Category Archives: Driving

Average Speed Cameras on Busy Roads

I was reading an article about those crazy Dutch people, on the one hand very liberal with the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, Techno, but when it comes to driving they are very much the opposite. The latest idea is to use Average Speed Cameras or SPECS (for us) the type we often see around road works on the motorway with a 50mph limit but on provincial roads. This appears to include UK Equivalent of A-Roads.

SPECS Average Speed Camera

SPECS AVG Speed Camera

I did a little research and it seems the Dutch have a kind of similar system to us, only they have a version of the Autobahn called the Expressway for faster vehicles, along with Highway (Motorway) and Trunk Roads these are supplemented by the Provincial Roads, which which are a mixture of Major A-Roads (2+ Lanes) and Dual Carriageways. We in the UK are already taking this step with the Major A Roads such as the A14 and A40, but there are calls to introduce these on less major A-Roads, such as the A6. There are a few stretches between Manchester and Stockport, and Stockport and Hazel Grove which are of concern. One of them once had 3 speed cameras within 1 mile, which had an interest legal case where someone got hit by all 3 but argued it was a single speeding offence caught 3 times. 

The research has always shown that when people see a speed camera they often dangerously brake increasing the risk of causing a collision. This is part of the reason they are painted yellow, locations are listed, and in general police don’t hide when using speed guns. On a side note its worth noting the police mobile cameras get you up to 1 mile away, and only need an area the size of a door mirror to get you, so by the time you see them, they already have you. It has also been shown that many persistent and deliberate speedsters, will simply slow down for a camera and then leadfoot it right after. 

SPECS Cameras

A new type of camera were created called SPECS which are Network Cameras, oddly SPECS isn’t an acronym or anything and has no meaning, but its a SVDD (Speed Violation Detection and Deterrent) System which uses long range ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) tracking over the network of connected cameras. Specs on the A40 for example the cameras are between 950 meters and 5,198 meters (approx 1km and 5km) apart, so they aren’t always the same distance.

Inner Ring Road Manchester

Inner Ring Road Manchester

Its also been suggested that consecutive cameras are not always linked, and they can be randomly linked or clustered into groups. I’ve created a fake average speed zone on the Inner Ring Road in Manchester City Centre. If you imagine Red, Blue and Black are only connected to each other 24/7, and randomly Black Connects to Blue, and sometimes Black to Red and so on. This method is called Alternating Groups in a Many-to-Many Formation. This system I would say is to make it impossible to game the system, but also means its potentially possible you could get away with speeding if a situation like 6-7-8 existed, where 3 consecutive cameras are in  groups so aren’t connected.

There have been people who have used techniques convoys blocking blocking each others number plates at alternate cameras, so the systems evolved and the many-to-many connections makes this impossible. It won’t stop people trying their luck. A freedom of information act request has revealed that around 30% of all traffic cameras are not functional, due to damage or simply being switched off. The actual cameras which are off, are not published for safety reasons. 

This in theory means that on a major A-Road say the A6, if you were travelling from Manchester to Derby, which is about 60 miles with the vast majority being 30mph roads. You could pass 50 SPECS cameras, each one would calculate your speed over the last 1 to 60 miles depending on connections. If you passed Camera 1 in Manchester at 13:01:23 and suddenly you pass camera 2 in Adwick at 13:02:53, the system determins you drove at an average speed of 40mph between Checkpoint 1 and Checkpoint 2.

It also means you could pass camera 1 in Manchester at 12:00, then camera 27, nearly 30 miles away, at 12:50 and the system would know you had speeded. Should this happen, one would hope camera 27 would check your data points between 1-27 since you may have taken a different road which a greater speed limit. However the potential for this sort of system does exist, and the Dutch maybe about to implement it. 

 

SPECS Camera image by DeFacto, Map by Google Image, modified by Steven.

A Manchester Based Photographer and Website Developer with interests in Strongman, Fitness and Geekery.

Who Let The Dogs Out, Who?

There is talk of a law coming in UK Wide, which is already (I believe) in force in Wales, where dogs must be properly secured within the motor vehicle. This law will not only apply to dogs but to any and all animals, which must be safely secured for every journey. Obviously there will be some leeway for emergencies, and mistakes but I wouldn’t expect too much leeway. 

Rules 57 of the Official Highway Code states: “When in a vehicle, make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving, or injure you, or themselves if you stop suddenly (aka Crash)”. Having unrestrained pets in a vehicle is putting drivers at risk of being distracted. There is no official penalty (at this point) for this offence within the Highway Code or Law of the Land, should you be pulled up (currently) or cause an accident you would be charged with “Driving without due care and attention”.

Dire Consequences

This comes with Nine (9) Penalty Points and up to £2,500 Fine, and should it be an extreme or serious breach, you could be forced into a compulsory ban, and forced to get an extended re-test of both theory and practical test no matter how long you’ve been driving. If you haven’t already been subject to the New Drivers Act (2 year probation period) you would then become subject to that for a further 2 years.

This would put you a new driver with 9 points on your provisional, once you pass, it would only take 3 points to put you up to 12 points and another ban for 3-6 months. You would then need to do another re-rest. It would be a horrible situation to be in.

Even if you wasn’t banned, 9 points would put you 1 offence away form a ban, or if you already had a speeding/red light/mobile phone offence it would result in a ban too.

This isn’t even the worst of it, if you cause an accident or are in an accident which is caused by an unrestrained or unsecured animal / pet, the odds are very high your insurance could refuse to pay out. 

Basic Guidelines

There are some basic guide lines for when travelling with pets or animals within a vehicle.

1, Don’t allow your pet to ride with its head hanging out the window, its potentially dangerous and cause injury.

2, Ideally keep your pet in the rear of the vehicle with a barrier net

3, Always carry a large bottle of water (5 litres, £1 from most supermarkets) in case your pet overheats and needs to be rapidly cooled down in an emergency.

4, Keep a water bowl and water available for your pet.

5, Use Sun Shades on the windows when its warm/hot, and the sun is bright.

6, Never leave a pet in a hot car.

7, Don’t feed your pet within a few hours of travelling to avoid car sickness.

8, Pack your pets favourite toys, or blankets to give your pet a sense of familiarity.  

9, Consider carrying a pet first aid kit for emergencies. 

10, Never drive with the Pet on your knee or the drivers side of the vehicle. 

Dog out of Car Window image by freestocks.org.

A Manchester Based Photographer and Website Developer with interests in Strongman, Fitness and Geekery.

Voice Notifications while Driving

In-Traffic Auto-Reply Samsung

In-Traffic Auto-Reply Samsung

I recently posted about Samsung’s Driving App or “In-Traffic” which is basically an auto reply app which activates while in the car. Its still unclear if this app only affects SMS or covers majors apps like WhatsApp, Skype, KIK and Facebook Messenger. I have been playing with various apps which read out messages, notifications and such on my phone while I’m driving. I figured I’d share the App(s) I’m using with success and also another app which answers the question of are “Driver or Passenger” on this trip. 

I installed about 10 different apps. I choose them by reading the reviews, I also used the selector of Reviews Made with My Android / Phone Version, and mostly those which 3/5 Stars in the Google Play Store Reviews. This should avoid me giving false negatives about apps which I can’t fully try because of phone or android versions, and the reviews are usually a good indicator for app functionality. The selection process out the way lets crack on with the final app I choose, I’m not going to review the others since I’m not using them.

Shouter

The cream of the crop for me was an app called Shouter, it basically reads notifications out. The biggest thing I liked were the ability to customise the message. By default it says “Notification from *app name* it says *notification content*”, but you change that to “Message from” or anything you like. 

You can set silent hours, so it doesn’t disturb you during the night, should you use it outside of the car. 

It can get oddly embarrassing when your driving along and it reads out a message from Facebook Messenger, or WhatsApp especially when my friends have names like Scary Pants and Horny Sean etc. 

You can set the app to only read out certain applications and messages, like I only have it set to WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Facebook, SMS, Calls and maybe or two more apps but only certain things. 

You can find a more detailed review here.

A Manchester Based Photographer and Website Developer with interests in Strongman, Fitness and Geekery.

Samsung App Stops Texting and Driving

Samsung are releasing an App which will stop users from Texting and Driving, which they have called “In-Traffic“. It is currently being trialled in the Netherlands, but soon should end up global. I’m all for this app, mostly as I’ve mentioned a few times I’ve had on-coming cars nearly drive into me while holding a phone in-front of them, on top of the steering wheel.

There isn’t much information about how the app will work exactly but it seems it uses the phones GPS and various Sensors to detect if your in a vehicle or a bike. I would guess it monitors your speed over the last minute or two, and if your moving faster than say 6mph it activates. It would need to monitor some previous time frame to allow for slow moving traffic and traffic lights etc.

Voice Automation

I actually thought Voice Automation with apps like Siri, OK Google and Alexa etc would progress to the point where they would read messages and allow a response long before more draconian methods like this came into play. I had a Tom Tom 910 a long time ago which used to read text messages out, I remember a particularly embarrassing occasion where it read out a sexting while my mum was driving.

I have been looking for a decent app to move to the next track or play certain songs, or to mute my music on command, I think a driving app which allows more voice control should be the future and a huge seller. This is where Samsung should be focussing  its money rather than blocking access. 

You can almost fully use voice controls for SatNav, when I have been lost, I simply say “OK Google, Directions to X”, it comes up on the screen in the Magnetic Phone Holder, I press navigate and off it goes. I would like the ability to be able to say “Navigate” or “Go”, if you are listening Google ;). The AirVent magnetic phone holders are great for SatNav usage, I have mine charging while on SatNav so the phone gets VERY hot, having it on the cool air works brilliantly. 

One of the interesting features of Samsung Phones are the air motions. These are basically when playing music you can wave you hand to the right, which moves to the next track, or to the left for the previous track. There are a bunch of “Air Motions”, I have to wonder how they would fair in a phone mounted in a car. 

Automatic Replies

It seems the “In-Traffic” app would automatically reply to text messages, its not clear if this would include Facebook Messenger, Skype, WhatsApp, Kik and others, presumably it would be for all messengers. It either responds with a standard “Sorry I’m Driving, I’ll get back to you soon.” or it can do “Fun” replies, which are expected to be animation or possibly Gifs, I’m not sure, what the “fun” method is for. However it would be cool if the app read out the message, and replied automatically, that way you would know if it were urgent and you needed to find a safe and legal place to pull over and deal with it. 

There are lots of unanswered questions, such as how will know if you’re a passenger or a driver ? Apps like the excellent Waze do a really good job of this, and ask you if you are a passenger or driver. I would like to see this be a little more complicated. Perhaps ask you to press a number of buttons in a certain timeframe which a driver would be unable to do, I’m not sure. I expect many idiots would attempt this while driving and cause more accidents. 

Texting While Driving image by Roman Pohorecki, Sat Nav image by Pixabay.

A Manchester Based Photographer and Website Developer with interests in Strongman, Fitness and Geekery.

Change Is In The Air for Learner Drivers

L Plate

L Plate

I posted a while ago about the practical driving test getting an update the first major update to the practical test in 20 years. It were thought these changes would be here by now, but the official date is scheduled for 4th December 2017. I still maintain some of these changes are pointless, adding a “manoeuvre into a parking bay” is crazy, they already have the “Bay Park Manoeuvre”, is it that much harder to drive in forward ?

The Sat Nav update is good, many people spend far too long looking at the Sat Nav, this may teach people (myself included) to use it effectively within a routine. You have time to check your interior mirrors, right mirror, speedo, left mirror and look a head while driving safely, adding another glance at the Sat Nav in your routine shouldn’t be too hard.

Just to emphasis it, I was at the side of a police car and the driver were rolling down a hill with traffic and didn’t look up once. He was busy looking at the Sat Nav or police computer or radio, if highly trained drivers can be distracted, this can only be a good thing.

Motorway Update

Motorway Speed Light Lines

Motorway Speed Light Lines

I was kind of hoping by the time the rules came to fruition that the motorway lessons would be mandatory. On another forum, someone said “They may not be ready to drive on the motorway.”, I commented “They shouldn’t be allowed to pass their test then.”, and I was banned from the forum. Surely this day and age motorway lessons are essential, the whole game of driving changes when your at speed. 

I would like some training attached to first driving offences for new drivers, rather than losing your license you should be given more training. I know you get 1 shot at this per 3 years as a regular driver, I think a second one should be offered if a different minor offence within the first 2 years. 

Independent Driving Increase

The independent driving driving section has been increased. Its not clear if the Sat Nav element is due to be included here. Independent driving currently consists of you following road signs. The Examiner will say follow road signs to X place, now follow to Y place, and so on. 10 minutes can vanish in no time at all if you hit traffic. 

It would make sense to include the Sat Nav section here, I always thought it would be good to include a map reading section, but this is less and less important now. Its also been said that it 1 in 5 won’t be asked to do the Sat Nav driving, so for those the 20 minute independent drive will feel like a life time. 

Its also been clarified that if you make a mistake, it won’t matter as long as you don’t commit a fault. 

Show Me, Tell Me Changes

This update maybe good at well. Currently they ask you a few questions before you start driving. Tell Me, where they ask you how you would do something. In my case it was, Tell me how you would check the break is working, I think. Due to the weather being pants, I was asked to show them how I would use the screen washer and wipers. Self preservation played its hand there I think. 

Now they will ask you the Show Me question while you are mobile, so it would be “Show me how you use the demister” or “Show me how you put the hazard lights on”. This maybe good, the number of times when I first passed that I would be looking for a control and take my eyes of the road and end up drifting. Hopefully having to learn this during lessons will teach you to drift less. Now I can do it mostly without drifting and I’m getting better, so practice while learning would be good. 

Edit: Mickey Stafford posted a comment with a link for the Official Show Me Tell Me Questions

Manoeuvres Updated

I don’t really agree with this update, but reverse around a corner is no longer done, neither is 3-point-turn or turn-in-the-road as they call it now.  Instead they are going to ask you to do one of 3 new manoeuvres. 

  • Parallel Park.
  • Park in a Bay. Either drive in and out of a space. Either reverse in, Forward out, or Forward in, Reverse Out. 
  • Pull up on the right side of the road, reverse 2 car lengths backwards, then rejoin traffic. 

I can see the last item causing major issues both for the learner and for the other vehicles. 

Sat Nav image by Pixabay, Motorway image by Tookapic.

A Manchester Based Photographer and Website Developer with interests in Strongman, Fitness and Geekery.

62 Penalty Points and Still Legally Driving

As a new driver one of the things which bothers me is getting points and losing my license. In the first 2 yrs after a driver passes their test, you are permitted 6 points. This means you basically get 1 strike for many offences before you lose your licence. Unless its using a mobile phone, accidents, drugs, drink, massively over speed limit, all of which are 6 points or more which are instant losses for a new drivers.

There is a list on Driving Ban, about what offences get you what points and fines. The discretionary powers of police officers surprised me, even if the police vehicle camera gets you, the officer can overrule it given sufficient reason. 

In the South East of England alone there are around 10,000 motorists who have more than 12 points on their license, the vast majority have 12-18, but there are a handful who have 30+. This potential means there maybe as many as 70,000 in the whole of the UK, which is a scary statistic. I can’t find FOI requests for the whole UK, and can only find reference to the South East.  

Accidents Happen

More recently on a Friday night when a couple of drunks were messing around and dipping into the road. I spent a little too long watching them to ensure they didn’t come in front of my car or anyone else’s car for that matter. I was also keeping my eye on the road in case I needed to swerve around them, checking for other vehicles, and I wasn’t checking speedo as often as normal. At the time of writing this, I don’t actually know if I got a penalty for that, but it will suck if I do. 

Gatso Speed Camera

Gatso Speed Camera

Its a rubbish situation to be, do I check the speedo more often, while scanning road conditions, my rear, and increase the risk hitting an drunken erratic behaving pedestrian or prioritise I guess situational awareness. In hindsight, as soon as I saw them messing about in the road, I should have slowed way way down and increased my stopping capability. I guess once I’m a more experienced driver I will make better decisions like this. In future this will be my course of action, slow slow slow. Its hard not to “rubber neck” I guess.

This were one situation where C.O.A.S.T. didn’t help me, I was Concentrating on what was happening, Observing other cars, and what the drunks were doing, Awareness of where the cars were and where I could drive to avoid them, making sure I could allow Space for them fooling around and Time to react. What I didn’t do was check my speed often enough, I’m going to modify it to C.O.A.S.T.S. with the final S for Speed. I only noticed I *could* have been speeding because I had hit cruise control button at some point. When I had passed the hazard I checked my speed and it were set 4mph over the limit.  

At the time I was just like Oh My God, how drunk/high do you need to be to pushing each other into the road for a game while there are cars coming. If they walk just a few hundred meters up the same road they are on a 40 mph zone with energy saving in effect so no street lights, its pitch black. There are also road works so the road narrows too. I was debating phoning the police to make them aware, I haven’t heard of any accidents so hopefully they were ok. I keep debating now if I should phone and ask to settle my own mind.

Many Many Risks and Trickery

Speed Camera Consealed on A6 in Stockport

Plant & Forget Digital Speed Camera

Following on from the above its easy to accidentally accrue points, I have to drive through 3 traffic light cameras, 4 speed cameras, a few times per day. Which is 30 potential opportunities to get points every day just on my commute. The worse ones are traffic light cameras, when they are green all the way on approach on I have a little debate about speeding up, or slowing down to let them go red. Many times I have been going 30 mph, about 2-3 car lengths and they have turned Amber, if I have a car tailgating me, stopping is asking for a rear end, so I’ve had to carry on. A few times I’ve chosen to emergency stop, and once the lights actually turned red just as I passed them.

Out of nearly 200x I have had to go through traffic light cameras and/or speed cameras on my daily commute in the few month I’ve been driving, I have had 2 close calls, 1 of them very close. Once were when I had a car very close behind and the lights changed red. In hindsight I should really have stopped since it would have been their fault. I now try to slow down on approach in these circumstances so I can safely stop. 

I recently found out that Traffic Light Cameras can also Speed Cameras and can result in points, so speeding up to get through before they turn red, can be a major hazard. Which makes Traffic Light Speed Cameras all the more problematic. 

Concealed Cameras

Concealed Speed Camera

Concealed Speed Camera

Another situation is concealed cameras, the (right) image shows the speed camera concealed by a yellow sign at the bottom of a long steep hill. You don’t see the camera (Dubbed Stockport’s Scammera) until you are where the black car is, which has its brake lights on. The only way to see it from a safe breaking distance is where this Google image is taken from.

The image (above right), shows this camera is a new style digital speed camera, which means it never runs out of film, and is what they call “plant and forget”, operating 24/7. I assume plant is in relation to its eternal producing of fruit (money). This camera is between 2 steep inclines, directly at the bottom one, before, you go up another steep hill. Its ideally placed to get people who (1), allowed gravity to pick up speed, or (2), gained speed to make the lights, or (3), gaining speed for the upcoming hill. The fact its concealed is just a bonus for the police camera partnership.

There are various reports of this camera catching people for cutting the red light, and for speeding, many many many caught because they speeded up to make the lights before it changed red, and they assumed it were a traffic light camera. Its due to this camera, that I read about the fact traffic light cameras can be used to issue speeding tickets.  

62 Penalty Points 

In saying all the above potential traps, trickery and such hazards there is a driver in West Yorkshire which the BBC reported to have 62 Penalty Points on his license, the last 6 points given for Speeding just a few months ago (according to reports). Further more a driver in Oxfordshire has 51 Points, another in Essex has 42 Points, and one in Norfolk has 39 Points.

Where exactly does the “exceptional circumstance” come in here, how many times can you accidentally get points even  with the above examples. There must be a point where where Mr 62 Points has simply decided the rules don’t apply to him, he can speed, cut red lights, do as he bloody well pleases because the courts won’t take his license away. You only gets 6 points if you are significantly over the speed limit, not just a few miles over which can be an accident. I would really like to know exactly what he got and what his excuses are.

There are circumstances where you could accrue a few points, but surely there can’t be an excuse for getting 15-21 points per year, can there ? I estimate in my (at least) 2,000 Opportunities to accrue points, I have come really close once, which were extraordinary circumstances, and not normal at all. I also think a more experienced driver wouldn’t have made my mistake so where is the limit ?. 

Red Roadster picture by Pixabay, Speed Camera by Andrew Dunn, other images by Google Images. 

A Manchester Based Photographer and Website Developer with interests in Strongman, Fitness and Geekery.