be scrapped, as they’re all going to fit into it.

According to the official Euro NCAP press release, this year, the safety tests had a particular focus on “vulnerable road users”, namely pedestrians and cyclists.  And yes, they use crash test dummy pedestrians and cyclists for these tests, especially for the AEB (automatic emergency braking) systems.  (Can some bright psychologist tell me why the walking pedestrian dummies they use in the AEB tests always make me want to laugh?).

Here’s the A-Class going through its paces at the Euro NCAP facility so you can see exactly what they do to these cars.  Part of me thinks that these tests waste a nice car but then, to ensure great safety, you need to make some sacrifices, and it’s better to waste a machine than a human being.

Euro NCAP also puts out lists of the top vehicles in each of the categories.  Not all of the ones listed in these rankings are available in Australia yet, but we’ll certainly let you know all about them when they get here.  Here’s the ranking for family vehicles (i.e. small and large family vehicles and MPVS), ranked by overall score:

  1. Mercedes-Benz A-Class
  2. Lexus ES
  3. Audi Q3
  4. Volvo S60
  5. Volvo V60
  6. Peugeot 508
  7. Mazda 6
  8. Nissan LEAF
  9. Ford Focus
  10. Ford Tourneo Connect
  11. Opel Combo
  12. Citroën Berlingo
  13. Peugeot Rifter

Safe and happy driving not only over the Christmas and New Year period but also all through 2019, whether you score yourself one of these super-safe new cars or whether you prefer something else.