Friday, November 1, 2013

Idiot-proofing Transportation

Highway fatalities are on the decline and its not due to better driver's ed classes or our desire to pay more attention to where we are going. In fact; its very much been the opposite. With more features in many cars like complicated stereos, GPS and Bluetooth functions, we have less time to pay attention to the road.

Gone on all but the cheapest models are the knobs that allowed you to control many of the functions concerning the car's ambiance while maintaining your view of the road ahead; replaced in many cases by a touch screen that requires most of us to look at what we are touching or at least what menu function we are adjusting.

My old stereo had basically volume, base, treble, left balance, right balance and front/rear fade.  It took all of about 5 minutes to learn to adjust each without looking at the radio at all.  The newer stereos, it took 10 minutes just to find where these adjustments were and betting it will be probably never before I memorize how I got to each function, but all in the name of progress right?

But fatalities have dropped because it became apparent that having the car prevent the accident was a LOT easier than getting people to drive safer. The technology of making cars safer has improved and more innovations are coming. lane assist, collision avoidance radar, braking assist with improved traction control will all help to save lives by preventing or lessening the severity of an accident.  So making cars safer by building a sort of "self preservation" technology (and you thought "Hal" was just a movie!) advanced enough to overcome our shortcomings is now the new money maker.

I was thinking that maybe preserving the environment needed the same kind of ideology.

Today as I was leaving the Old Country Buffet in Lakewood, WA I was literally knocked over by the smell of exhaust as I walked out the front door. Sitting at the curb was an armored truck idling away waiting.  WA has a public smoking ban where smoking is banned within 40 or 50 feet of any public entrance. Apparently this law does not cover a smoking vehicle.

Now technology is addressing excessive idling with new cars coming out where cars shut down when at stop signs. This was done mostly to preserve gas and help obtain the CAFE requirements for fuel economy but this will also help with air quality as well. But this technology relies on the consumer being proactive with maintaining the vehicle.

Just a few miles down I-5 from Old Country Buffet, a 4X4 Chevy was merging onto the freeway from Joint Base Lewis McChord. I heard his diesel engine roar as he punched it to merge into an empty lane on the freeway with smoke pouring from his tailpipe.   Newer diesels have another tank that holds a fluid that is sprayed into the exhaust stream which is supposed to reduce pollution. It is primarily Urea and failure to maintain the fluid can prevent the exhaust gas temperatures from being reduced properly and burn up the exhaust particulate filter.  The recommended maintenance (for Ford trucks anyway) is a bottle every 5,000 miles done during oil changes. The fluid comes in 2½ gallon bottles and costs a mere $14 ( I can drive 583 miles on $14 of electricity and its not related to to the topic at hand...just saying ya know) which is not too bad but its still a process that must be completed by the end user to insure pollution levels from the diesels conform to the numbers used by anti EV activists.  Now if the engine blew up or the electrical system shut the truck down when the fluid ran dry, all would be well, but it doesn't.  Most of us do maintain the fluids including this one, but keep in mind; "most" does not mean all.

I guess what we really need is maintenance-free cars.  75% of all car fires are due to mechanical or electrical failures with an estimated half of those failures possibly caused by lack of or improper maintenance. Of the 258,000 car fires reported in 2007 only 4% were from collisions or over turns... WOW! talk about spontaneous combustion!

My neighbor tells me how much he likes my LEAF because he can't hear me leaving for work in the morning. (I turn the reverse beeper off) That is a significant statement considering I pull out of the garage sitting less than 50 feet from his bedroom window. During this operation I am waiting for my Droid to power up to load LEAF Spy in order to record and reset my data before the day's driving begins. IOW, its at least 2 minutes or more in the driveway getting all this done. (It also allows me a bit more time to think of anything I may have left behind that I need for that day)

During all this "idle" time, I have not contributed to the destruction of the environment, the serenity of the neighborhood or aggravated a child's asthma (My Son Ryland has Asthma)

Just more reasons to get an EV

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