Tag Archives: driving

RoSPA shocked by how ordinary people actually live their lives.

24 Oct

I’ve got nine lives. You ain’t. Deal with it.

RoSPA has expressed shock and dismay that people drive while holding mobile phones.

The ninety year old veteran survivor of countless accidents and a couple of world wars was startled to discover that  people who drive cars through necessity often ignore common-sense advice on the use of mobile phones.

“It beggars belief!” said RoSPA, looking up from his newspaper while eating his breakfast and stroking the cat. “You’d think these people were quite unaware of the risks they were taking. I shall write an article about all this – you see if I don’t!”

Responding to Roadwax’s undercover reporter, RoSPA’s housekeeper and assistant, Verity Crash-Bangwallop, explained that RoSPA doesn’t get out much these days and is quite unaware that the practise has been going on for over twenty-five years.

“He normally gets upset when it comes up in the newspapers every now and then but he’s usually better by the time I bring him his lunch. Last Thursday, he became incandescent when I explained to him that bears are reluctant to use toilet facilities in woodland areas. I just locked myself in the Safety Room until he calmed down. He’s really very nice.”

The matter first came to light when RoSPA was informed by the local Community Support Officer that a youth had been spotted driving in the village while holding a mobile phone. RoSPA immediately wrote a letter to his local MP to highlight the shocking issue and asked the PCSO to keep him informed of any developments.

Local Independent MP Brian Loadsworth explained that RoSPA was quite unaware of the pressures upon normal members of society to receive and transmit data while driving.

“RoSPA is a nice old chap but his idea of driving is to gently ease into his old Mercedes 300TD and potter the half mile to the village shop to buy some matches for his Aga. He is quite unaware that some people spend many hours of the day driving while being pressurised by bosses and clients to provide them with time-sensitive information.”

“When I recently explained that some mothers need to contact child-minders to say that they were stuck in stationary traffic and would be late to pick up their child as a consequence, he was most resolute. He felt certain that this could be easily done while pulling over into a lay-by, switching the engine off and making the call whilst wearing a high visibility jacket at the side of the road. Fortunately, Verity brought us some lunch and the matter was dropped.”

With UK drivers currently being four times more likely to be involved in an accident when using a mobile phone while driving, pressure is on for the Police and also safety experts to find a solution.

A week long initiative by East Scrains Traffic Police to intercept drivers who were holding phones provided valuable results.

“We got our message across. You can’t drive with a mobile phone clamped to your ear. Not when one of our lads has just broken both your legs,” said Det. Insp Darren Shaft. “We usually get caught up in this nonsense debate about once a year. If we come down too hard then we lose the trust of the public. But we have to be seen to do something. We refer to it as “culling”. It ticks all the boxes and lets us get on with our real jobs.”

Dame Elizabeth Jobs-Agoodun from the road safety charity MENACE was more scathing.

“The threat of being sidelined by your boss for demanding that your car be supplied with the latest telecommunications equipment is no excuse. Working people should live within their means and ensure that they are perfectly educated in all aspects of the instruction manual provided with their leased vehicle. It really isn’t good enough.”

A simple and inexpensive campaign suggested by Roadwax to provide cheap Bluetooth hands-free kits to all motorists for the same price as a Cornish Pasty was launched today.

Det Insp Darren Shaft was not convinced.

“So, where did you get hold of all these then? Let’s ‘ave a look in the back of your van. Hands where I can see them…”

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A good car to have a crash in…? Part 1

9 Feb

Fancy a good car crash? Oh, come on, don’t be a chicken. Let’s do it. Its fun…!

About twenty years ago the German Police were  mystified by a sudden spate of random accidents involving stolen cars. Something was not quite right. Something did not make sense. At the crash scene, the lack of tyre marks that would indicate that the driver was braking, the direct angle of impact, small details like these were not as they expected.

It is beyond the comprehension of most of us to intentionally crash the car we are driving into a stationary object. Yes, a few crooks do intentionally crash cars to claim thousands of pounds in insured injury pay-outs, but they are the exception; they are doing it for business reasons.

What the German Police discovered was that a handful of streetwise teenagers were crashing cars for fun. The incredible adrenaline buzz of doing it, the excitement of the unknown…the whiff of gunpowder as the airbags go off and the near –  certainty of running away, high on life, to laugh about it with their mates.

One of the great things about youth is that it draws together the established world it sees and makes of it a new world. These kids had seen the promotional videos for Volvos, Audis and Mercedes. How the calm voice of the manufacturers explained in patient words that these “airbags” would deploy and save the occupants from serious injury in the event of a crash at even 50 kilometers per hour.

Game on…!  One can picture the face of  the staid and methodical German Police detective at the moment where he finally thought the previously unthinkable, imagined the hitherto unimaginable. He was first on the scene at a completely new category of crime: “crashing cars intentionally for the joy of cheating death and serious injury”.

Years later, when the idea had become boring and uncool, even Jeremy Clarkson did it on Top Gear.

In Europe and America, car manufacturers now use the idea of passenger safety as a sales tool, a means of selling their cars to us. It was not always so.

When Ralph Nader, an American pioneer of consumer rights, published a book in 1965 criticising American car manufacturers for designing cars that killed their occupants because they were poorly  designed, he singled out the General Motors Chevrolet Corvair. General Motors responded by singling out Ralph Nader as an untrustworthy commie beatnik with a dangerously un-American agenda.

Nader was right. This new concept of ‘passenger safety’ became forever more  of great importance to western car-buyers.  Nader and his cause flourished while General Motors were shamed into a mumbling apology and ‘getting with the program’. Swedish manufacturer Volvo invented  the three-way diagonal seat belt and, in an act of high-principled generosity, offered it patent-free to all the world’s motor manufacturers, their competition. It immediately became the now-familiar seat belt that we all still wear, albeit in improved form.

Today, when we westerners buy a car, we ask ourselves: “How safe is it?”  This is an interesting point because forty years ago in 1970, we still asked “How sexy will I look and how fast does it go?”  The manufacturers were happy to answer. They were still working hard on developing safety equipment. It was a long, uphill research programme so, in the mean time, hey – look…! Sports Wheels…! Extra Stripes…! Metallic Paint…! Cheap, shiny things. Go on, have a couple of front fog lights, as well. They are totally useless in fog but your neighbour will be jealous and that is what counts, isn’t it?

Even though we knew that safety was important in 1970, we still wanted our cars to be symbols of sexual prowess and have a little of the ‘weapon’ about them. Yes, women too – it was not exclusively men who lusted after power and sex-appeal back then and don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise…

But by 1990, twenty years ago, passenger safety had become the most-used sales tool for western manufacturers and the most talked-over issue when choosing a new car. Safe sex. We westerners still wanted to look like gods in chariots of steel on the outside but please, can we have lots of soft,  curvy plastic bits on the inside instead of all those pointy steel knobs and handles?

Western manufacturers saw their golden opportunity. They stopped talking about how fast their cars went. They talked instead about how safe, economical and trustworthy they were. Cars stopped being sold to us as powerful rocket ships and  began being sold to us as powerful accountants, trustworthy and silent bodyguards, loyal friends.

Now, in 2012, those German teenagers have settled down, had kids and they probably have an Audi A3 parked outside.  Airbag safety and passenger-cell technology is far more advanced. Every day on western roads, men and women walk away from crashes that would have killed them without doubt in 1972, just one generation earlier.

Now, take a look at India in 2012. The Indian economy is racing forward, a well-heeled consumer class is emerging and is hungry for new products. Once again, the car is being pushed like a drug as the ‘must have’ consumer item for the modern Indian family. Just as we westerners were encouraged to take to the roads, spend our money on fuel, tax, insurance, servicing, repairs, depreciation and, oh yes, a shiny new car, so the easterners are being willingly courted by the huge car manufacturers. Now, it is their turn to be dazzled by choice.

But something is not right.

While the wealthy elite of India are rushing to buy luxury cars so fast that America’s top imported brands are increasing sales at an astonishing 40% per year, the average aspirational Indian is being sold something quite different: hastily re-skinned versions of old car designs that will mostly not even pass current European and US safety tests. At best, they will scrape through with disgracefully low scores. Knee joints, rib cages, upper jaws will be broken far more frequently.

Maruti Suzuki manufactures India’s best-selling range of vehicles. Out of their 13 most popular family cars, the company’s own publicity doesn’t even mention the word “safety” on ten of them. It does, however, mention “…bold, sporty styling…”  “…the new force of excitement…” “…thrilling drive…” “…you will smile when you press the accelerator to pass another vehicle…”  All very similar terms to those used by western manufacturers like Ford or GM back in 1970.

So, let’s just pause for a moment and get this straight:

India in 2012 is going to greet the truly massive expansion of private car ownership by building cars that will not protect their occupants any better than westerner’s cars did in 1970?

Which lessons didn’t get learned?

Where is India’s “Ralph Nader”?

© 2012 Loop Withers Roadwax.com

The importance of serving toast correctly

7 Feb

156toastprius

It is 06.47 on a Tuesday morning in Autumn. The timing is important to me. It means that I have two minutes to pull my car over to the side of the long driveway that leads to the hotel. Then, out of public view, I can make sure that the side doors where the passengers will get in are still clean.

The rest of the car can wait. This Toyota Prius was hand washed only fifty miles ago but it already has a fine mist of damp cow dung and clay stuck to it from the last three miles of country road. Sometimes, this damned Prius gets washed twice a day. This is England. England is green and pleasant because it rains a lot.

There  is a finger mark on the back door handle so I polish it away with a tissue, get back in and select ‘Drive’. Six minutes to seven. I have been on the hotel’s CCTV since I turned in from the main road so now the receptionist will be telling the doorman that I am approaching. She likes the chauffeurs who pull over and check their car before advancing into her domain.

As I glide out from beneath the blue misty gloom of the trees that line the drive, the great house appears, lit silver and brass by the dawn sun. Its solid  lines dominate the cow draped pastures before it and one knows without doubt that this is how it was intended to be first seen by its visitors. The finest stone and brick faces outwards, protecting the whitest bedsheets and towels from those who have no business within.

The digital clock on my dash changes to 06.55 as I coast the last fifty metres on electric power towards the giant front door where a valet stands, staring intently towards me. On the raked circle of gravel ahead of me, a silver Mercedes S-Class is loading. Its passengers wait while the driver rushes to open the rear doors and let them inside. I brake to a halt early and flash my dipped headlights at the doorman. He raises one finger in acknowledgement from his white gloved hand to bid me to stop and wait. He brushes his electric blue waistcoat and turns to look to the valet who stands at the top of the great stone steps at the front of the house.

I recognise the driver of the Mercedes. His name is Eric. Eric used to be in business with my boss. Now, he is not. I can guess why. Eric is snatching the cases from the pea-shingle drive and stacking them in the back. He shuts the tailgate and strides round to get in behind the wheel. I can see his passengers settling in the back seat and then Eric is rolling, hard right lock, his headlights reflecting off the low stone wall that make his turn so tight.

The gardener stands with his rake and watches in case Eric’s turn requires the grains of pea shingle to be restored. I take my foot off the brake and roll forward to the Portland stone doorway. The doorman now looks to me, pointing downwards with his finger to exactly where he wishes me to position myself  beside his perfect shoes. I catch a glimpse of Eric’s intense and reddened face as he drives by. He glares ahead to the darkness of the beckoning trees.

I push the button and my window glass drops with a whir and the cold air creeps in. The doorman bows towards me and stares into my eyes. I set the parking brake with my foot.

“Having fun…?” I make a cheesy grin up towards him. His mouth is already forming his first words to me but he stops and straightens, looking back to the house. I can hear the valet’s voice. The doorman nods and then bows to me again. He speaks.

“No, I am not. Go round again. We are all out of sequence now…” The frustration in his voice makes me click the handbrake off without delay but his gloved hands still hold on to my door so I keep my foot on the brake.

“Give way to the black BMW that is just arriving, come in back here as soon as he goes, yes…?”

“Yes.” I make to move away but he still keeps his hands on my door. I look back at him. He is staring after Eric’s Merc. He speaks softly.

“That couple…” He struggles for words. “…they got drunk last night and then cancelled Eric’s car. Then, this morning they start screaming at us, asking where he is. They couldn’t remember a thing. Eric only just raced back from Heathrow now. They only had to wait half an hour but…my god…they made sure that everybody knew!”  He stares at me.

“Now…” he continues,  “…I have a gentleman who ordered that BMW for seven fifteen and then changed it to seven…then I do you…”

“What about my seven o’clock…?” I ask.

“She’s just enjoying her toast.” He makes a cheesy grin back to me and he winks. He drops his gloved hands from my door and gives me a dry smile. “Go, go, go…”

A black BMW 740 is approaching fast in my mirror and I glide out of  its path, swinging right lock as it stops on the gravel where I waited a second before. The doorman bows forward to the driver and speaks with him. I drive off and turn again in the staff car park. I wonder how long it takes to eat toast and if I can get a little more door cleaning fitted in.

A warning light in my head tells me not to stop and I swing back into the arrival point for the second time. It is just as well that I do because the black BMW 740 is just pulling away with the  gentleman  inside. The doorman stands, pointing to the ground by his feet, giving me a stiff nod. I coast up and stop a second time.

“Here she comes. One suitcase. Get the door for her and I’ll load you.”

I leap out as he strides to the tailgate. The great hotel facade reflects in the gloss black paintwork of my car. There is a patch of manure and straw stuck on the freshly waxed rear tyre. I scoot around the car and I pull my new passenger’s door open and she gets in without breaking her step or acknowledging me.

The doorman helps the valet who is struggling to fit her huge suitcase in over the lip of the tailgate. I close her door and I pull the boot lid down. A white Range Rover appears behind us and stops short, waiting for me to leave. Two slim businessmen are now standing in the hotel doorway, flanked by the valet and the doorman. They are holding identical carbon fiber briefcases and both wear a small enamel lapel badge, probably identifying their employer or the private society to whom they belong. They are glaring with disapproval towards me. I am in their way.

I pull full right lock and I am facing back to the long avenue of trees that line the drive. The Range Rover pulls up in my vacated space and the parking valet leaps out, holding the door for the two men who get in the front and slip sunglasses on in unison.

I greet my passenger.

“Good morning…!” I try to sound as welcoming as possible. ” Heathrow, terminal five..?”

I haven’t noticed that she has already got her earpieces in and is making calls on her Blackberry. She cradles it in her lap. Her crisp voice cuts across my last words.

“David, its me. Do Vogue America have our proposal on their desk…? Good…I’m in the car going to Heathrow now, so they only have forty minutes to speak to me…”

I curse myself in silence for my failure to spot the white wires that snake up the side of her neck into her blond hair. I push the car hard down the narrow drive. This will make it float better over the bumps and it will also show her that I am not wasting my time. The fallen leaves swirl behind us, sucked up by the car and left to tumble in wait for the Range Rover. I don’t want the two spooks in the Range Rover crowding my rear end at the junction.

Far ahead, a black Chrysler pulls over into the passing bay, flashing me to let me know that I have priority.

“Well…that is their problem, David. Make them sweat and I’ll call you when I am in the air…lousy…book me in somewhere else  next time David…dreadful….the toast was cold again…yes…I had to send it back twice, would you believe…?…I don’t care, David, anywhere that understands how to serve toast…”

I flash my headlights to the Chrysler as I pass him and I begin to brake for the cattle grid at the gate house.

She settles back in her seat and looks out of her window.

© 2012 and 2014 Loop Withers   Roadwax.com

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