Archive for Driving

Your next tow vehicle?

The hype is strong with Musk (see the Coyote: Elon Musk Is The Master of Yelling “Squirrel” ). The latest is his tractor. See Tesla Semi: 500-Mile Range, Cheaper Than Diesel, Quick to Charge By Bill Howard. The key item of interest is energy storage and both the Coyote and Howard comment on this.

The Coyote says Here Are the Two Problem With EV’s — energy density and recharge time.

15 gallons of gasoline weighs 90 pounds and takes up 2 cubic feet.  This will carry a 40 mpg car 600 miles. … the Tesla gets  0.22 miles per pound of fuel/battery while the regular car can get 6.7.  That is a difference in energy density of 30x.
 …
 The problem is that it is MUCH faster to refill a tank of gas than it is to refill a battery with a full charge.

and here is Howard on the tractor:

As for battery capacity, Tesla gave us a hint: Tesla says the Semi uses “less than 2 kilowatt-hours” of energy per mile. Based on vehicle battery packs in use now, we know lithium-ion battery packs of at least 50 kWh weigh about 15 pounds per 1 kilowatt-hour of stored energy. So if the Tesla Semi uses 1.5 kWh per mile and travels 500 miles, that means the battery is 750 kWh and weighs 11,250 pounds. If consumption is closer to 2.0 kWh per mile, the battery at is as much as 1,000 kWh — 1 megawatt-hour — and 15,000 pounds.

Now, if you want to recharge via solar, a typical cargo container has 320 square feet of roof. At 15 watts per square foot, this could accommodate about 4800 watts of solar panels. At 2 kWh/mile, bright sun might get enough energy from the roof of that typical semi-trailer cargo container in an hour to run the vehicle 2 miles.

Another way to look at this is that, at a 60 mph highway speed, the tractor would need a 30 kW power delivery. (60 miles, 2 kWh/mile, 1 hour). A gallon of diesel has about 38 kWh of energy storage. Since the battery and electric motor efficiency is about three times that of a heat engine like the diesel, these calculations indicate the electric tractor running at the equivalent of about 5 miles per gallon. That sounds a bit low but isn’t that far off.

I wonder what an RV park would do if you pulled in for the night to recharge your tow vehicle from a day’s driving. They aren’t geared up for covering a night time use of 400 kWh energy draw (2 kWh/mi and 200 miles). At ten cents per kWh that would be $40 of electricity and most places have more expensive electricity. Compare that to the current headache, A/C on a hot day, where a large RV might pull 30 – 50 kWh. That’s an order of magnitude increase in energy needs.

Comments off

Tire theory summarized talking about Nitrogen Snake Oil

The AutoExpertTV dude John Cadogan uses some rather ‘colorful’ expressions as is his wont but the YouTube lecture on the Top 10 reasons not to put nitrogen in your tyres (yeah, he’s an Aussie so he can’t spell tires right) has some good stuff about tires. It is interesting that he gathered nearly 10% dislikes but then there are a lot of folks out there that are addicted to their particular snake oil ranging from Agent Orange to the Vegetarian Free Range Natural Chickens. 

Cadogan gets into the actual measure and is good for several examples of the ideal gas law as well as the relevance of precision in tire matters.

Note that here in the U.S. Costco usually fills tires with Nitrogen. The saving grace is that they don’t charge extra for it and their tires and installation services are usually at good prices. Costco also has a note on their warranty information and window sticker to check lug nut torque after 40 miles or so. That is good advice.

I got into some of these issues recently contesting the idea that 20% of trailer owners found that Goodyear Marathons suffered defects and failed. This was while standing next to a trailer whose owner hadn’t checked his tire pressure before heading out and had three at 2/3 proper pressure and one at half that. As Cadogan notes, most blowouts are due to low pressure and high speeds which heat the tire. That is why all cars since about 2008 are required to have tire pressure monitoring as the government gave up on driver responsibility in tire pressure checking.

TireRack.com has a lot of articles about tires including one on the use of Nitrogen. They say the same thing Cadogan does (but with a bit less color).

Comments off

Diesel versus Petrol

It’s always a challenge trying to fit specifications with popular perceptions when it comes to trailer towing engine choices. An Australian AutoExpert, John Cadogan, has a lecture on YouTube that contains a few hints: Diesel Australia – the Diesel vs Petrol story  — do read the text that goes with the video as it is a bit more complete than many such video explanations.

Diesel vs petrol engines: Comparable petrol engines make more peak power – but diesels deliver huge torque at low revs. That means more low-rpm power from the diesel – maybe three or four times as much down at 2000rpm. That makes diesel feel unfussed and effortless in traffic. Diesel motors are about 30-40 per cent more fuel efficient. That means more cruising range out of a diesel, and less spent every week on transport.

This doesn’t help the confusion. There is a clue given in the video that does provide some help. The first item to consider is a proper definition of terms. It is the power that determines how fast you can get up the hill and the engine torque that determines the gear you need to use. Torque is a force whereas power is the rate of energy flow. So torque needs to have both distance and time figured in to be able to compare it to power. That is one problem with the quote. Another is that comparisons such as “maybe three or four times as much” are useless without a proper referent. The key item is that a diesel is a low speed engines while petrol (gas) engines produce best at higher rotational speeds (RPMs). The power range in a diesel covers only about half the RPM of a gas engine. That means that the transition from cruising on the flat to climbing a hill is going to cause the diesel to speed up much less than a gas engine and that means that the gas engine is more likely to need a shift of gears. 

It all comes back to the transmission. Big rigs need a lot of gears despite being diesels because they need all the power they can get and the gears help optimize the narrow torque curve. Choosing the best engine for long haul means it’s likely a bit small for grades and start stop traffic and the transmission compensates. The typical RV isn’t as heavy and can use an engine that has a better power to vehicle weight ratio to handle mixed traffic situations with fewer gears.

That’s just one example. John covers a lot of ground in 12 minutes so you need to listen carefully to catch things a bit different than you think. It’s not as simple a debate and there is a lot of nuance to catch.

Comments off

An ampitheater out towards Fernley?

From the Road: Talus Stripes and Shorelines along the Truckee River

It was a late fall day, and I stopped along Route 447 to see if I could get close to some of the brilliantly colored trees along the Truckee River a few miles north of Wadsworth. I didn’t end up finding a good spot for pics of fall colors—other than maybe this one taken down near the Numana Hatchery—but I did find lots of wonderful talus stripes and some Lake Lahontan shorelines.

At two stops a little farther to the north, at and near the junction of 447 with Chicken Road and at the Historic Marker 448 pullout, I grabbed a hodgepodge of photos.

A good portion of the river in this area runs parallel or sub-parallel to Walker Lane strike-slip faults. Wadsworth Amphitheater, which shows up in the Google Earth images

Maybe she’ll help you see things you never noticed before when heading east out of Reno on I80.

Between this and that Flyover Country app described earlier there’s no excuse for not knowing about the country you visit.

Comments off

Traffic Controls and Unintended Consequences

There’s been a lot of emphasis put on distracted driving recently and most of it is a PC thing. More laws don’t necessarily mean more safety and speed laws have be a topic here to illustrate that. A PhysOrg report by Michelle Wheeler on a study that Strictly enforcing the speed limit may make drivers worse that brings these two driving problems together.

A UWA study found strict enforcement of the speed limit could be bad for road safety by making drivers focus on their speed rather than hazards.

It found people who drove under the stricter conditions were less likely to spot red dots that appeared in their peripheral vision. They also reported a higher mental workload.

Lead researcher, Dr Vanessa Bowden, says … “We came to the conclusion that [monitoring speed] is eating up their limited pool of visual and mental resources a little bit and taking their attention perhaps a bit away from the task of safe driving.”

“It’s what we want to do next with this, is see if it actually translates into more accidents,” Vanessa says.

This is reflected in the MUTCD (manual of uniform traffic control devices) published by the U.S. DOT. It says “When a speed limit within a speed zone is posted, it should be within 5 mph of the 85th-percentile speed of free-flowing traffic.” [guidance # 11]. Implicit here is that most drivers drive at a safe speed and they should not be subject to traffic restrictions that will distract them from the primary responsibility to drive safely.

In the section on Engineering Speed Limits, there is another item of note.

In terms of traffic law, speed limits should reflect the maximum reasonable and safe speed for normal conditions. That is speed limits should be acceptable as reasonable by most drivers and separate high and low risk speed behavior.

This acknowledges a social aspect of law. Those subject to the law must see it as ‘reasonable’ and with a proper purpose else they lose respect for the law and its enforcement. Speed enforcement often violates these concepts and the distracted driving laws are following suit. This is not good for either safety nor for law enforcement. Putting up a new law is easy. Finding a solution to poor driving habits and judgments is difficult. Conflict between law and good driving are destructive. Better solutions need to be found.

Comments off

Traffic Camera Citation Story

Adam MacLeod is an associate professor at Faulkner University’s Thomas Goode Jones School of Law and author of Property and Practical Reason (Cambridge University Press). He got a ticket because a camera took a picture of his car. He tells his story: That Time I Turned a Routine Traffic Ticket into the Constitutional Trial of the Century.

Traffic-camera laws seem like such minor, insignificant intrusions on liberty that few grasp their constitutional significance. But they reflect a profoundly mistaken view of American constitutionalism. One might say that the traffic camera is a sign of our times. Its widespread use and acceptance reveals how far we have drifted from our fundamental commitment to self-government. When our governing officials dismiss due process as mere semantics, when they exercise powers they don’t have and ignore duties they actually bear, and when we let them get away with it, we have ceased to be our own rulers.

When a cop admits to perjury on the witness stand, you know there is problem with the legal process. It is the “minor, insignificant intrusions on liberty” that flavor civil discourse and government effectiveness.

Think of this and the implications of the folks who decided to take the Dog Valley detour out of Verdi when I80 closed over the pass in the recent storm. There are all sorts of ways to get stuck in mud when driving.

Comments off

Rules of the road and complications

Gery Witzenburg at AutoBlog asks Is modern traffic enforcement all about dollars instead of safety? — “We’re going with a strong yes.”

So wherever you live and drive, watch out for all types of revenue-driven enforcement and report any you see to the NMA, which keeps an excellent nationwide database. The authorities will never publicly admit it – just as they routinely deny the existence of ticket quotas or that ticket counts are key factors in evaluating and comparing individual officers’ job performances – but it is clearly happening nearly everywhere as states, counties, cities and towns continue to rely on ticket revenue for their operating budgets.

That is why you should use a radar/laser detector (legal in the U.S. except in Virginia and Washington, D.C.) and invest time and energy to contest every ticket, whether or not you think it’s deserved. If you give in and compliantly pay up on one minor ticket today without a fight, the next one will likely drive your insurance premiums way up for a period of years. Multiple studies have shown, by the way, that radar detector usage actually reduces accidents because their users invariably slow and look around whenever the devices sound off.

From a lifetime of study and observation, I long ago concluded that traffic enforcement in the U.S. has become mostly about revenue, very little about safety anymore. From aggressive enforcement of unreasonably low speed limits to speed and red-light cameras and unreasonably high fines, what evidence is there otherwise?

This is part of a larger phenomena that impacts where you can go and where you can park in your RV among a lot of other lifestyle decisions and choices. The enforcement that can be witnessed, as illustrated in Witzenburg’s opinion, also tends to denigrate law enforcement. The social pressures that do exist corrupt law enforcement efforts. The push to ‘do something, do anything’ along with the pushback from people unjustly caught in the mayhem tends to excess enforcement of simple measures like speed and inhibited measures of more important and harder to objectively measure behavior.

Comments off

Collateral damage: Distracted driving

The trend seems to be to pass a law to govern every aspect of going down the road. That is why one judge determined that It is Illegal to Use Phone GPS While Driving in RI. Since the distracted driving laws only mention cell phones as a source of distraction, using an equivalent device like a dedicated GPS navigation device might be OK.

“…Based on the plain language of the statute,” the judges wrote in their decision, “a reader may be looking at any visual display on the phone’s interface and be in violation of the statute. To hold otherwise would defeat the purpose of the statute: to prevent drivers from distractions caused by operation of a cell phone while driving.”

That is going to get interesting when you consider that even dedicated GPS devices are getting on communications networks to get traffic information and updates. There’s also whether a tablet used for navigation will qualify as a cell phone or whether the built in display on some modern cars, cars that use the cell phone network in various ways, will also run afoul of the law.

There is also a need to be concerned about laws that restrict where you can put driving aids and how they are visible to the driver. You can’t assume common sense or safety has anything to do with whether or not you are going to be ticket bait on the road.

Then there’s the autopilot thing. Lane assist, automatic braking, cruise control, visibility assistance cameras, and other safety devices are also targets where the law might have unintended consequences producing collateral damage.

Take care!

Comments off

Trailer sway

U-Haul has put together a trade show demonstration to illustrate the effect of trailer loading on handling. Jalopnik says you can Learn About The Dangers Of Towing From A Toy Mustang On A Conveyer Belt. See the short video.

This is even likely less bad than a full-scale, real-world situation would be, because that conveyer belt is going at a steady, constant speed, and the car’s front wheels remain rigidly straight. In reality, once the swinging starts, the Mustang driver would likely be alternating cranking the wheel in a panic while jamming on the brakes, taking some time between these two acts to lavishly soil their pants.

So, take it from some toys on a conveyer belt: be careful how you distribute the weight of what you tow!

The steering issue needs emphasis as well. Because of the sideways push on the rear of the tow vehicle, oversteer (wikipedia) is common. That means that corrections to compensate for the trailer wiggle tend to produce more steering than intended. That means a correction to the correction is needed and that is what is called a positive feedback loop (wikipedia). That’s the source of oscillations and the last thing you want with trailer sway is an oscillation.

The video emphasizes that the first step in effective trailer handling lies in proper trailer configuration and loading. This is why Airstream has its water and holding tanks low down and near the axles. It is also why Airstream tends to have longer axle to hitch distances than many other trailers. The load distribution in the trailer involves the interior design as well because that determines the location of heavier objects (like the appliances) and the storage lockers. 

Tow vehicle loading, suspension, and configuration are also a part of the equation. That influences steering and the vehicle response to disturbances. Effective handling is not a simple phenomena. There is much you can do to make for a comfortable driving experience but you also need to be aware that training and experience are needed and that road and environmental conditions can bring surprises. 

Take care. Drive aware. Be prepared.

Comments off

Road trip games

Jonathon Ramsey on Autoblog: Our Top 5 Favorite Road Trip Games Of All Time — (No, We’re Not “There Yet”).

Road trip games, those boredom-battling tests of concentration and quick vision meant to speed the hours, are some of the closest things we have to auto mythology.

Like early tales of Zeus and the Chupacabra passed down by oral tradition, they mean a lot to us, some of them make us laugh and some scare the pants off us, and no one knows from whom, when or where they originated.

I Spy, Road Trip Bingo, A is for Armadillo, Alphabet, Cow Poker … what are your favorites?

These days, it seems that parents are looking at other ways to keep the kids occupied. Consider the Raspicar wireless media server projectI wanted a way to stream video files to different Ipads and ipods I own to entertain my 4 children during long car drives.” Maybe the Pokemon Go phenomena will get an adaptation to automotive travel? 

It used to be we’d get maps at gas stops and plot travels and take notes on locations on the paper maps. No more. It’s electronic maps, wikipedia, and a whole lot of games on a tablet. Things have changed.

Comments off

USGS topographic maps courtesy National Geographic

There’s another way to get those high resolution USGS topographic 15′ and 7.5′ maps courtesy of National Geographic. See ngmaps.maps.arcgis.com. This should come up with a US overview. You need to hit the +/- buttons to zoom in and drag to the area of interest. Once you zoom in far enough, you’ll see a grid of red markers on the map. Click on one of these markers to pop up a map reference. Click on the map icon in the box and you’ll get a 5 page PDF with the first page a 15′ index to four 7.5 minute maps on the following pages.

Of course, you can also go to the USGS store and order the traditional paper copies or get free online versions (if you support the proper plugin). The NFS also has maps which have a lot of detail to the national forests for hikers and campers. If you are planning on travel in the forests with any vehicle “The following motor vehicle use maps have been prepared and issued under 36 CFR 212.56, and identify those roads, trails, and areas designated for motor vehicle use.” The MVUM are needed so you can make sure to keep your vehicle only on authorized roads.

To avoid the experience of those who blindly followed a personal navigation device (GPS) and have a tale of doom to tell, keep in mind Rule 1: never travel blind. Know your maps and where they came from.

The USGS and NFS maps have a lot of roads and trails you would not want to take your RV on. The state map have road maps a bit more suited for planning an RV trek (Nevada Department of Transportation Maps here). You can also often get a free paper map (Request a Nevada State Highway Map) that shows the major roads and has good tourist and visitor information as well.

The problem with PND/GPS maps is that they are hidden and electronic and the only source you know about is the brand name on the device. Fortunately, technology is making it easier to keep maps up to date, to cross verify maps with other sources, and to obtain current traffic and hazard information. The 511 home (nvroads.com) now provides links to highway cameras so you can see current traffic in some areas. Google also provides road traffic flow information for those who are using cell phones with location turned on. Waze is a social media app that can be used to report traffic situations, too. 

Maps can be fun, educational, and attractive art as well as utilitarian. The options available now are incredible. Be informed. Travel safe.

Comments off

Drive a model T?

Sometimes we don’t know how good we have it. Take a look at the 1911 Model T owner’s manual and compare. These days you do have lots of controls and gadgets to work with but they are for the media and navigation systems, remote controls for locks and windows, and other such conveniences. In the Model T, the controls were critical to getting it to run down the road. There were three floor pedals. Spark advance and throttle were on the steering column. A lever on the floor to the left of the driver had something to do with gears.

I remember my grandfather running the ‘stage route’ down near Payson. It was a short trip but he could count on having to repair a flat and carried a bag of fuller’s earth for the clutch and often had broken axle problems. That was then. Things have changed. 

Comments off

Might you one day have a custom tour guide for your RV?

A geologist decided it would be nice to share what he could see out the window on airplane flights. He built an app. John Farrier describes How a Geologist Designed the Perfect App for the Window Seat.

You can look out the window on the airplane and see beautiful mountains, seas, islands, rivers, and more. What are you looking at? There’s an app for that. Shane Loeffler, a geologist, developed Flyover Country, an app that shows air travelers what geological formations they’re flying over. He tells Fast Co Design that he came up with the idea while flying on a plane

Loeffler wants to develop the app further with augmented reality so that you can simply hold up your phone and Flyover Country will automatically display the geology of the area.

You can get a bit of this with GPS devices and apps that show contour lines. For the RV tours, it would be nice to do this with a tour guide that would tell you what was coming into view and what was interesting or significant about it. There are some steps in this direction but it remains an open opportunity. There are also some efforts to link Wikipedia with mapping software that head in this direction. You can get an app that will show you constellations and stars when you hold it up to the sky at night.

Some of the features that might be useful include offline caching such as Google Maps uses, being able to specify commentary focus such as geology, history, agriculture, architecture, local cultural lore, and others. You might also be able to choose a ‘sophistication’ level from ignorant tourist to topic expert to match the commentary to your needs and interests. The tour guide needs to be location and travel aware so it can comment and what is coming up in a timely manner, It needs to talk to you so as to minimize driving distractions. 

Tour books have been around for ages. A major benefit of touring is knowing what it is that you see. New technologies are raising the possibilities for investigating and learning about the places where you travel and visit. The ingredients are all there. Putting them together in a delicious recipe has some work to be done. 

Can’t wait!

Comments off

Understanding mile post markers on Nevada highways

OK, a storm came through last night — Time to check nvroads.com (511 Home) and see about road conditions. It is a very slow website this morning as might be expected when a couple of inches of new snow greets the morning.On US 395 north of Reno, the highway is purple and a click provides a popup that says “There is a conditions related event (Chains or Snow Tires Required) on US-395 from mile post 26.0 in Washoe County to mile post 42.1 in Washoe County in Nevada“. This is confusing. The freeway exit numbers on that stretch of US 395 are in the 70’s so what is this mile post 26 to 42 label?

To figure that out, see the NV DOT page on Milepost Signs.

On interstates, two types of mileposts exist. Green post mile markers list the mileage from the state line while white and black standard mileposts list the mileage from the county line. U.S., state and other routes strictly list the mileage from the county line.

For the purpose of milepost signs, roadway mileage numbers start from the south or west end of where a road first enters a state or county. The mileage number continues to build as the road travels north or east.

Safety Recommendation

It is recommended that motorists be aware of milepost signs, particularly while driving in rural areas. Knowing your milepost location will allow for quicker response if needing to call for emergency assistance.

It looks like the road conditions report is for the “black standard mileposts” and not the green interstate ones. The standard mileposts have a two letter county identifier below the highway number while the green ones don’t. The road distance from the south or west is on the bottom of the sign and rotated 90 degrees on the standard signs. New road construction projects are installing larger milepost signs a bit off the road at 5 feet above the road surface. These are intended to be easier to see and less likely to get run over or otherwise damaged.

Milepost markers are the DOT’s coordinate system. That’s fine for them but many of us aren’t keeping an eagle out for each passing milepost sign or aren’t using that coordinate system often enough to know where we are by that system. Instead we call for help using routes and landmarks or we turn it over to computers. The computers are what NVDOT uses to show road conditions on the map at nvroads.com. If you need a list of the source data rather than a map, see the incidents list page.

Google is a step up the ladder in that every driver with an Android phone that allows position reporting provides Google with current traffic data that it can show on its map. Google bought the Waze app to help facilitate this effort. This is a social network where drivers can share information about roads and routes in real time. That is how, for instance, Google maps can show two crashes and one other incident on US 395 north of Reno this morning along with the red colored highway to indicate slow moving traffic. The position reporting is, of course, by GPS coordinates but it is all behind the curtain. What we see is a map with coded information for our travel needs. Note that this is a two way street. You don’t get this information unless you let your device report its position and speed. 

It should also be noted that cell phones have been required to report position to dispatchers on 911 calls for quite a while. They use GPS for this if available or cell signal strength data otherwise. (this is similar to how home computers are using wifi signals to assist localizing I’net searches now). Again, this is a ‘behind the computer curtain’ kind of thing. You could query your GPS for coordinates and read them over the phone, too, but the chance for error is rather high for that sort of thing. An alternative would be to have a macro read the phone GPS data and send it via SMS (gotta’ love all those TLA’s – three letter acronyms!).

Interstate mile markers are most visible on maps as exit numbers. Otherwise, mile markers are scarce on maps. It might be a good project to write a program to use Navigation software to trace a route back to its start or its southern or western intersection with a state or county line, calculate the route from there to a selected position, and then use the distance of that route to report the mile marker. That would be a non trivial exercise. That’s why the color coding at nvroads.com is very useful as the DOT has done the converting between there mile markers and something that is a bit easier for the regular driver to understand.

Comments off

Speed trap season

It is a delimma. Most RVers tend to travel a bit slower than other traffic on the road. Sometimes speed limits are lower for RV’s, especially those with trailers or toads. Some RVer’s even brag about going slower than traffic, especially if that traffic is going faster than the speed limit. A commentary in the Washington Times takes a look at the dirty little secret about holiday traffic ticketing and notes a 1964 study of interest to slower traffic.

“David Solomon, a researcher with the U.S. Department of Commerce, spent several years collecting data on the risk factors that cause highway accidents. In a seminal paper published in 1964 — yes, almost 50 years ago — Solomon> found that the least risk of crash involvement occurred with vehicles moving near the average speed of traffic. He documented the safest speed to be about 5 mph faster than traffic flow. Conversely, Solomon’s data showed the odds of being involved in a highway accident rose dramatically as vehicle speed dropped below the average for surrounding traffic. The famous “Solomon Curve,” illustrated in the accompanying graph, has never been substantively refuted in the intervening years. The nature of driver behavior hasn’t changed over time.”

Wikipedia has an article on the Solomon Curve. A 2015 report on the Relation of Speed and Speed Limits to Crashes by Susan Ferguson describes it this way:

  • Both studies found a U-shaped relationship between vehicle speed and crash incidence
  • ŠCrash rates were lowest for drivers traveling near the mean speed, and increased with deviations above and below the mean
  • Low-speed drivers were more likely to be involved in crashes than relatively high speed drivers

This is why you can also be ticketed in many areas if you have several vehicles behind you trying to get by. It is also why you should try to keep up with traffic and pay special attention to getting out of the way when slowing down to turn or for any other reason, such as braking to avoid a ticket when seeing a cop at a speed trap.

There is also a ‘social’ problem when it comes to speed that is illustrated by the Ferguson report. It is a ‘science literacy’ problem that tends to confuse correlation with causation and the over-simplification of complex phenomena. It is embodied in the ‘speed kills’ mantra. Yes, higher speed means higher energy in collisions – just like the higher weight in RV’s will do – and that can increase the severity of a crash. That doesn’t mean that a crash is more likely, though. A look at the Nevada Crash Book, for example, cites ‘exceeding the speed limit’ as way down the list of contributing factors to vehicle crashes.

RVers tend to be mature drivers with good judgment. That means they are usually safe drivers. They can be better drivers if they are alert to the traffic flow and avoid interference in that flow as much as possible. The RV driver needs to stay alert and on task to be aware of traffic ahead as well as behind.

Drive safe this summer!

Comments off

Digital dashboard update

There is a transition under way from mechanical gauges for speed, coolant temperatures, oil pressure and other driver information to a video display. Extremetech has a rundown on the Digital dashboard: Why your car’s next instrument panel will be one big LCD.

There is the center stack – that’s in the middle where the radio, navigation display, and such things live. That radio is in transition, too, as it becomes more of a media center and interactive touch panel computing center. What to call the instruments behind the steering wheel is still a question.

“The industry hasn’t yet settled on a term for an instrument panel that uses an LCD or brighter OLED, so you’ll hear digital dashboard, virtual instrument cluster, reconfigurable instrument cluster, glass cockpit (borrowed from the aviation industry), and

digital instrument cluster display (ICD)

used to describe the instrument panel of the near future.”

It looks like that driver information is getting settled on a 12″ wide display with a layout selected as one of about four different options. There will likely be some customization available as well.

Once the transition to a 1280×480 display is done, the transition of the dial type display and some of the other gauge display styles that have become habit may occur as well. The manufacturer’s can’t change that look too much too fast as it tends to confuse drivers. Then there is the self driving car that is starting to become a realistic possibility. Driving won’t be the same and change is rapid.

Comments off

Understanding the price of gasoline

Already the headlines are working on fears of $5/gallon gasoline this summer. You may have also seen stories about the North Dakota oil boom or the political fracas about an oil pipeline. It’s all about what kind of oil is where. Casey Research has a nice story to help explain things: It’s All about Differentials.

We’re talking about oil price differentials, which means the different prices paid for crude oil in different parts of the world. People often talk about “the price of oil” as though there is just one price, when really there are dozens of crude blends that each has a different valuation. Sure, some blends are much more prevalent and therefore important than others.

If you want to skip right to the bottom line, it is this: location matters. Bakken producers are getting hammered on pricing because they struggle to get their oil to the nearest refinery and storage hub – in Cushing, Oklahoma. Then, in a cruel feedback cycle, once the oil reaches Cushing it actually pushes its own value down by adding to a supply glut – there isn’t enough refinery capacity in Cushing to process rising output from the Bakken and the Canadian oil sands, and there are only a few small pipes available to ease the glut by moving oil from Cushing to the big, sophisticated refineries on the Gulf Coast.

The right kind of oil has to get to the right kind of refinery to distil to the right kind of gasoline (or diesel) you need to get your rig on down the road. The price you pay at the pump reflects all of this and much more.

Comments off

Automotive tech: they don’t build them like they used to.

Popular Mechanics lists 23 Ways Your Car Is Better Than Your Dad’s – Auto Industry News – Popular Mechanics and Wired lists ten examples of Hidden Tech That Makes Modern Driving Better. A lot of these items increase comfort and reduce fatigue and are in tow vehicles as well as the everyday automobile.

Active noise canceling systems and acoustic glass help make for a quieter ride. Direct and minutely controlled fuel injection along with turbo charging systems provide more power for less engine at better fuel efficiencies. Integrated GPS is being used to determine sun angle and adjust climate control. Magnetorheological dampers adapt the suspension for driving conditions. Security is improved making vehicles a more difficult target for thieves. Sound systems make the stereo of yesteryear, even the home ones, look rather anemic and low-fi.

The reliability is also a target. Engine alternators are producing 1.6 kw and fan belt driven pumps are moving to electrical. Tires get better traction, are less prone to damage from road hazards, and last longer. Engines and drive trains often come with warranties up to five times (or more) as long as they did in the past.

They don’t build them like they used to and much of the improvement is behind the scenes and stuff we take for granted.

Comments off

Autopilot advances

First it was Google testing a vehicle control system between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe to see if they could make an autopilot for a car that would handle normal driving conditions. That experiment is one of the reasons why Nevada passed a law that provides some leeway for ‘autonomous driving.’ Now Volkswagen has a self driving car (ExtremeTech). “It represents a link between today’s assistance systems and the vision of fully automatic driving,” VW said.

VW says the components are a “relatively production-like sensor platform” of radar, camera, and ultrasonic sensors plus a laser scanner and an electronic horizon. The system reads speed limit and other traffic signs, made possible because signage is common and consistent throughout Europe — something that might not be possible in the US, because speed limit signs vary between the states.

For the TLA (three letter acronym) enthusiasts, there’s LDW and LKA technologies. LDW is for lane departure warning and serves a function like those rumble strips often found on roads to alert you when you wander out of lane. LKA is for Lake Keep Assist and is an automatic steering to keep you in the center of the lane. As for the Nevada law:

It’s just a small step, authorizing the Nevada Department of Transportation to draft regulations. In a sparsely settled state outside of Las Vegas with lots of straight roads, self-driving cars would be right at home. Nevada also wouldn’t mind getting automakers to use the state for testing and research. VW’s TAP remains far from a production model, but it’s the biggest step so far. And VW’s approach means it could be just a few years off, since TAP promises automated driving only under certain conditions.

Distracted driving that leads to people running off the road or into oncoming traffic are major causes of traffic crashes in Nevada. LDW and LKA, perhaps coupled with other detectors that could determine if the driver was drunk or asleep, could possibly reduce this source of tragedy.

The future is coming and adjusting to it might be a bit difficult. Those stories about the new moho owner who set the cruise control and then got up to go to the bathroom in his rig might just take on a new aspect sometime soon.

Comments off

Speed Cameras

As stories circulate about an LA cop who won a lawsuit by claiming he was given quotas to meet in regards to traffic citations (Report: LA police officers who alleged ticket quota system win $2M judgment) and others about stepped up enforcement on the roads based on budget constraints, there is a Washington Times story about a Business owner [who] casts reasonable doubt on accuracy of speed cameras.

Five times and counting before three different judges, the Prince George’s County business owner has used a computer and a calculation to cast reasonable doubt on the reliability of the soulless traffic enforcers.

He’s got 40 more in the queue from his drivers, too. Since the speeding citation provides two pictures to show the vehicle on the road, Mr. Foreman can use the time and distance interval between the pictures to estimate speed of travel. Since that calculation doesn’t show the speed claimed in the citation, the citation is often dismissed.

Mr. Foreman’s tickets were all issued in Forest Heights, a town of about 2,600 where officials expected $2.9 million in ticket revenue this fiscal year, about half the town’s $5.8 million budget.

The claim is that “speed kills” and that enforcing speed limits is a safety issue. The problem is that speed, as a cause of crashes, is way down the list and that is excess speed for conditions rather than exceeding the speed limit. In part, this is why cell phone banning while driving is so popular in legislatures recently because it is distracted driving that is fundamental to most crashes. That cell phone banning has a long history going back to banning microphone use in the CB era forty years ago.

The micromanaging of drivers, the use of artificial criteria for citation under the banner of safety, and the revenue proportions all denigrate the actions taken. Quotas and questionable accuracy compound the issue. Driving becomes more a game with the authorities than it does safe travel from place to place. That does not bode well for either safety nor for due respect for the authorities.

Comments off

« Previous entries Next Page » Next Page »