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Safety

When is it Time to Give Up Driving?

While millennials appear to be abandoning vehicle ownership in favour of ride-sharing transportation, an ageing population means that more and more Australians are dependent on transport solutions to remain mobile. Naturally, having driven for most of their lives, it means elderly Australian motorists are clinging onto their driving routine and taking up the seat behind the wheel of their car.

With this however, we’re seeing a higher incidence of accidents and road fatalities than years gone past. For example, since 2007 road fatalities for drivers aged between 65 and 74 has grown 2.3% per year as measured across the nation. Among those drivers aged above 75, the figures point to an increase of 1.2% per year. Drivers aged 65 or above remain the only age group to see an increase in road fatalities across that period, while also recording a 9% rise in “road-related hospitalisations”.

 

The predicament

With a wealth of advertising and education directed towards younger drivers – who do statistically account for a higher number of accidents and fatalities – an absence on the part of all the state governments across the country to tackle a worrying trend is concerning. But how should we manage community mobility to optimise safety for all road users? Just when is it time to give up driving?

Truth be told, there is no simple answer to this predicament. While each of the states have their own road rules governing elderly drivers, having accessibility to a car remains a vital component to the independence of said individuals.

Nevertheless, for couples and families, it is best to discuss and monitor the health of loved ones to ensure they remain in good condition to take to the road. Regular health check-ups become an essential part of validating this, although remember that age in itself shouldn’t be viewed as the only measure of ability when it comes to driving.

Keep in mind as well, certain lenders will have their hesitations extending finance to those individuals who have retired from the workforce and are currently relying on their pension.

 

State rules

As mentioned above, each state has different rules when it comes to requirements for elderly drivers:

  • NSW: annual medical review (aged 75-84); annual medical review and practical driving test (85+)
  • VIC: no annual medical reviews, albeit referrals may be made by doctors, family and police
  • QLD: annual medical review but no practical driving tests (75+)
  • SA: medical assessment but no practical driving tests (at 70)
  • WA: medical assessment (from 80); medical assessment and practical assessment (from 85+)
  • TAS: no annual medical reviews
  • NT: no annual medical reviews, albeit referrals may be made by doctors, family and police

 

The Perfect Form of Transport???

Here at Private Fleet, we keep an eye on trends in car design and the way things are shaping up.  At the moment, I reckon there are three biggies: fuelling systems, autonomous vehicles and sensors.

Let’s start with fuel.  We all know that the supplies of crude oil aren’t as big as they used to be and the ones that are left are frequently in places that are very hard to get at or are located in politically volatile countries.  This means that if we can cut down our dependence on non-renewable fuels, we’ll be able to keep on trucking the way we’re accustomed to.  We’ll also help cut down on greenhouse gases, which is supposed to stop global warming or climate change.

In our quest to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, we’re trying a bunch of different things, all of which are getting a lot of attention in the automotive world.  Electricity is the hottest one at the moment, with a major push towards EVs and hybrids that use both electricity and petrol.  However, that’s only one of the three.  Just as well, as one has to ask where the electricity is coming from and how it’s being generated.  If it’s being pumped out by coal- or gas-fuelled power stations, then EVs aren’t the perfect green solution.  The other hot topic in fuel is to look for other things that can be used to make diesel and petrol that are renewable – biofuels.  The trick here is to find something that can be grown without taking land and water resources away from what we need to feed a hungry world.  Lastly, there’s the hydrogen fuel cell option, which doesn’t produce much in the way of waste but is a little on the fiddly side to produce and transport, although they’re working on that.

All in all, this suggests that the perfect transport of the future should be able to run on something sustainable that’s easy to get hold of, and that it should produce minimal waste, or at least waste that can be useful for another purpose.

The second hot topic is the all the innovations being added as active safety features and driver aids.  There seems to be a new one out every time I turn around.  Temperature sensors for automatic climate control, 360° vision and reverse parking sensors are old hat. Now we’ve got side impact detection and avoidance, lane change assistance, autonomous braking, even systems that detect when the driver is getting tired or annoyed.  They’re working on getting the car to listen to you, with voice activated commands for all sorts of things.

This suggests that the perfect transport of the future should have a ton of sensors for all sorts of things, should be able to react according to the input of those sensors without the driver having to do anything, and should be able to interface with the moods of the driver.

Lastly, we’ve got the topic of autonomous cars: ones that will steer themselves, pick the right speed, pick the right part of the road and all the rest of it all by themselves.  This is closely related to the improvements in sensors and driver aids.  If autonomous cars reached their full perfection, you’d be able to hop in when well and truly under the influence, tell it to go home and then nod off until you find yourself parked outside the front door.

If we all of these factors together, we can get an idea of what the designers are trying to come up with.  Let’s imagine what it would look like: something that runs on plant-sourced fuels and produces biodegradable waste that can be converted to fertilizer; has ultra-sensitive sensors for temperature, mood and upcoming hazards in practically a full circle; is voice activated and even does voice-activated acceleration and parking; and can think for itself even when the driver is exhausted or drunk.  Natural materials for the upholstery and a cheap production method would be an advantage as well.  It already exists: when I was a child in a rural town, we called this a HORSE.

It’s A Man’s World In The Crash Test Facility

Notice the design of the chest, biceps, neck and jaw…

Take a look at your typical crash dummy – the sort they use in the ANCAP and similar tests (see the photo, sourced from ANCAP).  Notice anything about them and what they’ve got in common?  Ten points (or should that be five stars?) for you if you noticed that a crash test dummy tends to look like a guy.  I don’t know if you can really refer to a crash test dummy as a male but it (he?) is definitely masculine.

Yes, indeed.  Skipping the whole thing about gender identity and all that, there are only two basic human skeleton and tissue types: the male sort and the female sort.  And, in case you haven’t been paying attention, they aren’t the same. Women (in general) have wider pelvises, narrower chins, a higher proportion of body fat, smaller hands and feet and thinner necks than men.  They’ve also got their centre of gravity in a different place.  When guys get a bit chubbier, they put it on their tummies; when women do the same, it goes on the butt and thighs.  Men have flat chests and even my A-cup sisters have boobs.  Women are, on average, shorter (yes, we’re talking typical and average here and I know perfectly well that there are tall women and short men).  Male bones are denser and have a higher proportion of muscle mass.  Women have a larger lumbar lordosis (the curve in the lower spine that lumbar support in the driver’s seat is supposed to fit snugly into), which means that their pelvis tilts at a slightly different angle, which affects the walk. In fact, high heels are designed to increase that lumbar lordosis, the tilt and the swaying walk. And the list goes on.

Unfortunately, in spite of the key role of my heroine Bertha Benz in getting the whole horseless carriage thing started, car designers have used “standard” or “typical” human figures when designing cars.  Unfortunately, as most car designers up until now have been guys, guess what they see as being “standard” or “typical”: the others sitting with them around the drawing board, who are all guys.

Surely, I’m not the only woman driver who has sat there fiddling with the lumbar support control and wondered why the heck it doesn’t come out any further because it’s not quite getting into the right place, and why the seat angle is never exactly right.  We tend to start playing around with cushions at this point.  As for the problems that crop up when you’re a female driver in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, trying to negotiate a seat belt around the baby bump and the set of Pamela Andersons you’ve picked up… don’t even get me started!  Apparently, women sit in the “wrong” driving position when they’re behind the wheel.

However, the safety systems that have been put in place by car designers have been developed and tested with the standard crash test dummy. Which is based on the average male.  The smaller size, the different shape, the different centre of gravity, the different tissue density and all the rest of it means that a female body does not behave like a male body during a collision.  OK, they did try during the 1980s to introduce a feminine crash test dummy, but this (1) had the same proportions as the male ones but just scaled down rather than having curves and (2) is usually put in the passenger seat during crash tests.

Can we just pause and think about that for a second? When they do crash tests, they mostly put the female dummy in the passenger seat.  This was pointed out just last year by a pair of (female) Swedish road safety researchers*.  Crash tests, in general, assume that women don’t drive.  These tests weren’t being carried out in Saudi Arabia, for goodness sake!  What were they thinking?

A truth that’s even more inconvenient than Al Gore’s is that women have a much higher rate of being injured in a car crash than men.  Given the same speed and impact type, women get hurt worse.  The simple reason for this is because the cars’ safety features have been engineered and tested with the average male body in mind.

To take just one example, think of whiplash.  A lot of new cars have active head restraints that are designed to cradle the head and neck to prevent whiplash.  However, you can guess what these have been tested on most of the time.  In fact, when the NHTSA started using “female” crash dummies (which they started doing in 2003), they used them for the side impact tests… which aren’t quite such a problem for whiplash, given the vectors of the forces involved.  Now, no woman is Barbie but we do have thinner necks than guys.  In fact, if you’re an artist or cartoonist, one of the quickest ways to make a head and shoulders to look masculine or feminine is to adjust the proportions of the neck.

Women’s necks don’t have the muscle and sinew there that guys do, so our heads and necks don’t behave the same way during the sort of crash that is most likely to lead to whiplash.  Add in the fact that women aren’t “sitting right” in the driver’s seat because we’ve got different pelvises, plus the fact that seatbelts are hard to get right if you’ve got anything on your chest bigger than a B cup, which is the case for most women.  Heck, we all know that fitted T-shirts and jeans for men and women are cut differently, for goodness sake!  Given all these differences, and it’s no wonder that women’s rate of getting whiplash is much, much higher than that of guys.

I’m going to be charitable here and put forward the notion that the guys designing cars and doing the crash tests are nice guys at heart rather than a bunch of sexist pigs.  Perhaps the idea of using a crash test dummy that looks more like a real woman jars with their inner knights in shining armour and a plan to put even a replica of a damsel fitted with lots of sensors so you can see just how much distress she gets into is upsetting.  If this is the case, well, that’s sweet of you guys, but you’re actually not doing us any favours.

However, change is afoot and more and more women are getting into car design and the safety side of things, although anything like a 50–50 proportion in the workplace is a long way off.   Yet another (female) vehicle safety researcher from Sweden has looked at the stats and is developing a proper female crash test dummy with female proportions.  Known as EvaRID, this dummy is designed with the whiplash issue in mind.  You can hear Dr. Astrid Linder introduce this dummy in her TEDx talk (in English, don’t panic!):

As you can expect with those safety-minded Swedes, Volvo is getting on board with the E.V.A. initiative (which stands for Equal Vehicles for All as well as cleverly echoing the name of the dummy, which is the Swedish for Eve, the first woman).  The senior technical specialist at Volvo Cars Safety Centre, Dr. Lotta Jakobsson (yes, another Swedish woman), is doing her bit by collecting real world crash data and heading a design team to make cars just as safe for women as they are for men. In fact, Volvo’s existing WHIPS design was tested on the EvaRID dummy as well as on the male one (the name of the most recent one is Thor, continuing the Nordic theme), and Volvo’s getting right behind the initiative.  This makes me want to run out an buy a new Volvo right away.  However, as we saw many years ago with the invention of seatbelts, where Volvo goes, others are soon to follow.

The fact that the designers, modellers, engineers, researchers and analysts focusing on the gender differences happen to be mostly women is also noticeable, which is also an argument for encouraging just as many girls as guys to get into the field of engineering.  We don’t need to go to the extremes of having a vehicle that is designed solely to fit a woman’s body – although it sure would be a best-seller – but making sure that we don’t forget 50% of the population (and let’s not even get started on ethnic differences in body size and type) by ensuring that some of said 50% knows their stuff with engineering will make better cars for all humans.

And, gals, you’ve still got no excuse for not wearing a seatbelt even if sits badly on your chest, so buckle up!

* Linder, A., & Svedberg, W. (2018). Occupant safety assessment in European regulatory tests : review of occupant models, gaps and suggestion for bridging any gaps. Presented at the 18th International Conference Road Safety on Five Continents (RS5C 2018), Jeju Island, South Korea, May 16-18, 2018, Linköping. Retrieved from http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:vti:diva-12886

Warning Signs I’d Like To See On The Dashboard

Modern cars and even not-so-modern cars have warning signs on the dashboard that light up like Christmas trees at the slightest provocation.  However, unlike Christmas trees or fairy lights, the emotion experienced when one sees a dashboard warning light twinkling away isn’t one of joy but more like one of “Oh, heck!” to put it politely.

There seems to be warning signs for just about anything these days, which is why a few new cars use head-up displays for displaying the really important stuff.  Some of the warning signs monitor you, rather than the car, such as the tiredness recognition system in some new Mercedes models. These apparently look at your facial expression and behaviour and can use some fancy algorithm to figure out if you are getting sleepy.  The larrikin in me would probably want to mess with one of these systems by pulling faces at the camera, or seeing if I could fake tiredness well enough to fool the system (a challenge for any would-be actor or actress).

However, there are probably a few more warning lights or systems that could be handy to have amid the myriad of other ones. I daresay that someone somewhere has already thought of these, and has possibly created an app for them that will use your phone to talk to a car’s display system.

Seatbelt warning light 2.0. Yes, I know these already exist and have been around for a wee while.  However, most of them just say that the driver doesn’t have his/her seat belt plugged in properly. However, the EU is requiring new cars from this year forward to have warning lights and sounds for the front passenger seat and possibly for rear seats as well, although rear seats only get a beep and/or light if the buckle is undone while travelling.  I can understand the need for the “buckle undone during travel” trigger, as I’m not the only person who’s put a load on the back seat, and the big bag of dog biscuits, the hefty haul of library books and/or the groceries probably weigh as much as a small child.  What I’d like to see in these new and improved warning light systems, speaking from experience as a parent, is a system that lets the driver know WHICH seatbelt is undone, especially in an MPV, to avoid the “OK, which one of you has undone their seatbelt?” “It’s not me, Mum; it’s Jessica!” “Tis not!” arguments.

Cabin air quality sensors.  This wouldn’t be so much a warning light as a system. It’s no fun to be stuck in a car with a passenger who has had a meal of beans, onions and eggs with helping of some nice healthy brassica on the side, if you get my drift.  A flatulent dog in the luggage compartment of a station wagon or even a hatchback can be bad enough to cause a distraction when you’re driving.  In my dreams, this sensor and system would detect when the methane or sulphurous compounds in the air cabin reach a critical level, and would then open the vents a bit wider and get that smell out of there.  A warning light would probably be needed so that you don’t wonder what the heck has gone wrong with the climate control system.

Toilet reminder. Related to the previous one, I’m surely not the only person who’s been a passenger on a long car journey who’s politely and quietly asked the driver to stop at the next handy public convenience or large bush, depending on the location, only to have the driver completely forget about it and keep on driving straight past one, leaving you in desperation. You don’t want to sound like a whiny little kid going “I need to pee!” every two minutes but being forced to hang on for far too long isn’t brilliant for the plumbing.  If a system can detect that the driver is getting sleepy, it can detect that the passenger (or the driver) is fidgeting about in the seat, jiggling and all those other strategies that we use once we’ve grown out of wetting our pants – and it can take over the job of reminding the driver that somebody is in desperate need of the loo.  Or the passenger can activate the warning system so it can do the embarrassing job of reminding the driver.  Perhaps this system could work in with the GPS to give directions to the nearest convenience.

Passenger G-force calculator: Another rather irritating habit of drivers, from the passengers’ perspective, is to barrel around corners quite fast.  Yes, the car can handle it and is designed to do this.  However, as more than one passenger has grumbled, the driver has the steering wheel to hold onto and can anticipate all the upcoming G-forces involved in a corner.  A passenger often gets taken unawares and may not be ready for that fast corner, with spilled coffee being the result some of the time.  And if we had two other siblings, we probably all remember the game of Squash The Person In The Middle When Cornering on the back seat during trips along winding country roads.  If a car can detect that there’s a passenger in the front seat, then it should be able to work out whether he or she will get thrown about during fast cornering and remind the driver of this, or possibly work in with the suspension or even seat positioning to minimise the passenger getting chucked about as much.

I’m sure there could be others invented.  What are some that you’d like to have?

 

Little Maintenance Jobs You Need To Do Right Now

You’re probably quite good at taking care of the big things when it comes to servicing your vehicle, such as keeping up with the regular services and the oil changes and the like. You definitely know not to run out of fuel – or battery charge, depending on whether your drive of choice is an EV or an ICE.  I hope you’re in the habit of checking the oil and the water regularly to keep an eye on things.  Back when I got my first car, my dad told me that oil and water ought to be checked once a week, which seems a bit over the top now, but I guess that my first car, like yours, was an old thing that’s probably a real collector’s item by now (wonder what happened to it once I sold it).

However, there are probably some little jobs that you don’t really think about doing quite so regularly.  There certainly aren’t little red, green or orange lights that light up your dashboard like a Christmas tree for them, with a few exceptions in some models.  But they still need to be done to make sure that you drive safely.  I know that I need to take care of some of them on my recently acquired Toyota Camry , as the previous owner had neglected to do so.  In fact, I probably ought to go and do them as soon as I’ve finished writing this.

  1. Change the wiper blades. Wipers wear out over time and when they do, they don’t do quite as good a job of removing rain, etc. from your windscreen. You do not want to find out that they aren’t removing everything when you’re driving behind a heavy truck on a rainy day and the truck spins up the contents of a muddy puddle all over your windscreen.

    If you can relate to this, you need new wiper blades.

  2. Top up the fluid in the windscreen washer reservoir. Related to the previous task, if you need to wash a splattered insect off the middle of your field of vision, then you’ll need to have something in that little tank.  You can use a proprietary product designed for washing windows, water with a splodge of dishwashing detergent in it or just plain water, depending on your fancy.  Just make sure that something is in there.
  3. Clean the inside of the windscreen. The inside of your windscreen might look clean but it can accumulate a fair amount of grime from whatever mysterious source it comes from. Unlike the outside of your windscreen, which gets regular washes and can be cleaned with the click of your wiper switch, the inside gets overlooked. However, all that mystery gunge will show up very strongly and will interfere with your ability to see the road when the sun strikes it at the right angle, which often happens in winter. The best way to remove that annoying film of whatever-it-is is with a soft cloth, either a proper chamois or a microfibre cloth or even an old cotton T-shirt. Don’t use wet wipes or anything that will leave a residue. Yes, I have made this mistake in the past.
  4. Make sure the spare tyre is in good condition. So you got a flat tyre a few weeks ago and had to change the tyre. However, what with the demands of daily life, it’s easy to make the mistake of just keeping on driving and forgetting that the tyre you put into the compartment under the boot (or on the back of your 4×4) is flat as a tortilla.  Best get it seen to ASAP so you don’t get caught out. Even if you haven’t had to change a tyre recently, then you should still keep an eye on that spare tyre to make sure that it is ready for you if you do get a puncture.
  5. Put a first aid kit in the glovebox. Even if you don’t get into a ding of some sort, you never want to be without a first aid kit, especially if you do a fair bit of driving on rural roads like I do.  If your main driving takes the form of Mum’s Taxi Service, then having a few sticking plasters, bandages, disinfectant, tweezers and paracetamol tablets handy will be useful now and again.
  6. Take the collection of second-hand clothes to the charity shop. Every kilo of extra clobber in the boot or on the back seat is an extra kilo that your engine has to work to shift. To improve your fuel economy, better actually drop that bag of old shoes and clothes into one of those bins or at the shop door itself.  The same principle applies to all the other odds and ends that accumulate inside the luggage compartments.

No procrastination now!  These might seem like small jobs but a lot of them are important to ensure that you can drive safely.

Now, where’s that jug that’s got just the right spout for the windscreen wash compartment?

Getting It Right In A Roundabout Way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Car Review: 2019 Tesla Model X 100D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traffic Sign Recognition: What Is It?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Should You Buy Your Teen A Safe Car?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

In Praise Of Old-School Windows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safe and happy driving, especially near deep water!