Mean streets - Blackbourn 428

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It looks like Rob is a bit cranky after spending way too much time stuck in traffic recently

Driving from A to B around major cities has become a major pain in the butt thanks to ever-growing traffic volumes. But Blind Freddie on a galloping horse or anyone capable of monitoring vehicle-sales trends could have seen this coming, like a runaway Kenworth. So it seems a lot of mediocrity has been masquerading as expertise in the planning departments of both roads and traffic management.

As well some motorists are their own worst enemies, apparently having little idea of how to make the best of the today’s traffic conditions. Too often traffic behind a stationary right-turning vehicle grinds to a halt with a decent gap on its left going begging that cars could readily continue through. I’ve seen drivers unwilling to tackle gaps a metre or more wider than their cars. What’s going on? And often drivers won’t ease past to the right of a reverse-parking car. Again, what’s going on? Then there’s braking...

Learning my driving craft in the pre-disc brake and pre-ABS eras, when enthusiastic driving of many popular cars showed up their anchors as prone to fade and lock-ups and barely adequate overall, I was taught to brake thoughtfully and precisely. One ‘No-No’, like riding the clutch, was resting your foot on the brake pedal: "You’ll glaze the linings and you’ll put the wind up the driver behind you." However, on downhill stretches of today’s arterial roads you see many cars with their brake lights on continuously, often for lengthy distances – a couple of kays even. Once again, what’s going on?

Maybe disc-brake pads don’t glaze like old-school linings, but what happens to the cars behind when the brake-dragging guy in front really needs to hit the hooks as a kid chases a ball on to the road?

A startling recent development is the driver in heavy flowing traffic who without warning hits the brakes hard, momentarily – no ball, no kid, no lady with a pram. Although they’re off as quickly as they came on, a wave of panic-braking bounces rearward down the line to everyone’s discomfort. In trying to nut this one out I wondered whether some drivers are suffering panic attacks. And if so, why? Then I read a newspaper car review by an old friend of Unique Cars, in fact its former editor, Nathan ‘Ponch’ Ponchard…

After describing many of a new model’s on-road qualities as ‘superb’, Ponch tipped a bucket on its autonomous feature that intervenes if it decides you’re too close to the car in front – by hitting the brakes suddenly. In a big way! To keep you safe! The kind of safety you could do without if your back window was already full of a loaded B-double.

My apologies to drivers I labelled as panickers if actually their in-car ‘safety’ technology was slamming on the brakes.

That technology so ill-suited to operating in isolation amidst our hotchpotch traffic mix has been waved through by our authorities is both troubling and surprising, particularly given their interventionist history. For example in the 1970s when Citroen had supplementary turning lights alongside the headlights on its Goddess model, the potentially useful feature was banned from Australian roads. Instead of turning with the front wheels to throw light in the turn direction as a driver aid, they had to be disconnected from the steering mechanism and firmly anchored, to ineffectually point straight ahead. Enquiries to the authorities revealed that the feature hadn’t been banned because of any conflict with Australian Design Rules; the surprising admission was that it had to be ruled out simply because there was no design-rule clause covering turning lights. Of course…

By contrast it seems today’s enthusiasm for de-regulation risks tossing out the odd commonsense baby with the red-tape bathwater.

 

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