Crash right in front of me – thankfully no one injured

I was in Annapolis to have lunch with my mom today and made a quick stop at the complex with the Best Buy on Generals Highway. As I was leaving, at the light to turn out, I noticed a car to my right waiting to turn left into the complex. I noticed the car was pretty far back – it’s a HUGE intersection, and I would have come towards the middle to make the left shorter.

As I sat there, she began to turn. Oncoming traffic still had a green, and an SUV with the right of way smashed into the turning car.

Everyone seemed to be ok – I called 911 and I commend Anne Arundel county for their responsiveness. I think a police officer was on site in 3 minutes and the ambulance in maybe 5. The SUV driver was pretty freaked out – I think she was driving with her mom and son, 3-ish years old. I don’t blame her for being freaked out. The other driver hadn’t gotten out of the car when I left but I overheard a woman who had spoken to her tell another witness that the woman was upset she’d have to tell her daughter she’d “gotten into another accident”.

It got me thinking a lot about how our car-dependent areas really hurt us as we age. This woman was coming from somewhere west of Annapolis, so no chance she could get anywhere without a car. My grandmother was like this – she never learned to drive, and it never mattered until they moved to the suburbs and then my grandfather passed away at 61 and she was stuck in that house until someone came and picked her up.

The woman in this crash today probably shouldn’t be driving anymore, but how are you going to tell her that when that’s her only way out of the house?

eBay is Dangerous

The wife has been going a little crazy on eBay lately. If she was spending more than $5 at a time, I’d probably intervene, but she’s just buying clothes for our daughter, and she’s barely spending anything, so I figure it’s not a problem. I’ll be keeping an eye on her, though. Whenever someone mentions eBay, I invariably get an urge to buy something, because you can buy pretty much anything there. And every time I look at eBay, I end up searching for a nice Triumph TR6 in good condition for a reasonable price. I’m going to own one someday. I’m going to get some money together, buy one, get a one-way plane ticket to wherever it is, and drive it home. It will be glorious. I’ll do it when the weather’s nice so I don’t have to put the top up.

I hate facts. And physics.

Forbes | Blues for Greens I was at the doctor’s yesterday for a routine checkup (Everything is fine, thanks – doctor says I’m healthy) and I saw this article in Forbes magazine. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything in a reputable publication that was so divorced from reality. Well, maybe Fox News. Which is reputable for some value of reputable.

Solving the energy problem is easy if you pay no attention to the laws of physics. That’s the wonder of the U.S. Congress. To pass is easy; to achieve is something else. This is where I break your green heart. Americans know that Congress passed a law ordering all cars and trucks to average 35 miles to the gallon by 2020. It won’t happen.

Writing snarky opinion articles for Forbes is easy if you pay no attention to facts.

But there’s just no way anyone subject to the laws of physics and automobile engineering can get a 5,000-pound pickup, or any mass-produced, reasonably priced sport utility near that weight, up to 35mpg.

Is anyone suggesting that should happen? Let us hop on over to the NHTSA and see what CAFE standards REALLY mean.

Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) is the sales weighted average fuel economy, expressed in miles per gallon (mpg), of a manufacturer’s fleet of passenger cars or light trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 8,500 lbs. or less, manufactured for sale in the United States, for any given model year.

So, that means that if I’m Car Company A, and I want to sell some gigantic SUVs that get 6 MPG and not pay CAFE fines, I can just sell a bunch of little fuel-efficient cars and balance out my fleet average. Wow! That was easy. By the way, I have no idea which particular laws of physics he’s referring to. I think perhaps it might be Archimedes’ Third Law of Big Honkin’ Trucks, which states: SUVs get bad mileage. It might also be something discovered by Georg Ohm, better known for his work with electricity and resitance and whatnot: As the size of the truck approaches 5,000 pounds, the fuel economy (in miles per gallon) approaches some arbitrary number that is most definitely less than 35. It’s probably, like, 12. Maybe 13. There might be other laws being violated, too, but I’m not a physicist, and can’t possibly be bothered to look anything up before I share my opinions with the world.

The best way to increase fuel economy (and reduce greenhouse gases, too) is to reduce the weight and engine size of the vehicles. Congress could pass a law ordering that no car weigh more than 1,750 pounds (a Toyota (nyse: TM – news – people ) Camry is in the 3,200-pound range), no truck weigh more than 2,500 pounds and no engine run more than 75 horsepower. Most Americans couldn’t fit in such cars, but they would average 35mpg.

Okay, I don’t honestly know what the best way to increase fuel economy is, but there is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY that this is it.

The U.S. could also lower the speed limit to 40 miles per hour nationally. That would do it, too, since engines would shrink, and air resistance is a lot lower at 40 than at 60.

Air resistance? AIR RESISTANCE? Is this man honestly telling me that he thinks that air resistance is the primary cause of bad fuel economy? Maybe we should ban air. He says some more stupid things about biofuels that I’m not going to get into. I actually agree with him that mandating more production of corn-based ethanol is a bad idea. However, I’m pretty sure this agreement is just coincidence – I don’t want to mandate more corn-based ethanol because we’re already starting to see problems stemming from this practice, and because corn is a stupid thing to make ethanol from. He doesn’t want to mandate it because OMG PHYSICS!!!! What makes this article even more ridiculous is that there are arguments to be made against setting CAFE standards. One could argue that these regulations hurt the automobile industry by interfering with the natural supply and demand. One could argue that it’s not the responsibility of the auto industry to force people into smaller, more efficient cars. One could argue that this unfairly targets American auto manufacturers, who focus more on the big, heavy, inefficient vehicles, and therefore helps the Japanese and Korean manufacturers, who tend to make smaller cars. One could argue many more things, and I would say, “Yes, you have a point”. Then I would proceed to talk to you about changing habits (Driving less, living closer to work, promoting walking and public transportation). I would talk to you about changes in technology (Do you really have such little regard for American ingenuity that you can’t imagine a breakthrough technology?). But this guy didn’t make any of these points. He just made up some “facts” and then complained about the big bad government pandering to the whining of California hippies.

And my next car will be . . .

Volkswagen to Introduce 70 mpg Diesel-Electric Hybrid Golf

Channel 4 writes: “The technology will be used in a number of Volkswagen Group models, including the Jetta saloon [sedan] – which sells in greater numbers in the US than the ‘Rabbit’ – and the Audi A3.”

Okay, I don’t care about the Jetta and the Rabbit, but a 70 MPG Audi A3 is really, really hot. I’ve loved the A3 ever since I first saw one, walking from the train station in London to the house where my sister-in-law and her family were living. We passed an Audi dealer, and every time we went by, there were a couple of A3s sitting out front (Sexy right-hand-drive models, of course). I was thrilled when they decided to bring them over to the States, and now am even more thrilled at the prospect of 70 MPG. Especially if we can get some nice biodiesel stations in the area (I know, fat chance, but I’m dreaming here). Now I just have to convince the wife that 1) We need a new car 2) We can afford an Audi and 3) We can’t afford NOT to get a biodiesel hybrid Audi. Any suggestions?

Dear Gentleman crossing H St NW

Dear Sir,

I was in the maroon hatchback, waiting to turn right on H from 18th this evening as you walked through the crosswalk, with the light, as pedestrians are permitted to do.  Some jackass behind me honked, and you thought it was me.  It was not.  I know you waved at me as if to say, “Hey, jerk, I have the right of way.”  And it’s true that you did, and I was respecting it.  Had I honked at you, you would have had every right to give me a rude gesture or a nasty look, as I would have deserved it.

But it wasn’t me who honked.  I think it was the RAV4 behind me, although I’m not sure what he was complaining about.

In any event, I apologize.  The guy behind me was a jerk.

Sincerely, Complaint Hub

I seriously feel a little bad.  I guess I shouldn’t.  I didn’t do anything wrong.  The guy I don’t know and will never see again, who’s probably already forgotten this happened, just thought I did.  But I do try to be courteous to pedestrians, beyond simply yielding when they have the right of way.  Except jaywalkers.  Jaywalkers are on their own.  I’m not saying don’t do it, because I certainly do.  I’m just saying that you’re on your own.

Letters are easier, anyway

Due process too much hassle for DC dept. of motor vehicles – Boing Boing

Washington DC’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will no longer allow citizens to protest parking tickets in person, reports Thenewspaper.com. Instead, they’ll offer mail-in and e-mail adjudication.

What kind of crazy person would go to the DMV to protest a ticket in person, anyway?  As many of you have found via Google, I have a bit of experience protesting tickets via the mail.  It actually works.  They really do look at your letter, and they really do respond.  It sometimes takes a letter to your councilmember to get it all worked out, but the statement in the article to which Boing Boing has linked:

Under the DMV’s plan, motorists will only be able to object to a ticket by email or letter where city employees can ignore or reject letters in bulk without affected motorists having any realistic recourse.

Just isn’t true.  Does DC give out too many ridiculous parking tickets?  Probably.  Is the city too financially dependent on this revenue source?  I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me.  Should it be easier to contest an erroneous ticket?  Sure, but we have to weigh the cost/benefit analysis here.  The reason you can’t contest a ticket in person anymore is probably NOT so the DMV can deny you due process (Does the DMV even owe you due process?  I’m not sure.  Maybe some lawyer can answer.).  It is probably to save the DMV some money.  If they don’t have to employ someone to sit and listen to how you know it said no parking, but you only had to run in for a minute, and it’s not your fault that your manicurist had a line and you had to wait and the kids were running around and it’s really not fair and you normally park in a regular spot and take the other car that you can usually park but this time you had the big car and gosh don’t you have kids then you understand, right?  Then maybe they could put some of that saved money to use for education or increased police patrols or any of the million other things the city could be spending its money on.

Anyway, I know I only link to BoingBoing when they piss me off, so I want to state here that I read and enjoy the site every day.  And I really don’t just read it waiting for them to say something that bugs me.  I really recommend the site.  They usually have smart, interesting things to say.  Sometimes they say ridiculous things, but don’t we all?

It figures

During the big snow last week, we discovered that my wife’s car wouldn’t start.  She doesn’t drive very often, so it wasn’t the end of the world, but she would have liked to have driven that particular day, so it was a little annoying.  Then we moved, and didn’t really have a chance to take care of it.  So, yesterday, I went to take care of it.  I borrowed jumper cables from a coworker, figuring I’d try that because it was free.  If that didn’t work, I’d see if the guys at the repair shop across the street would come look at it, or else I’d get it towed.

I got there, and there were cars on either side of hers.  I would have had to park in her trunk to get close enough to jump it, so I went across the street to the repair place.  They were unhelpful and wouldn’t go off-site, so I called AAA.  They were very quick, and sent someone in about 25 minutes.  23 1/2 minutes after I called, the car next to my wife’s pulled out.  When the tow truck driver arrived, he pulled out a little thing that was probably a battery in a case with cables attached, and he jumped the car.  It started just fine.

It’s nice that it’s the battery and not the starter or something worse, but it’s annoying that I could have done all that myself if only my wife had backed in to the spot, or the lot had been less crowded.

Oh, well.  Didn’t cost me any money, at least.  And now I’ll go get a battery today and put it in, and then we’ll figure out where we’re going to keep her car, or if we’re going to sell it, or whatever.

Calling all car nuts who dont really like to drive

Automotive Killer App? The Zeroshift Automanual – Jalopnik

If your idea of nirvana is clutchless gear changes with zero lag up and down the cogway, today may be your birthday.

However, if you really like to DRIVE, this is another nail in the coffin. I know I’m in a small minority here, but I think the skill and enjoyment of driving comes from the driver, not the car. Certainly it is more fun to drive a brand new BMW M5 than a ’74 Pinto. But if I shave .4 seconds off my quarter mile time because I got some new transmission that does all the work for me, that’s a step down in my book.  If I have aFerrari, and you have a Hyundai, and I beat you in a race, that doesn’t mean I’m a better driver.

I LIKE doing the work. I like working the clutch and shifting gears. I’m comfortable doing that, and I want to continue doing that. It’s not the most efficient way to drive, perhaps, but I’ll trade some efficiency for my enjoyment.

I hope that, when the day comes that this kind of thing is standard, where the car controls everything, that we also have auto-drive cars. If the car is going to insist on shifting for me, I’m not interested in doing any of the rest of the work.

Inefficient use of resources

I’ve been driving the wife to work this week, due to her unfortunate knee incident (She’s seeing an orthopedist on Monday, we think she hurt her MCL), and that involves taking 66 into the city.  Now, at 7am, that’s not bad.  It’s HOV-2, and traffic is light.

However, they already have the metered ramps turned on.  Along the entrance ramps to 66, they have traffic lights, where they allow one car per lane to go at a time.  The light is red, someone arrives at the light, it turns green for one car.  Great system when traffic is heavy – it prevents a big pile of cars trying to merge all at once.  Unless the backup gets really bad, and then it doesn’t do any good.

My point, and I do have one, is that these meters have sensors in the road so they know when a car comes.  So they know how heavy traffic is.  And therefore, they could turn themselves off when there is one car coming by every minute or two, when the lights are totally unnecessary.  They could also turn themselves off when the traffic is so heavy that they don’t make any difference at all.

Is that too much to ask?  I have the email of someone at VDOT now from the whole Seven Corners debacle.  I haven’t contacted him yet.  I should – now that the election is over, I’ve been swept under the rug, it seems.

Would this work at Seven Corners?

Techdirt: Getting Rid Of Traffic Lights And Traffic Signs To Make Everyone Safer

When you remove all of the guidance, it makes people (and that includes the bikers and pedestrians as well) much more cautious and careful — so they tend to make fewer dangerous moves. On top of that, it actually makes the traffic flow much more smoothly, allowing people to get where they’re going much faster, even if they drive slower.

I suspect that this works better in cities, and Seven Corners might be too complicated to remove the signs, but this is an interesting concept.  Basically, if you remove traffic signs and lights, everything moves more slowly and smoothly and people drive more safely.  I suspect that this would only be temporary, though.  People would drive more safely at first, but if you go through an intersection twice a day on your commute to and from work, many people will get used to the little quirks of the road (For example, at a particular intersection, the left lane always backs up trying to turn, so you get to the right before you get there) and take advantage.

Still, it is nice to see people examining things like this, which people take for granted, and wondering if there is really a better way, even if it sounds quite drastic.