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Where do the Parties Stand on Motoring Issues?

It won’t have escaped your notice that there’s an General Election looming on the horizon. Politics is a subject that’s guaranteed to divide people – and in some cases cause them to shout at one another (and us).

But it’s something that we can’t rightly ignore, especially when the people standing for office are looking to make major changes to the way we all live and work. We’ve all seen the headline-grabbing stuff, but what’s lurking in those manifestos that’ll impact us and our customers specifically? Let’s try to be as impartial as possible as we delve into the sticky, tedious mess of manifesto pledges:

The Greens
As you might expect, this lot have something of a bone to pick with the automotive industry. They’re calling for a bit more urgency, and say that if we don’t cut our carbon emissions to zero by 2030, environmental calamity is going to be the result. If you’ve seen the title sequence of Terminator 2, then you have a fair idea of what to expect. They’re pledging £100 billion per year toward the project, which will mean that all petrol and diesel vehicles are taken of the road.

The Labour Party
Labour are this time promising ‘real’ change, and they appear to mean it. In much the same way, they’re going to be looking to slash carbon emissions. Part of the way they’ll do this is by nationalising the rail service and investing in local buses. Their manifesto pledges to eliminate new sales of combustion engine vehicles by 2030 – which means we’ll have ten years to go electric.

The Liberal Democrats
This lot, as we all know (because they aren’t shy about it) are in it to stop Brexit. Their manifesto also singles out air pollution, which causes 40,000 premature deaths a year and costs the NHS £15 billion. Like the Labour Party, they’ll be banning the sale of non-electric cars by 2030, and they’ll use ‘taxation, subsidy and regulation’ to ease the transition. They’ll also make unpolluted air a legal right, and extend ultra-low emission zones to urban centres around England.

The Brexit Party
The Brexit Party, it must be said, are rather keen to stick to their core message, which is getting Brexit over the line, as soon as possible. That said, they do have other policies, among which is a desire to invest ‘at least’ £50bn in road and rail schemes, funded in part by scrapping HS2.

The Conservative Party
Among the most eye-catching policies in the super-svelte Tory manifesto is a pledge to launch the ‘biggest ever’ pothole filling plan. This basically means that they’ll be spending more money than any previous government – though not necessarily in real terms. To be specific, the costings document reveals £500 million a year for four years. Potholes are a little bit like indigestion and wet weather – few people like them, and thus it’s easy to see why political parties would want to bang on about how they’re going to be dealt with.

The Problem with Engine Idling?

How would you feel if you were pulled up in your van, waiting for someone, and a stranger knocked on your window and demanded that you turn off your engine? For many, this might seem like an unreasonable demand. But the fact is that air pollution is something that increasing numbers of people are concerned about. And thus this is a confrontation that increasing numbers of people will have.

What’s wrong with Engine Idling?
According to the Royal College of Physicians, around forty thousand deaths a year are associated with air pollution. When you’re stopped, you’re still causing air pollution, even though you aren’t travelling anywhere.

Being as we’re getting close to winter, you might find that it’s a bit of a struggle to get the van fired up when it’s frozen in the morning. Thus, turning off the engine might not seem like much of a tempting prospect. If your engine is consistently struggling to fire up, it might be a sign that there’s a deeper underlying problem. Plus, if you’re stopping in traffic, you might decide against turning off the engine, since you don’t want to get stuck and cause a blockage.

Engine idling will also impact your fuel reserves, as your motor will keep guzzling a small amount of fuel during those brief stops. While this might not seem like a significant concern, it can add up over the course of the vehicle’s lifespan.

What about Technology?
As with many things in life, this is a problem that can be fixed with the help of a little bit of technology. You might already have driven one of those vehicles that stops and starts the engine automatically when it comes to a halt. And, of course, there’s the looming prospect of the electric vehicle, which will reduce your emissions to zero (though, of course, the energy generated will need to come from somewhere, and if it’s from burning oil and gas, there will still be emissions).

If you were feeling clever, you might an accusing finger in the direction of parents who pull up outside of a school in a fleet of Range Rovers, and thereby cause enormous amounts of exhaust fumes to be inhaled by the very children who are being saved the peril of a walk home. But the fact is that engine idling is a problem that we should all be aware of. According to research by the RAC, around 72% of drivers want their local councils to get involved, and 44% want officials to have the power to issue fines to correct the behaviour.

It may be awhile yet before this drastic step is taken in your neck of the woods. But that won’t stop schools and other sensitive areas from advertising their presence and urging drivers to switch off, with the help of banners that can be tethered to a suitable fence. Thus, if a fine doesn’t get you, then a sense of lingering, inescapable guilt will.

Breathalysers to be Mandatory from 2022

Buried in all of this month’s political news is the announcement that, from 2022, all new cars sold in Europe will need to be fitted with breath-testing devices. Moreover, existing cars will have until 2024 to get with the program and have the necessary modifications fitted. This is part of the same EU regulations which mandate that speed-limiting software will be installed, too.
The aim of this stuff is simple: to reduce the number of road fatalities and severe injuries. If you get behind the driver’s wheel of the car of the future, then it’ll detect that you’ve had one too many and it’ll shut down the engine.

According to the European Transport Safety Council, an independent body which has nothing to do with the EU, despite being based in Brussels, the elimination of drink-drivers from the roads would cut collisions by a whopping thirty percent, which would save roughly 25,000 lives across the continent over the course of the next fifteen years.
It’s probably a good idea to take predictions like this with a pinch of salt. It’s difficult to say what will happen next year in an industry as dependent on technological change as the motoring industry. Moreover, taking a single small figure and extrapolating outward to produce a big one is likely to result in embarrassing errors.

What about the UK?
As you’ve been reading this, two letters in particular might have jumped out at you. This is an EU thing, isn’t it? So what impact is it going to have on British drivers?

Well, there are several reasons to pay attention. The first is that many British drivers will find themselves on the continent, and they’ll need to have suitable vehicles. The second is that what happens in Europe often happens here, too: the current government has expressed a desire to maintain close alignment with road safety laws on the continent.

What’s more, the entire Brexit process is somewhat up-in-the-air at the moment, with many of the parties vying for power in the imminent election having entirely opposing takes on how to resolve the issue. All in all, it’s highly unlikely that Britain won’t mandate this technology at some point.

All of that aside, it’s difficult to deny that getting drink-drivers off the road is an unambiguously good thing, and that it’s going to result in fewer road injuries and deaths. Thus it’s enormously likely that this technology, if it’s proven effective, is going to emerge in Britain, too – regardless of what happens with Brexit.

Of course, drink-driving is a problem now, and we shouldn’t wait for some technological supervisor to be introduced into our vehicles to cut it out. While there is a point at which you can have alcohol in your bloodstream and still be legally allowed to drive, your reactions and motor skills will still be impaired – and thus a good idea is to limit your intake to a nice round zero if you know you’re going to need to drive home.

French MPs scrap Breathalyser Law

Improving road safety is an ongoing struggle for just about every government in the world. Sometimes they intervene, and in the process genuinely help the situation. Sometimes these interventions aren’t quite so successful. Recently, we have the case of the French government, which in 2013 decided to require that foreign motorists carry a breathalyser kit with them. There was going to be an €11 fine for those that failed to comply – but then the incoming president Francois Hollande decided that there wasn’t going to be a fine, but there was going to be a requirement. A crime without punishment isn’t much of a deterrent, and the new rules failed to have much, if any impact, on the way that foreign drivers actually behaved.

What are the drink-drive limits in France?
The drink-drive limit in France is a measly 0.05%, which compares with 0.08% in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. For younger drivers, it’s even lower, at a measly 0.02% for the first three years on the road (meaning that such drivers are effectively banned from drinking while they’re behind the wheel). If you regularly drive to Scotland, you might already be familiar with this way of doing things: their limit is set down at 0.02%, too.

As such, drivers who might have been within the limit on one side of the channel would be driving illegally on the other. So, the breathalyser rule was intended to help drivers to stay within the law, but, as part of a raft of reforms, the breathalyser law is getting chucked.

Now, while the law is going to be withdrawn in the near future, that doesn’t mean that taking a breathalyser kit isn’t a good idea. If you are caught over the limit, then you’ll be in serious trouble, as the law over there is even stricter than it is over here. Whether you’re driving in a personal or professional capacity, getting caught can have life changing consequences – and even if you don’t get caught, you might change someone else’s life for the worse.

Of course, the safest way is to not drink at all – that way you’ll be at your sharpest, whichever country you’re in. We’d therefore suggest keeping your intake down to zero when you’re on the road. If you’re taking the van down through Europe, you can always stop off somewhere for the night if you’d like to sample the local reds. In fact, if you’re driving across entire countries, making the time for an extended rest break is almost always the safest way to proceed.

At the risk of belabouring this point, we’re in agreement with RAC spokesperson Rod Dennis, who commented: “The best advice is to never drink and drive, whether driving in France or elsewhere.” Motoring advice doesn’t get much more straightforward than that.

If you’re planning on driving in France in the near future, then you’ll have one less thing to worry about – just remember that you need to drive on the other side of the road!

Fuel Theft: Why is it so Easy?

If you’re like most people, you’ve gassed your motor up hundreds of times without once even considering the idea of getting straight back in and driving away without paying. And yet that’s what thousands of people do, often completely brazenly. They’re right to be brazen about it – according to recent research by Crown Oil, an incredible 99% of fuel thieves are never caught, let alone prosecuted. So, all of those scary-looking stickers you might have seen warning that the police will come for you if you don’t pay – it turns out they’re not quite as effective as you might think.

How reliable is this data?
The research relies on the police’s own figures. A total of forty-five police forces were sent freedom of information requests, and twenty-three of them replied. In the last year, there have been 25,614 fuel thefts across the UK. In practice, the figure is probably much higher – some fuel thefts are never reported, because the petrol station operators (understandably) don’t think the police are going to be able to track down the culprits.

Aren’t things getting better?
You might think that technological advancements have made the situation better. And you’d be right – there has been a year-on-year decline of around 11% in this sort of crime. This is largely thanks to the introduction of ‘pay at pump’ systems on the pumps furthest from the till. For a long time, many stations implemented a low-tech version of this by simple closing those pumps with a big metal sign and a few cones. Nowadays, things are a bit more sophisticated – but you might still run into cashiers who are wary about turning your pump on, especially at night-time. This is because they’re worried about the ear-bending they’ll receive when the site manager turns up in the morning. If you’re filling up a massive jerry-can, this is especially troublesome – and van drivers might find themselves under particular suspicion, as they can fill up with a ton’s worth of diesel and drive off into the night.

Another advance comes in the form of superior cameras. But these are still extremely expensive, and they rarely get a good enough image of the thief to prosecute. While drive-offs are a common problem, they don’t represent a large enough chunk of outgoings to justify an investment in super-fancy cameras. This may change, however, as modern camera technology rolls out onto forecourts.

Why can’t you make an ID?
There are several reasons why it’s difficult to ID a would-be thief. Firstly, they’re likely to have their face covered by a baseball cap, and their license plate will be falsified. If you’d like your pump to be activated promptly, then you should be sure that you have your face as visible as possible. Being a woman, let’s face it, also helps.

If a petrol station is by a motorway junction, this is especially tricky. In the twenty minutes it takes for the police to arrive, they can be several junctions away. Catching the thief would require marshalling dozens of police officers across multiple forces – which, for the sake of a few quid, isn’t going to happen.

Councils ask for power to deal with reckless Lorry Drivers

You might recall the incident earlier this year where a lorry driver tried to drive under a low bridge in Middlesbrough and ended up smashing into the bottom of it. The road had to be cleared, causing a great deal of frustration for everyone who wanted to drive along it at the time, and a great deal of expense for the taxpayer. This wasn’t a one-off incident; it happened four times in a matter of weeks, at the same bridge!

It seems this isn’t a problem unique the Middlesbrough; all across the land, lorries are avoiding the sensible routes and trying to take short-cuts through town. We’ve all, at one point or another, been stuck behind a lorry driver who didn’t really know what they were doing. In some narrow, historical areas, a lorry in the wrong place can cause absolute pandemonium. The problem usually occurs when a sat-nav guides the hapless lorry driver in the wrong direction. But there has not yet been a sat-nav invented that can restore the damage inflicted when a lorry reverses into a signpost.

The Local Government Authority has been making rather loud noises about how much it disapproves of the situation. Late last month, they asked for the power to issue fines to lorry drivers who flout weight limits and drive wherever they please. As well as preventing blockages and damage to public property, the move would also help to deal with congestion and pollution, and to improve road safety standards.

This is bad news for lorry drivers, but ostensibly great news for the rest of us. Lorries that drive along streets which aren’t designed to take their weight will inflict lots of damage. Moreover, their removal will mean lots more room for smaller vehicles – which will mean plenty of van drivers hoovering up the business left behind by the poor HGV drivers. You might think that this will mean more vehicles on the road overall, which is a fair assumption – but even a convoy of a dozen large transits can get around a suburban estate far more easily than a big, unwieldy lorry.

Another suggestion put forward by the LGA is that lorry drivers should be forced to use special sat-navs which make it explicitly clear that a given road is unsuitable for trucks. Why truck-drivers should need to be encouraged to do this seems quite mysterious. You might think that the prospect of crashing your company’s vehicle into a low-hanging bridge, losing an afternoon’s custom, and becoming the laughing stock of everyone on Facebook would be incentive enough for the lorry-driver to invest in a decent sat-nav without the need for the LGA to get involved.
The necessary powers were written in the Traffic Management Act 2004, but as yet, the secondary legislation (that’s the stuff that’s delegated to bodies outside of parliament) doesn’t yet exist for councils outside of London to be able to enforce the rules. We’ll keep an eye out for developments.

Hands-free Phones: just how Dangerous are They?

Since 2003, we’ve all been banned from using our phones while driving. Picking up a phone and placing it next to your head means that you can’t steer the vehicle and change gears. The same goes for texting, tweeting, and scrolling through Instagram: they’re all insanely dangerous activities if you’re at the helm of several tons of metal.
In the wake of this law, we’ve all made the switch to hands-free mobile. Most modern cars come with the function built right into the dashboard. It’s convenient, it’s easy, and many of us couldn’t function without it.

But recent evidence has given us all cause to doubt this thinking. A Commons Transport Select Committee (one of those groups which talk endlessly about what the law should be before it actually becomes law) met last month to scratch their chins about the issue. They heard plenty of experts share their dim view of the practice. One expert, in fact, told them that talking hands-free caused “essentially the same” level of distraction as being at the drink-drive limit. You can read the committee’s report here, if that’s the sort of thing that interests you.
Now, this might seem totally bonkers, so let’s see if we can wade through a few objections.

What about other distractions?
One common objection to this stuff is that, while hands-free is certainly distracting, it’s no more distracting than listening to loud guitar music, or listening to the commentary of an exciting football game, or even conducting a conversation with the person next to you. There might be some truth in this. However, there is one notable distinction to be drawn here.

Most driving accidents occur in just a few hotspots. These are the locations where your attention is taxed to its maximum. Junctions, blind corners, motorway slip-roads: they all require that we concentrate hard on the task at hand. If you’re driving with a passenger next to you, they’ll know that it’s time to shut up when this sort of situation presents itself. Unfortunately, the person you’re talking to on a hands-free phone won’t know to do this, as they’ll be unable to see what you can see. By the same token, you’re unlikely to pay much attention to what’s being said on the radio while you’re waiting for a gap to pull out into a busy road, or to the amazing guitar solo being played while you’re driving past a school at home-time.

What can I do?
It might be that in the future, even hands-free phone calls become illegal. This would certainly make it difficult for many of us to do business; if you’re travelling up and down a motorway all day long, and you need to field calls constantly, then finding time to pull over might not be practical. Still, there are things you can do to ensure that the call is taken safely.

First, don’t be afraid to not take a call if you’re driving in poor conditions. If you’re sandwiched in between two lorries and it’s chucking it down with rain, it might not be appropriate to pick up. Second, you shouldn’t be afraid to tell the person on the other end of the phone to wait for a moment while you deal with some tricky piece of driving – even if they do happen to be an important client. Thirdly, if there’s another person in the van with you, you might consider having them take the call rather than putting it through hands-free. That way, you’ll stay ahead even of future changes to the law!

Saudi Oil attacks: what do they mean for the price of fuel?

In this blog, we’re going to take a look at commodities markets and how they’re effected by enormous fireballs. It’s usually a bit tricky to see exactly how the goings-on on the other side of the planet will affect our day-to-day lives in Britain, but where recent events in Saudi Arabia are concerned, this doesn’t really apply. When five percent of the global oil supply gets wiped out overnight, it’s not hard to work out that the price of crude oil is going to go up, and so too is the fuel that we use to fill up our diesel-powered vans.

Aramco is the state-owned oil company in Saudi Arabia. It’s responsible for 10% of the world’s oil production, and is the reason the country is so fabulously wealthy. You might, with the benefit of hindsight, wonder whether they might have used some of this enormous wealth to stop someone flying over with a drone and blowing up millions of dollars-worth of black gold – needless to say this is an episode that might persuade us all to take security that little bit more seriously.

The facility that was attacked, Abqaiq, is where almost three-quarters of the country’s oil goes to be processed shortly before it’s exported. As well as the oil itself being destroyed, there are widespread fears that there will be longer-term disruption to the supply as the Saudi authorities attempt to patch things up.

According to some sources, the attack caused a spike of around 15%, which would make it the biggest one-day gain since Saddam Hussein’s infamous attack on Kuwait in 1990. Donald Trump was, as you might imagine, quick to take to Twitter to explain the situation. “PLENTY OF OIL!” he declared, in a characteristically reserved tweet.

Will I feel the impact at the pump?
After this momentary blip, the price of oil has, more or less, recovered to around sixty-five dollars a barrel. Historically, prices have proven pretty resilient to short-term shocks like this one: the global market has been able to deal with Venezuela’s oil reserves falling off the map thanks to that country’s recent troubles.

There are two things you might want to bear in mind. First, changes in the price of crude tend to take quite a long time to filter through to the petrol pump. We’re talking weeks and months. So, for us to feel the difference in the UK, we’d need to see a long, sustained squeeze on the supply of crude, rather than a temporary setback like this one.

The second thing to bear in mind is that most of what we pay at the pump in the UK is fuel tax, which sits at around sixty percent. Once the exchequer has taken its cut, there’s the cost of transporting, refining and pumping the oil, as well as keeping the lights on at the petrol station. When everyone’s taken their cut, it’s only a tiny chunk of the price you pay at the pump which will be affected by the price of crude – which means even if the price of crude did go up by 15% over a longer period, the chances are that most of us wouldn’t notice it!

Which Songs Make You Drive Dangerously?

We read with interest the findings of the good people over at the South China University of Technology, who’ve been hard at work discovering which songs are most likely to encourage erratic driving. Their results aren’t terribly surprising: loud aggressive music makes you drive more aggressively; soft passive music makes you drive more passively.

What did the Researchers Do?
The study crammed participants into a driving simulator, and had them drive along a six-lane motorway for twenty minutes. Some of the drivers were asked to listen to slower, softer music, like Toto. Others were asked to listen to hard and fast music, like Green Day. The latter group changed lanes twice as often as the former, and drove on average 5mph faster. Therefore loud music makes you a dangerous driver. So far, so obvious.

Reasons to be Sceptical
But is this really a fair experiment? This is, after all, a simulation, and we behave differently when we know that what we’re doing isn’t real. When we’re playing Grand Theft Auto V and ‘Moves Like Jagger’ comes on, we might well decide to pull a handbrake turn over the central reservation; that does not necessarily mean we’ll do so in real life.
Moreover, there is such a thing as dangerously soft music. If you listen to Enya whilst driving, then you might find yourself entering a state of profound relaxation – which is hardly ideal if you need to be paying attention to the world around you. Surely there’s some happy medium between intensity and moroseness?

Another study conducted recently claimed that, of the 96 most popular songs on Spotify, ‘American Idiot’ by Green Day is the most dangerous to drive to. Why they didn’t test out 100 songs is a question to which we’ll never know the answer.

Dangerous Driving Songs
The list of dangerous songs doing the rounds seems a little bit arbitrary to us. Alongside ‘American Idiot’ we have ‘Born to Run’ by Bruce Springsteen and ‘Mr Brightside’ by the Killers. This seems less like a list of dangerous songs than the songs a cover band is most likely to learn if they want to go down well at the local beer festival.
We have our own suggestions for ‘most dangerous driving song’, and we’d like anyone with access to a driving simulator to perform their own tests. They’re surely a lot more dangerous than Green Day.

TV II – Ministry
This song doesn’t have any discernible tempo – it’s just a blast of snare drums and guitars interspersed by a very angry bloke screaming about connecting dots. How can it be safe to drive when this is playing?

Mick Gordon – BFG Division
This song was made famous by 2016’s reimagining of classic shooting-game Doom, whose sequel comes out later this year. It too, features insane noises, loud guitars, and thundering drums. If you listen to it, you’re almost guaranteed to drive faster.

Darude – Sandstorm
Does anything really need to be said about this meme-tastic techno classic? We don’t think it’s possible to drive sensibly while listening to this sort of thing – and for this reason it should come probably come with a warning label.

How Long Can Your Safely Drive Without a Break?

A van is a wonderful thing, capable of traversing long distances on a single tank of fuel, and transporting all manner of heavy goods at the same time. And many of us take advantage of this by pushing the vehicle to its absolute limit, driving all the way to central Europe and back without so much as stopping for a Big Mac.

Now, this isn’t a practice we endorse. Driving (and particularly motorway driving) is exceptionally tedious stuff, and just the smallest lapse in concentration can be deadly. Research by the RAC revealed than most of us drive beyond the recommendation of just two hours behind the wheel in one go (that’s the bit we all remember from rule 91 of the Highway Code). And around 28% of us are driving for more than five hours without a break, which is beyond the legal limit of four-and-a-half hours stipulated by EU law.

What can we do about tiredness?
So, what’s the problem with excessive fatigue, and how do we deal with it? Well, firstly, there’s the chance that you’ll fall asleep at the wheel. And obviously, the more sleep you need, the more likely you’ll be to drop off. This is especially the case if it’s the middle of the night, and everyone else in the van has decided to grab forty winks.

But even if you don’t fall asleep at the wheel, a lack of decent sleep can cause problems with the parts of your brain that recognise patterns and solve problems – exactly what’s required when you go for a drive. And even if you’re not tired, driving over a long period is monotonous, and your levels of concentration will naturally diminish as time wears on. Even stretching your legs for five minutes can make a massive difference to how good you feel, as anyone who’s stopped off around an hour from home and then sailed through the final leg of a journey will be able to tell you.

Get some Sleep
The Highway Code suggests taking a fifteen-minute nap and downing two cups of coffee to perk yourself up. While we’re sure a siesta and a double espresso is a great cure for drowsiness, it’s not exactly the best stand-in for a decent night’s sleep. And the same goes for energy drinks. If you’re catching just a few hours of sleep a night and then picking up two of those massive cans of Red Bull from the petrol station, the chances are that you’re going to lose the ability to get that all-important quality sleep. And if you’re doing this every day of the week, then the problem will get progressively worse.

For those of us who are driving for hours on end every day, it’s easy to feel as though we can handle longer stints in the saddle. A ten-minute break every two hours is, after all, going to add to the overall journey time, and many of us understandably prefer to get there, get back, and clock off as soon as possible. But the science doesn’t lie – you’ll feel better, and be able to drive safer, if you’re refreshed and alert. So take a break!