Posts Tagged ‘cars’

Do child car seats save lives?

Friday, June 10th, 2016 | Science


Steven Levitt, of Freakonomics fame, gave a talk at TED in 2005. In it, he put forward the idea that child car seats do not outperform just using a seatbelt to a significant degree for children over two.

In some ways, this is shocking but believable. Take handsfree kits for example. There is no evidence that they are any safer than holding your phone. The dangerous bit is having a phone conversation, regardless of the phone being on handsfree or not. However, because it seems intuitive, because it allows the government to look like they are doing something, and because it allows manufacturers to sell us more stuff, everyone goes along with it.

Could the same thing be happening here?

Well, maybe. It is difficult to argue with the data he presents. However, in the Q&A at the end of the talk, Levitt touches on the issue of whether car seats do provide a reduction in injury and it turns out that they may well do. Other datasets suggest that there is a significant benefit.

Also, the following year the University of Michigan published a study suggesting that there was a significant reduction in risk of death: 28%. The study seems to group front and rear facing seats into the same category so it would be interesting to see if these groups showed a difference.

Therefore, unless further evidence is published, it makes sense to continue to use child car seats.

I am a middle lane driver

Thursday, January 21st, 2016 | Thoughts


Recently the police have started cracking down on middle lane drivers. This is a great news. They not only slow traffic down, but make it more dangerous for everyone on the road. Where is the evidence for this? That’s less clear. There doesn’t seem to be any direct evidence. However, there is research to suggest it causes congestion, which in itself makes roads more dangerous.

The problem is though, have you tried not being a middle lane driver when everyone around you is?

If you are stuck in a crowd of middle lane drivers, and you are most of the time you are driving on motorways these days, you have two options. The first is to go to the outside lane. This is a tactic that serves people well. You accelerate up to 80-90mph, cruise past all the middle-laners and keep up with the speeding car in front of you to ensure you are not holding anyone up.

But what if you do not want to drive at an illegal speed? This is a growing concern for me, not just as I get older and more sensible, but also with the increased of managed motorways with speed cameras everywhere.

The alternative is to pull in to the inner lane. This is fraught with difficulties also though. You have your middle lane driver, not overtaking anyone, doing 65mph in the middle lane. Then you approach a truck. It’s doing 55mph. You could pull out again, but typically someone else will have closed up behind the slow middle lane driver, trapping you in the inside lane and forcing you to slam on to 55mph and sit behind the truck.

This is not fair on you, the conscientious Highway-Code-following driver. It pisses me off. In fact it has pissed me off so many times I have stopped doing it.

Now, if someone is doing 65mph in the middle lane, I just sit behind them. I don’t overtake them because I don’t want to speed, and I don’t pull in because then the other drivers behind me will close the gap on the slow driver and I will be boxed in. The only safe thing I can do is to remain in the middle lane, sitting behind the other car.

Technically, you could argue that probably makes me a middle lane driver. But what else is one to do?

I would argue that technically it doesn’t, because I am trying to overtake the slow driver in front. I am just waiting for them to pull in, as they are legally obliged to do, so that I can overtake them.

This is an important demonstration of morality though. People follow laws when they see other people following laws. The reason that people will no ‘go green’ is because they do not want to sacrifice their quality of life if the people around them are not making similar sacrifices. They feel it is unfair – probably because it is unfair. Whereas if everyone did it, we could save the planet and nobody would feel cheated.

Similarly, if you are middle lane driver, you start a chain of other people being forced to drive badly behind you. Whereas if everyone pulled in, people would not be forced to decide whether to risk pulling in and getting trapped, or speeding, and so could pull in also. And everyone would live happily ever after…

How To Drive

Monday, September 21st, 2015 | Books

In How To Drive Ben Collins, formerly The Stig, gives you some practical advice on how to drive better, supported by anecdotes of how he used the same techniques at several times faster than you are ever likely to reach.

It is packed with practical information. He discusses some theory, especially on weight transfer, and then elaborates this into techniques for different parts of driving.

He makes the driving instructors cry. Rejecting the 10 and 2 hand position, he advocates 9 and 3. No passing the wheel round – It keeps you balanced and tells you how much steering lock you have one. I’ve been trying it out and it does feel better than my traditional gearstick and 3, if only because I can pretend I am a racing driver.

One of his main points is to take your time. Do not rush changing gear for example. Do it smoothly, rather than quickly.

Is your lane merging? Merging at the last minute is quicker for everyone because it reduces the size of the bottleneck. I already knew that, but it would be nice if everyone else did so that I do not have to feel guilty as I drive past a few queue of early mergers.

He claims that driving on the left hand side of the road is safer. Most people are right eye dominant, so it makes more sense to have this eye in the middle of the road. Hence why we do. Unfortunately, the French ruined it for two thirds of the world.

Controversially, he even challenges the idea that males have more accidents. Men drive more, so when controlled for time on the road, the figures do not suggest women are such safer drivers.

Off the road he even advices on diets. It’s best to drive when a little hungry, and definitely not after a large meal. Plenty to drink as well (non-alcohol drinks of course). Power naps are recommended too – but no more than 10 minutes. If you have half an hour, you go into a sleep cycle and end up feeling worse.

There is a whole section on when things go wrong. For example, if your breaks fail – pump them. Which is basically taking them off and then on again. Invest in good tyres. They stop a lot faster especially in the wet. In Leeds, we’re on the border of it being worth running winter tyres the whole year round.

When it comes to water, the best thing to do is slow down. Serious aquaplaning only happens at over 50mph, so if you are doing below that, you will probably be fine. When it comes to fording rivers, go for a paddle first. Ideally it won’t get over 15cm.

That is quite a random collection of facts I picked up on. Basically I learned to steer like a racing driver and then missed everything else out about better driving. I remember thinking it was useful at the time though.

The book is engaging written. He describes one lorry overtaking another as like turtle sex. Something to have a giggle over next time the bastards are taking up two lanes and you are in a hurry.



Tuesday, August 27th, 2013 | Photos

I tried my hand at panning so that I could capture cards speeding by. The idea behind the technique is that you pan the camera as the car drives past, thus blurring the background while keeping the car in sharp focus.

I was using my 24-105 f4 lens. Ideally I would have had my 70-200 f2.8 so that I could blur the background even more, though whether I could get down to f2.8 and still keep an exposure of 1/200 I’m not sure. I got better results when I turned off my image stabiliser (because the camera stops trying to fix my panning), but my better lens also has a specific image stabilising mode for panning, so I would like to give that a go.






Sunday, December 23rd, 2012 | Events, Photos


For some reason, Miah’s Kitchen had a limo. Bryce wanted a picture next to it, but I couldn’t fit the whole car in lol.

Driving while talking on a mobile

Saturday, October 6th, 2012 | Religion & Politics, Science


About ten years ago, everyone started to panic about the increased use of mobile phones while driving, because they seemed to be causing lots of accidents. The response was to ban the practice, which became illegal in 2003, unless you were using a handsfree set.

This was widely supported by the mobile phone industry who happily charged us lots of money to provide a variety of handsfree solutions, from simple holders to elaborate integrated in-car systems.

The problem is however, they don’t work. Driving while talking on a handsfree kit is just as dangerous as driving while holding the handset. Multiple studies have all supported the same conclusion.

It’s easy to see how this situation happened. You assume it is the act of holding the phone, so without testing it, you suggest it as an idea and phone manufacturers jump on it as an easy way to make more money from us. To further their own profits, they continue to push the idea that it is safer to drive using handsfree, even though it isn’t.

In fact, it turns out that it is the act of holding a conversation, which takes some of your attention away from the road, that reduces the safety. So it is irrelevant whether you’re holding the handset or not.

Worth thinking about, next time you take a call on your handsfree set.

Disabled parking

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012 | Photos

You have to be a bit of a dick to park in a disabled bay when you’re not disabled. The same thing applies to parking over two parking spaces. But parking over two disabled spaces – that takes a special kind of asshole.


On your bike

Friday, April 13th, 2012 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Cyclists on the road have long been a contentious issue for drivers. Many drivers argue that they slow down traffic and don’t pay any road tax. Meanwhile, cyclists argue that not enough care is taken by drivers to maintain safe roads and that they are often the victims of accidents in which they come off much worse.

The issue seems to be that they are very much in limbo. They are road users in many aspects, but then they are also similar to pedestrians in many ways (so in some aspects, pedestrians are road users also).

Traffic lights are a very good example of this. I would say the majority of cyclists I see on the roads, that is to say at least over 50% of them, do not pay attention to traffic lights. They ride straight through them or sometimes mount the pavement in order to avoid them if you would go as far as to describing it as that.

My problem with this is that you can’t expect to be treated as a valid road user, if you’re going to jump red lights.

First of all, it isn’t safe. You can make the argument that it is safe because obviously a cyclist wouldn’t jump a red light when there was someone crossing but if you’re going to make this argument there is no reason why cars should still be restricted to stopping for red lights – after all, we promise to check if there are people on the crossing. Obviously, this would end badly. Why? Because it’s just not safe to let people jump red lights, whoever they are (including emergency vehicles, but there are greater risk of not stopping).

Secondly, it creates a separation between cars and bikes. If we’re going to maintain that cyclists are full road users who deserve just as much respect as drivers, then they need to be held to the same standards as cars and motorbikes – if you say “the law doesn’t apply to me because I don’t have an engine”, you’re unlikely to be granted the respect you are looking for either.

As a society, we need to make the roads safer for cyclists – and that is only going to happen when drivers change their attitude towards cyclists. But, when the majority of cyclists don’t follow the rules of the road, can we really blame drivers for not giving them that respect?

Top Gear

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012 | Distractions, Thoughts

We make some pretty shocking television in Britain. For those who live elsewhere, they see what the US has sent them – shows like Friends, Scrubs and CSI, and think “yeah, that United States really make some kick ass television.” Then they look at the programmes we export and find such titles as X-Factor and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.

Both those shows were created in the UK and both have been hugely successful in franchising to the rest of the world.

It’s therefore easy to look at the shows we have managed to export, while our true gems like The Office and Sherlock simply get re-made by the US, missing the genius of the people behind the original series which made it so great in the first place, not to mention the best television we put out, shows like Horizon and Human Planet being largely ignored, and become depressed about our success in selling our output to the rest of the world.

But there is one show which has successfully gone out into the big wide world and carved out an international relationship. Top Gear. And why not? It’s a fantastic TV show.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like Top Gear. Its reinvention in 2002 was a stroke of genius – time after time people say “I love Top Gear! I’m not interested in the cars, but the rest of it is brilliant.” That’s the genius, especially with the specials, it’s a really cool travel documentary about three friends that happen to be driving cars at the time.

Even those that do object to the show are usually only objecting to the fact that Jeremy Clarkson is one of the most offensive people on TV at the moment. Granted, he does say a lot of inappropriate things but then his TV personality is set up to be controversial – he is a man who is paid to have strong opinions.

As a result, the British version of the show is one of the most watched TV shows around the world. It has readily topped the list of most downloaded TV shows, indeed in 2007 it was the second most downloaded show of the entire year, beaten only be Heros and topping Lost, Prison Break, 24 and Family Guy, the most popular shows coming out of the US at the time.

Add to that the spin-off franchises which exist in Australia, the United States, Korea, China and Russia and you have one of the most popular TV shows currently produced in the UK.

Of course, for a rather differing opinion, you might want to check out Stewart Lee’s opinion.


Saturday, January 21st, 2012 | Photos

Audi drivers are definitely the new BMW drivers. There is a parking space literally less than a metre to the right of this shot.