Monday, 24 November 2014

Driving Lessons On Star Rated Roads


Personally I like the idea of safety ratings for roads.

I've just been reading about how the government is thinking of implementing a star ratings system for Britain's roads. I think this may actually be a good idea.  If it gets drivers to think about risk and consider the dangers of the road we could be on to a winner.
  You could argue that the experienced driver should have enough skills to deal with whatever they encounter on the road safely and smoothly. As the vast majority of people take no further training at all after the initial L test this is sadly not the case. The star ratings could be used by route planning devices which can then guide motorists around these accident hot spots. Trouble here I think is that more traffic pushed onto other roads makes those roads less safe owing to higher traffic volume. Lengthening the journey also increases risk. Driving on a road with a high risk rating may prompt the driver to pay more attention and plan further ahead should they choose not to avoid the risky route.
   One thing it will achieve I think is to encourage local authorities to maintain standards of road signage and markings. Faded road markings are one of the biggest dangers in my experience. When the give way line is hardly there anymore and is totally invisible when it's raining then you can't really blame a driver for missing it. Positioning is difficult when lane markings are faded and nobody knows which lane they should be in. Signs are often hidden behind over hanging bushes in the summer and cannot be seen at all. Dangerous if it's a hazard sign for a tight bend ahead. If authorities are encouraged to solve these issues in order to receive a higher star rating then that's a good thing.
   Perhaps the rating system could be used for planning routes for driving lessons and tests in the future. Teaching hazard awareness on roads with different ratings and using these differences as a teaching tool could prove interesting. If pupils leave with a greater understanding of risk after passing the test then that's a good way to improve standards in young drivers. Driving test routes could be planned to include the different star ratings and provide a chance to make sure test routes are as standardised as possible across different test centres.
   All in all this could be a winning idea. It puts driving risk in the spotlight. It may make drivers consider the routes they take and more importantly, how they drive on them. Bringing risk into the public awareness may lead to improved driving standards and perhaps prompt people to take extra training to improve their skills if they use roads with a high danger rating. I daresay that the ratings will be based on accident statistics so will not paint a full picture. Ultimately it will be an alert, well taught driver with a good attitude towards risk who does the most to improve road safety.

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Monday, 10 November 2014

Will We Ever Really Have Driverless Cars?


Not for a very long time I think

I've been reading up on driverless cars and I must say I'm a bit skeptical. Maybe it's because I rely on teaching people to drive for my living. Maybe it's because I think that the skills used in good driving cannot be replicated by a computer. There's a lot more to it than number crunching as you well know.
   There's a big trial starting next year which checks out two different types of vehicle. Completely driverless cars and cars where the human driver can take over at any time. According to the Transport Minister they can improve safety, reduce congestion and be better for the environment. There's no explanation of how but it must be true. Two thirds of British motorists are against the trials taking place on British roads and nine out of ten drivers saying a front mounted incident camera should be mounted so liability can be established in the event of an accident. If it's the car's fault then who is to blame in an accident?
   This shows a skeptical attitude towards the new technology and I must say I share this view. After all a computer can't think. There is so much more to safe driving than not hitting whatever object is in front of you. How will the cars communicate with each other? Drivers use a wide range of signals and gestures to communicate with each other when a situation arises that is not clear cut. A great deal of co-operation is required to get through those tight meeting situations where priorities aren't clear. How can a computer anticipate what will happen next? Forward planning is essential to a good driving. I suppose that there is software that takes care of it for us. 
   Talking about software, there are people working behind the scenes to make sure the robocar will have all the latest map info so it knows where it is in the world. What about roadworks and temporary diversions? That's a lot of info. As the car can't think it can't figure it's way around something that's not already programmed in to it's brain. Whoever is doing the roadworks would have to upload the data on where and when the roads will be blocked and the information would have to be accurate. Sounds like a lot of work to me.
   I can't see this driverless car thing happening any time soon. I like it when people learn new skills and take some responsibility for themselves and others. It's all part of life and growing up I suppose. Constantly handing over our life choices to new technology is a disturbing trend. Or maybe I'm just old fashioned.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Concessions For Choosing Autonomous Emergency Braking


But not for further driver training.

I see that calls have been made for Autonomous Emergency Braking to be fitted to all new cars. It has been suggested that those who choose a car with this technology fitted should be rewarded by having some of the cost covered by a government concession. All very nice. If a person decided to take an advanced driving course to improve their level of competence and minimise risk would they receive a cash incentive? I think not. In a world where it is estimated that three quarters of all UK drivers would fail the standard driving test this reliance on technology can be a dangerous thing.
  What is Autonomous Emergency Braking anyway? I've been looking at how it works on the make of car I drive. A front mounted radar detects vehicles up to 80 metres ahead which the car may hit unless some action is taken. If the device thinks a collision is likely then an audible warning is given. If the driver doesn't respond then there is a braking jolt to again warn the driver. The brakes are prepared so when the driver does brake then the correct amount of braking pressure is automatically applied. No action from the driver means the device will do the braking on it's own. The autonomous braking only works at low speeds up to 30kph. At 30 to 80kph there are warnings if it detects a stationary object but no braking. At speeds above this there are warnings and some partial braking with brake assist for the driver. It's good for stopping low speed shunts then. 
   The technology has it's limitations though. The object in the road needs a certain degree of radar reflectance or the device won't see it. Also if the sensor is obscured by dirt or snow and doesn't have a clear view then it's effectiveness is seriously reduced. Hardly a foolproof device if all that's needed is heavy spray like you get on motorways to render it ineffective. The device can be switched off with the mode stored on the key fob. If two people are using the car then one person could turn it off without the other one knowing. Presumably there is a warning light to tell you whether it's on or off.
   Don't get me wrong I'm not against new vehicle technology at all. I'm all for progress. What I am against is drivers who wouldn't pass the L test thinking that new technology excuses them (or me) from our responsibilities as drivers. Improving your driving  skills, particularly in regard to hazard awareness and planning would help reduce accidents more than any device can. Especially one that can be rendered ineffective if it rains or your car got dirty. In the event of a collision could the device be blamed for not working properly? Would a driver pay less attention to the road if they think the device will take over for them?
   The most effective safety device you can get is a well trained driver who is paying attention to the road and anticipating what will happen so that early action can be taken. Let's have some financial incentives for people who wish to make the roads safer by reaching the highest driving standard they are capable of.