Automotive & transport

More women are drink driving

While manufacturers continue to make their cars as safe as possible, they have little control over people who drink and drive. One unfortunate trend is for women to be convicted of drink driving. In the year to June this year, 20% of Australian drivers caught for drink driving were women, compared to 17% a decade ago. The pattern is similar in the UK, where the number of women drivers caught drunk has shot up since the mid-1990s.

It appears women are drinking more often, they binge drink, and they drive to protect their partners who have drunk even more or because they don’t want to catch public transport late at night. The percentage of men convicted has fallen or stayed the same every year for the past decade in Australia. Worryingly, middle aged women are drinking more. According to a UK study, women who drink and drive are often older, better educated and divorced. This is in sharp contrast to male offenders, who are four times more likely to be in their 20s.

What is behind such a trend? Researchers found women drink drivers are more likely to have parents and partners who abuse alcohol. Difficult divorces may also be a factor but not everyone drinks heavily as a coping mechanism. We think it is another sign of gender equality: society now accepts women drinking as heavily as men and you can see this even in high schools. Perhaps drink driving ads need to refocus their attention away from boys to women.
Ref: The Daily Telegraph (Aus), 24 November 2011, Gender Equality: More Aussie women are driving drunk
. V Carson.
The Daily Mail (UK), 26 May 2011, Drink-driving women are more likely to be 'older, better-educated and divorced' according to a new study. S Whitelocks.
Source integrity:  Various
Search words: women, driving, drunk, educated, divorced, alcohol, binge drinking, public transport, partners.
Trend tags:

Driverless cars and self-driving trucks

We have heard about driverless cars, as funded by Google in America, but cars are not the only vehicles destined to lose their drivers. Already, ten driverless trucks are being used by big mining company, Rio Tinto Zinc, to carry iron ore more quickly and safely round its mines. Volkswagen has teamed with Deutsche Post to build an electric driverless mail truck that will one day follow the delivery person from house to house and even go to him if he asks.

Meanwhile, experts predict that 30% of lorries on British roads will be driverless within ten years. This may be a more frightening prospect than seeing a car with no driver. The Royal Academy of Engineering says in its report, Autonomous Systems, that these vehicles will use data from laser radar, video cameras and satnav systems to steer safely through traffic and pedestrians. It also suggests these “drivers” cannot “get tired”.

In fact, there are already fully automated trains in London’s Docklands Light Railway and next year, there will be a driverless taxi at Heathrow able to do 25mph on narrow roads. The next category for full-scale automation is likely to be haulage, given there are hundreds of thousands of trucks on UK roads that could benefit from “safe” computer control. Meanwhile, Rio Tinto plans to increase its fleet of driverless vehicles to 150 over the next four years, to reduce its costs in its Pilbara mine, Australia.

Even if we accept that driverless vehicles can be driven more safely by computers than by people, what about all the jobs lost? Increasing margins often means loss of jobs. What prospects are there for people who have spent most of their lives as drivers - not particularly skilled work but useful all the same? The robot revolution may be technologically exciting, but it doesn’t do much for humans.
Ref: The Daily Mail (UK)l, 26 May 2011, The robot revolution: Driverless trucks and voice-activated pets could be commonplace by 2019. S Whitelocks.
Wired (US), 21 November 2011, The autonomous electric mail truck of tomorrow. C Squatriglia.
Marketwatch, 2 November 2011, Rio Tinto boosts driverless iron ore truck fleet. D Fickling.
Source integrity: Various
Search words: driverless trucks, mail, iron ore, robots, Rio Tinto, automation, radar, satnav, haulage, Volkswagen, Deutsche Post, Royal Academy of Engineering.
Trend tags:

Something else you can’t do in your car

You might have thought that the car was the last place you could go, get some peace and quiet and be yourself. That looks set to change, if the British Medical Association (BMA) has its way following the release of the report, Smoking in Vehicles. It wants to ban smoking in cars.

The BMA argues that cars are confined spaces, which makes the chemicals from smoke more dangerous to adults and especially to children. Smoking also creates a distraction from the business of driving, which increases the risks of accidents. The BMA also believes this is what the public wants, it extends the rules already in place, and other countries are already doing the same. The report also claims 30% of smokers smoke in their vehicles and the British Lung Foundation (BLF) says 51% of 8-15-year-olds have been exposed to cigarettes in a car.

It looks like another case of nannying, even though it has a noble enough purpose. Opponents argue this is the thin end of the wedge - once the government has poked its nose into the family car, the next place will be the family home. This is true, but driving while holding a mobile phone can cause accidents and this is banned too – so is this any different? It may be time to stop seeing the inside of our cars as places that are immune from social rules. Then again, perhaps driverless cars will free us up to do something better.
Ref: Spiked Online (UK), 17 November 2011, Smoking in cars: the BMA’s dodgy dossier
. R Lyons.
Source integrity: ****
Search words: smoking, cars, children, accident, British Medical Association (BMA).
Trend tags:

Flying cars

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang captured the imagination of anyone who has ever wanted to fly. So it is not surprising that a hundred people have already put down a $US10,000 deposit to buy a flying car, called the Terrafugia Transition. The full cost is $US227,000, which probably seems relatively cheap for something that seems so magical.

The founder of Terrafugia, Carl Dietrich, took only five years to bring the project to completion, and the car should be on American roads by the end of 2012. His company already won a $US60 million contract with the Defense Department to develop a flying Humvee, which gave him a much-needed shot of capital. He describes the car as like a “little Transformer”.

The Terrafugia is the size of a large sedan. It is made of carbon fibre, can lift off any straight road, and fly at a top speed of 115 mph. When the car lands, its wings fold up in 15 seconds and it can travel up to 62 mph on land. If Dietrich gets his way, the car will pass European clearance as relatively easily as it did America’s aviation authority. Interestingly, you need only 20 hours of training to fly it. We are glad that only 100 people have put down a deposit.
Ref: News Corp (US), 18 July 2011, Terrafugia flying car cleared for landing in US.
Source integrity: ***
Search words: flying car, Carl Dietrich, Terrafugia Transition, Defense, landing, clearance, Europe, America.
Trend tags:

Designing cars for Chinese tastes

Carmakers usually shy away from manufacturing cars for only one market as they prefer to create something with global appeal. This is no longer the case for China. GM used to look at its existing range for appeal to the Chinese and then make local changes. For the first time, it created the Chevrolet Cruze, and other models, with the Chinese in mind and this is the beginning of a trend that will continue.

The greatest appeal of the Cruze is its roominess, as the Chinese like to buy cars that are spacious, particularly in the back seat where their parents or guests are travelling. They are also concerned very much with status. Audi, BMW and Mercedes have already made their interiors larger for owners on the Mainland who like to be chauffeur driven. At the lower end, Audi A4 and the new BMW 3 series will include extended wheelbases for that market.

As one GM commentator said, “China is part of the whole development process from the beginning, and is often the largest market that some of these vehicles will go to”. China overtook the US and Japan to become the world's largest car manufacturing country in 2009, with nearly 14 million units. Manufacturers cannot afford to ignore the complexities of this market and, given the rate that China makes its own vehicles, it will continue to be fiercely competitive.
Ref: South China Morning Post (China), 28 December 2011, Chinese drivers influencing car design trends worldwide. N Gough.
Source integrity: ***
Search words: Chinese, GM Chevrolet Cruze, roominess, back seats, status, Audi, Mercedes, BMW, space, size, luxury.
Trend tags: