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August 15, 2013

Why, as a motorist, I have a problem with cyclists

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The BBC news is today running an article entitled “Is there any such thing as Road Tax?”. The article actually explores the tension between motorists and cyclists, looking at the often-made claim by motorists that since cyclists don’t pay road tax, they shouldn’t be getting in their way.

I’d like to start this article by a couple of points about my own circumstances. I am a motorist, and I have a round-trip commute of 80 miles each day. I do occassionally cycle on the roads, although cycling is definitely not something I would choose to do as a past-time. When my commute is shorter, I hope to commute by bike every day. And my wife already commutes by bike every day. So, although I am a motorist who doesn’t currently use a bike very much, I don’t have a problem with cyclists as reasonable and responsible road users. When I see a cyclist, I will always endeavour to give them plenty of space on the road when overtaking, and I wouldn’t dream of using my car aggressively to intimidate one.

One of the issues this article touches on which some might find surprising is that VED (to give road tax its technical name) doesn’t actually get spent directly on the roads, it goes straight to the treasury. This is really a separate topic, but it’s definitely something that all motorists should be challenging more strongly. What are we paying the duty for if it doesn’t get spent on the roads? Government should be primarily funded by taxes evenly spread across tax-payers. We all pay our share of income tax, every time we buy something we pay a flat percentage of VAT, etc. Other taxes, such as council tax, are there to fund particular services – fine. There are other taxes aimed at changing our behaviours, such as on cigarettes. In this regard, motorists already pay a tax precisely linked to the environmental damage that vehicles do – which is of course fuel duty. So what is VED for, if not for the maintenance of our road network? There should either be a direct link between the two which all road users should pay, or it should be scrapped altogether because it’s not an even and fair tax on the UK population as a whole.

The main thrust though, is that motorists don’t like cyclists because they don’t pay to use the roads. I don’t think this is really true. Certainly it’s a well used phrase – I even use it myself from time to time – but really, that cyclists don’t have to pay to use the roads is not what irritates motorists. There are two issues around cyclists really that bother me:

1. Cyclists pick and choose the traffic laws they abide by. The most common example is jumping or ignoring lights. The problem here I think is that unlike the motorist, the cyclist can do this without fear of losing their ability to use their bike. There are no fines that I know of, nor is there a points system to dissuade them from law-breaking. Were I to observe in the dead of night that it was perfectly safe to run a light and be caught, I’d be £60 poorer and 1/4 of the way to losing my licence. Cyclists can do this without consequence. I’m not saying that motorists don’t break rules – of course they do (and there are plenty of bad examples of driving I could list that make me equally irate) but there are consequences for the motorist should they be caught. Unlike with cyclists, this keeps some semblance of order about things. This disparity of consequences is a real bone of contention for me. I think that this is an issue that needs some form of legislation to address, with fines and black marks against bad cycling just as for bad driving.

2. Cyclists hold motorists up – unnecessarily. I don’t usually mind encountering slow traffic or short delays where necessary – sometimes it is unavoidable for road users to get in each other’s way. Examples would be cyclists on narrow country lanes, or slow moving vehicles such as tractors and trucks that don’t have much of a choice about getting in the way or not. But when I encounter cyclists riding 2 or 3 abreast and leaving me unable to overtake, or riding in the middle of the road a long distance from junctions, or using the road in the way when there’s a cycle path also – well I consider that pretty unreasonable, and delays are bound to wind up motorists quicker than anything else. If I chose to dawdle along as a pedestrian on a cycle path and not get out of a cyclist’s way, I would (quite rightly) expect to be told in no uncertain terms to change my ways. Why should cyclists expect any different from motorists? This irritation isn’t solely reserved for cyclists – another great example would be middle-lane hogs on the motorway, who cause no end of delays and frustrations by not realising there’s a lane to the left.

So, in conclusion – don’t break the rules and don’t get in the way, and everyone will get along just great.

December 10, 2010

Higher education funding

So the vote is through the commons, and it’s likely that future students of higher education will have to pay up to £9,000 a year in fees. Student bodies have of course opposed this, with predominantly their own self interests at heart. Yet no-one really seems to have an alternative. So what really is the protest about?

Let’s look at the problem. Higher education is expensive, and needs to be paid for somehow. Traditionally, this funding (for UK students at least) has predominantly come from the government. In past times where student numbers were low, this was a sustainable model – the brightest and best went to university whilst everyone else got by with O-Levels, A-Levels, HND’s etc. Then it all started to go wrong with the drive to increase student numbers. In an attempt to fund the previous government’s frankly ridiculous target of sending 50% of people to univesity, in came tuition fees to much protest. Initially around £1,000 and then raised to the current £3,000 a year cap, much has been made of this fairly modest contribution by students to their education.

Now, the party is over and the public money has run out. The UK, like many western economies, has built up a massive debt and deficit, which must be curbed in order to avoid economic catastrophe. Most areas of public spending must come down in order to achieve this, and higher education must do its bit. What previously was seen as a right to free education for all now looks like a luxury that we can’t afford. With the numbers of people now attending universities, the lines must be redrawn.

So, the question really is, why is it everyone’s right to free university education? Free education up to the age of 18, few would argue with. But by the age of 18, young people are perfectly well equipped to go forth and start work, learn a trade or a profession. University has traditionally been the route for those who wish to take on the most challenging careers in law, medicine, science or academia. These career paths demand abilities and skills that require academic learning beyond the A-Level stage. The principle beneficiaries of these educated people are the students themselves, who go on to command higher than average wages, and the instituions that employ them.

Aha, you are probably thinking at this point, but not everyone who goes to university does benefit financially. Well no, I wouldn’t dispute that. That’s because many people who go to university now don’t actually need their degrees to go on and perform the jobs they take on in society. But as the number of graduates exceeds the demand, employers can be picky and selective, giving preference to or even making a requirement that applicants have degrees that they don’t really need for their jobs. What we have is an over-qualified workforce.

Some of you will still be thinking that my arguments exclude those whose chosen profession really does need a degree, but leads to low paid work, for example in social work. My own opinion is that in a lot of cases, we should be exploring alternatives to the degree for such work – such as a system of work-based learning and part time study at further education college, which if well designed could lead us to have even better suited people in these professions than the academic degree route. The fundamental point is though, that any profession that requires a degree but isn’t offering the wages to pay for the tuition fees is receiving a public subsidy by the government, because they are not paying out for the level of education they need in their staff.

The current system is such that all professions essentially receive this subsidy. By increasing the fees charged to students, the true cost of higher education is being made more visible to students and their eventual employers. For many, their profession values their qualification as it should and it is only fair that as a well paid professional they should have to pay for the benefit of the education that they received, which is now providing them with a quantifiable financial benefit, and their employer is paying for the cost through their higher than average wages. If this is not the case, then that profession is receiving a subsidy and this should be achieved through alternate means, either by the government increasing wages for low paid public sector professionals who are in genuine need of a degree, or by directly subsidising the fees of students who take up these courses with a commitment to public sector work upon graduation. By having to pay what it actually costs, students will also re-evaluate whether they really need a degree to do their chosen profession, and in time student numbers will probably naturally come down a little from their current levels. This is the nature of supply and demand; to argue against this is to argue for the state to subsidise an over-qualified and under-paid workforce, which is a nonsence.

Many of you reading this will find my justification for tuition fees as abhorrent as the fees themselves. But what are the alternatives? Well, I see three main alternatives:

  1. Carry on as we are, keep fees at current levels or even reduce and abolish them. State subsidy for higher education will increase, the workforce will continue to be over-qualified for the jobs that they do, the government finances take the hit and other areas of public spending have to take a bigger hit to compensate for the spending. Not an ideal option in my opinion.
  2. Reduce student numbers and make higher education more academically exclusive, limiting to say the top 25% of achievers. I’d support this as an alternative, but many wouldn’t – not least the NUS would have a seizure. It also doesn’t have the neat supply/demand and visible true cost of education benefits that fees do, and the government still has to pick up the tab for those who go.
  3. Have a graduate tax. This isn’t actually any different to tuition fees loans for most people, except that you’d have to pay tax for your whole career instead of just paying back what you borrowed for your education. Thus, the best paid professions would be subsidising the least well paid professions. This option is attractive to liberal types, presumably because they see it as a great way of bashing corporate high fliers to subsidise a utopian dream of university eduaction free for all. The reality of this system is little different for all but the highest paid, who are effectively being actively encouraged to pay for their education elsewhere before returning to the UK for work, thus neatly avoiding having to pay the tax in the first place. Has little merit over fees in my opinion, whilst adding some flaws.

Of these options, clearly my view is that higher fees are likely to become a permanent feature of higher education, and rightly so. The idea that poor students will be deterred by going to university because of the debts shows either a fundamental misunderstanding of the terms of the loans – paid off by the state after 30 years, only paid back when earning over a very comfortable threshold, not a commercial loan in the strictest sense – or a liberal belligerence that refuses to accept that good quality higher education costs serious amounts of cash, and it’s not on for the government to indefinitely fork out for their benefit.

December 01, 2006

This has really boiled my piss

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So, the results of the Eddington report are out, and as expected it recommends per-mile road charging as a “no-brainer”. Aside from the massive technical issues that would arise with such a scheme and the infringement on my privacy by having my exact location known at all times by a government computer, this is a bloody disgrace of an idea and I am fuming about it. I hope the government sees sense and doesn’t go ahead with this. Let’s examine one of it’s key findings:

He has reported that road tolls could bring £28bn a year of benefits to bus and rail users.

I’m sure it could, but then so could actually charging bus and rail users £28bn a year for their services. I think that rail fare are currently ridiculously expensive, but nevertheless if they are running at a loss then something is amiss with either charging or the system and this needs to be addressed. My gut feeling is that it’s mostly down to disastrous management of public transport to date. Charging motorists yet more to subsidise a public transport system is not a good option.

Road charges could cut congestion by half, Sir Rod said in the report commissioned by Chancellor Gordon Brown.

Commissioned by Gordon Brown – that should tell you something. But anyway, cut conjestion by half where? Are ministers so thick that they think that vehicles will evaporate into thin air? It is true that some drivers enjoy driving, and most enjoy the personal freedom it brings. However, sitting in traffic on the M25 every day in the daily commute is no-one’s idea of freedom. Motorists detest congestion, and if there was a viable alternative to being stuck in the middle of a jam we’d take it. I myself, a massive petrol-head and fan of driving, use the park and ride into work every day. That should tell you something about our willingness to use alternatives where they exist and are viable. If I move near to a train station, I’d happily take the train into work if it was on time and didn’t cost a fortune. We drive in congestion because there is no alternative. Charging motorists £28bn a year won’t cause a decent public transport system to appear from thin air.

Let’s examine for a second the financial impact on this to the typical motorist. There are 28m or so vehicles on the road, which makes the average cost per vehicle to be a very easy to calculate £1000/year. So the average motorist will need to find another £1000 a year to run their car (at a typical average mileage of 12,000 miles this equates to an average charging cost of approximately 8p a mile). Consider this though – motorists already pay in massive amounts of tax. I don’t have figures to hand, but I hear figures of between 10% and 25% typically suggested as the amount that motorists pay being spent back on the roads. So at least 75% of motoring taxes are already being spent elsewhere. It’s no wonder we have such a shoddy road network in a bad state of disrepair with underfunding like this – another stat I picked up (again not officially sourced so take it as indicative rather than absolute) is that less than 0.2% of road surfacing that is needed nationally is actually afforded by highways agencies budgets; such is the state of their under-funding. Maybe if we got a bit more back of what we paid in, road widening would be completed quicker, road surfaces would be better, roadworks would happen faster etc and congestion would reduce.

What would pricing achieve? Well consider a typical busy congested major route. This would be priced higher in order to deter motorists from using it, so instead motorists (and lorries) would use rat-runs and minor roads, quickly sending these into even an even worse state of repair and creating more congestion on these minor routes. Meanwhile, these roads are not designed for large numbers of traffic and in many cases are less safe than large, straight and open motorways; accident rates, injuries and deaths would almost certainly increase as a result of this. Is this really in the best public interest? Again, I point out that this will not move people out of cars because there is no alternative. Even Transport 2000, a heavily anti-car lobbying group, acknowledges this:

The Transport 2000 lobby group said that, for road pricing to work, alternatives to driving must be improved.

The real reason these charges are being suggested is because the motorist is an easy target. We are utterly dependent on our cars because there is no good alternative in most cases, and as such the government has us to ransom and can name it’s price for our car use. Furthermore, they have the wonderful position of a number of fronts to hide behind – helping the environment, reducing congestion, aiding public safety – in order to force the motorist to swallow the pill. Well the time has come for us all to say enough. Motorists should not have to subsidise an inefficient, ill-thought out, overpriced, badly managed and misguided government transport system any more than any other tax payer in this country, and it’s high time politicians took note of this.

October 31, 2006


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It’s not been a good couple of days for petrolheads. In the last 48 hours, we’ve had the above from the Transport Select Committee calling for more speed cameras and traffic police, the arrest of Nick Freeman (which I’ve already covered) and rumours of ill-directed government plans to price us off the roads.

Dealing with the linked article first, the Transport Select Committee are actually talking some sense. One of their statements for example, that technology must support road police officers, not replace them, I wholeheartedly agree with. Technology can be made as fancy as you like, but it lacks the ability to judge circumstances; it will only measure something against a fixed criteria and implement fixed actions accordingly. To then contradict themselves quite brilliantly, they call for yet more speed cameras. To which I shrug. I’m afraid motorists are just going to have to accept that we aren’t going to win this one – consider it an extra tax on you all. If you want to keep your licences, instead of giving the money to the government in fines I suggest you all go and get a subscription to a GPS based speed camera alert system. I run a Snooper S6-R myself, they’re perfectly legal and invaluable in alerting you when you’re paying attention to the road instead of concentrating solely on your speedo and the hedges in the road. Units cost from a couple of hundred pounds and subscriptions are reasonable; mine costs me £60 a year and for that I get peace of mind that I’m not going to get points and also that my insurance will go on a downward rather than upward trend. As to more police officers on the roads, well I’ve noticed an upward trend in police on the roads, especially on motorways. Fair enough I say – it’s where most of the traffic is and it’s where people generally drive badly and dangerously the most. Motorways aren’t fun unless you have relatively low volumes of traffic and get up to Autobahn speeds, conditions that rarely happen in the UK anyway. I’ve given up on trying to win on motorways for these reasons – much more fun to take the deserted backroads where you never see a cop. Of course, police rarely stop you for driving badly (i.e. weaving about, tailgating), so it would be good if the TSC would make some noises about increasing police crackdowns on bad driving period rather than concentrating on the notion that speed is the sole killer on our roads. And an increased number of police checks on checking drivers for being intoxicated on alcohol or worse is also a good thing. So the TSC are slightly misguided perhaps, but nonetheless making at least not totally discouraging noises.

So what about the environmentalist racket? Well schemes being mooted to save the planet include road charging per mile (which I disagree with on principle, since I don’t want the police to have a tracker on my car. It’s not like they’ll ever use it to find my car if it’s nicked anyway), increasing road tax, disproportionately for better cars, and whacking on fuel duty. Now of the three, the only one that makes sense is fuel duty, a move which I would support (in moderation). Road tax in itself is an annual payment that has naff all to do with how much carbon you emit. For example, people I know who run classic cars. Now, these have large, inefficient engines, but are only driven maybe a couple of thousand miles a year. 1,000 miles at 20MPG is equivalent to 0.53 tonnes of carbon (using, yet a family hatchback averaging 40MPG doing 12,000 miles a year is equivalent to 3.19 tonnes of carbon – 6 times as much. So why does the person who releases a sixth of the carbon have to pay much, much more road tax? (We’re talking about massive hikes for road tax here, not just the odd £50 on Range Rovers like has been implemented thus far). It’s ridiculous. The only fair way is to whack it on fuel and leave it at that. How much will this cost? Well again referring to carbon clear, 1 tonne of carbon (released by about 425 litres of petrol) costs £9 to offset (i.e. neutralise). So at current rates for carbon offset costs, we should have to pay a whopping 2.11p a litre extra on our petrol to completely neutralise the effects of us driving. I think I can cope with that. Remember that figure when you see prices going up by 50p a litre in the name of saving the environment.

May 18, 2006

The who what now?

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Forgive me if I'm being daft, I'm sleep deprived and in the middle of my finals (and hard at work as you can tell) but I really don't understand the above link, which is complaining about carbon trading. I'll put the headlines here for those that don't follow the link:

"But the latest figures for the ETS (that's European Trading Scheme, which trades carbon emissions on the open market)– started in January 2005 and heralded as a template for such schemes – revealed that 21 of the 25 member states produced 2.5% less CO2 in 2005 than participants had forecast."

Right. Great news surely? Apparently not…

""The whole point of any [carbon trading] scheme is that what is given out is less than what would have been released," said James Wilde, head of strategy at the Carbon Trust, which helps organisations cut their carbon emissions."

Ok. So what's been said here is that we're trading carbon and trying to combat climate change, yet actually we don't have enough carbon emissions to make the trading system to work as well as it should. So we can now meet more reductions in the knowledge that we're emitting less than we forecast. Can someone please explain why emitting less carbon is a bad thing!

The article then goes on to claim that trading schemes "fail to encourage meaningful investment in carbon reducing technologies" (despite the fact that our emissions are 2.5% down on predictions). The article finishes by suggesting that China is not obliged to cut carbon dioxide emissions by any international agreement (a fact, but I hear no suggestions as to what we should do about this from anyone) and that we're in denial about climate change and carbon emissions.

Let's examine the facts. Emissions are down on predictions. That's the news. Therefore for whatever reason, we are emitting less carbon than we thought we would. This can scientifically only be a good thing, if CO2 emissions are proportional to global temperature rises and climate change (although not quite such good news if the reductions aren't happening fast enough, but I see nothing in this article that really argues that). By reasoning I don't at all understand, this is bad and shows we're not doing out bit, and that carbon trading is a failure and we need to change our habits and blah blah blah.

If anyone ever needed compelling evidence that ecomentalists are desperate to find things to moan about and won't be satisfied until we're all living in caves, it's right here.

October 23, 2005

The road safety bill and detection devices

I am currently considering purchasing a Snooper S6-R radar detector for a very simple reason – I am tired of spending my entire driving constantly monitoring the speed limit and my speed, watching out for speed cameras and police vans etc. It is getting to the stage now where I am concerned that my ability as a driver is being impaired because of the amount of attention this takes off of the road and onto just monitoring the speedo and what's parked in the next layby. So this is where the detector comes in. By having one of these devices, it will constantly have a display of my current vehicle speed, the current speed limit (often hard to spot in areas of speed camera enforcement due to lack of signs!), I can set audible alarms for when I am over the speed limit so that I know when to slow down without having to concentrate on every single speed limit sign with the constantly chopping and changing speed limits that exist on our road network today, and I won't have to scan behind every bush and tree and on top of every motorway bridge for cameras and enforcement officers.

Aha, I hear you say, you want one of these just to break the speed limit. Well partly I do want one of these so that if conditions allow I can break the speed limit safely by not having to concentrate so hard on cameras etc yes. I'm not going to try and feed you all a rubbish story that it's all about ensuring that I never break the limit. But on the other hand, a lot of the time my concentration problems are related to the fact that there are speed cameras everywhere and I haven't spotted the single speed limit sign that was 4 miles back half covered by overgrowing trees. And if you've driven on British roads recently you'll notice that the speed limit changes rather a lot. Hence by having this system in my car I will not have these troubles anymore, and consequently make me a safer driver.

The government doesn't seem to agree though. The current road safety bill seeks to ban detectors (although GPS-based systems will remain legal). The argument is that detectors are used by drivers to basically exceed the speed limit where they see fit, and as such make our roads more dangerous. Given the number of statistics and numbers thrown about by road safety groups, it's perhaps surprising that in this bill they evidently haven't read the largest survey into radar detector use, conducted by MORI in 2001 and sampled just over 1,000 drivers, about 50% of whom had a detector and 50% hadn't. Read the report and it's findings here if you wish. To summarise, there is a stark contrast between the profile of a driver who has and a driver who has not gone to the effort of purchasing a radar detector. This is perhaps unsurprising, as it takes someone who cares about driving/keeping their licence a lot more than your average motorist to voluntarily go and invest several hundred pounds in a detector in the first place. The average distance driven between accidents however was just over 217,000 miles for a user of a detector compared to a little over 143,000 miles for non-uses. This means that the user of a detector is approximately 50% less likely to have an accident in a given journey than a non-user. This has to be in part down to other factors – for example, the users tend to clock up a far higher annual mileage. However, it does fly strongly in the face of the suggestion that detectors make our roads less safe, because either they are making "bad" speeding drivers safer (in this instance we would expect to see a reduction in accidents) or that the users of detectors (who seem to be those who speed more in the first place according to the poll) are actually pretty safe and competent drivers to start with (rubbishing the idea that drivers who speed are the spawn of satan and cause no end of damage on public roads compared to Mr Joe Public).

Either way, the move to ban radar detectors seems to be based on statements related to road safety that are completely contradictory to the evidence that actually, if anything, detectors make our roads safer to be on in the first place. Furthermore, our sterotype preconceptions of road safety and speed, particularly when related to the issue of cameras and detection, are deeply flawed and long overdue for revision. Most of all, the Road Safety Bill requires amendments and fast.

August 25, 2005

A short rant on stupidity, dumbing down and TV

Grrrr. Modern day dumbing down makes me fume.

I just watched a program on BBC2 called "No waste like home". I wasn't expecting anything particularily educated, but thought that it might at least have something remotely engaging to say about waste reduction and the environment. Instead, what I got was some stupid woman trying to wean a family off of a "driving habit". Including some brilliant gems such as

  • Demonstration of a Toyota Prius, which apparently is ultra-low emissions (Top gear got about 45mpg out of it in a real-world test, a good friend of mine betters that with a standard highish-performance diesel hatchback)
  • A brief look at a fuel cell vehicle, which "runs on water". I nearly threw the TV out of the window at this. The presenter obviously cares passionately about reducing fuel usage without knowing even the basic facts about what she's talking about, or any science whatsoever
  • Showing how you can run a diesel car on vegetable oil and suggesting costs and things, without even mentioning the fact that without going down to local customs and paying duty on the fuel (I believe it's about 29p per litre for bio-fuels), this is completely illegal.

Is there any hope for the future of mankind when the population is so badly misinformed by it's media that they don't even stand a hope of having their facts straight?

May 16, 2005

This is why I view the green and liberal movement in a negative light

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This was headline news on Midlands today at 6:30…

In case you can't be bothered to click the news link, Greenpeace invaded Land Rover's production line today and chained themselves to some of the vehicles on the line, halting production and causing a great big publicity mess. Now, I have nothing wrong with people who disagree with my opinion. That's why I debate things. I respect other people's viewpoints. But this kind of unlawful protest is not on, and does nothing at all for the protesters' image in the public eye (few rational people I think would condone unlawful behaviour such as this) and, more importantly, nothing for Range Rover. It creates a negative public image which is very hard to shake. And who benefits from this? Builders of the prius you might think? Not at all. People who will buy a 4×4 are spending £60k on a Range Rover will still spend £60k on a luxury 4×4, because that's what they want and they aren't going to be persuaded otherwise by a bunch of nutcases in orange boiler suits. They'll just go elsewhere to a company with a better public image if they get supply problems with their cars. So the only people that benefit from it are the likes of BMW, Mercedes etc.

So really, what's it all for? Well, the environment lobby have long had a war on the motorcar, and in recent years their scapegoat has been the 4×4. Now, put aside all your preconceptions for a moment if you will, and observe the following points:

  • 4×4 has got nothing to do with a vehicle's emissions. It is in fact the referring to the vehicle's drivetrain. The Audi A4 quattro is a 4×4. I don't have a figure to hand but I'm sure Chris will come up with some very environmentally efficient figure to prove the 2.5 litre diesel engine is a relatively good engine for the environment
  • Off-road vehicles have to be higher up than standard vehicles for ground-clearance. This makes them less aerodynamic, as they have more air resistance. Also, due to their rugged construction, complex drivetrains etc, they weigh considerably more than a standard saloon car. This makes them heavier. The increase in weight increases fuel consumption, and requires larger engines to extract acceptable levels of performance
  • While you can argue successfully that it is not necessary for many people to have an off-road vehicle, this is besides the point. It's not necessary for someone to have a 32" widescreen TV instead of a 14" TFT one, which would use far less electricity, but that doesn't mean that we should all buy 14" TFTs. The fact is, it's a matter of personal choice and taste. If you don't like that taste, then tough. It's someone else's right to buy a product legally available on the marketplace
  • The suggestion that off-road vehicles add to congestion is absurd. A big off-road vehicle has the same sized footprint as any large car. A small off-road vehicle takes up about as much road space as a smaller car – I wouldn't call a Suzuki Jimny a road hog
  • The fuel consumption of many off-road vehicles isn't that great. Fact. See above for reasons why. But that doesn't make all off-road vehicles fuel inefficient. And a large Range Rover isn't going to get that much worse economy than a large saloon like an Audi A8 or Jaguar XJR - do you really think someone with money and taste is going to buy a Prius instead of a Range Rover Vogue if they're banned? No. They'll go straight to their nearest Mercedes dealership and get an S-Class, or equivalent product
  • The advantages of off-road vehicles are rarely mentioned. They are high-up (many prefer this driving position), many are spacious (the Land Rover Discovery and Volvo XC90 both have 7 seats for example), they make exceptionally good towing vehicles due to their power and weight, the ground clearance is good for speed humps, the ride comfort is generally very good, many of the more expensive vehicles are offered with fantastic levels of luxury and build quality… The point is, many people like off-road vehicles for their plus points. Some of them can be met by other cars (which aren't a whole lot cheaper or more efficient anyway), some can't. Stop waging your unjust war by scapegoating a product range unfairly, specifically giving a British industry a bad name, and endangering British jobs in the process.

All reasoned comments welcome :-)

May 05, 2005

The bastards are at it again

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They obviously haven't read my previous entry because they're apparently cranking up their campaign to have Top Gear replaced with "third gear". Hah! They should learn perhaps a basic fact about cars, that third gear is almost always less efficient than Top Gear. I have no problems with sticking with third gear - that'll take me well over 100 on any decent car anyway (even a lowly Honda NSX will hit 90 in second). And would you look at their alternative! I don't think I need to say anything else…

April 14, 2005

Rant overdrive

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I've read some bullshit in my time, but this one really takes the biscuit.

If you click the weblink above, you'll be taken to an article on the BBC news covering a press statement made by a campaign group called transport 2000. From their website, they promote themselves as "The national environmental transport body". This doesn't bode them off to a particularly good start, as you imagine a group of people who would otherwise be busy painting their foreheads with the Mercedes logo becuase they're so burnt out from substance abuse that they can't remember CND is the other way up. Not society's finest group then. Their latest press statement is a direct attack on me and my kind: they essentially wish to remove the earth of Petrolheads.

Judging by my blog name, you can imagine that I'd disapprove in the strongest possible terms of this, and guess what, you'd be right. The main thrust of their campaign to remove petrolheads in particular centres around banning Top Gear. Top Gear is the best program ever made. I know few people who genuinely dislike it, it attracts a weekly audience of 3 million viewers (one of BBC2's most popular shows) and is liked not just by car enthusiasts like myself but even people who don't have driving licences or who don't particularly care that much about cars. Top Gear then is a popular piece of programming aimed at all ages. So what's their case for banning it?

Let's look at it shall we. Their main criticism is that they believe the show promotes irresponsible driving. I'm not about to take the namby-pamby line that it only promotes sensible driving and they strongly discourage speed etc. It's blatantly obvious that they only say that because if they didn't they would get taken off air. They do however have a test track speicifically for driving like lunatics, and their stunts are performed in controlled enviroments and to my knowledge have never injured anyone. They encourage people to have fun with cars, take them to track days, that kind of thing. I accept totally that they glamourise speed, including driving over the limit on the public road. However, this is the only law they encourage you to break. All other aspects of driving they encourage good habits (lane discipline, stopping distances etc etc). Mr Tofu-for-lunch will at this point argue that doing 80 or 90 on a motorway is highly irresponsible, dangerous and reckless, and that we would do better to go home and play with a critical mass of plutonium 239. Well I have some news for them…

You're wrong. Excessive speed is only a contributing factor to the cause of 7% of accidents. Furthermore, driving at 80 or 90 miles an hour is not going to cause people to start randomly crashing. Witness on the continent – France's motorway speed limit is 81 miles an hour, Germany has sections of it's motorways totally derestricted and yet are about the safest drivers in the world. What causes accidents, dear fellows, is morons doing 60 miles an hour and not paying attention to the traffic around them, driving without proper awareness, anticipation, and also not leaving proper thinking distances. You might find that some drivers who frequently break the speed limit actually have very good road manners. I would cite myself as one of them (perhaps arrogantly, but in spite of the fact I cruise at 90 to 95 miles an hour on the motorways I do recieve regular compliments from passengers on the standard of my highway driving), and I know of quite a few others. Get it into your brains – speed is not the be-all and the end-all in driving. You can drive at 25 in a 30 zone and be a complete hazard. You can drive at 40 in a 30 zone and be of no danger at all. It's all about awareness and control. If speed is your issue, the only place it's going to end is all cars on a road stationary, because then they can't hurt anyone. Does that seem sensible to you?

I find it ludicrous that motorways are the fastest roads in Britain, requiring some of the most advanced and developed driver skills to use well, and yet there is no practical training for it necessary to aquire a full driving test. Indeed, to drive on a motorway before you pass is illegal. This is one aspect I think needs to be looked at – our driver training in the UK is woefully inadequate and must be rectified asap. Teaching solely how to obey speed limits however is not the answer.

So, back to Transport 2000 and their ludicrous attack on petrolheads. Well, I don't like a lot of pursuits, but that doesn't mean I'm campaigning to ban them. I hate football with a passion, it promotes hooliganism and is generally a crap game. I don't see me joining any campaign to ban it. Live and let live people, isn't that meant to be the motto of these liberal types anyway?

Their proposals involve replacing the show with a program called "third gear" in which sensible driving practices are demonstrated and encouraged, and, in their own words, promotes "sensible driving in sensible vehicles". Numberous murmers have been heard that such a program would be unwatchable and everyone would turn off. I can counter these claims with suggestions that it would in fact be hugely entertaining to watch, as I would be there picking off the presenters out of their Priuses and Corsas with a sniper rifle, or maybe playing chicken with them in an M1A2 Abrhams.

The point is, sensible cars are boring. I've tried to explain this. If cars aren't your thing then that's fine, don't watch Top Gear. If you want economical sensible reviews then go get a program made about running diesel cars on chip fat and good standards to adopt when in car parks. Leave my show alone. It's fabulously entertaining and reviews some totally awesome pieces of machinery that represent the pinaccle of mankind's achievement. Cars are my art. I don't tell everyone who's into art that only landscapes painted on small canvas with oil paints should be allowed to see the light of day in an exhibition, don't tell me what to drive and what to watch on TV ok?

If we're going to use Transport 2000's suggestion that watching stuff on TV promotes bad driving, then perhaps we should also remove all instances of fighting and law-breaking behaviour from television, in particular soaps and reality tv, as these portray everyday people in everyday lives. So surely watching someone break into a house, or drink too much, or anything like that, glamourises the crime and so shouldn't be allowed? Hmmm?

And while we're talking about monitoring of people and activities that could be dangerous, how about reproduction? Surely if it's better that everything is always, and I mean always made as safe as possible, perhaps we should ban sex completely as it transmits so many diseases? I mean, look at the number of people dying of AIDS each year. Makes a few thousand people dying in cars seem a bit insignificant I'm sorry to say. If we completely banned sex, and only allowed reproduction by IVF once egg and sperm had been completely scanned for diseases and genetic defects, then we would have a world where sexual disease and inherited diseases and disorders would be eradicated. It's the same logic, yet somehow I can't see people signing up for it. You see, people require freedom in their lives to do things that might well carry an element of risk in them. Sometimes, it may harm others. You can't remove this risk completely. Get used to the idea that we all die someday, and go and live instead of just being alive.

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