Posts tagged ‘road safety’


After driving automatic and manual trucks, the manual still wins for me

05.03.2019

I rented a couple of trucks over the last few days, and I’m surprised that automatics have taken such a hold in this country.
   I’ve written about my preference for manuals elsewhere, and for a regular car, I would consider one with a sequential gearbox. We’re in an era now where the advantages of a modern automatic can outweigh those of a manual, notably in fuel economy. Generally, however, having the control of a manual—and not having an atrophied left leg while driving—is my preference, and it’s absolutely fine even in gridlock if you know how to control the gears properly. I grew up with the idea, rightly or wrongly, that a good driver knows how to operate a manual and desires the control that it affords.
   Polling my friends, it appears that half have the same preference as me and many note, ‘But I own an automatic because I couldn’t find a manual.’ It’s true: we’ve become a slush-box nation just as the United States has, going from a country where maybe 10 per cent were autos to one where 90 per cent are. A big part of that shift happened this century. The notion that automatics have been market-driven (as I was told at Brendan Foot) is, as far as I can ascertain, bollocks.
   In 2015–16, I went to some extremes to buy the car I wanted, namely one with a manual transmission, by sourcing one from where the majority of drivers still prefer to shift gears themselves: the UK. I understand that the UK, as New Zealand once did, insists that you do your driver’s licence test in a manual if you want to be able to drive both; should you do it in an auto, you’re restricted to just autos until you ‘upgrade’ to a manual licence. Indeed, the latter position invites ridicule in the UK—Daniel Craig got his share of it after a fake-news piece alleged he didn’t know how to drive a manual.
   This UK licensing position still makes sense to me, but it appears we license people to drive manuals even though they have never seen a clutch in their lives.
   One of the young men helping me out with shifting stuff in the truck, who is on a learner’s, and owns an automatic, said to me that he couldn’t comprehend a manual, and that confirms that we may have it wrong with our licensing system by slavishly following the US.
   And after the weekend’s experience, I’m even more wedded to manual transmissions.
   The first truck from Vancy Rentals was a two-tonne Toyota Dyna with a slush box. For the most part it wasn’t too difficult to drive, except for one corner when I had to turn off the Hutt Road (speed limit 80 km/h) to head up Ngauranga Gorge, while carrying a load. I didn’t consider that I was going too quickly but the truck’s gearing did not change down with the speed reduction, and I had to rely solely on heavy braking to slow the vehicle. I wrestled with the steering wheel to keep it in my lane but came close to crossing the line.
   You can put this down to inexperience and you would be partially right. With hindsight, I could have turned off the overdrive, or changed to D-4, but in my opinion autos have a tendency to make you lazy. It’s the equivalent of a point-and-shoot Instamatic camera: acceptable but not what a professional might demand for full control.
   The second was a larger 2·5 tonner from Hino, but with a five-speed manual transmission. That corner was taken cleanly (with an even heavier and higher load) by shifting down, and it was simple heading down Ngauranga later by changing into a lower gear—exactly what the sign at the top of the Gorge suggests you do. It kept the truck to a maximum of 80 km/h, the legal limit down that stretch. (I also accomplished this with D-4 on the Toyota.) It was at this point that my young helper remarked that he couldn’t understand the manual, so I pointed out that it was the gearing that was keeping us safely within the speed limit, not the brake—by having that additional security I wouldn’t be reliant solely on the truck’s braking system.
   That same thinking applies to my driving in a motor car, and I wonder why one wouldn’t want the extra assurance of having chosen the gear yourself, limiting your speed when needed, and not be dependent on the decision of a gearbox engineer in Japan (or elsewhere) who mightn’t understand Kiwi roads.

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Posted in cars, culture, New Zealand, Wellington | No Comments »


Why a Google self-driving car worries me

23.12.2015


Ford

With Google and Ford announcing they will team up to make self-driving cars, I have some concerns.
   I’m not in Luddite position on the idea of self-driving cars. Potentially, they can be far safer than what we have today. I see so many godawful drivers out there—New Zealand has a very high road toll based on our small population, and it’s not hard to see why—and the self-driving car can’t be a bad thing. Active safety, active cruise control, and other features all point to be a better future on our roads.
   However, is Google the right firm? You don’t need to look too far (especially on this blog) to find some Google misdeed, a company that happily does dodgy things till it gets busted.
   Imagine the future.
   • The car has no brakes until you sign up to Google Plus, then log in.
   • You cannot enter the car till you load a Google Play app on to your phone. You have to agree to a bunch of settings which you don’t even read, but essentially you’ve let them monitor you.
   • If you have a car accident in a Google car, there’s no phone number for anyone to call. You have to sign up to the support forums where you’re told by Google volunteers that it’s your fault for misusing the software. Or they just ignore you. You spend several years trying to get your case heard.
   • Google listens to all your in-car conversations so it can deliver targeted advertising to you, until you opt out of this feature in your Google Account settings.
   • Google hacks your devices while you are near the car, even if you have Do Not Track or other privacy settings turned on. They continue doing this till the Murdoch Press writes an article about it or they get reported to an industry association.
   • Doubleclick targeted advertising appears in the car’s central LCD screen.
   • All routes that the Google cars choose go past advertisers’ brick-and-mortar stores.
   • Google Street View is updated a lot more, which sounds great, till you realize it’s been updated with images from your latest journey.
   • Unless you opt out, Google actually drives you to the store which has the goods you mentioned in a private Gmail message, even though you don’t need the product and it just came up casually in conversation.
   • When US state attorneys-general sue Google over wasted time with the cars driving you to these stores, the penalty is roughly four hours of the company’s earnings.
   Autonomous cars are part of our future. But I’ll opt for the tech of a firm I trust more, thank you. And right now, I even trust Volkswagen more than Google.

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Posted in cars, humour, internet, New Zealand, technology, USA | No Comments »


Embrace life

22.02.2010

I may be later than many in writing about this, but I only saw it in my Tweetstream today.
   What a welcome departure from the blood-and-gore approach of many road safety public announcements, from the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership.

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Posted in cars, media, social responsibility, TV, UK | No Comments »