A few times a year, I go to a meeting near Scarborough for a couple of days, and the usual route to get there from my home in the Selby area is to take the A19 to the A64, and the A64 across, as highlighted on the map below. If there is no traffic, this route should take right about an hour. However, this is a journey I make somewhat regularly, and only once have I managed to do it in an hour. Usually it will be one hour and fifteen minutes; my most recent trip took over an hour and a half. Continue reading “Take the long way, it’s good for you”
Were we to highlight the selfish actions of our fellow drivers, the list would soon occupy a considerable amount of space. But I choose today to highlight one in particular: The wrong-way parker.
For as long as I have been driving, I have made efforts to park on the side of the street facing in the direction of travel. Friends have even ridiculed me for this driving pedantry, particularly when, on streets with parking on only one side, I would go so far as to find a place to turn round just so I could park facing the correct way. Perhaps I am an extreme example. But then again, maybe it just appears that way given the growing number of people who don’t even put a modicum of effort into parking properly and considerately.
Why yes, student in the 53-reg Hyundai Getz, I see you coming. It’s hard not to – you’re the only car in the outside lane of a fairly empty motorway. And I see you are approaching at a speed that I can only assume is making your little 1.3L engine cry out in anguish. But even though you’re travelling considerably faster than I am, you are still a ways behind me, and I would like to get around the lorry that is sitting in my lane. So I will speed up a bit and pass, because I will safely be back in the inside lane before you have closed the gap on me.
You’re cruising down the motorway, eating up the miles, when you see that dreaded sign. Roadworks, two miles ahead. And not just that, but it’s a 13-mile long stretch of 50mph road, peppered with everyone’s favourite government revenue maker, the average speed camera.
You continue along until you see the first of the 50mph signs. Two things happen at this point. First, a number of cars slam on their brakes, seemingly taken by surprise at the sudden change in speed limit and expecting heavy fines if they are doing anything over 50 the instant they pass the sign. The rest all dive for the outside lane, forcing a bunch-up, and thus more heavy brake usage. You hang back a bit, taking your foot off the accelerator, letting the car gradually slow to 50, and then switch on the cruise control.
Wisdom dictates that this would be the easy way through this section of road, and you think most people would figure this out. But alas, it’s only a matter of moments before you realise that no one knows what they’re doing. Continue reading “The drivers of 50mph work zones”
It is interesting that some roads seem to attract all the bad drivers at once. You can drive miles and miles of motorway or cruise around town only occasionally encountering a bad driver, but then suddenly find yourself on a stretch of road where you feel like you’re fighting for your life with every passing mile.
I was in a cafe yesterday morning, and from where I sat I had a good view of the car park. Naturally, as I was meant to be doing some work, I spent most of the time looking out the window and turned my observations to how people parked their cars. A few things became immediately apparent:
- Most people don’t know how to park. Very few cars ended up straight between the lines, and at least half of those who pulled in reversed again in order to straighten their cars in the spot. This Renault Scenic I took a short video of was not alone in having such difficulty parking.
— Jake Belder (@jakebeldercars) April 15, 2016
- Despite what you are taught in driver training, the vast majority of people do not reverse into parking spots.
- Being a slightly narrower car park, those who did not reverse it generally had a lot of difficulty reversing out of their spots. Not only that, but in doing so, they held up traffic – in some cases, for quite a considerable amount of time.
- Those who did reverse into spots, however, almost always parked straighter, and generally parked much more quickly. There was the occasional exception, such as this Hyundai ix35.
Considering how often a driver has to park in a car park – most people will get a chance to practice at least once a day – it really baffles me how many people are incapable of doing so quickly and easily. Are drivers really just that inattentive to what they are doing?
Jim Holder of Autocar posted yesterday about the increasing number of black boxes being fitted to cars for the purpose of driving down insurance premiums. The black box monitors a variety of things, from speed to acceleration and braking to corner, as well as tracking where you’ve driven, and uses those metrics to determine how safe of a driver you are. Around 455,000 cars are expected to have black boxes this year, and the British Insurance Brokers’ Association suggests those drivers could see up to a 25% reduction on their premiums.
Is the black box a good idea? I don’t think so, for three reasons.
In the first place, it is yet another extension of the surveillance state. It is an unnecessary infringement of our privacy, and raises all kinds of issues about what will be done with the data that is collected. This is a bad precedent to set in a society where we are increasingly losing our right to privacy already.
Secondly, as one of the commenters on Holder’s article suggest, simple metrics recorded by a computer never tell the whole story:
What annoys me is that I would be penalised for tight cornering at 60mph on a 60mph, empty, dry, clear visibility road. But the person I followed this morning doing 45mph on a 50mph road while nearing taking out a pedestrian and pram would get full marks (they made no effort to brake, so it would show smooth driving, whilst the poor mum had to virtually dive into a hedge with her pram to avoid being hit).
Similarly, when I’m out on the empty roads of County Durham on a Saturday, enjoying a bit of spirited driving on the twisty, up-and-down roads of the North Pennines, I’m almost always driving under the speed limit, yet the black box would probably be constantly logging me for cornering too hard, regardless of the fact that what I’m doing is perfectly legal and perfectly safe.
Finally, and most importantly, you do not make better drivers by means of stricter policing. You make better drivers through better training, and through character formation.
Few people disagree that most driver training is inadequate. It prepares you to pass a test rather than to drive in the real world. Some drivers are aware of this, and become better drivers over time as they consciously adapt to driving in everyday conditions once they’ve ticked the boxes that give them their driving licence. Restructured and more extensive training could improve on this.
However, like most things in life, being a good driver is never solely down to how much training you receive. It also has to do with your character. Matt Prior, also of Autocar, in a short post a few months ago, suggested that bad drivers don’t just drive badly, they do everything badly. His point, as I took it, is that bad drivers are usually accompanied by a lack of common sense, and in some cases, a lack of character. If the driving skills of general populace are to improve, these things need to be addressed as well.
Granted, I’m not sure how you can do that effectively. Some people are simply endowed with more common sense than others. But the kind of character it takes to be responsible behind the wheel is, I think, something that can be cultivated.
Two things did it for me. When I was 16 and got behind the wheel of a car for the first time, before I even started the car, my dad said to me, ‘When you pull out on the road, the lives of everyone around you are now in your hands.’ For a 16-year-old who is thinking that he’s just about to have a bit of fun in his dad’s car driving up and down a fairly empty stretch of road, those words hit me like a ton of bricks. Where I had always looked at driving as fun activity, my dad immediately helped me realise the weight of the responsibility I carried behind the wheel. And what’s more, he constantly modelled that for me.
Also, like any teenager (and in spite of my dad’s advice), I did a few stupid things when I first started driving. Mercifully, I never found myself in a situation where I put others at risk, but I scared the daylights out of myself a couple of times, once braking far too late for a corner and ending up sideways on the shoulder, and once attempting to drift a vehicle on a wet road and sending it into an uncontrollable skid, barely avoiding a several-feet-deep ditch. Those two instances in particular suddenly made me aware of how quickly things could get out of control if I let down my guard, even for a moment, when in control of such a powerful machine. You can’t just shrug those sorts of things off. They build character and responsibility (though looking back I certainly wish I had learned those lessons in a less dangerous context).
Can you teach these sorts of things and form the characters of all new drivers? Perhaps. At the beginning of the very first driving lesson, when the trainee is sitting behind the wheel, in a place where there are lots of other cars and pedestrians moving around nearby, driving instructors could begin with some words about the responsibility they now bear as they assume control of the car. Further, driver training could involve more scenarios where the trainees lose control of the vehicle or find themselves in near-accident situations. These can be engineered to be perfectly safe, of course, yet still give new drivers both the sense of fear that accompanies such an incident and the increased ability to react accordingly and deal safely with complex situations on the road.
Good driving is not simply about following the rules of the road. It is about knowing the capabilities of your vehicle, reading and adapting to the context you are driving in, and anticipating and reacting appropriately to everything that is going on around you.
Are we really suggesting that a simple electronic tracking device is capable of teaching any of this?