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A PHYSICIST WRITES . . .
This month, questions and (some) answers. First, a brain-teaser: let’s suppose your car can — and does — go from 0 to 60 in ten seconds. How much journey time does this save you, compared with relaxing a bit and taking instead say twenty seconds over the acceleration (and then continuing on as before, at 60 or whatever speed the road dictates)? You will find the answer at the end of this column.
The major breakdown services are regularly assessed for their efficiency by a well-known consumers’ magazine. Its Best Buy recommendation seems to switch every couple of years between two operators (we could refer to them by their initial letters, A and B). Hence I’ve often transferred my membership too at the next renewal, though in some annoyance. Why can’t one of the operators simply stay on top?
Suddenly the answer strikes me: so many drivers must be switching to the current best-buy operator at the same time as I do, that it can’t always cope with the increased number of call-outs. Obviously what I need to do, to get the most efficient breakdown cover, is change allegiance in the opposite direction!
By the way, if your car breaks down after workshop-opening hours and can’t be fixed on the spot, is every operator willing to transport you and the car home (assuming that’s where you want to go) and then to be called out again next day for the journey to the garage? My current breakdown operator B will readily do this, I’ve discovered — that’s real service.
Next, what is it that I always find amusing about a road being resurfaced? It’s the quaint sign RAISED IRONWORKS, which appears even though the exposed manhole covers usually stand out a mile. But ‘lowered ironworks’ are a hidden hazard on many other roads. Why do we drivers tolerate these, or at least put up with being given no warning of them?
When did the Highway Code stop referring to ‘lighting-up time’, defining it as half-an-hour after sunset to half-an-hour before sunrise? A long time ago, I think. Anyway, the definition resurfaced in the 2007 edition — but now the name attached to it is ‘night’! Also, you are now told to light up in two stages: You MUST ensure all sidelights are lit between sunset and sunrise, and then: You MUST use headlights at night (except on a road which has lit street lighting). Actually this pair of instructions has been in the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations since 1989 at least. They just didn’t bother to inform us...
And while we’re on the subject, do they mean by sunset and sunrise the official times of these events as published for London, or the times that apply locally (that’s assuming you can see the true horizon), wherever you happen to be in the UK? The difference can be many minutes, so there’s a nice legal question waiting to be argued.
Something else I learned from the new Highway Code is that it’s also published in Welsh. Nothing wrong with that, but I wonder why the price is the same as for the English version when there must have been a translation cost, not to mention an expectation of lower sales?
Another question about Wales: am I the only person who visits and then becomes aware that extra time is needed to take in each bilingual road sign or marking? The message is immediately obvious, of course, but I sense that my brain then tries to interpret the Welsh half of it, which must be keeping my attention away from the road and its hazards. And then occasionally the English and Welsh words happen to be very similar or even the same (as with PETROL) and you spend time puzzling over why they painted it on the road twice!
In the winter issue of the Advanced Driving magazine, the Chief Examiner of the IAM said that when approaching a green traffic-light we should ask ourselves how long it has been green, so that we will be ready for when it changes to amber. Not an easy question — but they have the answer in Vienna, where Mrs S and I spent a few cold but enjoyable days recently: the green lights flicker rapidly for a couple of seconds before they change. I didn’t wait around shivering long enough to assess the effect on the traffic, but I would hope that the result is a reduction in amber-gambling. Surely this would be worth a try here?
Incidentally, do Austrian plumbers work to their own set of rules? The radiators in our hotel room were plumbed in so that when you opened the valve, the hot water entered at the bottom and immediately rose and departed from a pipe at the top, leaving most of the cold water unable to escape for a long while. In British radiators (whether domestic or vehicle), where there is a connection at the top the flow is from top to bottom. When will the EU resolve this muddle?
Last month our newsletter editor gave us some advice: If you have a large fuel tank don’t fill it up when you’re only doing local journeys — carrying excess fuel around wastes fuel. This is true, but the question is, how much is wasted and what’s saved instead? I investigated this in January 2006. If you fill the tank with say 40 litres each time instead of half-filling it with 20, I estimate that your average consumption rises by the equivalent of paying only around 10p more per tank-full (at current prices). You may well think this is a fair outlay for halving the number of times you have to stop off at the pumps, whether you’re doing local journeys or long ones.
Finally, the answer to the brain-teaser above: your 0 to 60 dash in ten seconds instead of twenty will save you not even ten seconds’ journey time, but five. So just take it easy (and perhaps you will save some fuel too)!
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