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From the chair: September 2016
publication date: Sep 1, 2016
author/source: Robin Roberts
I was sitting in a roadtest car the other day and pondered how times have changed, but then considered if they really had.
I grew up with and drove what are today often called modern classics which were then still fun to drive.
With some basic safety features, seat belts if lucky or you drove a bit more carefully if you had sense without them fitted; some with power steering, and possibly disc brakes and air conditioning was more than a few breaths away.
Did I mention in-car entertainment? Ah the necessity of taking a battery powered radio was akin to remembering to take your mobile phone and that device in your pocket today will have more computing power than the first electronic ignition systems had in the 1970s.
Reliability of cars has enormously improved and they don’t rot like they use to so we now expect longer warranties and for the car to pass its first MoT without any problem.
Under the bonnets, the engines are now concealed beneath second covers composed of a myriad bits of usually black plastic and there seems to be an engineer’s game taking place to hide as much as possible and leave nothing to admire once the bonnet is lifted. On some cars it’s an intelligence test to locate the oil dip-stick let alone where you refill. An essential I would have thought, but heyho just drive it until the warning lights flash milliseconds before it all blows up seems to be the way of the world today.
The power outputs of engine have steadily risen, slowed and sometimes reversed by the emissions requirements, but have now started climbing again, and quite incredible figures have been achieved with units which you could place on a sheet of A4 paper.
Match the advanced engines to four-wheel-drive which was once the sole preserve of farmers but has fuelled a new crop of supercars, and you can appreciate the real progress made in the last fifty years compared to the half-century before.
The real achievements of modern cars was brought home to me when I recently drove my younger son’s five-year-old and 4WD saloon with independently controllable differentials and over 300bhp from its 2.5 litre engine. It is very sophisticated and comfortable but more than that, it’s fun to drive.
While some family members thought it was a bit excessive I didn’t. It immediately became my time machine, transporting me back over 40 years when I bought my own first car, a hotter version of a popular family saloon of the day, resplendent with an array of rally lights, big wheels and tyres as well as an after-market roll cage.
I rarely drove that to its potential but I made use of the added candlepower to better see unlit country roads and preferred the reassurance of the cage to not having one.
I had a lot of happy times in and with that first car I bought and remember some long journeys for work and pleasure, and a cousin this year reminded me of how they use to enjoy going out in it too. It was different, it was memorable.
I wonder how many cars we drive today will still be able to travel through time in the way of that car?
Interesting results but a factor which is rarely considered in accident reduction statistics is the impact of improved and evolving safety and crash and impact protection systems in cars.
Essentially, the car is safer than ever to ride or drive in thanks to design, extra safety features and other technical improvements.
Motoring habits are changing as well and the price of alcohol means more drink at home and are not out on the road between pubs & clubs and home. Low alcohol drinks also make an impression.
This all explains why accident numbers can decrease and the severity diminishes as well but a fatality can occur at any speed if the scenario suits it.
Police numbers are an important factor to bring in as a speed camera cannot stop a car and the authorities have moved to “targetted” policing to catch the drinkers at specific times or locations, but probably scores of over the limit drivers are missed as they are off target for the police.
So, before we trumpet the apparent decrease in accidents we need to take in the whole picture, credit the real achievements and look at what we are failing to do to reduce them still further.