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Driving in Australia

Should Dash Cams Become Compulsory?

We’ve previously documented the rise of dash cams, which are now a common sight on our roads. After all, technology plays an ever increasing role in addressing the day-to-day aspects of our lives, so it was only natural this would transition to our commuting habits as well. Who can look past the various online communities that have sprung up around the country with a hotbed of dash cam footage for every curious observer to take in?

Now however, it would seem the fanfare for dash cams has extended further, with many drivers calling for the equipment to become compulsory. Whereas these items were once considered a luxury, their affordability has now made them an accessible option for the majority of motorists.

 

 

What do motorists have to say?

In a recent survey by Smiths Lawyers, nearly three quarters (72%) of respondents are calling for dash cams to be a permanent fixture. To clarify, these motorists are advocating for the cameras to be recording at all times. Perhaps more pertinently, around 40% of drivers are in favour of dash cams being fitted to all vehicles, while a slightly smaller portion (34%) feel that the equipment should become a compulsory fitted device in all new vehicles sold across Australia.

You’re probably thinking that many of these respondents are those who already own a dash cam, instead trying to justify the measure to other motorists. Surprisingly however, just 26% of those surveyed own a dash cam, far less than the number calling for their roll-out. Leading the way in this area are Queensland drivers (30%), slightly ahead of those from NSW (26%) and Victoria (22%).

In what is perhaps the most interesting observation to come from the study, there were some particularly stark differences in opinion among different age groups. While elderly drivers aged over 65 were prominent advocates of compulsory dash cams – with 40% of respondents in favour – and nearly half of respondents aged 18-24 also backing the technology, it was one other group that took an unlikely stand. Among 25-34 year olds, 38% of respondents were against the notion of dash cams becoming mandatory.

 

 

Where we are at in terms of mandating dash cams

With drivers seemingly in support of mandating dash cams, are we actually likely to see the move go ahead? The utilisation of dash cams have made incident investigation a more effortless process for insurance purposes, helping drivers prove their claims and reducing burden on the courts. Arguably, there has even been an increase in driver awareness and education as a result of dash cams. But while there may be merit on an individual level, the notion of a mass roll-out has other considerations.

The primary obstacle is that government and manufacturers have not signalled any indication to mandate the technology in new cars. On the one hand, depending on how the data were to be stored, an integrated solution could give rise to privacy concerns. But beyond that, it’s an added cost that would be hard to pass through via higher car prices. Not only is it easy for drivers to access external dash cams, but the cost to auto-makers would still be high enough to eat into their margins when apportioned over a high volume of cars. For theses reasons, don’t expect a change in legislation any time soon.

How To Be A Polite Driver

You’ll hear a lot of people complaining about the rudeness of other drivers – the hoon who cut you off, the moron who nearly opened the car door right into you as you drove past, etc. etc. I could rant for ages about examples of plain old rudeness on the roads. So could you, I dare say. However, instead of simply having a grizzle about the level of rudeness on the roads, let’s flip the script. If more and more of us concentrated on being polite drivers with good on-road manners, then the happier we’ll all be.

Yes, I’m going to sound like your mother in this post and I’m going to remind you about good manners. However, I’m allowed to, as I might be old enough to be your mother (if you’re under 25). As for the rest of us, we could all do with a reminder, couldn’t we?

Courtesy To Other Drivers

  • Don’t be in such a rush to be first or ahead of everybody else. It’s barely going to save you a second on your commute, so why bother taking a risk as well as being annoying to others? This means that you don’t push in and cut people off.
  • Stay alert at the lights. Nobody likes being behind that person who checks their phone at a red light (which is, incidentally, illegal) who fails to see the light change to green for a couple of seconds. Stay alert, leave that phone alone and be ready to move.
  • Let people in. If the traffic’s busy and you’ve come to a standstill, and you see someone waiting at the exit from the supermarket, let them in before you take off. This is done by a simple wave of the hand and a smile. It’s also a very human thing to do, as this sort of courtesy is something that an autonomous car can’t do.
  • Wave and smile if someone does something nice like letting you in. This is how you say thank you in an urban driving setting.
  • On the open road, if you can’t go at the full road speed for some reason, pull over onto the shoulder of the road to let people go past.
  • Thank slower drivers who pull over to let you past by tooting the horn cheerfully and waving.
  • Dip your lights in plenty of time rather than playing Headlight Chicken at night. This is good for safety as well as courtesy, as having two dazzled drivers for the sake of pride is stupid and dangerous.
  • If you have been going at just below the speed limit most of the time, don’t suddenly speed up to full speed or more when you get to the parts of the road that have passing lanes provided, forcing those who want to go faster to really put their foot down to possibly a dangerous degree.
  • Stay in your lane, even when the traffic is slow, rather than hopping from one to another. If you wouldn’t do it in the supermarket or in the queue for the loo during half-time at the rugby, don’t do it on the road.
  • Even if you have a fantastic sound system, you don’t need to let the world know about it by turning it up to full blast and winding the windows down. Not everybody shares your taste in music. The only exception is if you’re a contractor and you have your vehicle parked off the road where you’re working, and you want to listen while you work.
  • On rural roads where the traffic is sparse, wave, nod or raise a finger (no, not THAT finger) to salute oncoming drivers.
  • Use your indicators. Enough said.

Courtesy To Other Road Users

  • Check for cyclists before opening your car doors.
  • Wait until pedestrians are completely off the crossing before you move off (this is the law as well as good manners).
  • Give cyclists plenty of room, especially if they’re coping with a hill or a stiff headwind or even a blisteringly hot day. Refrain from honking your horn at them if the road is narrow and they’re doing all they can – just wait until you have enough space to pass.
  • Stop for animals on the roads, from ducklings to kangaroos.
  • Be sensitive around horses, as they are wired instinctively to run away from things that make loud roaring noises at them. This means that you don’t rev your engine, honk your horn or shout at them.
  • Stay out of the bike lane. It is there to keep cyclists from holding motorized traffic up, not as an extra turning lane or passing lane.

Courtesy To Passengers

  • Open the door for whoever’s in the front passenger seat. Traditionally, the guy is the driver and the lady is the passenger, but these days, the rule should be that whoever has the keys should unlock and open for the person without, regardless of how many X chromosomes each one has.
  • Wait until everybody has made their seatbelt click before moving off.
  • Your car might be able to corner hard, but your passengers do not have the steering wheel to hold onto. Don’t throw your passengers around; save the rally driver behaviour for when you are alone or actually in a rally.
  • Ensure that the music volume and temperature are comfortable for everybody (dual zone climate control is a wonderful invention).
  • Refrain from making snarky or belittling comments about other road users. Double that if your passengers are children. This rule also applies to those other road users known as cops.

Other Situations Where Courtesy Is Important

  • If you are ticketed, accept it as a fair cop, no matter what the reason is. Don’t rage at the cop or the parking warden, who is simply doing his/her job and might hate being assigned to this duty as much as you hate being ticketed. Take it on the chin and take that ticket. Refrain from throwing an adult tantrum about it at your passengers once the uniformed figure has gone – it’s not their fault. It’s your fault, so suck it up, buttercup.
  • Revving your engine loudly so that all the world can hear it is bad manners. Small exceptions can be made if you have a beautifully tuned V8 or V12 (or any other exhaust system that’s been tweaked to produce that deep, throaty growl). This motoring music often draws a smile from fellow motoring enthusiasts. Even so, don’t overdo it, especially late at night.
  • Avoid back seat driving. You may give directions if requested to or call the driver to attention if he/she hasn’t noticed that the truck ahead has slammed on the brakes or if the light has changed. However, nobody needs a full-time driving instructor once they’re off their learner’s licence and even P-platers don’t need nonstop instructions.
  • If you’ve got a very nice sports car (or a well-kept old classic) that attracts attention, don’t get disgruntled about people taking selfies with it, snapping pictures of it or asking questions about it. Bask in the adulation – this is part of the pleasure of owning something rare and beautiful.

 

Are New Cars Becoming Too Easy to Steal?

As more new vehicles come to the market boasting the latest and greatest technology, manufacturers are looking to simplify the driving experience. This means getting you up and running with easier access to your car. So, what’s one of the prominent solutions?

Well, this has translated into keyless entry and push-button ignition becoming commonplace across the latest models. That’s not to say it was ever difficult to use a key, but clearly the boffins behind this technology thought that was getting all too cumbersome. So with the traditional and trusted key now looking lonely on the outer, is everything actually all fine and well?

 

The risk associated with keyless entry

Not everything may be as it seems. In some corners there is a growing chorus of industry experts suggesting that today’s new cars are becoming too easy to steal. How, you might ask, as you look quizzically down at your keyless entry remote. Well, that very device is among the design aspects that some have reasonable grounds to be concerned.

This new generation of remotes transmit wireless signals that are automatically picked up within a proximity of the vehicle. As these transmitters work in much the same way as any other device that emits a code over a certain frequency, they are not necessarily immune from interference. And while it may not sound the easiest workaround, the risk remains, a device configured to pick up and read these frequencies has the ability to mimic the remote and replicate those very codes to the same effect.

How realistic is the problem?

Sure, you can lock your car, but a keyless entry remote will continually transmit a code in anticipation that you will return to your car at some point and access the vehicle without retrieving the remote. Some manufacturers have embedded additional safety features, such as PIN-activated ignition, a motion-activated fob that is immobilised when no longer moving, or a remote that broadcasts across a wider range of frequencies.

Now if you’re thinking all this sounds highly preposterous and a convoluted way to steal a car, you may want to pause on those thoughts. Check out this field test from What Car, or this one from Which. In what is likely to be surprising news to many drivers out there, some of the market’s most premium vehicles are susceptible to being ‘stolen’ in under 30 seconds.

For now manufacturers are continuing to work on refining and improving the technology, but it’s important to understand, the latest tech does not necessarily mean the greatest tech. In the meantime, you may want to consider requesting your dealer disables that keyless entry remote, or you take to buying a Faraday Bag to shield the remote from emitting electromagnetic signals. Sometimes keeping it simple truly is better.

 

2020 Volvo V90 CrossCountry: Private Fleet Car Review

This Car Review Is About: The wagon or Estate or Tourer version of Volvo’s stunning S90 sedan. The CrossCountry raises the ride height from the sedan, goes all wheel drive, and adds exterior body mouldings. It’s fitted out with some lovely equipment too.How Much Does It Cost?: With no options fitted, and in metallic paint with the standard wheels & tyres, the Volvo website lists it as $91,200 driveaway.Under The Bonnet Is: A five cylinder diesel engine, with Stop/Start tech, producing 173kW and 480Nm. It’s rated as 7.2L/100km for the combined cycle. On our drive in a mainly urban setup, we averaged 7.8L/100km and it’s rated as EURO6 compliant. Tank size is 60.0L. Transmission is Volvo’s eight speed Geartronic auto driving all four paws. Volvo quotes a sub-eight second 0-100 kph time and a top whack of 235 kph from the 1,828kg (dry) machine.On The Outside It’s: Covered in a luscious Crystal White metallic, even pearlescent, paint with polycarbonate body mouldings. Rubber is 245/45/R20 with Pirelli supplying the P-Zero. The alloys are standard, with optionable 5 and 6 spoke designs on 19 inch diamond cut designs. It looks longer than the actual length of 4,939mm suggests, perhaps due to the low overall height of just 1,545mm. Wheelbase is 2,941mm. Front and rear exterior wheel to wheel is 1,879mm.The front is dominated by the glowing pair of “Thor’s Hammer” driving lights inside the slimline headlight clusters. These include the indicators as well. The bonnet is long, possibly a good third of the full length. It’s a very upright looking nose, and a pair of small aero wings sit close to the ground, just above small globes in the bottom corners of the bumper. The rear is equally dominated, this time with the signature “hockey sticks” for the lights, and here Cross Country is embossed into the upper section of the rear bumper, above an alloy look insert. The doors open wide too, making entry and exiting the V90 a painless experience.On The Inside Is: Standard sumptuous black Nappa leather pews. Two position memory for the driver’s seat. Rear seats with their own separate climate control and seat boosters for children. A powerful Bowers and Wilkins premium audio system including DAB. A powered tail gate that opens to a flat level and a capacity of 560L. It’s a long but not high cargo section though. There’s 1,026mm of head room up front, and 966mm for the rear seats. Front leg room is 1,071mm and the rear seats enjoy 911mm. What this means is that the V90 CrossCountry should fit most potential buyers. There’s certainly no shortage of a luxury feel. The Nappa leather ensures the occupants are cossetted and made to feel welcome. The aircon is touchscreen operated and is relatively simple to use. The touchscreen itself is vertically (portrait) oriented and is a swipe left or right to gain access to information on setup, apps, fuel, settings, safety features, etc. Naturally there’s Volvo’s variable LCD screen look too, with four different modes to suit the mood. For extra safety there is a 360 degree camera setup, with the only “downside” being the distortion of objects as the car gets closer to them. Drive modes are selected via the traditional knurled dial in the centre of the console. That also houses the rotate to the right Start/Stop dial. On The Road It’s: A typical diesel. Lag from a standing start before the torque explodes and launches the V90 forward easily and hurriedly. The low revving delivery of torque means that overtaking and highway acceleration is a doddle too. The eight speed self-shifter is a delight too, with a surety and confidence in its cog swapping up and down. Using manual shifting is almost redundant as a result.Handling was mostly on par, however there is understeer at low speeds and the extra ride height over the sedan and standard V90s can occasionally lend itself to a feeling of rolling slightly. However, this again appears more prominently at lower speeds. There’s plenty of grip, regardless, from the Pirelli rubber, meaning that is no issue with feeling the V90 will spear off into the undergrowth. At highway velocities, where the engine is ticking over at just 1,500rpm, the body firms and stiffens, with a very compliant ride yet feeling more tight and taut simultaneously. The steering becomes more intuitive and instinctive too, with no sense of being under or over-assisted. Whilst underway, the driver’s rear vision mirror lights up with a simple but effective compass direction. It’s placed and lit just so, with the font and brightness spot on as they’re both non-distracting yet very efficient. The Bowers & Wilkins audio system is also clear and punchy whilst underway, with bass providing a home theatre quality kick, and the dash mounted tweeter providing assistance in the changeable sound stage. The driver can select a presence where the sound is for all of the cabin or can be selected for the driver only. At any speed it’s a delight to experience.

What About Safety?: Volvo have loaded the V90 with a comprehensive safety package. Its Intellisafe System offers up Pilot Assist, a gentle lane keeping assistant. This shakes hands with the Oncoming Lane Mitigation system, that also assists in keeping the V90 in its own lane. Adaptive Cruise Control will measure the car’s distance to the one ahead and adapt to reduce or increase distance as required. Distance Alert goes hand in hand with the HUD or Head Up Display, and visually shows if the V90 has crept too close the vehicle ahead.

Airbags, naturally, abound, including one for the driver’s knees. These will come into play if the next feature isn’t successful. The Oncoming Mitigation by Braking is a Volvo safety world first that can detect if a vehicle heads straight towards your car on the wrong side of the road. If a collision can’t be avoided, it will brake your car automatically to further help reduce the effects of an impact. More about the safety features can been found here.

What About Warranty And Service?: Volvo lag here in the warranty stakes. There is a three year, not four or five or higher, warranty. That’s in comparison to the five years offered by BMW. Service costs though were slashed earlier this year, with a three year service plan for the V90 costing $3030 at the last available information.

At the End Of The Drive: Straight up, the Volvo V90 CrossCountry makes a worthy alternative to the over-saturated SUV marketplace. By offering a station wagon/tourer/estate in a luxury oriented vehicle, it provides buyers the chance to get into a vehicle that provides a more family friendly environment than a sedan yet isn’t bulky and road heavy like the bigger SUVs. It’s an easy drive, pulls like a locomotive, and is very well featured to boot. Get into your own V90 here.

Millennials, It’s Your Fault New Car Sales Are Sliding…Apparently

The sharp drop in new car sales throughout 2019 has had no shortage of publicity, particularly now that 18 consecutive months of declining figures have come through. Over that time we’ve heard from experts as to a variety of factors that have contributed to the rut.

From political uncertainty before this year’s election, to a tightening in lending regulations, a weakening economy led by subdued house prices, the effects of a drought, and believe it or not vehicle shipments contaminated by little bugs! Now you can add another ‘explanation’ to the list because millennials, it’s your fault new car sales are sliding…apparently.

 

The underlying trends

You see, the shifting trends among millennials are pointing to a change in views towards car ownership. Younger Australians are holding onto their first vehicle for a longer period of time, or otherwise putting their driver’s licence on the back burner. There is testimony from some industry insiders to suggest that millennials are less comfortable with the idea of a loan than previous generations given a tendency to spend more to stay up to date with the latest technology or to fuel travel and entertainment aspirations.

The prompts are largely coming about through the influence of technology, including the role it is playing on behavioural patterns. First and foremost, the rise of apps like Uber and Ola have reduced dependency on individual vehicle ownership, instead promoting the benefits of a flexible ride-sharing fleet. Online food and grocery services follow the same notion, where a few simple touches on a mobile phone are enough to avoid making that trip to the supermarket.

At the same time, we’re also seeing far greater levels of urban consolidation take place in our major cities. Given the significant rise in house prices since the end of the GFC, many millennials are forgoing the Australian dream to own a home. An increasingly popular choice of action is to rent in highly desirable locations, which typically translates to inner city living or convenient public transport links nearby – both reducing dependency on vehicle ownership.

Finally, vehicle subscription services and peer-to-peer car sharing are becoming more commonplace in this demographic segment as well. A variety of companies have latched onto this trend, allowing anyone to borrow a car from a friendly stranger in their neighbourhood. Who would have thought it would be possible all those years ago?

 

Is there more to it than meets the eye?

Notwithstanding the trends that are taking place, the conversation has really only started to emerge in recent months. Look a little further back however, and what you realise is that new car sales were coming off an all-time high. Quite frankly, a level that some would argue may well turn out to be a short-term peak, or an otherwise unsustainable level once evidence of a slowing economy emerged. These trends have been occurring for some time now, so should have been observed earlier on sales data.

Furthermore, many of these trends are being attributed to millennials, but they sure as heck aren’t the only ones nurturing such changes. Those who have been brought up through these technological and societal changes become an easy target to point the finger at for ‘leading the way’ so to speak, but if this was really at the heart of the matter, then a range of buying incentives should suffice among other demographics to offset this decline.

But the facts remain, we’re seeing high levels of population growth, the lowest interest rates on record, and vehicle prices as affordable as they’ve ever been before. If those initiatives aren’t getting other buyers into the market, to offset a supposed wane in interest among millennials, where does the fault really lie?

 

What Makes A Road Not Just Good But Great?

During a relaxed evening, I like to dig out DVDs of the old classic Top Gear show and watch an episode (bonus points if they decide to feature something I’ve written up for Private Fleet’s reviews). Now and then, the Terrible Trinity of May, Clarkson and Hammond take whatever gorgeous piece of metal and/or carbon fibre they’re talking about onto some road somewhere in the world and they start talking not just about the car but about the road and what a great road it is.

This got me thinking: what is it that makes a road not just good but great? Obviously, to be a good road, it has to be in good condition. Anything with potholes just doesn’t cut the mustard, no matter what other features it has. It has to be safe as well, which rules out the notorious Camino del Muerte in Bolivia from Yungas to La Paz (this has now ruled itself out – the government has now shut it to motor traffic and it’s a very, very popular mountain bike trail).

A bit of poking and prodding around online produced quite a few top ten and top twenty lists of what are considered by various bloggers and authorities to be the best roads in the world to drive. Rather than simply re-hashing what these others have said, I got all analytical on them to work out which characteristics made a good road into a great road. After all, few of us are able to travel the entire world to find the great roads, but maybe there’s some little hidden treasure not too far away from you that could have qualified for these lists, if only the writers (or the tourism promoters paying the writers) knew about them. Having said that, the Great Ocean Road in Victoria makes it onto a lot of these lists, so if you’re in Melbourne, you’re not that far away from an officially great road anyway.

Hallmarks Of A Great Road

  1. Amazing Scenery. Just about all of the famous roads on the various lists seem to feature spectacular scenery of some kind, preferably the sort that can be described as “dramatic”. Mountains and cliffs seem to feature heavily in most, but not all, cases.  However, the scenery would still be just as dramatic if it was viewed from the window of a tour bus, so there must be more to what makes a great road great than just the views.  What’s more, if you are driving on a road that qualifies as having great scenery, make sure that you pull over in a sensible place for your photo opportunities rather than trying to take something while standing in the middle of the road.
  2. Non-Metropolitan. I don’t know if “non-metropolitan” is officially a dictionary word but how else do you describe routes that include small to medium towns and villages as well as plenty of rural scenery? However, this seems to be another feature of the great roads. Probably, the ability to travel at full open road speed is something to do with it, punctuated by the chance to fill up with fuel, recharge, have a coffee and go to the loo somewhere civilized.
  3. Bends. Roads that are dead straight the whole way do not qualify as great roads, although long and epic roads that have significant straight sections do make it onto these lists (Ruta 40 in Argentina and the Ocean Highway in Florida being the main examples here). However, to be a great road for a driver, a road has to have a few bends in it, preferably large, looping ones. Where else would you get to see what the handling of your vehicle can really do?  One thing to bear in mind, though, is that spectacular scenery often means big drop-offs and/or idiots taking selfies in dumb places, and being non-metropolitan means that it can take some time for the emergency services to arrive and cellphone coverage may be dodgy.  Getting the exact quality and quantity of bends in the road to make it great is a fine balancing act.  Too many and the road becomes risky and you miss out on the scenery.  Too few and it’s not enough of a challenge for a driver.  If you’re interested in taking a mathematical approach to this sort of thing, rental car company Avis has got a formula it uses for creating its list of best roads that looks at the ratio of time spent going around bends to time spent on a straight.  Exactly how many bends there are and how sharp they need to be to make a road great or perfect will vary from driver to driver. Some people like to have more hairpins than a busy hairdresser (Stelvio Pass, I’m looking at you); others prefer wide sweeps and gentle undulations.  But bends are a must.

If you are lucky enough to get the chance to travel the world and try out some of the great roads beyond what we’ve got here, then one thing to remember is that although the piccies posted by travel websites and the footage on motor shows make it look as though you will have the road to yourself, you probably won’t.  So enjoy the drive, by all means, but share the love and share the road.

If you have been lucky enough to drive a road you consider to be great, then let us know all about in the comments… unless you want to keep a delightful secret all to yourself.

Speed Limiters Will be Heading Down Under

Those driving trucks will already be all too familiar with speed limiters, but it looks like the rest of us could well be confronted by the same prospect. You see, the European Union earlier this year sought to introduce new legislation that would make it mandatory for new cars to come with a series of safety aids previously deemed optional.

Some of these measures would be no surprise to Australian drivers. The likes of autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning are slowly becoming more commonplace in the latest vehicles. Other features however, would be raising a few eyebrows.

Take alcohol interlock installations for example. Many Aussies would view these as much a punitive measure and infringement of our rights, than a precautionary safety aid – even though it could go some way to reduce alcohol related road trauma. And then you have speed limiters. While in theory the premise that speed kills has been discussed extensively, there is argument in some quarters that this type of intervention might not have the desired impact.

 

What’s happening

Changes are not expected to unfold for some time, however the leading indicator will be the European market. With legislation set to come into effect in May 2022 – and 2024 for vehicles already on sale – it provides manufacturers and motorists with ample time to facilitate the changes.

The Europeans aren’t going it alone mind you. They’re actually taking heed of the suggestions being put forward by the United Nations, which is surprisingly taking a lead in this area by putting forward a proposal for such technology.

By now you’re probably thinking, so what, Australia has its own road rules and governance initiatives in place. That may be the case, but we are part of a working group helping the UN tackle this ‘issue’. Let’s also not forget that shared testing practices are common between jurisdictions, as is the case with ANCAP and EuroNCAP. This extends to the mandatory inclusion of AEB and lane-departure warning for a 5-star safety score.

Behind the scenes, what you may not also be aware of is an initiative that ANCAP has been undertaking for some time. They have been engaging in telemetry to assess the accuracy of speedometers in new cars. The thing is, one barrier standing in their way is provisions in the law permitting manufacturers to calibrate speedometers as much as 10 per cent higher than your actual driving speed. On top of this, speed sign recognition and GPS precision are hardly foolproof.

Aside from the concerning implications this sort of technology could have during overtaking conditions, particularly in rural areas, and the regulatory overreach that will aggravate many road users, something else is clear. Speed is a definite factor in accidents, but we already have a variety of initiatives to tackle this. Even if we become compelled to follow in the EU’s footsteps, as it appears will be the case, we’re certainly nowhere near ready.

Are Skinny Lanes the Solution to Congestion on our Roads?

There’s no escaping it, our roads are congested across the country. It’s a nightmare for all of us. After all, nobody takes joy being stuck in traffic. It extends our commute and leaves us with less time for the things we actually want to do. We should be wondering, what’s being done about it?

Sure, we have tolls. There are also proposals for congestion charges to reduce demand for road use, or otherwise share the road in more efficient ways like giving priority to car-pool vehicles. Governments are also investing billions in infrastructure, much of which is dedicated to roads and highways. However, does that all go far enough? Is there another simpler solution sitting right under our noses?

One of the more radical ideas floating around in the news this past week was ‘skinny’ lanes. That’s right, it is exactly what it sounds like. The idea being, our road network remains largely the same. But in place of laying down new bitumen, space would be squeezed from existing lanes to create a new, narrow lane designed specifically for motorbikes and / or smaller cars.

Contrary to what you might be thinking, the idea isn’t one that was hashed out by two high school students. Nor was it conceived with the inspiration of a couple Friday night beverages. In fact, this has come straight out of the well-known and highly regarded think tank, the Grattan Institute.

 

 

Is it really feasible?

On paper, it sounds novel to expand capacity on our roads, without actually expanding physical capacity. The urban planning side seemingly checks out.  From a financial perspective, it’s definitely a cheaper proposition than building new roads. Plus, roads wouldn’t need to be closed anywhere near as long as they would if extensive construction were to be required to upgrade roads and interchanges.

But there is one important thing being overlooked here. Australians are increasingly shifting away from smaller cars to mid-size vehicles. Some experts point to these larger vehicles being at fault for the congestion, although that really is debatable. Small cars still represent a huge portion of fleet, but if we do not remain cognisant of the clear trend, then we could be jumping to a ‘solution’ that won’t align with the way we are actually using our roads.

One could argue that such an initiative has the potential to shape car selection among new car buyers. There is some merit to this argument, but at the same time, that is also what has been said for electric vehicles – we all know their adoption has been underwhelming at best. Then you also have the issue of giving exclusive priority to certain road users, when at the end of the day we all still pay car registration to be afforded the same access on public roads.

Comparisons are inevitable with European markets, where narrow lanes and smaller cars correspond with fewer road fatalities. What is missed in those examples is the greater access they have to public transport, in addition to the compact size of their cities. On the other hand, our commute extends much further, both geographically and by purpose.

As novel as the idea may be, it’s clear it is one that needs a rethink. What do you think of proposed skinny lanes to reduce congestion?

 

4 Essential Driving Apps

As Australians come to depend on their mobile phones for just about everything we do, developers have sought to capitalise on that trend by extending it to our daily mobility and driving. With apps covering the spectrum from navigation to parking, safety, entertainment and saving money – there is usually a solution for whatever you are searching.

While restrictions obviously prevent us from using our phones behind the wheel – and definitely don’t do this – we still have so many ingenious apps to choose from. But which ones deliver the most bang for your buck? Here we take a look at 4 essential driving apps.

 

Waze (iOS/Android/Windows)

Recently in the news for what some might classify as controversial reasons, Waze is a free, community based GPS and maps app. Peer-to-peer information sharing has led to a surge in its use and value. The purpose of the app is to allow road users to advise one another of hazards, delays or impediments on the road.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before users would start sharing information on mobile police locations. Nonetheless, Waze allows you to plan your trip according to real time information. When you have so many eyes out there doing the planning for you, that’s as good as any computer simulation can achieve.

 

PlugShare (iOS/Android/Windows)

This is a niche app dedicated to electric vehicle owners, or at least those who intend to venture down that path in the not too distant future. It is another peer-to-peer community app, albeit instead of just sharing data, here you are also sharing access to the electric grid network.

That’s right, not only can you see the charging network across the country, but you can view the location of users who have offered their own power supply to keep you going on the road. The search filter allows you to hone your focus to any specific needs you might need, including charging network, charger type, whether it is a free or paid charging station, and much more.

 

Fuel Map Australia (iOS/Android)

Making it three from three, Fuel Map Australia (formerly FuelMap) is a “crowd-sourced database of petrol stations and fuel prices from all across Australia”. It allows any user to add and edit the location of fuel maps wherever you’re located, as well as add pricing details as well. With filters allowing users to sort by pricing, you’ll have few issues finding the cheapest fuel in your neighbourhood to save yourself a pretty penny. As a bonus, you can also monitor your fuel economy and log purchases.

 

Google Trips (iOS/Android)

A tech list would not be complete without the addition of Google, so it’s little surprise we round out this selection with its Trips app. Perfect for the travel-oriented driver, or weekend adventurer, the real benefit here is the integration of plans and itineraries. You can track your destinations and identify tourist attractions nearby, as well as sights, activities and entertainment options as well. Even better, if you have reservations lined up in your calendar, they’ll flow through seamlessly.

 

Make sure you install these apps on your phone before you head out onto the road.

 

Will Driving Faster Really Get You There Quicker?

(Warning – contains maths!)

It seems ingrained in our human mentality.  If you go faster, you get there more quickly, right? After all, we’ve all seen this in childhood.  When you walked to school, let’s say it usually took you 15 minutes. I am possibly showing my age here with the assumption that you walked 15 minutes to school – although a 15-minute walk is pretty reasonable and there’s no reason why kids these days (that’s really showing my age) can’t do it as well.  Anyway, back to the topic.  When you were a kid walking to school, if you realized that you’d forgotten your homework and had to double back for it, you pretty soon found out that if you jogged or ran, you’d still make it to the school gate before the bell rang.

When we grew up and got cars, we applied the same logic. If we overslept the alarm or had some sort of household emergency before setting off to work, we believe that if we step on the accelerator a little bit harder, we’ll make up for lost time.  Or will we?

We’ll leave aside the issue that speeding is illegal and that you will get pinged for it if you get caught.  Yes, that means you, even if you’re going only a teeny weeny 10 km/h over the legal limit.  Let’s do the maths instead.

Let’s say your commute takes about 30 minutes and you usually drive at 50 km/h, which is the signed speed limit on the road you take.  This means that, at least on paper, you’re covering about 25 km.  The equation is Distance (in km) ÷ Your Speed (in km/h) = Travel Time (in hours).  What happens if we plug your sneaky wee attempt at speeding into this equation, with the assumption that you’re going to try driving to work at 60 km/h to make up the time spent cleaning up after the cat had vomited in the middle of the living room?  We’ve got 25 ÷ 60 = 0.416667.  To turn 0.416667 hours into the equivalent in minutes, multiply it by 60 and you get (drum roll; the smart cookies reading this will have already clicked) 25 minutes.  So what you’ve saved – in theory – by speeding 10 km/h faster is 5 minutes.  Which isn’t much.

Of course, your average travel speed probably never was your target speed, whether that was 50 km/h or 60 km/h.  We all know that in peak travel hours, you have to slow down at intersections, wait at Give Way signs, wait at pedestrian crossings for the kids who are walking to school and wait at traffic lights. This means that the amount of your journey spent actually going faster will only be a few minutes out of your commute, so you won’t actually be saving 5 minutes at all. You’ll be saving more like 1 or 2 minutes and you will end up being late for work – and you’ll probably try blaming it on the traffic rather than that cat.

However, while you’ve been pressing down the accelerator in that attempt to get to work on time, you’ve been revving your engine that little bit harder, and you’ve probably had to brake harder.  That extra bit of accelerator means more fuel consumption – or more drain on the battery, so those of you with EVs can wipe that smug smile off your faces because this applies across the board.  That extra stress on the brake also means more wear and tear, so in the long run, although you may have saved a couple of minutes on your commute, you’ll have put a bit more on your fuel bill and/or your maintenance bill.  You have to ask yourself if it’s really worth it.

So why did travelling faster work so well when you were a kid running to school instead of walking after forgetting your homework?  And is there ever a time when going faster will actually get you there quicker.

Let’s start with that first question.  When you were a kid walking to school, you probably went there more or less non-stop, with maybe the odd pause if you had to cross the road.  Walking speed varies by age and sex, but let’s say that you could walk at about 3 km/h.  A child’s maximum running speed at the age of 2 is about 9 km/h but you were older than that if you were walking to school and you probably weren’t running at your maximum, so we’ll say that your running to school speed was about 6 km/h.  This is double your walking speed (a 100% increase), whereas increasing your driving speed from 50 km/h to 60 km/h is a 20% increase.

Lastly, is there ever a time when going faster helps you make up lost time? The answer is probably yes, but only if (a) you’re covering a long distance so small changes add up and (b) your route is free-flowing without need to stop or slow down for significant portions of the time.  Think rural roads and well-designed motorways.  Even then, your gain in time won’t be all that much.  Perhaps, on a rural road, you might be able to shave 5 minutes off what would have been a 20-min trip by travelling at an average speed of 100 km/h rather than the average of 80 km/h.  Longer trips will get more savings in time but this may be off-set by increased fuel consumption – and it’s up to you if you think this is worth it!