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Safety

A Danger In Safety.

Evolution is a part of our lives and nowhere more evident than in the growth and change to the humble horseless carriage. From an open cabin with a tiny horsepower or two, to nimble sports cars and big four wheel drives, there’s been plenty of changes to witness.

Steam power came and went, electricity is back in vogue, and the fuel we use is still dinosaur based but fed to the engine under pressure, not sucked in by the sweep of a crankshaft.

We’ve seen the development of disc brakes, improvements in chassis design, changes to the structure of the glass in the windows. Parking sensors, rear view pointing cameras, even the pedals in the driver’s footwell can be directed away from the feet, and then there are bonnets that pop up to help minimise impact on a pedestrian busy looking at something in their hand that has roots in a 1960s sci-fi show.

Lighting technology has changed too. Candles in a lantern being waved by someone walking in front of a slow moving horseless carriage have given way to halogen gas filled lamps. They have, in turn, given way to three letters that mean little to the greater populace. LED or Light Emitting Diode tech gives us a brighter, whiter, purer light, and can be seen in any colour of the spectrum.

This technology is now evolving our headlights and what is called DRL, or Daytime Running Light. But it’s here that the safety factor becomes dangerous.

In all cars is a switch, be it mounted on a stalk coming from the steering column, or a dial near the driver’s knee. This switch activates the headlights fitted to the vehicle. But not all vehicles are equal. Some have the letters “Auto”, some do not. Those with Auto do tend to have the option of Off.

Why is this crucial? Simple. Auto means the headlights will light by themselves once a sensor determines light levels have fallen far enough to make seeing forward clearly difficult. Those that do not have Auto are left to the vagaries of humanity and therefore what they deem to be dark enough to activate the lights.But it’s also here that LED technology, along with the DRL situation, that raises the danger level. Let’s take the example of a vehicle with a strip of LED DRLs above each headlight and also has globe lit driving lights in the bottom left and right corner of the front bumper.

Invariably these cars either do not have an Auto headlight function OR they have a driver that is ignorant of one small but vitally important fact. The D in DRL means DAYTIME. They’re not intended to be used as a headlight substitute. Therefore their penetration and forward spread is nowhere near that of the headlights designed and fitted. Some cars also don’t light the tail lights even when Auto is on.

What this means is the driver sees something of the road ahead but drivers behind may not clearly see the vehicle in front. This then means that safety is compromised and drivers are putting themselves and others at extra risk. So a combination of believing that LED technology in the DRLs and providing the option of Off when cars have Auto headlights is a dangerous safety measure.

How Not To Use Your Phone In Your Car

Don’t stop reading and decide that this post isn’t relevant to you because you’re not one of those social media-obsessed millennials. The fact is that it’s not just teens and twenty-year-olds that get distracted by that beeping phone when they ought to be concentrating on their driving.  The problem seems to be common to all age groups. In the US (and possibly also here in Australia), it’s busy middle-aged people who are the most likely to be busted using their phones illegally while driving.

You’re going to have to break yourself of that habit of just taking a quick look at your phone to see what it’s notifying you about.  You know that it’s not safe and you know that the potential consequences go way beyond just getting busted and slapped with a fine.  To help you kick the habit, here’s a few things you could try to help you get out of the habit of checking texts, posts and calls while you’re driving.

(1) Analyse your excuses. Ask yourself why you feel that (a) you need to take a look at your phone right now and (b) why the law (yes, the law) about not looking at your phone when you’re driving applies to you.  Perhaps some of these sound familiar…

  • It could be important/urgent.
  • I’m a good/experienced driver and I know what I’m doing, not like those teenagers who are always on their phones.
  • The road’s not that busy right now.
  • I could miss out on bagging that new client/job/contract.
  • I’m only taking a quick look to see who it’s from.
  • I was at a red light so it’s OK.
  • I was just looking at the time.
  • I’m just looking at a photo.
  • I’m just taking a photo.
  • I’m perfectly capable of multitasking.
  • I’m trying to identify the song on the radio with the Shazam app.
  • I can text without looking at the keys/screen.

The cops have heard them all before…

Honestly, there isn’t a text, post or call that isn’t so urgent that it can’t wait 10 seconds while you find a place to pull over safely.  Yes, even that call that you need to make to secure that business deal – and if you were in the middle of a conversation that important, you shouldn’t have got behind the wheel in the first place.  The same goes for the text or call to the family or the boss to say that you’re running late – a few seconds later won’t make that much difference to them or you, but an accident while driving distracted will make a huge difference.

(2) Go cold turkey. As part of your pre-driving routine (closing the door, adjusting your seat if needed, putting on your seatbelt, starting the engine), either switch your phone off or put it in the back seat on the passenger side where you can’t reach it. Then you’ll either not know that you’re being notified or you’ll hear the beep but not be able to do anything about it until you can stop and reach the phone.  In the case of being able to hear the notification, you will probably find that the urge to respond instantly will pass after a few seconds, or at least a few minutes.

(3) Get an app. There are quite a few apps on the market that will autorespond for you if someone tries texting or calling while you’re driving. OK, you have to activate the app but this can easily become part of your pre-driving routine.  These apps might be marketed at teens and the parents of teens, but they work for everybody, just like the laws of the land and the laws of physics.

(4) Mute it. If you can’t hear the notification, you won’t be tempted to respond when you shouldn’t.  So mute your phone and don’t even have it on vibrate.

(5) Go offline. An awful lot of beeps and pings your phone makes are notifications from social media and emails.  The trouble with quite a few phones (at least it’s the case with mine) is that the notification for a text is the same as a notification for an email or an update.  Avoid quite a lot of temptations by going offline.

(6) Send a text before you drive.  Most of the texts and calls you receive are likely to be from your most important five contacts (probably family members, best friends and immediate work contacts).  Send them a group text telling them that you’re about to start driving (and maybe about how long you’ll be on the road) and they probably won’t send you anything for that period.  Again, this will dramatically cut down on the notifications tempting you.

(7) Enlist a passenger.  It’s kind of like the years B.C. (Before Cellphones) when the person in the front passenger seat had the job of reading the map for the driver. In this case, the front passenger becomes the official communications officer who will check the phone for you and tell you who it’s from, then (if necessary) opening the message and reading it out, and maybe typing out the reply you dictate.  Checking the identity of the sender before opening the message is a smart move if you and your significant other are in the habit of sending each other raunchy texts so your 10-year-old or your co-worker doesn’t suddenly end up being on the receiving end of way too much information.

Come on now – no more excuses!  Which of these steps are you going to try?

2019 Kia Sorento GT-Line Petrol.

The Kia Sorento has been given a freshen up for 2019, like most of the Kia range. The changes are subtle but effective, with enhancements inside and out. I drove the 3.5L petrol drinking V6 Kia Sorento GT-Line trim, with an eight speed auto and seven seats. It’s priced at $55,490 (RRP) and came in the optional Aurora Black metallic, an extra $595.00. Peak power from the free spinning V6 is 206kW. You’ll need to drive like an F1 driver in training to use it though, as it’s on tap at 6300rpm. More sensible is the torque. There’s 336 of them but again at a high rev point, 5000rpm.

Fuel economy has been vastly improved, even though the engine is a 3.5L, up from the previously used 3.3L. The addition of a slick eight speeder helps as we finished on 8.7L/100km. What’s truly astounding is that the big car (1932kg before fuel and passengers) was driven in a predominantly urban drive loop, reflecting its intended usage. Kia quotes 14.2L/100km from the 71L tank in a urban drive and 10.0L/100km on the combined cycle.

The engine and drive-train are a well suited combination. The throttle response is instant, there’s a genuinely angry rasp from the V6 when driven hard, and the auto is 90% on song. The final two cogs, when driven at state legal urban speeds, seem unsure as to whether they were wanted or not. There’d be no real change in the engine revs however the transmission would drop or gain a gear. Smoothly, yes, but being indecisive is not a driver’s best perception for automatics.

The Sorento was also taken into an environment it normally wouldn’t see. On the mid western fringes of the Blue Mountains is Australia’s own grand canyon. There’s some great gravel roads on which to drive and the Sorento was given its head on a few of them. There’s no full time AWD system, rather a clever torque split on demand for the diesel and front wheel drive only in the petrol. There’s four drive modes to complement this too: Eco, Sports, Smart, and Comfort. Bearing mind it’s an urban warrior, the Sorento surprised with its gravel road manners.

Handling was composed, rarely skittish, and only really exhibited nervousness on some of the more broken and rutted tracks. The ABS system worked a treat on some mid-slope downhill runs, with a balanced and measured feel to the pedal itself. The steering’s weight was spot on for the light off-road style of driving, and the Comfort drive mode turned out to be the best choice for the required driving style. The Sorento is easy to drive from the throttle; back off into turns and the nose will run slightly wide, but a feather touch puts power to the front and tightens up the steering.

Tarmac driving is, naturally, the strong part of the Sorento’s presentation. It’s nippy, belying the weight it has. Although a good 4800mm in length, and packing a 2780mm wheelbase, the Sorento wraps around like a well worn glove, with only inexperienced drivers likely to feel it’s a big ‘un. There’s some serious mumbo from the V6, even with peak torque so high up the ladder rev wise. Standing start acceleration is somewhat indecent for the size and as mentioned there’s a real snarl from the V6 as it punches out in anger and the 235/55/19 rubber hooks up.

There’s little upper body movement meaning lane change stability is high. Again the steering is weighted just fine and the Sports mode is the pick for freeway driving. Eco is a touch sluggish, Comfort is an ideal mix, with Smart learning the driver’s throttle and braking inputs on the fly. Suspension tune is sportish, with a flat freeway ride, enough initial give before tightening up, and this lends itself to some good speed through tight corners and curves. Stopping isn’t a problem thanks to the 320mm front and 305mm rear vented/solid discs. There’s a niggle with the Lane Keep Assist though. It’s a little too assertive in its straightening of the wheel and was eventually disengaged.

It helps that the office space is a cool place to be in. The driver sees a combination of LCD digital and “old school” analogue instrumentation, a thoughtfully laid out dash and ancillary controls with a silver highlight, an eight inch touchscreen with DAB (more on that, shortly) and a ten year SUNA satnav update program, rear and mid row folding seats with aircon vents for both, heated mid row and front seats with venting up front, plus memory and powered seats for the front pews.

The rear seats fold flat into the floor and there is a mammoth 1662L of cargo space available. Those rear seats themselves are best suited for children or those that don’t identify as tall. The seats are highlighted with light grey stitching and there are GT-Line logos embossed into the leather. But the upper dash reflects quite visibly in the windscreen and sadly the Sorento isn’t alone on that.

It’s wonderful that Kia offer DAB audio in some of their vehicles now, however the sensitivity of the two tested (the Cerato Sport+ also has DAB and will be reviewed separately) is frankly near useless. In areas where other brands have clear and constant signal, the Sorento’s dropped out. In the same place. Every time. Although the sound quality through the ten speaker Harman Kardon system was fine when it was picking up signal, the lack of continuity in DAB was beyond frustrating. Otherwise, Bluetooth, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, are available when a compatible smartphone is connected, or plug into the Auxiliary and USB points.

The Sorento range comes loaded with family features and is spot on for a family lifestyle drive. Six cupholders, two per seat row, start it off. Four bottle holders, a good sized centre console locker, map pockets, 3 12V sockets and a pair of USB chargers allow flexibility for smart devices. There’s no wireless charging point for compatible smart phones…yet.

The centre row passengers have sunshades in the door for both privacy and sunshade. Access to the rear seats is via the tilt and slide centre row or via the powered tailgate. Soft glow LED lights brighten up the black interior and beige/bone trimmed and highlight the two centre row mounted suit hooks. The alloy plate sill panels also brighten up with a red backlighting. All up though the Sorento, as comfortable as it is, does lack a real and measurable quotient inside: cachet. It’s still somewhat plasticky and not quite as eyeball grabbing as some Euro competition.

Family safety is assured thanks to the Sorento GT-Line’s extensive list. A high definition screen links to cameras placed around the Sorento’s exterior for a full 360 degree look around. Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Keep Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Autonomous Emergency Braking with Emergency Stop Signal are all on board. AEB is standard throughout the Sorento range.The Sorento’s exterior has been mildly massaged from the previous model, with slight changes to front and rear bumpers. There’s adaptive LED headlights in the GT-Line, with leveling and swiveling adding to night-time safety. There’s LED running and fog lights fitted, and the rear lights are also LED. The nose is bluff and smooth at the same time, with a subtle curve to the headlight’s upper edge on either side of the black & chrome grille.

Exterior colours are of a seven colour choice, with one (Snow White Pearl) being exclusive to the GT-Line. Otherwise there’s Clear White, Silky Silver, Metal Stream, Platinum Graphite, Gravity Blue, and the Aurora Black as seen on the test vehicle. There’s the standard seven year warranty and the capped price service intervals as well.

At The End Of the Drive.
Kia continues to go from strength to strength with is vehicles and the Sorento GT-Line is no different. Heaps of room, a broad range of family related features, and a family lifestyle oriented drive characteristic are big winners. The off road capability, a capability unlikely to be explored, from a front wheel drive SUV, place it ahead of its most likely competitor for moving people, Kia’s own Carnival. The better than expected fuel economy comes with a caveat: the test drive was with most one passenger, not a family and cargo.

At around the $60K drive-away point, it’s against Hyundai’s Santa Fe, Volvo’s XC40 and XC60, and models from Germany in regards to the intended buying market. Until all other makers standardise a seven year warranty then Kia will win straight away on that. As flexible as the interior is, it needs a lift visually. The DAB tuner needs a sensitivity boost whilst the lane assist service needs the opposite.

Make up your own mind by heading to Kia Australia website – Sorento to check out the 2019 Kia Sorento range.

Private Fleet Car Review: Suzuki Vitara S Turbo All-Grip.

It’s been some time between drives with Suzuki’s cool and funky Vitara. A recent catch-up with the turbocharged petrol fed S Turbo All-Grip, one built in November 2016 and close to ten thousand kilometres on it gave us a chance to see how they’ve held together.Sizewise the Vitara is a compact machine, with an overall length of just 4175mm. However clever packaging sees a wheelbase of 2500mm squeezed in. Breadth and height is decent too, at 1775mm and 1610mm. Up front is a 1.4L BoosterJet four, complete with 103kW and 220 torques from 1500 to 4000 revs. Transmission is a six speed auto and a torque split system to divert oomph from the front to the rear on demand.Having said that there is a drive mode selector button inside for Sports and Sand/Snow which lights up on the monochrome centre dash display. The switchover is seamless but the transmission was prone to stuttering and hesitation when cold. There’s a win for economy though, with a thousand kilometre week finishing on 6.1L of 95RON being consumed per one hundred kilometres. That’s from a 47 litre tank and pretty much on the money with Suzuki claiming a 6.2L/100 km for the combined cycle.Acceleration is pretty good, with that level of torque matching the light weight (1235 kg plus fuel and passengers). It’ll quickly and quietly drop a cog or two on demand and roll forward at speed easily enough. Overtaking then also becomes a simple matter of flexing the right ankle, and thanks again to its light weight, stopping is a brezze. Time and again the brakes would haul up the All-Grip with less than usual pressure but it helps when the pedal travel is intuitive and pressured well enough.It’s still the edgy yet slightly boxy shape that was available in the noughties, if perhaps somewhat more upright and squared off at either end. The front end sports LED driving lights in the lwoer quarters but also has globe lit driving lights that come on and override the LEDs when a switch on the indicator stalk is used. Hmm….The grille itself is a series of hexagons but it’s a solid sheet, meaning air is drawn in only through the lower extremities.Rubber is not off road suitable, even though the Vitara is, ostensibly, capable of light off-roading. They’re 17 inch Continentals with a 215/55 profile, wrapping five spoke black alloys. Dry weather grip is superb but in the wet weather they combined with the MacPherson strut front & torsion beam rear to feel skittish. The coil springs fitted to the Vitara S Turbo All-Grib are tuned for a more sports oriented ride, with a small amount of compliance dialed in to give comfort initially. As such the whole package needed dialing back on accelerator and steering input on Sydney’s greasy roads, just to be sure.Ride and handling is well sorted otherwise. It’s comfortable, if a touch taut. Bang crash is minimal on catseyes, speed reducing bumps in shopping centres, and the bigger road based bumps. Unsettled surfaces have the Vitara All-Grip unflustered and the suspension tune allows the dips and wallows to be flattened out with nary an intrusion felt past a momentary bump. Turn-in is precise and feedback is natural from the front.Inside is a compact but non-claustrophobic workspace. There’s splashes of colour such as the red ringed speedo and tacho displays matched by the simple twist and open airvents, a metallic grey insert on the passenger’s side of the dash, and alloy plastic touches on the tiller and gear selector. The radio is AM/FM only in this one, but partners with Apple CarPlay and voice command to provide interactivity. Satnav is standard across the Vitara range.Safety is high with seven airbags including a kneebag, with a full suite of traction control systems. Autonomous Emergency Braking isn’t fitted but remember that this car was built a year and a half ago from the review date. ISOFIX seat restraint points are standard. Hill Hold Control is also fitted to all autos and Hill Descent Control is available for the All-Grip. There’s parking sensors, rain sensing wipers and reverse camera as well.

Cargo space of 375L (seats up, 710L down) is compromised by virtue of the car’s smallish size. Pop open the non powered rear door and there’s a split level cargo area with blind. The lower level highlights a major safety issue common to almost every car maker. That is a space saver spare. Consider for a moment that the Vitara is an off/soft road capable vehicle so fitting them with a space saver is hardly sensible. Consider also the dry weight of the Vitara is only 1235 kilograms so a full sized alloy would have been a minor weight impost over a steel space saver.

The car was driven on a longish day drive to Canberra and return, copping a vee shaped construction nail in the right rear. Complicit in the situation was the suspension tune as there was no indication of a flat. There was no pulling, no drag, no obvious noise as such. The tyre itself looked initially to have been only a nail but upon being “deconstructed” showed a clear groove on the inside exterior where it had rode the alloy’s rim. This resulted in an unwelcome ninety minute delay at a certain tyre retailer.At The End Of The Drive.
Available in seven colours, the Vitara S Turbo All-Grip is currently available on a drive-away program at $33,990. It’s immensely good value, a comfortable ride, and in real terms ideal for a couple. Having piloted these cars before they’re borderline for a family of four outside of urban usage, again simply because of their compact footprint. Although rear legroom is adequate it’s the cargo area for baggage that holds it back and that’s unavoidable.But it IS a fun drive. Overwhelmingly so. It’ll be interesting to see what Suzuki does when its inevitable update comes along. Here’s where you can find out more about the existing model: 2016 onwards Suzuki Vitara

Space Saver Tyres; A Flat Option.

The last three decades have seen many innovations that have been placed into cars, trucks, and other forms of automotive motion. Anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, airbags, even FM radio and CD/MP3 playing capability. Tyres have improved in size, water drainage, and grip levels. Then there’s the space saver tyre. Intended to be a weight saving device and providing an option should a main tyre receive a puncture, just how effective can one of these be?
Given that many travel for decades without ever suffering a flat tyre or indeed any form of damage, having a space saver does make perfect sense. They’re lighter and by virtue of their name, simply don’t take up as much room, especially with the rise of larger diameter wheels and tyres. However, HOWEVER, it’s also fair to expect that most of the time, that when they get called upon for usage, that one is in an area not far from either home or a tyre retailer.

Herein lies an issue or two. First up they’re rated for a speed of fifty kilometers per hour. Maximum recommended velocity is eighty. Maximum recommended distance is 450 kilometres. That’s all fine when you’re in the built up areas surrounding your home, but when you’re three hundred kilometers away from home, in a car that’s not your own but a press review car, and one that’s ostensibly soft road capable, then there’s a problem.

Suzuki, like many car makers, fits its vehicles with a space saver. The Vitara All-Grip is fitted with Continental tyres and they’re 17 inches in diameter. Although it also comes with a switchable drive system, splitting torque to the rear wheels as well as the front, it’s not really intended for much else than tarmac with perhaps a bit of mud and sand work occasionally. Again, most people would do this within reach of assistance.
The Vitara was driven from the Blue Mountains to Canberra to visit the financial controller’s mother in hospital. Upon arrival it was noted that the right rear had a bottom flatter than a steamrolled pancake. What looked like a screw was later found to be a two inch on either side vee nail. What was also notable was that the Vitara’s handling did NOT exhibit any form of instability.

Thankfully a change of tyre had the Vitara suitable for driving. But remember, dear reader, that we’re three hundred kilometers from home and in between are roads rated from 100 to 110 km/h…Playing into favour was the time. Any later and finding a tyre store close with which to do a repair or swap would have been problematic, a problem that would have been instantly solved if a full sized spare had been provided. As it turned out, the inner side exterior sidewall had been scored enough to lessen the structural strength and thereby rendered it unuseable.
Further providence came in the form of the press contact and a Bob Jane’s within a safe speed fifteen minutes away. Again, if a full sized spare had been fitted neither a visit then nor an overwhelming ninety minute wait from entry to departure have been required. Consider, too, that if a place had not been available then a three hour return journey would have been at least four and with the end result, at minimum, being a space saver spare on the verge of unuseability.

So what options are there? The initial diagnosis was to fit a plug and patch. Potentially illegal, according to some. If it had been a “simple” nail, perhaps a can of that inflating and sealing goo might have helped. Stress that word “might”
What about fitting run flat tyres? Hmm…not an option unless you’re a royal or a communist country dignitary like Trump. They’re also severely speed and distance limited, with a recommended top speed of ninety kilometers per hour for a maximum distance of just eighty kilometers. Again, not suitable for long haul drives.

Then there are slightly different options like full sized spares on a steel wheel. Cheaper, but heavier. Nuff said. Full sized spare tyres that again are distance limited to their compound. Nup. What about the space saver itself? Well, as stated, speed and distance limited. BUT, and that’s a big but, bigger than a Kardashian’s actually, your car’s stability and braking systems can be negatively affected.
Emergency distance braking is increased. A study by the RACV proved conclusively that space saver tyres affect stopping distance. The vastly smaller footprint also means traction is compromised and contributes to instability under braking.
Simple solution: bin the space saver and fit a full sizer.

Got A Frosty Windscreen?

During winter, frost is one of those annoyances that face drivers after a cold, clear night. OK, we don’t get frosts anywhere as near as hard as they do in, say Canada or Norway, but we still get them here a bit in the southern bits of Australia (OK, you lucky Queenslanders and Northern Territorials, you can feel smug and go off to read something else).  Frost isn’t just a hazard on the roads but it’s a real pain all over your windscreen.  If you’ve had to leave your car out overnight, or if you were parked on the street during that late-night party, then you can come back to a sparkly windscreen that won’t let you see anything except glitter.  Not safe for driving, especially in icy conditions.

So how are you going to get that ice off your windscreen?  It’s all very well to stay that prevention is better than the cure and that you should have garaged your car overnight or at least tried the old trick of putting a cover over the windscreen to keep the frost off (e.g. a tarpaulin or even a flattened-out cardboard box – and those sunshades can do the job, too, giving them a job over winter as well as during summer).  Your windscreen is iced up and you need to get the kids to school on time or get home from the party, and everybody’s sitting there with chilly fingers and wanting you to hurry up.

  • Starting the car and giving it full blast with the heaters. This does the trick but it does take a long time. Glass is pretty slow to warm up, so if you’re trying to heat it up enough to melt the ice from the inside, you’re going to have a long wait, and you may have to have the engine running and/or drain your battery a lot. It’s not the quickest and certainly isn’t the most economical way to do it. This method will, however, work for those odd little corners and the back windows once you’ve managed to clear off the windscreen and can see your way to start driving.  Your passengers will also appreciate the warmth!
  • Scraping off the ice. If you do this, you have to be sure to scrape the ice off most of the windscreen, not just a little patch giving you a tiny glimpse of the road.  You’re going to need good visibility.  You have to choose the right thing to scrape off the ice.  Metal scrapers of the sort you use to remove stickers from the glass are a real no-no, as they can easily leave a nasty and permanent scratch on the windscreen.  Besides, who’s got one of those handy when you need to remove the ice from the windscreen?  Having something plastic is better – a friend of mine once used the edge of a credit card to do the job.  A squeegee doesn’t usually work, as the edge is too soft.  A plastic spatula would work – unleash your inner MacGyver and see what you can find.  Wear gloves if you can while scraping off the ice, as you’re going to get the crystals all over your hands.
  • Commercial de-icing sprays. Again, who actually has these handy when you need them, unless you live in Canada or the like?  You can make your own out of two parts of isopropyl alcohol or any other strong spirits (vodka, for example) and one part of water, with a bit of detergent thrown in for good measure.  You spray it on then get the wipers going, and maybe finish with a bit of scraping.  The smell of alcohol will dissipate soon but if you get any on yourself, this may take a bit of explaining if you’re stopped by the local cops.  (No really, officer, I only used vodka as a de-icing spray and that’s why there’s an empty bottle sitting on the front seat, honestly…).
  • Warm water. The best solution of all.  It’s quick and does the whole windscreen at once. If you have a big enough bucket of warm water, you can also de-ice the door windows for even better visibility.  All you do is grab a decent amount of water (i.e. a bucket, a saucepan or a jug, not a coffee cup), slosh it over the windscreen and turn on the windscreen wipers.  Job done.  There are two important things to remember, though.  The first and the most important is to use warm water, not hot water.  Don’t grab the kettle that’s just boiled and use that.  If glass heats up too quickly, it will shatter.  All too many people have made this mistake and ended up with no windscreen as a result.  However, warm water – warm enough to stick your hand in comfortably – will be fine and will melt the ice without risking your windscreen.  The second is that you need to take care not to slosh the water over yourself or to stand too close when the windscreen wipers are working or you get wet, which really isn’t nice when the temperatures are low.

And don’t forget to take extra care on the road once you start driving!

The Most Frustrating Driving Habits

It would be so much easier if we all drove perfectly all the time, but not even a robot (aka an autonomous car) can do that.  The best that most of us can do is to try to avoid mistakes and try to be considerate of other people.  However, there are some people out there on our roads who have the most tooth-grindingly annoying bad habits behind the wheel, and I don’t mean that they pick their noses at red lights.  Not only are these habits annoying to other drivers (and pedestrians and cyclists and motorcyclists and…), they’re also a bit dangerous.

Here’s a list of some of the habits that really get up people’s noses.  Which of these get your blood boiling – and which ones are you guilty of and need to stop?

  1. Not indicating. This one’s my pet hate.  Quite frankly, I’d prefer to be behind a driver who indicates when going around a sharp bend than anywhere near one who doesn’t indicate.  Not indicating is particularly annoying and dangerous at intersections, especially roundabouts.  There’s always that one person who comes up to the roundabout where you have to give way, doesn’t indicate but turns left.  By the time they’ve made their move, you’ve stopped to give way and lost your chance to enter the intersection.  Even worse is the person who comes up to the roundabout, indicates left and then goes straight ahead – now, that’s an accident waiting to happen.
  2. Schizophrenic speed. This one gets my husband’s blood boiling every time. Schizophrenic speed happens when a driver goes very slowly around bends and the like.  Nothing wrong with that and it’s probably a safe thing to do.  However, these people let a long line of cars build up behind them and never pull over when they have a chance. In fact, when they get to a straight bit or even a bit of road with a passing lane, they speed up full bore and even pass the speed limit, meaning that you’re going to have to take all kinds of risks to overtake them… and they don’t want to be overtaken.  If you’re a slow and steady type who doesn’t like to corner fast, fine, but stay comparatively slow when the straights come so others can overtake you safely.
  3. Phone addicts. Come on, we all know that it’s illegal to use a handheld phone when you’re driving, but how many people do you see driving around with a phone clamped to their ear with one hand.  Get a handsfree kit, for goodness’ sake!  Even worse are the ones who have just a little look at that wee text that just came in because it might be important.  We’ve all had those close calls with phone addict drivers.  JUST LEAVE THE PHONE ALONE!
  4. Tailgating. Emergency stops happen. You never know when a cat or a kid will run out on the road ahead.  Driving too close to the car ahead is crazy, as you might miss their brake lights going on and not jam your own brakes on in time.  Even worse, if it’s rainy or if the road is slippery, then even if you hit the brakes in time, you’ll still ding the person ahead.  Honestly, dropping back to a decent following distance won’t make you late for work!
  5. Red light running and failing to give way. There are no excuses for running a red light or ploughing through a Stop sign unless you’ve got flashing lights and a siren on your vehicle – and even then you have to be careful at intersections just in case.
  6. Parking where you shouldn’t. We’ve all seen perfectly healthy people walking out of cars parked in the disabled parks, and we’ve probably also all seen cars parked over driveways, on yellow lines, in bus stops… If this is you, what makes you think that the rules can be bent for you?  It’s illegal, folks, even if you’re just nipping in for a loaf of bread or to post a few letters.
  7. Look at my lights! This one mostly gets seen on rural roads at night, but can also be found around town at times.  This sort of driver wants to see the road ahead when its dark and only dips the lights at the last moment… by which time, the oncoming drivers are blinking and blinded.  The other variations on this theme are the driver who takes the headlights off dip a fraction of a second too soon, and the driver who doesn’t dip the lights for pedestrians and cyclists… who still get dazzled like other people.
  8. Ignoring things with fewer wheels. Motorbikes, bikes and horses are all legitimate and legal road users, and have as much right to be on the road as you do, even if they are smaller, have fewer wheels and a smaller engine.  This means that you have to give them the same courtesy and consideration that you’d give another car.  This means not cutting them off, not opening doors suddenly and not getting mad when they have to get in front of you because they want to turn right at the next intersection.  Pedestrians also have the right to cross the road, although they do have to give way to you… except at a pedestrian crossing, where you have to give way.  You have to give way to them for the whole time that they’re crossing the road, with no waiting until they’ve got to nearly halfway, then going.  Wait until the pedestrian has got to the other side or to a traffic island before you go on.  And you did check that pedestrian crossing ahead to see that nobody was waiting, didn’t you?
  9. Open top trailers. I don’t know how many chips in the windscreen we’ve picked up thanks to things flying off the trailer ahead of us and whacking the windscreen.  The trailer in question may be hooked to a truck or to a smaller vehicle, but the end result is still annoying. Even if it’s not a stone flying off and chipping windscreens, other debris getting off a trailer is hazardous and annoying (lawn clippings, leaves, dust…).  If you’re a gardening contractor or if you’re taking a load of garden rubbish to the tip, then cover that load or at least put it in a bag so it doesn’t blow everywhere.
  10. Merging morons.  When two lanes merge into one, the idea is that Car A, which is in the right-hand lane and is slightly ahead goes into the merged lane first, then Car B, which is in the left-hand lane.  Then Car C, which was immediately behind Car A in the right-hand lane gets to go in.  If Car C is a merging moron, then he/she will push ahead and force Car B over to one side out of the stream of traffic until someone sensible(Car D in the right lane) comes along.  Car B can also sometimes be a moron, racing ahead to try to get to the merged lane ahead of Car A.  In all these scenarios, be Car D – the one that’s courteous and keeps an eye out for other drivers rather than having a Me First attitude.
  11. Litterbugs.  Technically, you shouldn’t dispose of any rubbish out of the window of a car.  However, I’m willing to wink at organic rubbish that will feed wildlife and break down naturally or grow a new tree, such as apple cores, banana peels and apricot stones.  Hey, in 10 years’ time, a forager for wild fruit might thank you!  However, there’s an art to chucking biodegradable fruit bits out of the window, the most important part of which is to wait until (a) there’s nobody behind you and (b) your apple core will land in long grass.  There is no excuse for throwing out drink cans, papers, plastic bits, or fast food packaging.  Cigarette stubs – which are less common these days, thank goodness – are even worse, as they can set fire to dry grass in summer or burn that cyclist you didn’t see (I’ve been the cyclist in this situation).

Any terrible driving habits that enrage you that I’ve missed?  And which ones are your pet peeves?  Have a good rant in the comments about them!

The Holy Hand Grenade Of Antioch.

Followers of Monty Python will get this once some more has been explained. Perhaps this will help: “The number thou shall count to shall be three. No more, no less.” Still from the same film and reference point but what exactly has this to do with cars?

Easy.

Some cars allow the indicator stalk to be gently touched and it will automatically flicker three times. No more. No Less. Unfortunately, for the three point seven percent of Aussie drivers that know how to indicate, this is how many times around thirty percent of that three point seven will flash. The rest are heavily weighted towards none at all and the tiny remainder will indicate to the legal standard, being (in the case of changing lanes) before moving from their current lane to having ALL of their vehicle in the new lane.

Those that indicate, begrudgingly it seems, will do so three times. Most of the times this finishes with barely half of their car in the new lane but more often than not they either haven’t begun to move or they are about half way across. On a recent 1200 kilometre round trip from Sydney to the south coast of NSW and back, the number of drivers of cars, trucks, and buses (alarmingly the latter two should be professional drivers) that indicated to the state standard would be about fifteen percent of the total vehicle traffic seen.

Here’s the link to the NSW legislation: NSW road legislation

You’ll note how many definitions of changing direction there are, including merge lanes, T-section roundabouts, and the like. Head to points 47 and 49. These are the two pieces that the state governments and territories seem to refuse to acknowledge are a root cause of our road toll.

Howso?

Cars are designed and engineered with some basic basics in place, such as where the indicator and washer/wiper stalk are located. Go sit in your car, place your hands at the nine o’clock and three o’clock positions. Stretch your fingers. Those fingertips will reach two stalks in the vast majority of vehicles. One of those, when moved up and down, will engage the indicator system.

Now here’s where it gets tricky….the idea of that lever is pretty simple in concept yet seems to befuddle and confuse the horrifyingly large amount of Aussie drivers. Most will only use it like the countdown to pulling the pin on the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, in that the lights on one side of their car/truck/bus will flash just three times. No more. No less. However, when used as per the legislation a miracle occurs, a miracle that may, if our governments and territories can tear their myopic gaze away from the one point one billion dollars of revenue generated by that wonderful driver propelled ATM, speeding fines, go some way to increasing driver engagement with the knock-on effect of drivers being more aware and therefore less likely to crash and die.

Indicators flash more than three times. Car makers need to change that to five, at least.

This has the drivers around being made more aware of what the driver indicating has in mind and therefore a higher level of probability they’ll stay away from that vehicle. And by being more engaged in driving that driver may notice the car sneaking up on their left or right, the truck driver slowing down in front, the mini-bus about to exit a petrol station, and have more time to do the right thing.

But while our pollies feel that speeding is the sole cause of fatalities and ignore asking our boys and girls in blue to enforce the basics of driving, our fatalities and injuries list will continue to disimprove.

The hand grenade is in your hands.

Is Your Car Winter-Ready?

Lake Mountain Road, Vic.

It might not quite be winter yet, but we have passed the autumn Equinox, which means that the time when the sun is up is shorter than the time when it’s down. This means that it’s time to think ahead and get your car ready for winter. Because there’s no point in getting ready for something if it’s already come and too late, right?

One thing we can be thankful for is that we don’t have to go through quite so extensive preparations for winter as they do in, say, Sweden or Canada… especially if you live in the northern bits of Australia when winter comes as welcome relief from the intense summer heat. However, the southern states and territories can get problems with frost and snow from time to time, and everybody gets things wetter and rainier (except in the very far north in places like Darwin, who have their rainy monsoon period during the summer).

As things are going to get wetter, the most important thing you need to do to get your car winter-ready is to check your tyres.  First of all, they need to have plenty of tread on them, as it’s the tread that channels out the water so you still get plenty of grip.  When it comes to tyre styles, there’s a bit of a trade-off, as having lots and lots of channels means that you can pump lots of water out – and a tyre needs to shift about 6 litres per second in average rainfall at open road speeds – but the problem is that lots of little raised bits wear out more quickly when it’s dry… and nobody wants the hassle of changing tyres every time the weather goes from wet to dry and back again.  The best tyres for driving in the wet are the ones with the directional treads (lots of stacked V shapes) and asymmetrical tyres, although you can’t rotate asymmetrical tyres like you can with the directional ones.  Directional ones look nicer, too!

Tyre pressure is also important to check when the weather goes from hot to cold. This is because air temperature affects tyre pressure, so when the mercury goes down, a tyre that was just right may now be underinflated.  If you remember your high school physics, the hotter a gas gets, the more it expands and the greater the pressure. When the gas cools, then the gas contracts and the pressure decreases.  It’s important to check your tyre pressure at all times, but if the temperature’s changed (or if we’ve had a cold snap), then it pays to check.

The next thing that’s important to deal with is to check the windscreen wipers.  Winter means more rain for everybody except the far north folk, and this means that your wipers are going to see a lot of action. They won’t shift the water and keep your visibility decent if they are in bad condition.  New wiper blades don’t cost the earth and changing them is a job that you can easily do yourself, so there’s no excuses.

While you’re looking at the windscreen and the wipers, this might be a good time to ensure that your windscreen is nice and clean. The angle of the sun will be that little bit lower in the evenings and the mornings, especially the further south you go, so sunstrike and glare can be a problem, especially if your windscreen is filthy. Give it a good clean and top up the fluid for your window wiper fluid.

The next thing is your lights. It’s going to be darker, especially if your state does the Daylight Savings thing (and consider yourself lucky if it doesn’t because it’s a pain). Make sure that all of your lights are working well, including the fog lights. Check that the angles of your headlights on dip and on full beam are angled correctly.

The last thing to get the car mechanically ready for winter is to check the battery.  Your battery is going to get more of a workout, what with the extra demands of heating and lighting.  Top it up with distilled water if needed (tap water is often chlorinated or have other minerals that don’t play nicely with battery acid, so don’t use this).  Check the terminals for corrosion and clean off any greenish bits around the terminals caused by the acid. The best way to do this is with baking soda (which neutralises the acid and will fizz), an old toothbrush and rubber gloves to protect your hands, followed by a good rinse with warm water.  If your battery is getting on the ancient side, then change it. Few things are as miserable as waiting in a freezing cold car on a nasty day for the breakdown guys to come and jump-start your battery.

These steps will help keep your car winter-ready, but don’t forget you and your passengers when preparing your car for winter.  Having the right items stashed away can make a real difference, especially if you have to wait in a parked car for ages for any reason on a nasty cold day, or if some idiot who DIDN’T check their tyre condition skids into your rear end, meaning you have to wait for the breakdown team.  Most modern cars have plenty of useful storage space for all sorts of odds and ends – one particularly useful one is found on the Skoda Superb , which has a special compartment for an umbrella that allows it to drain when wet.  If you own one of these sedans, make the most of this feature!

Here’s the list of things that I’d have in my car to make sure that I can cope, even when the weather swings wildly or gets nasty and cold (on top of other staples like hand sanitiser, snacks and a first aid kit).

  • A chamois leather or microfibre cloth for wiping down the inside of the windscreen. Sometimes, the demister just doesn’t work fast enough or there’s grime on the inside of the windscreen that is causing visibility problems with the lower angle of the sun. Rather than using your sleeve and getting wet (which I have done in emergencies), use a nice soft cloth kept for the purpose.
  • Something to keep the rain off. This could be an umbrella or a raincoat – you can get some nice little compact ones that tuck away in a little bag. This stops you getting all soggy if a downpour decides to descend just as you’re pulling up at the petrol pump and there’s no shelter between your car, the pump and/or where you have to pay (been there, done that).
  • It can take the heaters a while to get going on a cold morning, as they use excess engine heat to heat the cabin. Cold fingers are stiffer and less responsive, so keep your little pinkies warm until the heater sorts its life out.  The obvious place to keep them is… the glovebox.
  • A polar fleece or jumper. It was a nice day when you started out but a southerly buster has roared in.  Or you have to turn the heaters off thanks to that flat battery (or to avoid flattening it).  Keeping half your wardrobe in your car like my husband did when I first met him probably isn’t ideal, but having something to pull on often comes in handy.
  • A blanket or throw. If you have to take kids or passengers who have to wear thinner clothes (formal gowns, dance gear) or who are a bit damp (after sports practice) and cranking up the heater would make things far too hot for you even with a dual-zone climate control, then having a blanket handy for bare knees or off-the-shoulder tops is a nice touch.  A blanket is also more easily washed than your car upholstery in the case of muddy people.  Plus you can use it for impromptu picnics.

Safe and happy driving, no matter what the weather is!

 

Driverless Car Causes Fatal Accident In Arizona

Photo courtesy of Reuters

On 18th March – that’s just over a week ago – driverless car technology received a major blow.  The horrible truth is that the blow struck to the technology by this particular vehicle being road-tested by the Uber taxi service wasn’t as nasty as the blow it delivered to a 49-year-old Arizona woman named Elaine Herzberg who was crossing the road one evening, like you do.  The car hit her and killed her.  Dashcam on the autonomous car captured the moment before the car ran her down.  I’ve decided not to embed it in this post in case you’ve got autoplay or something on, because it’s decidedly disturbing.  Find it online yourself if you must, but personally, I’d rather not watch the tragic and completely avoidable death of a woman about my age who probably has a partner and children and friends who thought she was great fun – someone just like me and you.

The reaction has been exactly what you would expect: Arizona has called a halt to on-road real-life testing of autonomous cars, Uber and a few other companies like Toyota have stopped all testing in North America, and shares in companies that have been investing heavily into driverless car technology such as Tesla have dropped.  In addition, Ms Herzberg’s family have been coping with the shock and loss of losing a mother, daughter, sister, wife, cousin…  There’s also one Uber driver who trusted the technology to take care of things the way they told her it would who is going to live with a lifetime of questions and guilt, and who is probably in the hands of a good therapist right now – or at least ought to be.

We can ask the same questions as that Uber driver and the Herzberg family are probably asking over and over again: why did this happen? What went wrong? Aren’t driverless cars supposed to get rid of the human error factor that is responsible for the majority of fatal accidents?

Without actually looking at the chilling dashcam footage personally and based on other people’s reports, it appears that what happened was this.  The Uber vehicle was cruising along a road on a normal spring night in Tempe, Arizona, on a Sunday night.  It was dark and the driver, who was probably on a tight schedule and having to manage half a billion things at once – like you do – looked away from the road for about five seconds.  The car was in autonomous mode and it had the full fleet of sensors that are available in even regular cars that aren’t driverless cars, such as automatic braking, pedestrian detection, cross-traffic detection and collision avoidance mode.  The driver thought that all would be well – after all, the car was supposed to take care of itself most of the time, wasn’t it?

Then along came Ms Herzberg, wheeling her bicycle.  Probably she was a bit too careless and didn’t pick a big enough gap in the traffic to cross in – but haven’t we all done that when trying to cross a busy road when there’s no pedestrian crossing or traffic lights in sight?  Most of us take it for granted that the humans behind the wheels don’t want to hit us and they’ll slow down a fraction if we’re cutting it a bit fine (this is something that I don’t assume – call me paranoid but maybe it’s an assumption we need to start questioning).  To make matters worse, Ms Herzberg was wearing black at night, which would have made her hard to see even if the driver hadn’t looked away.

The sensors and the system didn’t see or recognize Ms Herzberg, so the collision avoidance systems weren’t triggered.  The vehicle kept going straight ahead at normal road speeds.  The driver, trusting the autonomous system, didn’t see her either until the last moment when the car ploughed full-speed into her and there was no time for the human driver to do anything to stop it.  Ms Herzberg died later that night in hospital.

This is the first time that a driverless car has been involved in a fatal accident involving a pedestrian – hang on, let’s call a spade a spade.  The car wasn’t just “involved”: it knocked her down and killed her.

Naturally, all the tech companies and car manufacturers involved are properly horrified and are wondering what on earth went wrong.  The sensors were supposed to work without being “distracted” like a human driver could be.  They were supposed to be able to see in the dark, so to speak, and therefore be better than a human driver would be.  Autonomous systems are supposed to be so much safer because they don’t get drunk, tired or distracted, but stay focussed and on the job all the time. So what went wrong?  Why didn’t the car see Ms. Herzberg and brake in time?

Naturally, as the questions are still being answered and the accident only happened about a week ago, they don’t have answers yet.  A few fingers are being pointed, especially as different companies make different bits of the tech.  Did the Lidar sensor plus artificial intelligence system fail to distinguish the pedestrian with a bicycle from a power pole or a bush? (These systems do have trouble with this – in Australia, they have real trouble recognizing how close kangaroos on the road actually are, because the jumping motion of a roo fools the sensor into thinking that there’s more road between the car and the roo than there really is.)  Robotic systems and computers follow the rules and keep to the rules no matter what – and something unexpected that’s out of the box and not included in the rules really throws them.  Possibly, someone crossing the road with a bike without looking properly or allowing a big enough gap is a novel concept for them.

I guess that at this early stage, there are a few lessons that all of us can learn from this tragedy:

  • Driver assistance packages and sensors are there to help you be a better driver, not do it all for you. As a driver, you need to stay alert and do the job of driving at all times, whether you’ve got a back-to-basics trade vehicle like a Great Wall , or a luxury sedan or SUV with all the safety gadgets like a Mercedes  or Volvo .
  • A lot can happen in a few seconds, so keep your eyes on the road as much as possible. No checking texts, changing the radio station or fiddling with the air con.
  • Be careful when crossing the road. These days, you can’t assume that drivers are looking ahead of them because there are idiots who insist on checking their phones while driving, and in the future, you might not even be able to assume that there’s a human with a heart in control of the wheel.  The stop, look and listen rule still applies – so take those headphones out of your ear.
  • Wearing black at night when crossing the road always has been and still is a dumb idea.
  • People are unpredictable, so keep your eyes open for them when you’re driving.

And I hope we do learn these lessons.  After all, nobody really grieves for a car that gets written off.  However, real live humans have friends and families who will always miss them if they die – and that’s something that a computer or robot system can’t fully understand or experience.