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Weird Stuff

Which Bond Car Was The Best?

Some of the fun things about the James Bond movies (and the books) are the spy gadgets.  This is especially apt, given that the author, Ian Fleming, and his brother Peter were both British intelligence agents and probably had plenty of their own real encounters with all kinds of cunning stuff. However, the gadget in the films that sticks out the most would have to be the cars.  Even the James Bond rip-offs like the Johnny English films feature at least one car with plenty of bells and whistles.

The car marque that springs to mind first in a discussion of Bond cars is, naturally, Aston Martin, with various incarnations of the DB5 and DBS being used in the films. This product placement has been the making of the luxury marque, as it’s hard to think of Aston Martin without thinking of James Bond and vice versa.

However, the Aston Martin DB5 is by no means the only type of car ever driven by Agent 007 and Aston Martin isn’t the only marque that ever won the honour of product placement in the shape of being a Bond car.  The very first Bond car was a Sunbeam Alpine (in Dr No), and over the many decades of Bond, the super-spy has driven a Bentley (From Russia With Love), a Toyota 2000 GT (You Only Live Twice – they had to modify this to an open-top version so tall Scotsman Sean Connery could fit into this little Japanese supercar), a Ford Mustang (Diamonds Are Forever), a handful of Lotuses, a Rolls-Royce (A View To A Kill) and several BMWs.

OK, so out of all the Bond cars, which one was the coolest and most fun?  We’ll rule out the rather tame Sunbeam right away.  Here’s my pick for the top contenders in roughly chronological order.

  1. 1963 Aston Martin DB5: Goldfinger and Thunderball. This was the first Bond car to get cool gadgets as well as being the debut of the Aston Martin. It featured an ejector seat, a smoke screen, guns and tyre slashers.
  2. Lotus Esprit: The Spy Who Loved Me. Nicknamed “Wet Nellie”, this one could famously go underwater like a submarine as well as being able to dish out torpedoes and cover its escape by squirting out ink like a squid.  Trivia time: the original that’s used in the movie is owned by Elon Musk of Tesla (and PayPal and SpaceX and…)
  3. 1985 Aston Martin V8: The Living Daylights: Missiles with a heads-up guidance display system, a rocket propulsion system, tyre spikes and the ability to listen in to all police radio frequencies.
  4. 1963 Aston Martin DB5: Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies: Outruns a Ferrari Spider 355 and has a chiller compartment for champagne.
  5. BMW Z3: Goldeneye: Although it’s got a parachute braking system, missile launchers, radar and an ejector seat, plus hints of other gadgetry, we don’t get to see them in operation in the movie. You don’t get them in real BMW Z3s either.
  6. BMW 750iL: Tomorrow Never Dies. This one can be driven by remote control operated by Bond’s mobile phone and also dispenses tear gas by remote control. Door handles that deliver electric shocks, wire cutters, caltrop dispensers, reinflating tyres and, of course, missile launchers complete the package.  Again, don’t look for these in your standard 7-series BMW.
  7. BMW Z8: The World Is Not Enough: Another remote-controlled BMW for Bond. This one has the missile guidance system housed in the steering wheel. As well as all the usual guns and missiles, this one can also generate an EMP shock that wipes out any electronics in its vicinity.
  8. Aston Martin V12 Vanquish: Die Another Day. This one’s nicknamed the Vanish thanks to its invisibility cloak.  It’s also got old favourites like ejector seats and guns galore.  It goes head-to-head with the villain’s equally tricked-out Jag that has a thermal imaging display.

OK, people, it’s voting time.  Which of these Bond Cars was the best?  Are there any other hot contenders?  And what gadgets would you like to see on a Bond car if they ever make another movie in the series?  Leave a comment and let us know!

Plastic Bags To Fuel: It’s For Real

If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, you may have seen a few posts by various environmental groups kicking up a big stink about the amount of plastic that’s floating around in our oceans – and justifiably so. You might have seen a few pictures of the notorious Great Pacific Garbage Patch (floating around in the North Pacific somewhere between Japan and the USA). A lot of it is in the form of polyethelene, which is not biodegradable – the only thing that breaks it down is sunlight, which is why we deal with it by burying it in landfills underground where the sun can’t get at it. There are literally mountains and islands of it out there.

At the same time, folk are looking around at the existing crude oil supplies and realising that they aint gonna last forever.  This, as well as the pollution issue, is one of the spurs driving the push towards hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles and biofuels.

Plastic is, however, another petroleum-based product.  In other words, once upon a time, the lid of your coffee cup, your chip packet and your polar fleece top came from the same stuff that you put in your car to get to work this morning.  What if this process could be reversed?  What if you could un-refine the plastic and turn it back into oil that could then be refined the other way and used to keep our cars (and trucks and trains and ships and aeroplanes) running?

Well, they can do it.  A few teams around the world have come up with ways to take all that waste plastic and convert it into something that can be used as a fuel feedstock – for diesel.  I’m not a chemical engineer, so don’t ask me why most of the fun new technologies for producing greener fuel end up producing diesel rather than petrol (with the exception of ethanol, which plays nicely with petrol, as we’ve known for years here in Australia). Although one Aussie company called Foyson  Resources (aren’t you proud?) has come up with a way to get petrol out of plastic.

The technology for converting plastic back into some form of oil has been around for at least 10 years, with companies in Japan, China, India, the Philippines and the US all having a go at it.

The process they use is called pyrolysis.  Those of you with a smattering of Greek may recognise the “pyro” bit, which indicates that heat is involved.  Literally, the process means “separating by heat”.  It’s been described as a sped-up version of how oil fields and fossil fuels came to be in the first place.  Basically, the long polymer strings made up of lots of carbon, oxygen and carbon atoms  get split apart into shorter bits about 18 carbon molecules long.

OK, let’s ditch the chemistry and describe it simply.

1: Appropriate plastics are fed into the machine, usually after being shredded or chipped. Suitable plastics usually include polyethylene, polypropylene and a few others – but not PET (Recycling #1), which is easier to recycle.

  1. The shredded plastic is heated slowly and turns to a gaseous form. The exact temperature at which this happens can be anywhere from 250°C through to 400°C, depending on the pyrolysis plant in question.
  2. The gas is cooled to a liquid: crude oil. Bingo!
  3. Other gases keep going and have to go somewhere. With some pyrolysis plant designs, the gas is captured and used to heat the pyrolysis chamber. However, some of the gases can be a bit nasty, which is why the kibosh was put on a Canberra plastic-to-fuel plant last year.
  4. Leftover solids come in the form of “carbon black”. This can be used as a construction material or just like old-fashioned coal, which it’s practically identical to.

It seems to be early days still for the plastic-to-oil process in Australia, with the Foy Group (the ones who have got the grant to start a plant in Hume, Canberra) facing a few hurdles thanks to the possible emissions. However, given (a) the amount of plastic waste we all churn out and (b) the need to find good supplies of the crude for our petrol and diesel, I’m sure these hurdles can be cleared.  I’m picking plastic-to-petrol as The Next Big Thing for greener motoring – and it won’t require any changes to our existing vehicle fleet.

If you’re really, really keen, it is apparently possible to do the plastic pyrolysis thing at home and make your own diesel. This probably comes with a heavy cost in the form of the energy input needed to heat a home-built plant, with the result that all the oil you produce will then be used to run the generator or powerplant used to heat the pyrolysis plant used to produce the oil and round it goes. At least it gets rid of plastic bags…

I personally would not try this at home and prefer to either cut down on the plastic bags I use or send them to the recycling depot.  However, if you are keen and want to try, this page tells you how.   No guarantees and do it at your own risk!

Roads With A Difference

There are some pretty amazing roads around our world that might just be worth going to see.  Following are spectacular roads that have world record status, and you’ll see just why these ones stand out.

The Road Of Bones

1/            First of all, here in Australia we have the world’s longest road.  Highway 1 circumnavigates the continent and travels around the outside of Australia for over 14,000 km.  Along the way, you’ll be passing through some incredible scenery as well as some of Australia’s major cities that include Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide – along with a huge number of smaller towns.  Northern Territory roads allow a speed limit of 130 km/h on open road travel.

2/            Head over to Saudi Arabia and you’ll be able to take yourself down the world’s straightest road: Highway 10, Saudi Arabia.  This road was originally built as a private road for King Fahd and connects Highway 75 to Highway 95.  It runs for almost 240 kilometres, and is the perfect straight road to try out your Lane Assist and Fatigue Warning safety features!

3/            The world’s twistiest bit of road is found on Lombard Street, San Francisco, USA.  Unbelievable, the road features a 400 metre slope with a 27% gradient and a sum total of 1440 degrees to turn through and has a 5 mph speed limit.

4/            For those of you with a head for heights: you will enjoy the world’s highest roads around Uturunku, Bolivia.  Not only do they have amazing views but they are over 5500 m above sea level.  You will feel the lack of oxygen on this run!

5/            There are also roads that travel below sea level, and, in Israel, Route 90 is home to the world’s lowest road.  The road follows the western side of the Dead Sea where the water is so salty that you can go for a swim and float unaided.  No fish or plant-life are able to survive in this salty environment, either.

6/            Temperature is always a great leveller, and in Russia you’ll find the world’s coldest road that is called the ‘Road of Bones, (or M56).  Not for the faint hearted, the M56 has claimed many people’s lives whose cars have broken down and they’ve frozen to death.  Travelling in convoy is best.  During winter the temperature is rarely warmer than -30C.

7/            The world’s oldest road is the Via Appia, Italy.  Parts of this road have been preserved and are only open to pedestrians.  The Via Appia is located in south east Italy and can be dated back as far as 312 B.C.

8/            Our neighbours over the Tasman sea can lay claim to the world’s steepest road which is called Baldwin Street and is found in Dunedin, New Zealand.  Walking up Baldwin street can be as much fun as driving up it.  If you do drive up, just make sure there is room to turn around because it can be alarming having to stop just before the top of the road – your Hill Start Assist might just come in very handy.  A popular activity is to roll M&Ms down it!

9/            The world’s widest road is the ‘Monumental Axis’ found in Brasilla, Brazil.  In one part it is 250m wide!

10/         You are sure to find the world’s longest road bridge called the ‘Bang Na Expressway, Bangkok, Thailand entertaining.  Lasting for over 50 km, the bridge required an enormous 3.84 million tonnes of concrete in its construction.  Needless to say it wasn’t cheap to build, costing as much as £770 million to complete it build.

11/         On the other hand, the world’s tallest road bridge is the ‘Millau Viaduct’, France.  At its highest pint it is almost 250 m high!  The views are awesome.

Who said civil enginering was ever boring.  Let yourself loose on these roads, and you’ll have plenty of new conversation starters.

Australia’s Solar Race

Solar Race Car

The ‘Nuon Solar Team’ continues to dominate the solar race across Australia that started in Darwin and will finish in Adelaide.  Racing without conventional combustion engines, the various teams from around the world converged on Darwin having built their vehicles as completely solar-powered electric machines.

There are three categories that are completing the journey.  The first being the quickest team to complete the 3000 km race distance – this race is known as the ‘Challenger Class’.

The second class is the known as the ‘Cruiser Class’, where there are points given to the teams for the number of passengers on board, the amount of energy that they are using in terms of the number of battery recharges that are occurring throughout the journey and the general practicality of the car.  Being a part of the ‘Cruiser Class’, the points aren’t all about speed.

Solar Race Cruiser Class

Finally, the third category is known as the ‘Adventure Class’ which is the non-competitive class, allowing cars built for previous races of the event to run again – usually with new team members.  The ‘Adventure Class’ can also be used as a catchment for those who, while meeting the exacting safety standards, may not have quite made full compliance with the latest race requirements.  This is the category with the more laid-back travel style.

At the end of day three: the quickest team competing in the ‘Challenger Class’ is the ‘Nuon Solar Team’ from Holland.

Nuon Solar Team

Second is the team from Tokai University.

Tokai University Race Team

Third is the team from Michigan University.

Novum Race Team

Just over halfway through the race and there will still be plenty of challenges ahead for all race competitors.  One of the major influences on how well a car performs in this race is the amount of sunshine there will be.  Cloudy days do impact the speed and progress of the cars.

This is an exciting race held here in Australia that is sponsored by Bridgestone, and it’s these sort of races that enable the evolution of production cars being run on electricity and solar energy.  If you can, get out and have a look at the cars as they silently run into Adelaide in a few days time.

Saudi Women Get The Right To Drive



The really big news in the motoring world of the past week or so isn’t GM’s plans for electric vehicles or the plans afoot for a Rolls-Royce SUV (although these are both hot issues).  It’s the fact that at long last, the Saudi ban on women getting their drivers’ license has been lifted.

Up until now, Saudi Arabia has been alone in not permitting women to drive legally – even other countries operating under Shariah (Muslim or Islamic) law such as Qatar, Iran and Iraq let women drive legally (the only other country that prohibited women from driving was Afghanistan under the Taliban).  Some of the reasons given included the possibility of women mixing with unrelated males (which goes against the cultural/religious norms) in the case of a traffic accident and the fact that driving can’t be done in a full burqa (although it can be done in a headscarf that’s pulled back where it doesn’t block peripheral vision much – as Western women in the 1920s knew well). 

The ban was lifted after a very long and determined campaign, mostly conducted via social media, by a group of Saudi women, who faced all sorts of possible penalties and repercussions for doing so, including one who was sentenced to a flogging for trying to drive until the King stepped in and overturned the sentence.

The ban was finally lifted on the grounds that constantly paying for taxis was putting a huge drain on the resources of many families; the rule about gender segregation was being broken left, right and centre because all the taxi drivers were men not related to their passengers; and women were finding it hard to get jobs and education, in spite of the Saudi government wanting to push tertiary education.  As of September 26, Saudi women can now get their licenses.

OK, so what’s the big deal?  Well, for one thing, female tourists can drive themselves around. Previously, if you had got your license overseas, you could still only drive in Saudi Arabia if you were issued with a local license… and they didn’t hand these out to women. A good chunk of us don’t have Saudi Arabia on our list of holiday destinations (barring those of us who want to make pilgrimages to Mecca for religious reasons), so why should we care over here in Australia?

We should care because it should make us stop and think for a moment about the freedoms we have here, and be grateful that we are allowed to get our drivers’ licences so easily (comparatively easily anyway!).

Do you remember the feeling of finally being grown up when you first got your L-plates, to say nothing of the feeling of independence and freedom when you got your P-plates and finally your full licence? You could go anywhere and do anything (almost) without having to sit down and negotiate timetables and the intricacies of working out who had to do what, where and when to ensure that Mum’s Taxi Service ran smoothly. You could also do your bit like a real adult when you could drive yourself to a proper job, and you felt like something of a hero/heroine who saved the day when you got a text from Dad saying that he had locked his keys in the car and needed you to drive over with the spares, or when you were able to drive your little brothers and sisters to school when Mum was sick and couldn’t do it.

Now imagine that you weren’t able do all that.  And that you still couldn’t do it, even if you were an educated and intelligent capable adult with kids of your own and a proper job.  Your choice of “proper jobs” would be really limited to what was within walking distance of the nearest bus stop, because if you had to pay for a taxi twice a day every day, the drain on your wallet would just about make it not worth working. And all this time, half of the members of your family do have the freedom to drive anywhere at any time, and you have to depend on their goodwill to go where you want or need to go.  This situation will go on all your life.

You also have to depend on this small handful of other family members if your children need to be picked up after school, have got sports practice or if they need to get to the dentist… or the doctor. Keep your fingers crossed that your kids never need a trip to the emergency room with something that isn’t life threatening enough to warrant calling an ambulance (e.g. broken arms, saucepans wedged onto heads, sprained ankles, etc.) during the daytime when the family members with the licenses are away on business or out doing their own thing.  Any doctor’s appointments, shopping trips even for basic groceries and visits to the dental clinic have to fit in with other people’s work schedules as well as your own. It’s Dad’s Taxi every time, with Mum’s Taxi not existing, which is annoying and stressful for Dad as well as for Mum.

Take a few moments right now to think about how your life would be different if your mum couldn’t drive, or your sister, or your wife (or yourself, if you’re a woman).

To take things to real extremes, if women didn’t or couldn’t drive cars, then the automotive industry might never have got off the ground in the first place. Karl Benz was on the point of giving up his experiment with the horseless carriage and was despairing that it would ever catch on, but then Bertha Benz loaded the kids into the new car and drove off to visit her mum as a publicity stunt to show that this new-fangled invention was so simple that even a woman could drive it with ease.

It’s also a good to take time to appreciate the fact that we can get licenses. Even if you live in the city and can commute by foot, bike or public transport, or if you work from home in a telecommute, be sure to get your licence, because you never know what the future might hold or when you’ll need to drive. Learn to drive and get that licence, and encourage your daughters to enjoy cars and driving just as much as you teach your sons.

The Splatometer.

Some of us might be familiar with the car care product “Bugger Off” – a really useful product that cleans insect splatter off the front of your car with ease.  In Australia there still seems to be plenty of insect life around but wildlife experts have been warning about the decline in insects for decades.  I’m not sure if you’ve noticed any decline in bug splatter on your windscreen over the last decade or so?

In areas of intensive agriculture, more-so cropping, the use of wide scale insecticides has diminished insect numbers.  Vast areas of the Australian Outback doesn’t have this problem, with little cropping present in remote areas.  But, where crop farming is intense, the use of insecticides is definitely reducing the total insect population.  The fall in insect numbers in Britain has reached troubling numbers that even motorists are noticing that their windscreens are clear of squashed beetles, flies, moths etc.  In Britain, a trip in the middle of summer once required the cleaning of the front window regularly, but now the glass is largely clear.  Richard Acland, of Chepstow, in Monmouthshire, Britain said he believed insecticides on crops were wiping out the world’s insect life, adding: “This is why cars are not bug-splattered anymore.”  Entomologists actually call it ‘the windscreen phenomenon,’ and statistical surveys reveal that the phenomenon has been noticed across Europe.

After extrapolating data from a mile of highway in Ontario, a researcher from Laurentian University, Canada calculated that hundreds of billions of pollinating insects were probably being killed by vehicles each year in North America.  She suggested that the increase in vehicle numbers is also contributing to the decline in worldwide insect populations.

Another research institute in Harpenden, England, has monitored insect populations using traps across the UK for more than 50 years and there has been evidence that insect numbers have really declined.  Experts mostly blame intensive agriculture and the use of pesticides over the past 50 years being attributed to this occurrence.  They did point out, however, that the loss of insects from vehicle windscreens is well-noted but actually demonstrating it is tricky.

In 2004 motorists were asked to attach a ‘splatometer’ to the front of their cars – a piece of PVC film to collect insects, to see if they were declining.  The results showed that there were 324,814 ‘splats’ recorded, which worked out to be an average of one squashed insect every five miles.  It would be beneficial to run another of these experiments to see if numbers have declined further or not.  One thing that might throw the data, however, is the increased aerodynamic shapes of new cars travelling the roads.  The reality that cars have changed shape over time, and are now far more aerodynamic, would also result in fewer insects actually being hit squarely on the windscreen and causing a splat.

Cars and insecticides are an insect’s nightmare.  Less insecticides and more shapely cars has to be a good thing for life on planet earth!  Have you noticed less insect splats?

Why You Need To Keep Left

… Because you’ll be killed in a head-on smash, that’s why.

OK, let’s clarify a few things here.  Obviously, all of us need to drive on the road so that we don’t bump into other drivers.  When Car A is travelling north at 65 km/h on a road and Car B is travelling southwards at 85 km/h and the road is – whoops, channelled the old-fashioned maths books there for a moment – anyway, how do they keep from bumping into one another? Very simply, in Australia, we have agreed to keep to the left.

So why the left?  Why not the right?  In Australia, we can put this down to our colonial heritage.  We were colonised by the UK, which is why you’re reading this in English, so all that happened is that they imported their road rules along with the roads.

OK, so why do the Brits drive on the left-hand side of the road?

As a matter of fact, it wasn’t just the Brits who drove on the left-hand side of the road back in the horse and carriage days.  According to one source, everybody used to drive on the left once upon a time.  The reasons for this went back to the Romans (like the standard gauge on railway tracks) and possibly even earlier than this.  This is because of two facts about human beings: (1) the majority are right-handed and (2) we have belligerent tendencies.  Anyone approaching you head-on could be an enemy or at least a potential jerk who doesn’t know how to drive his/her oxcart properly, and you might need to defend yourself and/or teach the jerk a lesson.  Road rage is nothing new. In fact, it pre-dates roads, as one Egyptian tomb painting illustrates: it shows two boatmen having a punch up (with one spouting hieroglyphics that were translated as “Take that, you f***er!”) after having rammed each other on the Nile.  Anyway, if you’re right-handed and want to have your sword hand on the side nearest the potential oncoming enemy, you kept left.  This applied even to foot traffic – and was made official law for tourists pilgrims according to a Papal Edict in the 1300s.

If you’ve ever seen jousting in one of those historical re-enactment displays, you’ll see the origins of the “keep left” principle in action.  If you’re a knight, you keep your lance tucked firmly under yourright arm and then keep left in the lists so the lance hits the other guy, not your own horse’s head. It’s common sense.

We also mount horses and bikes from the left so our right hands do the balancing or take our weight (or hang onto the saddle in case the horse decides to take off while you’re halfway through the proceedings).  To make things easy getting on and off, you want to do this from the kerb, so you keep on the side nearest the kerb.  Even today, look at the tilt on the kickstand on a modern motorbike: it leans left so that the majority of bikers can get on and off comfortably (question: are there left-handed motorbikes that lean the other way?  Must ask my left-handed biker brother-in-law.)

So why on earth did people start to keep right in some parts of the world?   The person to blame is supposedly Napoleon.  According to some accounts, he may have been left-handed, so he insisted on doing things the left-handed way.  Alternatively, it may have just been the tendency of nutty dictators to make their armies walk in a funny way just because (think of Nazi Germany or North Korea).  A more boring theory puts it down to the habit of driving large teams of horses which meant that the driver had to sit on the left with the whip in his left hand (though don’t ask me why this was necessary).  And, thanks to the French Revolution, nuts to any Papal Edicts that had been knocking around since the Middle Ages!

Drive on zat side of ze road!

Anyway, the habit of driving on the right started in France and spread, along with French manners and Napoleon’s empire, around large chunks of Europe.  It also became the habit in the US, partly because one of the generals in the War of Independence was French (General Lafayette) and partly because they didn’t want to do things like the Brits did, and the Brits had defiantly refused to change the good old-fashioned habit just because Napoleon had said to. I say, old chap, we won’t do that!

As an aside, the French and the Americans deciding to do things the opposite of the Brits, whom they hated, was also responsible for the “pink for girls, blue for boys” thing.  Posh Brits wanting to dress their offspring in gender-distinct colours picked pink for boys, as this was considered a strong, bold colour that was a baby version of military red; blue was already associated with the Virgin Mary and was considered softer, gentler and more soothing.  The French, however, had their soldiers in blue uniforms and, sacré bleu, were going to reflect this in their baby clothes; thanks to the Revolution when they all officially became athiests/agnostics, who cares about Mary? The Yanks also hated the Redcoats, so they ditched pink for boys as well.

Anyway, I digress.  The French and the Americans decided to do things their way and introduce keeping right.  Those sharing a continent with them often ended up following suit and because they’d spent time under Napoleon’s possibly left thumb.  As the use of the motorcar spread, those sharing continents with them also made the shift from left to right to avoid cross-border carnage and also because they wanted posh American cars.

However, those of us with our own motoring industries in countries where the border is the beach kept to the old traditions, mostly because we don’t have the cross-border muddles and we produced our own posh cars, thank you.  The UK, Australia, New Zealand and Japan all drive on the left. So does India, probably because of the lengthy period of British colonialization.  Around one-third of the world still keeps left.

However, according to some road safety experts, keeping left versus keeping right isn’t as inconsequential and trivial as, say, the colours you use to show whether Bubs is a boy or a girl. The majority of the population is still right-handed and right-eyed, so it makes sense to have your dominant hand on the wheel actually controlling the direction of the car while the non-dominant hand moves the gears, and to have your dominant eye getting the best view of the traffic.

There has actually been a study, carried out in the late 1960s by a chap called J.J Leeming (who was a Brit – which may have biased his results), which suggests that when you take all other factors into account, the road accident rate is slightly higher in countries that drive on the right compared with those that drive on the left, thanks to the handedness factor. I have attempted to find out whether these results, originally published in a wee book called Road Accidents: Prevent or Punish? have been verified, but Google Scholar doesn’t seem to reveal any that directly compare accident rates in left-side countries versus right-side countries controlling for other factors.  Any civil engineering grad students out there looking for a good thesis topic who want to do this?

And there you have it: keeping left is possibly the oldest road safety rule known to humanity.  Keeping left isn’t fighting the natural preferences of the majority (sorry, lefties!).  So make sure you do it!

Road Rage.

Road rage. Two words guaranteed to trigger responses, raise hackles, flush cheeks, cause divisions and have opinions. But what is road rage? Wikipedia provided a simple, unambiguous meaning: “Road rage is aggressive or angry behavior by a driver of an automobile or other road vehicle which includes rude gestures, verbal insults, physical threats or dangerous driving methods targeted toward another driver in an effort to intimidate or release frustration.”

In NSW we have seen a couple of high profile examples of road rage recently, however it’s a daily occurence for unknown numbers. What do we see? People speeding past; changing lanes with no signal; weaving dangerously across three and four lanes; passing too closely on either side of your car; speeding up to block you out; not allowing you to change lanes or merge on or off the highway; racing other drivers (i.e., two maniacs who think car-handling skills are better than they actually are); roaring up behind as if they might intentionally rear-end you; constant tailgating; horn honking; flashing high beams at your mirror when you are in “their” fast lane; finger flipping; screaming out the window; causing or creating accidents; pulling over to fight; or worse, kill the other driver.

Whom do we see doing it? Frankly, just about anyone. However it’s also no longer a gender specific issue, as Psychology Today (USA based) says: Women may not get into roadside fistfights or point guns at each other like men, but they can drive just as aggressively, rudely, and even dangerously.

Personal experience from my point of view does, sadly, back up the validity of the comment. Even more sadly, a good proportion of the drivers one could describe as driving badly are P platers, those that would have finished their training anywhere between a few days to three years before, with a slight leaning towards males being “assertive” on their driving styles.

But there’s so many things that constitute bad driving that inflame and raise the ire of other drivers. A number of surveys point, somewhat oddly, to drivers failing to indicate as a major heart rate raiser. I say oddly given the sheer amount of vehicles with “broken indicators”….There’s little doubt a favourite is the slow lane speeders, those that hold up other drivers at a velocity below the speed limit on a single lane yet somehow find the extra effort to keep pace or move forward of you when a lane for overtaking becomes available.

Another seeming favourite is the tailgater, with “braketesting” a close follower. Driver’s that’ll sit right on the rear of your car for no apparent reason, and especially when there’s no possibility of them overtaking on either side due to traffic numbers. The braketesters, the ones that slow suddenly and again for no apparent reason, are in there as a road rager.

A comment from a follower of a road safety and driver education social media page was: “Those that drive at night with just their DRLs (daytime driving lights) and forget that the tail lights don’t come on so you can’t see them. And when you flash your lights at them to try and get them to turn theirs on they become aggressive.”

But what of the reactions? One response was: “people are genuinely sick and tired of bad drivers when there’s no need for bad driving.” Is there a level of impatience with people that simply don’t seem to be able to do something that genuinely isn’t that hard?

We’d like to hear from you. Tell us your experiences of road rage and why you think it exists.

Really Keen Young Drivers!

One of my brothers, when aged around 5, found the keys in the ignition of Dad and Mum’s car and proceeded to start the car up and drive off.  That’s what you do with cars, isn’t it?  Dad and Mum were having a rest in the house when this occurred, and thankfully Dad heard the engine and rushed outside to stop him before he got away!

But he’s not the only one.  Just recently, in America (Where else!), two brothers aged five and two took off in their mother’s 2005 Ford Focus and headed off to their Grandfather’s place.  Life at home must have been a little dull at the time.  Putnam County Sheriff deputies believe the toddlers might have teamed up to work the pedals and steer the steering wheel.  The end result was a crash in the ditch, quite a distance away from home.  The car was wrecked almost 5 km down the road, the boys unhurt.  Prior to the jaunt, the boys were playing outside the home when they found the car keys under the mat.

Another child (8 years old), and in America, recently drove his sister to McDonalds to buy some food from the drive through lane – paying for the food with his own piggy bank money.  The police officer’s, family friends and grandparents then stopped him from driving any further.

A good reminder, if you own a car, is to keep the car locked up and the keys in a safe place out of reach of little fingers!  If you don’t mind the kids playing in the car, then make sure the keys are hidden away.

If your kids love cars, give them a pedal car or electric car (kids size) to let their imaginations lead to healthy and safe outcomes.  Another thing you can enjoy with young kids who like to drive is to take them off the road in a car and let them steer with you in control and in the driver’s seat.  Who hasn’t let their kids drive up the driveway or around a paddock under supervision while seated on your knees in the driver’s seat?

Have any of you  been in a situation where you (when under 10), your siblings or your own children have sought to drive off in your parent’s car when aged well under the driving age?  Do share!  These days, Google helps to teach us to drive, and I suppose any bright kid can learn off Google!

The Sounds Of…

Much of the appeal of any new car – apart from factors like practicality and power – lies in the visual and tactile arenas. We admire the sleek lines or the bold aggressive chunkiness. We smile at the bug-eyed appeal of round headlights, such as those on the VW Beetle, or appreciate the clever styling achieved with pretty daytime running lights – or the classic Ring of Fire tail lights of an HSV. Chrome, interior lighting packages, exterior paint colour… it’s all visual. The interior styling also tends to cater to our senses of touch and comfort (kinaesthetics) with leather-wrapped this and that, lumbar support, heated seats and the like. Even a car with powerful acceleration and superb handling around the corners appeals to our kinaesthetic – it’s a human thing to enjoy the sensation of G-forces during acceleration and cornering.

We don’t tend to give the sense of sound much thought when picking out a new vehicle or even when driving, apart from what the sound system’s like (number of speakers, location and quality of speakers, input type…). However, we use our sense of hearing quite a lot when we’re in and around cars, although we’re less aware of it.

The role of sound in motoring was brought home to me rather acutely when I had a very close encounter with a hybrid vehicle in the supermarket carpark the other evening. It was getting a bit dark and I was waiting for a stream of cars to go past so I could get back to the old faithful Nissan with my groceries. One car goes past, then the next, so I tune out for a bit; then, as I hear the sound of an engine trailing away to one side and no sound on the other side, I start to stride forwards… only to pull up sharply as the hybrid that was last in the line of cars crawls past.  No damage was done, but this is something that we’re all going to have to look out for – literally look out for – as hybrids and electric vehicles become more common on our roads (and in the supermarket carpark).

As pedestrians and cyclists, we rely on our sense of hearing as an extra warning signal that something’s coming, especially when we can’t see down a driveway. I’m probably not the only one who had the mantra “Stop, Look and Listen” drummed in as part of road safety training and learning how to cross a road (along with Look Left, Look Right, Then Look Left Again).  I’m certainly not the only one to get a bit jumpy about the safety aspects of how silent hybrids and electrics are: last year, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration legislated that quiet cars like these have to emit some sort of noise as a warning.

At the other end of the sound spectrum are the cars that you certainly can hear coming – like a former neighbour of mine with his 7-litre diesel Chevy. We all know the ones – the big bore exhausts, the V8 motors, the “muffler” that’s carefully tuned so the roar of the engine sounds just right. Now, these drivers are certainly aware of appealing to the sense of sound. Even if you’re not into big bore exhausts, most of us are not completely immune to the sound of a powerful engine doing its thing, even if we don’t quite go as far as former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson (the one we all loved to hate) doing a “Listen to it!  Just listen to it!” rant. And just don’t get me started on the Dukes of Hazard sol-mi-do-do-do-re-mi-fa-sol-sol-sol-fa horns…

Somewhere in between these extremes comes the driver who is indeed highly tuned into the sounds the engine – and indeed the whole car – is making. Maybe you are that driver.  This is the sort of person who drives passengers batty with a constant “What’s that noise?  I can hear something rattling!” This gets followed by frantic groping around the interior of the car trying to find and eliminate the cause of said rattle, with the end result that the offending pair of sunglasses in the glovebox has to be wrapped up in a beanie to silence it. This is punctuated by complaints about Funny Noises made by the engine that are only apparent to the driver. To be fair, car manufacturers go out of their way to reduce the on-road noise heard in the cabin and the sound of the engine does get used by mechanics as a form of diagnosis.

On the whole, however, the sound of an engine tends to be a subconscious or subliminal feature. We may not even be aware of it until one day, we hear a particular engine note and become overwhelmed by a rush of nostalgia, suddenly reminded of the car our parents drove when we were little, or the first car we owned. We have those moments when our hearts skip a little beat as we hear one particular engine amid lots of others, like a familiar face in a crowd, and we know that someone special to us has arrived.  And oh, the disappointment when we realise that what we heard was only another car of the same make and year… The sound of a car engine is something that affects us more deeply than we probably realise.

That’s my challenge to you this week: think about how your car sounds a bit more consciously (or mindfully, to use a buzz word). Are you a noise lover, a hypersensitive or do you like it quiet? Or do you have any suggestions about the sounds that hybrids and electrics ought to emit for safety purposes?