Archive for the ‘Driving’ Category

Fast Electric Cars

As is usually the case, there are pick-2-out-of-3 choices to be made when choosing a car. Originally, I had offered this trichotomy for vehicles:

image of choice among performance and safety and fuel economy for cars

Performance vs. Safety vs. Fuel Economy

But there is also another trichotomy that applies: Speed, Strength, and Endurance

image of choice among speed and strength and endurance for athletes

Normally, this applies to athletes. For example, you have sprinters or distance runners, but you don’t have anyone who trains for both.

And this is obvious to anyone who has spent time with Mario Kart. You can choose cars that accelerate quickly or cars that have a good top speed, but not both.

For cars, it might make more sense if we call it top speed, acceleration, and endurance.

There will be cars that are good at 1 or 2 of those, but not all 3. So the people that claim electric cars are the best because they’re so quick, I would be confident in challenging them to a race. Their battery-powered car versus my 16-year-old Buick.

The key is to propose the terms of the race that favor your corner of the triangle, not theirs. So if they say “You’re on!” I would reply with “Okay, first one to St. Louis wins.”

Because my Buick is neither quick nor fast, but it is durable.

By your endurance you will gain your lives.

Luke 21:19

Too Much Acceleration

I connected two different news stories about electric cars, and I wonder if anyone else sees the relationship.

First story: electric cars have incredible acceleration. You can go to Wikipedia for some general overview about it. But it seems that every month for the last couple of months, the electric car manufacturers (or electric car concept show-ers) have a press release touting that their car is the quickest from 0-60.

Second story: Electric cars are crashing through walls, with people claiming the car did it on its own. The ol’ “unintended acceleration” bit. The car maker, of course, says that its car is fine and the problem was the driver pressed the wrong pedal.

Now put them both together. People have the equivalent of 800 horsepower in their electric performance vehicles (I’m excluding electric commuter vehicles such as the Smart car because they’re not involved in the 0-60 war, staying north of 10 seconds). I’m guessing that most of the people who bought electric cars would not buy a car with an 800HP engine because they realize that it’s overkill and dangerous. It’s also fun, which they find out when they mash the accelerator pedal on their electric car and get all that acceleration. But they don’t realize how much power it is.

And then the electric cars don’t have to rev up. The power is there instantaneously, such as when you in a parking lot or approaching your garage (or even in your garage). And also couple that with the fact that electric cars do not creep along, and people need to be retrained for how to drive slowly.

With a normal car, the engine idles. If you let off the brake, the car will move along slowly. People are in the habit of handling slow maneuvers, such as parking, by lightly pressing the brake pedal and letting the idling engine overpower the light brake apply. Then when the car is in the right place, they press harder on the brake and stop. In other words, people use the same pedal to drive slowly and to stop.

Now jump in an electric car. There is no idle. If you’re not pressing the accel pedal, nothing happens. So to roll into a parking spot, you need to keep your foot lightly on the “gas” pedal. Now you want to stop. Your years of training have taught your foot to press down on the same pedal, so your mind doesn’t really even think about it – you creep along and then when you’re ready to stop you press down hard. Only, this is an electric car, so you had your foot on the accelerator. So you start to move. And it’s not like a gas-powered car, where there is a slight lag and a spooling up of speed. No, this is full instant power, so there’s no chance for your brain to recognize that the wrong thing is happening.

Electric cars need something like a Parking Lot Mode. Where it will move slowly and you can modulate your speed with the brake pedal. A number of electric vehicles have a one-pedal operation mode, but that’s with the accelerator, where you press it to go and release it to stop. They need the opposite, where the car goes when you let off the brake. But only for low speeds. I can see some liability issues there too. But everyone should already be used to cars behaving that way.

The alternative is that people need to be trained to drive cars two-footedly. That way, your right foot will never get confused as to which pedal it is pressing. Stop is left foot and go is right foot. The best part is that it will work in gas cars too. At least those with automatic transmissions.

Can anyone smash iron, Iron from the north, or bronze?

Jeremiah 15:12

Walk, Don’t Walk

As a driver, I appreciate the crosswalk signs that count down instead of just flashing the red hand sign. That gives me a good indication of when the light is going to turn yellow.

I know, I know, the yellow light is there to warn me that the red light is coming soon. I shouldn’t need something else to warn me that the yellow light is coming soon. But, with yellow lights not always being timed correctly (i.e. cut a little short in order to write more running-a-red-light tickets), it’s good to know when the yellow will appear.

In case you’re still trying to get up to speed here, I’m writing about he crosswalk signals that used to say Walk or Don’t Walk but now have a picture of a red hand or a picture of a white person walking.

In the old days, the Don’t Walk / red hand would start blinking to indicate you needed either to stay where you were on the curb or start hustling to make it to the other side of the road, because the traffic light was going to change soon.

Where I am, it seems about half of the signals now have countdown timers next to the red hand. Instead of the hand simply blinking at you, there are numbers that count down to 0, and when it gets to 0 then your crossing time is done and the light changes.

Except some times it doesn’t.

I haven’t logged any numbers to see the proportions, but some of the crosswalks time it so 0 means the yellow light starts and some of the crosswalks time it so 0 means the end of the yellow light.

As a driver, I would like 0 to mean the start of the yellow light. Other people may disagree. I don’t really care which it is, I would just like a standard. Kind of how the colors and placement (green at the bottom) of the lights in the traffic signal are universal.

But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.

Romans 7:16

Trooper Trouble

I had a misunderstanding with a member of the county sheriff’s office.

I was driving home, on a straight section of road, and I could see police lights flashing near the upcoming intersection. I was about a half mile away, so I couldn’t tell if it was before or after the intersection. And it was the last intersection before my driveway.

As I approached and slowed down for whatever incident the officer was handling, I saw the police car was before the intersection, as was a downed tree. The tree had fallen across just over half the road – the lane I was travelling in.

So I slowed and then stopped. Here is an artist’s rendering of the scene as viewed from above:

drawing of a county sheriff next to a downed tree

There were no other vehicles around. The police car’s lights were flashing, but no officer was visible.

As you can see from the drawing, and as I could see from the driver’s seat of my vehicle, there was room to go around the tree. And the officer had left room between the police car and the tree. And the police car was in the oncoming lane, leaving me room to drive normally after I passed the tree. The drawing does not show that there is a ditch on my side of the road but not the other side.

I sat for several seconds, wondering what to do. If the police car had not been there, I would’ve swerved around the tree without much thought. My first thought was the officer was directing traffic. But there was no officer and no traffic. My other thought was that the officer was sitting there to warn people of the hazard in the road. I decided that was the case and proceeded around the tree. Better that than a 4 mile detour that wasn’t really needed.

As I was going around the tree, the officer opened the police car door and got out, approaching my vehicle. I stopped and rolled down my window.

The exchange went like this:
Her: “What are you doing?”
Me: “Heading home.”
Her: “You live around here?”
Me: “Yes, straight down this road, over the next hill.”
Her: “I didn’t want you to go around that tree.”
Me: “Oh, sorry.”
Her: “The branches could have punctured your tires.”
Me: “I thought there was room to go around…”
Her: “I was blocking the road until the tree crew got here.”
At this point, a fire truck pulls up. Seriously, the timing was great.
Her: “Here they are. Now be careful, there’s a ditch right there.”
Me: “Okay, thanks.”

Then she turned to head to the fire truck and I drove off home.

You may have read the conversation in your head with certain voices or tones of voices. For the officer, re-read it and this time use a voice that’s a cross between wondering and apologizing. She was not harsh at all.

My first thought after leaving was “if you’re going to block the road, then block the road.” or, to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, “if you have to tell people that you are blocking the road, then you are not blocking the road.”

By her actions, her words, and her tone, my conclusion is that she is new to the area. In general, people who live on dirt roads, or drive on them much, are not very concerned about sticks or ditches. Those are everyday occurrences. But she was genuinely worried about them.

That would explain why she parked in a way that was not blocking the road – she didn’t want to get close to the ditch. And she didn’t park near the tree – thus leaving me room to go around – because she was afraid of the branches. Maybe afraid is too strong a word. But she was at least overly cautious.

And I do believe that she thought she was blocking the road. But she was assuming that other people thought as she did about branches and ditches. She thought she didn’t leave room for other cars because she wouldn’t get that close to those hazards.

Maybe she’s a rookie? Maybe she has a softer personality? Whatever it is, she needs to learn to be more direct as an officer. When she says “I didn’t want you to do that”, is that a statement of regret or something that I’m supposed to interpret to mean something else? An officer should give commands, especially in traffic situations. Ambiguity leads to confusion.

I’ve noticed the same thing with my mom growing up and with my wife and with other moms. Instead of telling one of the kids to set the table, she will say “Will someone set the table?” to no one in particular. It seems that women like to communicate indirectly. And this lady in particular was not a type-A personality.

Dear police officers, if you want people to do something in particular, make it obvious and communicate clearly and directly.

So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.

1 Corinthians 14:9

Make Yourself Visible

Human eyes respond best to two things: contrast and movement.

So if you want to be seen, wear contrasting colors or move a lot. For best results, do both.

When I go for a jog, I wear a bright shirt and dark shorts. By “bright” I mean neon yellow or a bright blue or bright red. I run on the side of the road because there are no sidewalks. So I want cars to see me, because I don’t want to be hit.

I want to be seen.

Really though, I don’t care about being seen. I want cars not to hit me. That’s my goal. But the only way I know to avoid that if I am on the road is to do my best to be seen by the drivers.

So I wear bright colors. Colors that contrast not only with the other part of my clothes, but that also contrast with the surroundings.

For example, I was driving along my running route a while back and just missed a jogger. He was wearing a dark green shirt and dark shorts. His outfit did not contrast with itself. Plus it did not contrast with the surroundings. This was in Michigan. The side of the road was grass and trees. Things that are mainly green. And the trees provide shade, which means shadows. So it’s a dark green. The guy might as well have been wearing camouflage. At least he was moving so he caught our attention.

Please, dress to be seen if you’re jogging along the road.

The other example had to do with two women who were on a different section of my jogging route, but they were walking. So there was not much movement. And they were wearing white and tan clothes. That did not provide much contrast with their white skin and dirt road. You can wear a white shirt to provide contrast if your skin is like Manute Bol’s, but in general a bright color is more visible than white is.

I was driving to work, going about 50 mph like I usually do, when suddenly I see arms waving at me from the road. So I swerved and braked, and ended up going past these women closer and faster than I would have liked to. I would have been annoyed if a car went by me like that while I was jogging.

At least they were walking facing traffic so they could see that the drivers couldn’t see them. And that’s how they knew I might hit them. So the lady closer to my approaching vehicle raised her arms at me in annoyance. I didn’t see her face because I was concentrating on trying not to injure them, but her body language seemed to be conveying the idea of “what are you doing? why are you barreling down the road so close to us? give us some room, crazy driver!”

And her act of extending her arms (more out to the side) provided the movement that the human eye needed. Since there was no contrast in their coloring and little movement, I didn’t see them until then.

Runners/joggers/walkers : please do yourself a favor and wear bright colors. If your outfit consists only of white, black, gray, or brown, you are headed for trouble with traffic. Make sure you can see the cars because they might not see you.

And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

Hebrews 4:13

In Praise of Roundabouts

I haven’t written too much about roundabouts, but I am a fan of them. Most of the arguments for them, as I see it for our neck of the woods, is that they keep working during a power outage and don’t make people stop unnecessarily when there’s no other traffic.

But a situation yesterday reminded me of another benefit: they remove ambiguity.

In this case I was at a 2-way stop. What happened was that the person across from me was there first, but he was waiting for traffic to clear so he could turn left. Then I arrived, intending to head straight across the intersection. I knew the other guy was first, so I was waiting for him to go before I tried to cross.

He, unfortunately, was trying to be nice and so he didn’t go, in order to let me go first. What happened was that no one went and both of us missed the clearing of traffic.

After that, he waved his hand to let me know I should go first. That happened at the exact same time that I waved my hand to let him know he should go first. So not only do I have to watch for cross traffic, but at the same time I have to negotiate with the opposite car for who wants the other car to go more.

What is good about roundabouts is there is no negotiation with other stopped cars. There is only you and the oncoming traffic. If you see an opening, take it. No indecision, no wondering if the other car is going, no misunderstandings of who was there first and whose turn it is.

Roundabouts make life simpler.

He did right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the ways of his father David and did not turn aside to the right or to the left.

2 Chronicles 34:2

DRLs at Critical Mass

I noticed that we have reached critical mass with DRLs in the USA.

In case you’re wondering, DRLs are Daytime Running Lights, better known as the headlights that stay on during the day. While they are required in many parts of the world, they are not required in the US. But since most automobile manufacturers try to have globally similar vehicles, most of the new cars sold in the US have DRLs.

For “critical mass”, I mean that there are enough DRLs in use in the US that have effectively become the standard, regardless of legislation.

Whereas former studies have compared the safety of DRLs versus the safety of lights off, they follow the same pattern and have the same flaw. They just compare crash statistics of the different vehicles. What needs to be shown is how dangerous it is to have a mixture of DRLs and non-DRLs.

I was noticing this while driving shortly before sunset. Although there was enough light to see a vehicle without headlights, most of the vehicles had their headlights on. There was a line of vehicles, and the DRLs do make those vehicles more noticeable. But they do that at the expense of the non-DRL vehicles. Before, you would see a line of vehicles. Now, you don’t see a line of vehicles – you see a line of headlights. So you don’t notice the vehicle without headlights – it looks like a break in traffic. That’s the dangerous part.

Cars in a Line – no headlights

image of cars driving in a line

Cars in a Line – at dusk no headlights

image of cars driving in a line at dusk

Cars in a Line – at dusk with headlights except one

image of cars driving in a line at dusk with headlights on

Before, I thoughts DRLs were annoying or useless or frivolous or such. But now they are here, and I recommend turning on your lights manually if you don’t have DRLs. Because although it might be fun to be invisible sometimes, in traffic is not one of those times.

God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also.

Genesis 1:16