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Transportation: More


Those New Car Shopping Blues: I definitely was not going to waste any time on a test drive. I bolted out the door and got as far as the curb, where I tripped over a small obstacle. It was the test drive car. Charlie was holding its door open. He insisted I get in behind the wheel. No easy feat. I felt as though I were going for a ride in Apollo Thirteen.

Withholding Data: Cellphones Deadly Distraction

Our recent post about Driving to Distraction ... and Worse became even more interesting following the disclosure by Public Citizen and the Center for Auto Safety that the government during the last six years had blocked attempts to publish information revealing "that drivers talking on their cell phones experience the same potentially deadly distraction whether they are using a handheld device or hands-free technology."

Public Citizen states that "By keeping this information secret from the public for the past six years, the government has endangered even more lives, the groups said today. Cities and states across the country have passed laws and ordinances requiring drivers to use hands-free phones, mistakenly believing those devices to be safe and encouraging drivers to use them."

Read more »

Driving to Distraction ... and Worse

The California State Department of Motor Vehicles has outlined the various distractions that a driver, regardless of age, might encounter or engage in. Even though it may include state laws that your particular state may not have enacted as yet, the reasoning and cautions are instructive. We haven't included the teenage section, but if there are teenagers in the family, do read the entire file.:

The Department of Transportation includes a page (somewhat outdated) with brochures and information about concerns for  Older Driver Safety, including those that touch on specific illnesses and how that impacts driving skills. And take the time to read the article that was quoted on this transportation page, Older Drivers Better at Driving Than We Thought from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Magazine, Status Report, December, '08.

Distractions Are Everywhere

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Older Drivers Better at Driving Than We Thought

From the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Magazine, Status Report, December, '08

"Despite growing numbers on the road, fewer older drivers died in crashes and fewer were involved in fatal collisions during 1997-2006 than in years past, a new Institute study finds. Crash deaths among drivers 70 and older fell 21 percent during the period, reversing an upward trend, even as the population of people 70 and older rose 10 percent. Compared with drivers ages 35-54, older drivers experienced much bigger declines in fatal crash involvements. Reasons for the fatality declines aren’t clear, but another new Institute study indicates that older adults increasingly self-limit driving as they age and develop physical and cognitive impairments."

"Compared with drivers ages 20-69, fewer people 70 and older are licensed to drive, and they drive fewer miles per licensed driver. However, older people now hang onto their licenses longer, drive more miles, and make up a bigger proportion of the population than in past years as baby boomers age. There were more than 20 million licensed drivers 70 and older in 2006, compared with just under 18 million in 1997. The total annual miles these older drivers traveled climbed 29 percent from 1995 to 2001, compared with a 6 percent rise among drivers 35-54 years old. Per mile traveled, crash rates and fatal crash rates increase starting at age 70 and rise markedly after age 80."

" 'No matter how we looked at the fatal crash data for this age group — whether by miles driven, licensed drivers, or population — the fatal crash involvement rates for drivers 70 and older declined, and did so at a faster pace than the rates for drivers 35-54 years old. ' ”

Read the rest of the article at the IIHS site (in pdf form)

Safe Driving Tips

Our PBS station, KQED, has created a program for older motorist:, The Golden Road: A guide for Today's Senior Driver. Although you may not be able to view the program (unless you're in California), the topics are presented online. The Self Assessment section includes the following questions:

Have you come to dread the idea of driving during bad weather, or at night?

The deterioration of eyesight is an inevitable part of aging. Light absorption is reduced, which can create difficulty for senior drivers in the dark. It can seem as if headlights are coming right for you, the lines on the road are harder to distinguish, it is more difficult to orient yourself in relation to other vehicles, and the glare from other cars and neon signs is causing discomfort.

Do you find left-hand turns and busy intersections more difficult to navigate?

Many older drivers avoid left-hand turns by using a strategy of three right-hand turns instead. No evidence exists to prove that this is any safer. In fact, this approach has been questioned recently by experts who believe that the additional driving required for three right turns may increase the likelihood of an accident or getting lost — particularly in unfamiliar territory.

There is nothing wrong with keeping away from traffic flows and intersections that cause you stress. But you should be aware that you are avoiding them because you find them increasingly difficult to navigate, and it may indicate a need for you to examine your other driving habits.

Have you noticed a change in the way other drivers behave?

Lately you've begun to think that other drivers have stopped paying attention to the rules. They drive too fast, tailgate, and have become more hostile, even at times when you are certain that you are obeying all the traffic laws and driving within the speed limit. Has it become more common for you to see another driver making angry gestures at you?

Is parking more difficult?

Parking your car used to be easy, whether it was parallel parking or in a parking lot. But now the angles are too complicated to negotiate and it's more and more difficult to see how close you are to other parked vehicles. Have you stopped trying to park parallel? Do you find parking difficult unless it is a diagonal spot in a parking lot?

Do other cars sometimes seem to appear from nowhere?

If your first awareness of another car is when it is right in front of you, obviously you have had a serious lapse in observation. The danger is compounded when you don't have the strength to apply the right amount of pressure to the brakes. Being caught by surprise by another car can happen at anytime in a person's life, but has it been happening with more frequency?

Has the number of near misses increased and does it seem as if pedestrians no longer obey the rules?

Near misses can happen to anyone of any age if the driver is distracted. Quick reflexes are crucial in these circumstances for the obvious reasons.

Do you forget your route?

Forgetfulness is common enough in older people, but does your memory loss include the routes you've been driving for years? Do you pass roads and intersections where you had intended to make a turn? Do you suddenly realize you don't know where you are supposed to be going, or have you suffered from disorientation because you found yourself in a strange place while driving a familiar route? You should immediately seek advice from your doctor if anything of this nature happens.

There are other warning signs you need to be aware of — friends and families refusing to ride with you; lack of confidence behind the wheel; difficulty seeing signs and stoplights; feeling overwhelmed; trouble moving the steering wheel or moving your foot from pedal to pedal. Any skill that you had mastered but now seems elusive should be considered a cautionary signal that you need to evaluate your ability to drive.

Other sections covered are: Safe Driving Tips, Warning Signs, Improving Skills, Resources, Family Discussion Guide, the introduction to and an ability to purchase the half-hour DVD.

An Article Reprise

Don't Mess With Mother Nature by Rose Mula: She can morph into a sneaky, evil, conniving witch in an instant. Get sucked into the goody-goody myth perpetuated by her public relations staff and let your guard down for just a moment, and she’ll turn on you mercilessly

How Does A GPS System Work?

Now that many of us rely on a GPS in our car rather than a MapQuest piece of paper hand held while we're driving, let's look at just how they work.

A Smithsonian site explains:

"Global Positioning System satellites transmit signals to equipment on the ground. GPS receivers passively receive satellite signals; they do not transmit. GPS receivers require an unobstructed view of the sky, so they are used only outdoors and they often do not perform well within forested areas or near tall buildings. GPS operations depend on a very accurate time reference, which is provided by atomic clocks at the US Naval Observatory. Each GPS satellite has atomic clocks on board. "

"Each GPS satellite transmits data that indicates its location and the current time. All GPS satellites synchronize operations so that these repeating signals are transmitted at the same instant. The signals, moving at the speed of light, arrive at a GPS receiver at slightly different times because some satellites are farther away than others. The distance to the GPS satellites can be determined by estimating the amount of time it takes for their signals to reach the receiver. When the receiver estimates the distance to at least four GPS satellites, it can calculate its position in three dimensions."

There are at least 24 operational GPS satellites at all times. The satellites, operated by the US Air Force, orbit with a period of 12 hours. Ground stations are used to precisely track each satellite's orbit.

"Determining Position
A GPS receiver 'knows' the location of the satellites, because that information is included in satellite transmissions. By estimating how far away a satellite is, the receiver also 'knows' it is located somewhere on the surface of an imaginary sphere centered at the satellite. It then determines the sizes of several spheres, one for each satellite. The receiver is located where these spheres intersect."

"GPS Accuracy
The accuracy of a position determined with GPS depends on the type of receiver. Most hand-held GPS units have about 10-20 meter accuracy. Other types of receivers use a method called Differential GPS (DGPS) to obtain much higher accuracy. DGPS requires an additional receiver fixed at a known location nearby. Observations made by the stationary receiver are used to correct positions recorded by the roving units, producing an accuracy greater than 1 meter."

"When the system was created, timing errors were inserted into GPS transmissions to limit the accuracy of non-military GPS receivers to about 100 meters. This part of GPS operations, called Selective Availability, was eliminated in May 2000."

New Government Vehicle Ratings

Even though they will wait until the 2010 models to roll out, the federal government will change its crash-test guidelines, as per their press release:

"Knowing how many horses a car engine has is important, but knowing how safe a car is before you even step into a dealership ought to be essential,” Secretary [Mary] Peters said. 

"We want to make sure consumers can easily take safety into consideration when choosing a new vehicle, along with price, fuel efficiency, size and the color they like best.” 

Under the improvements to the five-star safety rating program, vehicles beginning with model year 2010 will for the first time be given an overall safety rating that combines results from frontal, side and rollover tests.  The upgraded system also will include new frontal crash tests, and a new side pole test to simulate wrapping a vehicle around a tree, the Secretary said.   She said female crash dummies will be added to the tests, so women and larger children are represented, and that new testing for leg injuries will be done.  

Also for the first time, Secretary Peters said, a new rating on emerging advanced technologies will be added so consumers will know whether specific crash avoidance technologies, namely electronic stability control, lane departure warning systems and forward collision warning systems, are optional or standard features on new vehicles. 

Joan Claybrook of Public Citizen comments on the new guidelines:

"However, the program still doesn’t include a dynamic (real-world) rollover crash test to determine a vehicle’s safety in a rollover crash. This is extremely important given that rollover crashes are responsible for about one-third of all vehicle occupant fatalities each year. The program still lacks tests for vehicle performance in rear crashes and pedestrian crashes, and fails to test child safety restraints. Further, it lacks a compatibility rating, which would measure the disparity between the heights and aggressivity of vehicles on the road and is particularly important given all the tall, hulking SUVs on the roads. Finally, the government is wrongly retaining its star rating system, which is more confusing to people than a basic A through F grading system." 

What Does It Cost?

The triple A has a website function that allows you to put in an address, town, state and zip code to discover what gas stations near you (or further away, for that matter) are charging for gas:

Gas Price Finder: The AAA Gas Price Finder information is derived from credit card transactions at more than 85,000 outlets around the country as well as direct feeds from individual chains.

When you search for gas prices you will find the last price received over the past 7 days for those stations included in our tool.

Although AAA strives to obtain as many stations as possible, we do not guarantee that we will receive a price for every station every day or the accuracy of these prices as they can change at a moment's notice.

Some of the stations we use did not post a price but that's because they require a bank rather than a credit card or require a membership, like Costco. But this seems like helpful device to shop for gas in your neighborhoods or even on the road.

Fuel Economy

A government site,, is maintained jointly by the US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and US Environmental Protection Agency.

Here are the features that the site provides:

• EPA fuel economy ratings for passenger cars and trucks
• User-provided, real-world fuel economy estimates
• Energy impact scores (petroleum consumption)
• Fuel economics
• Greenhouse gas and air pollution ratings
• Vehicles that can use alternative fuels (e.g., E85, natural
gas, propane, electricity)
• Links to fuel prices and crash ratings
• Tax incentives for hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles
• Driving & vehicle maintenance tips
• Downloadable Fuel Economy Guide

Some questions that the site poses and answers:

Answers to more fuel-related questions... and more about taxes:

Tax Incentives & Disincentives

The alternate fuel section explains ethanol, biodiesel, natural gas, propane and hydrogen fuels:

Ethanol is an alcohol-based fuel made by fermenting and distilling starch crops, such as corn. It can also be made from "cellulosic biomass" such as trees and grasses. The use of ethanol can reduce our dependence upon foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Biodiesel is a form of diesel fuel manufactured from vegetable oils, animal fats, or recycled restaurant greases. It is safe, biodegradable, and produces less air pollutants than petroleum-based diesel.

Natural Gas is a fossil fuel comprised mostly of methane, is one of the cleanest burning alternative fuels. It can be used in the form of compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG) to fuel cars and trucks.

Flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) are designed to run on gasoline or a blend of up to 85% ethanol (E85). Except for a few engine and fuel system modifications, they are identical to gasoline-only models.

FFVs have been produced since the 1980s, and dozens of models are currently available. Since FFVs look just like gasoline-only models, you may have an FFV and not even know it. To determine if your vehicle is an FFV, check the inside of your car's fuel filler door for an identification sticker or consult your owner’s manual.

FFVs experience no loss in performance when operating on E85. However, since a gallon of ethanol contains less energy than a gallon of gasoline, FFVs typically get about 20-30% fewer miles per gallon when fueled with E85.

More Information

Click on a map at the site to view gas price data for cities in a particular state.


Julia Sneden's supermarket trip in her new car becomes an adventure, Rules of the Road: I parked neatly, but I had to haul out the manual to figure out how to turn off the motor — excuse me, both motors (electric & gasoline). Gone are the days of turning a key in the ignition

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