Monday, 25 April 2022

Driving efficiency




Fuel prices have increased dramatically over the last few months, with an increase in the UK of around 20p per-litre compared to this time last year, adding to the very real threat of fuel poverty for many.


You don’t need us to tell you that factors affecting fuel prices are complex, with global crude prices, retailer margins, duties and taxes and – as we see now – the pressures of cross-border conflicts, all affecting cost.


But not everything cost related is outside our control. We may not have a say in how much we pay for our fuel, but we do have a say in how much we use. Efficiency may not be something that crosses many people's minds when driving, but it should be. Efficient driving techniques can be easily implemented by any driver or biker, and not only can they lower fuel consumption, but they can reduce vehicle wear and tear, improve driving skills, increase self-awareness and awareness of other road users, and help you to better understand how a vehicle and its systems work.


Most of you will have heard the term Hypermiling, driving a vehicle using techniques for ultimate fuel efficiency. You'll also likely have heard stories of extreme hypermiling feats, such as driving over 1000 miles on one tank of fuel. While obtaining that level of efficiency requires a Zen-like application of will, technique, and a little science, there are plenty of things we can apply to our own driving without first having to retreat to a Buddhist monastery for a few years. They can even make driving more fun, and bring a new awareness of your driving habits, good and bad.


We have a handful of tips that aim to improve your fuel economy, with the helpful side effect of improving your driving techniques at the same time. Let’s look a five simple steps all drivers can take to improve driving efficiency, lower fuel bills, and reduce carbon emissions. If you really want to improve your driving efficiency, check out The Efficient Drivers Handbook, beneath the tips below, for your one-stop pocket-sized guide to efficient driving.


To drive or not to drive; that is the question

"To drive," that is the answer! Sorted.


Okay, just kidding. We may want to get behind the wheel or handlebars at every opportunity, but the single most effective way to save fuel is – duh! – to not drive or bike. So, also sorted.


Well, okay; maybe not. We’d be the last people to preach leaving the car at home, or suggest you manhandle that old sofa to the recycling plant on your bicycle, but we do recommend planning every journey, and not driving if it’s not necessary. If you simply need tinned beans from the grocer at the end of the block, you should probably leave the Humvee at home and take Shanks’s pony instead. You’ll save wear and tear on your beloved chariot, if nothing else. 


Maintenance 

Driving habits aside, probably the most important aspect of ensuring your vehicle is running efficiently is keeping it properly maintained. Never skimp on servicing, visual checks for tyres and components, and regular fluid checks, always topping-up as needed. One rarely checked major component that can reduce your fuel economy is the air-filter: this can add 10% to your fuel consumption if clogged or dusty, so give it a good clean or replace it with a new one. 


Not only is maintenance imperative for safety – yours and others – it also ensures that everything is working as it was designed to, and at its most efficient. And don’t feel you need to pay a pro to do all your maintenance; many repairs can be easily carried out at home with minimal tools or expertise. Yes, we do have a book for that: in fact, we have a handful. Check the list at the end of this post.


Lose the fat

When it comes to performance, horsepower may be the poster boy, but as Colin Chapman once summarised, "subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere." Chapman may have been talking about speed on track, but if you swap 'faster' for 'use less fuel' the saying becomes the perfect mantra for efficient road driving. 


Checking what you carry in your vehicle, removing unnecessary kids’ toys, empty bottles, boot organisers, etc, only has a small effect – but it is cumulative; that’s why race engineers go to extreme lengths to shave mere grams off each component.


It’s not all small change though; one item that can usually be removed easily and offers a much bigger effect is the spare wheel. Installing run-flat tyres or carrying a foam puncture repair kit can bag you a 20kg saving.


If you’re confident fuel prices won’t sky-rocket between fills, don’t brim your tank when you get fuel. An average fuel tank with a 55 litre capacity weighs roughly 41kg to 46kg when full, depending on fuel type. Half-fill your tank instead, and you’ll only be carrying 20kg to 23kg of fuel. If you do this and swap the spare, and you could see an almost 40kg reduction – a difference you’ll feel behind the wheel, as well as at the pumps. Speaking of which …


Pump it

Tyres have a huge effect on fuel economy, and while safety is the keyword for tyre manufacturers, lightweight and efficiency now command a large part of their development. While you can opt for low rolling resistance tyres offering less drag, you don’t have to shell-out on new boots for improved efficiency. According to the National Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the US, for every 10% under your tyres recommended pressure, you’ll increase fuel consumption by 2%. 


To put actual numbers to that stat, if you're running a typical tyre with an optimal rating of 35psi at 10% lower pressure – that’s at 31.5psi  – you’ll loose 2% fuel economy. That’s quite a drop for such a small difference. Make sure you set your tyres at the correct pressure, measured when the tyres are cold (the hotter the tyre, the higher the pressure reading), and double check every week or two, as your tyres may lose air at differing rates.


Hyper inflation?

Tyres have a range of operating pressures for different loads and speeds, but, sometimes, a driver might lower or raise the pressure to get better grip or control in certain situations. Now that’s not something the average driver should ever need to do, and go too far in either direction, and you’re in potentially dangerous territory, both in handling and safety terms.
 

The optimum pressure ranges for a vehicle's tyres are usually shown on a plate attached inside the door shut of your vehicle, showing the pressure to use with differing loads (in the US, it's a legal requirement to mark maximum pressure on the tyre sidewall). These should be used as your minimum inflation values. Increasing the pressure by just a few PSI – say +3 to 5psi – can improve economy by a few percent. Small, yes, but it all adds up. 


Smoother, slower

If there’s one thing guaranteed to burn fuel, it’s hard braking and acceleration. Acceleration is an obvious fuel-burner, but braking is simply converting your speed – speed that you spent hard-earned cash attaining – into heat … not the most efficient use of your fuel, I think you’ll agree. 


Smooth acceleration and braking can have a massive effect on efficiency, and could even save you a small fortune in fuel bills: European economy tests have shown that aggressive driving, with frequent rapid acceleration and hard braking, can increase fuel consumption by around 40%. Reduce your speed just a little, too, and you’ll save even more: just 5mph-10mph slower can increase economy by 7%-14%, 


Add the numbers, and you could potentially see a 50% improvement in your fuel economy. That's quite a saving from simply not flooring it away from the lights, not maxing the speed limit, and learning to anticipate the road ahead. Accelerating gently, staying under the speed limit, and allowing your car to slow naturally for corners and junctions are all tricks that you can use not only to reduce your fuel bill, but also improve your driving techniques and road awareness. 


Summary

Obviously, there are many more steps that can be taken to reduce your fuel spend: limiting your use of air-con, removing roof bars and drag-inducing items, not idling for more than 10 seconds, changing gear at the correct engine speed, etc. Even if you only implement the steps above,  you could see economy improvements, potentially, of up to 50%; imagine the improvement you could make if you combined the tips above with other efficiency tips!


Queue The Efficient Driver’s Handbook. This pocket-sized tome of wisdom may have been in print for a few years, but it's more relevant today than ever before. Penned by Dave Moss, a motoring journalist for over 30 years, and a long-time researcher of economy driving techniques, this guide should be your first port of call for all your efficient driving tips, hints and techniques. Not only does it cover every aspect, from choosing an energy efficient vehicle, to driving techniques that lower fuel use, it even covers gadgets, future fuel technologies, and government guidance. And while it has forensic levels of detail, it’s easy to read and easy to understand, presenting genuinely useful tips that anybody can learn and use to improve their driving efficiency and safety.



The Efficient Driver's Handbook

Your guide to fuel efficient driving techniques and car choice


ONLY £9.99


SKU V4351

Specification Paperback • 21x14.8cm • 96 pages • 32 colour pictures

ISBN 978-1-845843-51-9

UPC 6-36847-04351-3 


FIND OUT MORE or BUY NOW – don't forget to use your On the Grid new subscriber discount!


If you want to make even more efficiency savings, learn how to look after and maintain your car, bike or scooter with our range of RAC Handbooks



Did we forget something?

There are dozens of ways to make your vehicle and fuel use more efficient, but do you use an efficiency tip or trick that you’ve not seen mentioned elsewhere? Let us know in the comments below … it could even bag you a discount on Veloce books!

Thursday, 27 January 2022

New Rules for 2022?



In our last post we took a look at a few of the changes that are making their way into the Highway Code this year. But it’s not all about the Code; there are some big changes planned that may – or may not – be heading our way covering a range of road and highway legislations. We take a look at a few that many of you may be unaware of.


Can’t touch this

Currently, drivers in the UK can be penalised for any 'interactive communication' while driving. That means you can be penalised for animated discussions behind the wheel; being caught recording a video, scrolling through a playlist, or taking a selfie with your phone, means you could avoid a fine and points on your licence (of course, that depends on a number of factors, so best not test the theory). From early this year, though, ALL such activities will be illegal. 


New rules will mean that using any hand-held device behind the wheel will be illegal in nearly every situation, not only when making a call or 'interactively communicating.' Getting caught could result in a £200 fine and six points on your licence, and these apply whether you’re driving, at a red light, stationary, or stuck in traffic. So hands off that mobile!


There are a few significant exceptions, though, designed to enable newer time- and effort-saving technologies to be used. For instance, drivers will be able to use a phone as a sat-nav as long as it is secured in a holder, and accept hands-free calls. You will also be allowed to use a mobile for payments at drive-throughs and toll roads, so you can keep the apps for now.


Fine. FINE. I’ll pay!

Now, this one is going to cause controversy in some areas (albeit not as much as some of the rules further down this list). From spring, English and Welsh councils will be handed the powers to fine motorists for minor traffic offences (stopping in a box junction, driving in cycle lanes, illegal U-turns, etc). This is the first time local authorities have been given such powers (London and Cardiff excepted), and fines could go as high as £70.


It may be unwelcome with some, but it does mean that local authorities should benefit from potentially large increases in revenue, which can be used for other cash-strapped services. Minor infringement penalty revenues from London and Cardiff brought in a whopping £58.2million in 2018-19.


Nurse!

Every UK driver must meet a set of medical standards for 'fitness to drive,' and the DVLA makes over half a million medical licensing decisions every year, which can often only be completed by a registered GP or consultant.


In an effort to speed up UK licence renewals, which have suffered a backlog over the last few years, the government is considering allowing health professionals such as Nurse Practitioners to complete the health questionnaires required, easing the workload on GPs. A consultation has taken place, but the findings are yet to be published. 


Pavement hogs

Pavement parking is already illegal in London, and Scotland will roll out a similar law in 2023, but this year sees a decision being made on whether pavement parking will be banned across the UK. There are some roads where pavement parking is common and (believe it or not) helpful in easing traffic flow. Having said that, these areas are rare, with pavements often as wide as the carriageway itself, so parking doesn't impact negatively on pedestrians. 


But, in more urban areas, city centres, and towns, pavement parking can be highly dangerous to road users and pedestrians alike. Whilst a blanket ban may be a sledgehammer to crack a walnut, it should make a positive difference to accident statistics in the worst affected areas. No decisions yet, but keep your eyes peeled for a Yay or Nay.


ALKS Lvl 3 OK FYI

A new law relating to driving aid technologies is expected this spring, giving the green light for Automated Lane Keeping Systems to be used on UK roads. There are five levels for this type of technology, and, currently, UK drivers can only use Level 2 lane assist systems, which require active driver engagement and monitoring of the environment by the driver at all times. 


Level 3 ALKS systems take full control of the car, and when used in conjunction with adaptive cruise control, can take control of braking, acceleration and steering,  enabling a driver to remove their hands from the wheel. Sounds scary, but the new law would only apply at speeds of up to 37mph on motorways – over that and it's all hands to the wheel!


There are obviously many concerns relating to autonomous vehicles and self-driving tech, so the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT) published a set of guiding principles for motorists, clarifying precisely when, and if, a system can be used.


Charge!

You may have seen this proposal in the media recently, but it’s thought that developers of all new homes and offices will be required to install electric car charging points. New-build homes, workplaces, shops, etc, would all have to install these as standard, and even in some renovated properties.


There are already doubts about the effectiveness of this in helping society switch to electric vehicles, particularly given the cost of the vehicles and the potential outpacing of technology over the coming years. Probably the biggest backlash, though, has come from – no surprises here – property developers, so we’ll see if, and how far, the proposal is implemented in reality.


Nationwide Clean Air Zones

CAZ, LEZ, ULEZ and ZEZ – no, I haven't spilled coffee on my keyboard – these are abbreviations of the four types of zone used to improve air quality currently employed in the UK; Clean Air Zone, Low Emissions Zone, Ultra-low Emissions Zone and Zero Emissions Zone, respectively. London has long had such zones, but more are planned for other cities across the UK. 


Each zone has a different criteria for the vehicles that enter it, based on the pollution the vehicles generate, with each charged differently. Also, these are separate from Congestion Charge Zone (CCZ) charges. For example, if you’re heading to an ULEZ in London, you can expect to be charged £12.50 (if your diesel car isn’t at least Euro 6, or petrol car at least Euro 4). And that will be on top of any CCZ. 


At the limit(er)

This one is bound to be controversial. From 6th July this year, all newly-launched EU cars must be fitted with a speed limiter by law. Now, we should say that a provisional agreement for this was reached by the European Commission in 2019, but it’s expected that the UK will follow suit, even though we have now 'Brexited' from the EU.


Speed limiters aren’t new: many cars are limited to a speed well below their actual capabilities. But the speed limiters in question here are Intelligent Speed Assist devices; these use GPS data, traffic-sign-recognition, or a combination of the two, to determine the maximum speed in an area, and modulate engine power to ensure the speed limit isn’t broken. In theory, this would mean no more speeding drivers, and a reduction in road traffic collisions – not to mention road-related deaths.


In practice, though, regulations permit the switching off of these devices. Many use audible pings and voice cues as warnings, which themselves can be distracting to drivers. Plus, there is plenty of concern that this technology isn’t yet sophisticated, stable and advanced enough to work effectively. 


EU proposals

While the UK's exit from the EU is now complete, it's likely that a number of EU road safety proposals will be adopted by the UK. Currently under consideration in the EU are laws covering compulsory safety equipment, such as autonomous emergency braking systems, Black Box data loggers, automatic emergency stop signals, driver fatigue detection systems, and built-in breathalysers that prevent a car being started if the driver is over the limit.


Some will see the laws as Big Brother impositions, but there's no doubt that suggested proposals covering new technology – particularly automated driving – are essential given the rapid pace of development. Of course, quite how many of the commission’s proposals will be implemented in the EU is unknown, but it’s highly likely that at least some of these will be adopted, or maybe adapted, for the UK. Either way, anything that improves road safety and driving enjoyment is worth considering, no matter which side of the Channel it comes from.


Tuesday, 11 January 2022

Cracking the Code



If you’re a UK resident or driver, the Highway Code needs no introduction. Unsurprising, perhaps, given that it was first published 91 years ago, and has been a necessary part of every UK learner driver’s homework for close to a century.


Published to coincide with the Road Traffic Act 1930, it was, let’s say, a timely publication  At the beginning of the 20th century driving was an unregulated activity: there were no driving licences, no driving tests, and no minimum age.


By the year the Code was first published, there were 2.3 million motor vehicles sharing Britain’s roads with pedestrians, cyclists, and horse-drawn vehicles. But the glamorous world of the motor vehicle was a dangerous one: around 7000 people died annually in accidents. To put that in perspective, in 2019, when over 40 million motor vehicles were on British roads, the number of fatalities was 1870.


Needless to say, over the last near-century, British roads, vehicles, and road users have changed immeasurably, as has the Code itself. The first edition featured just 21 pages;; today’s Code has 212. Note: for a fascinating look at the history of the Highway Code and British motoring, take a look at Historic England Blog’s 'The Untold Story of the Highway Code.'


Despite its importance in helping to educate drivers in road etiquette and law, the Highway Code tends to be something pored over by learners in order to pass their theory test, then all but forgotten for the rest of their driving life. Which, no doubt, explains a lot …


But even if the Code isn’t part of your regular reading list, this year it sees some important changes that all drivers need to be aware of. Along with around 50 updates to the nearly 300 existing rules, eight new rules will be introduced. Some of these aim to create and clarify a 'hierarchy of road users' that prioritises those most at risk of serious collisions – cyclists, horse riders, pedestrians, etc – while other changes cover things such as the use of technology.


The new rules will roll-out from the end of January 2022, and whilst they have been planned for some time, awareness of these changes among UK drivers is very low: two-thirds of drivers, new and old alike, are totally unaware of the coming changes, with an even greater number unaware of the new rules being added. Whilst the more minor changes probably won’t make a big difference to your everyday driving, some of the new rules, which apply to how you share the road with other users, almost certainly will. And, as the courts say, ignorance is no excuse.


So, what are these changes and how will they affect you? We won't cover all the changes here (although we do recommend that you familiarise yourself with the proposed changes on the UK Government website), but let’s take a look at some of the most relevant changes we expect to be included.


Hierarchy of Road Users 

A new concept to the Code, the hierarchy places road users most at risk in the event of a collision at the top. In a nutshell, those who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger they may pose to others. It doesn’t remove the necessity for ALL road users to behave responsibly – and the Code has plenty of examples of how to behave on the roads – but it does mean that we should all be much more aware of the danger we may pose to road users more vulnerable than ourselves, and our responsibilities towards them. 






Pedestrians and cyclists are at the top of the hierarchy, as these are the most vulnerable road users. HGVs and large passenger vehicles are the least vulnerable, so they have lower priority.


Rules H1, H2 and H3 (all new) detail and expand on the Hierarchy of Road Users:

Rule H1 

  • It is important that ALL road users are aware of The Highway Code, are considerate to other road users and understand their responsibility for the safety of others. 
  • Everyone suffers when road collisions occur, whether they are physically injured or not. But those in charge of vehicles that can cause the greatest harm in the event of a collision bear the greatest responsibility to take care and reduce the danger they pose to others. This principle applies most strongly to drivers of large goods and passenger vehicles, vans/minibuses, cars/taxis and motorcycles. 
  • Cyclists, horse riders and drivers of horse drawn vehicles likewise have a responsibility to reduce danger to pedestrians. 
  • None of this detracts from the responsibility of ALL road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders, to have regard for their own and other road users’ safety. 
  • Always remember that the people you encounter may have impaired sight, hearing or mobility and that this may not be obvious.

Rule H2

This is for all non-pedestrian road users, and makes a number of significant changes. The rule states:

  • At a junction you should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from which you are turning. 
  • You MUST give way to pedestrians on a zebra crossing, and to pedestrians and cyclists on a parallel crossing (see Rule 195). 
  • Pedestrians have priority when on a zebra crossing, on a parallel crossing or at light controlled crossings when they have a green signal. 
  • You should give way to pedestrians waiting to cross a zebra crossing, and to pedestrians and cyclists waiting to cross a parallel crossing. 
  • Horse riders should also give way to pedestrians on a zebra crossing, and to pedestrians and cyclists on a parallel crossing. 
  • Cyclists should give way to pedestrians on shared use cycle tracks and to horse riders on bridleways.
  • Only pedestrians may use the pavement. Pedestrians include wheelchair and mobility scooter users.
  • Pedestrians may use any part of the road and use cycle tracks as well as the pavement, unless there are signs prohibiting pedestrians.

Rule H3

Rule for drivers and motorcyclists. 

  • You should not cut across cyclists, horse riders or horse drawn vehicles going ahead when you are turning into or out of a junction or changing direction or lane, just as you would not turn across the path of another motor vehicle. This applies whether they are using a cycle lane, a cycle track, or riding ahead on the road and you should give way to them. 
  • Do not turn at a junction if to do so would cause the cyclist, horse rider or horse drawn vehicle going straight ahead to stop or swerve. 
  • You should stop and wait for a safe gap in the flow of cyclists if necessary. This includes when cyclists are: 
    • approaching, passing or moving off from a junction
    • moving past or waiting alongside stationary or slow-moving traffic
    • travelling around a roundabout
Another change that all drivers need to be aware of relates to overtaking cyclists and horse riders or horse-drawn vehicles. While there has been a rule to provide a 'safe distance' (often described as 'a car door’s width') when overtaking, the Code now explicitly states minimum distances:

Rule 163

  • give motorcyclists, cyclists, horse riders and horse drawn vehicles at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car (see Rules 211 to 215). As a guide: 
  • leave at least 1.5 metres when overtaking cyclists at speeds of up to 30mph, and give them more space when overtaking at higher speeds
  • pass horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles at speeds under 10 mph and allow at least 2 metres space
  • allow at least 2 metres space and keep to a low speed when passing a pedestrian who is walking in the road (e.g. where there is no pavement)
  • take extra care and give more space when overtaking motorcyclists, cyclists, horse riders, horse drawn vehicles and pedestrians in bad weather (including high winds) and at night
  • you should wait behind the motorcyclist, cyclist, horse rider, horse drawn vehicle or pedestrian and not overtake if it is unsafe or not possible to meet these clearances

There are plenty of other updates, so here’s a few that have caught the Velocisti’s eye:

Mostly covering the safe parking and exiting of your vehicle, Rule 239 now includes the 'Dutch Reach,' which may be familiar to the cyclists among you:

  • where you are able to do so, you should open the door using your hand on the opposite side to the door you are opening; for example, use your left hand to open a door on your right-hand side. This will make you turn your head to look over your shoulder. You are then more likely to avoid causing injury to cyclists or motorcyclists passing you on the road, or to people on the pavement

With technology making huge inroads into every area of driving, and at a rapid rate, and Rule 239 also includes the following rule for electric vehicle owners:

  • When using an electric vehicle charge point, you should park close to the charge point and avoid creating a trip hazard for pedestrians from trailing cables. Display a warning sign if you can. After using the charge point, you should return charging cables and connectors neatly to minimise the danger to pedestrians and avoid creating an obstacle for other road users.

More big changes planned for 2022


While the Highway Code may be the most pressing matter in terms of driver awareness and affecting road users, there are some other big legislative changes touted for 2022 that will also affect UK drivers. These aren’t all done deals, but it’s certain you’ll see some of these changes brought into effect this year. 

From using your mobile, to renewing your licence, and even GPS controlled speed limiters, we’ll be taking a look at some of these potential changes in our next blog post.