Monday, June 20, 2011

A Gearhead in the 21st Century

I love driving, absolutely love it.   Not the trip to the mall or voyage to the in-laws sort of driving.  I'm talking about the sheer joy of negotiating an empty stretch of challenging mountain twisties sort of thing.

I've never owned a fire-breathing gas guzzler even though I grew up in the 60s.  My focus was always on the turn on a dime sort of car.   Raw speed I could handily get out of my motorcycles.  Besides how much skill does it really take to leadfoot a gas peddle?

Periodically I take a few minutes to glance through the motoring stories at TorStar's Wheels.Ca.   Usually there's a few "best cars/worst cars" stories or features on the latest supercar you'll never be able to afford.   Today, however, there were a few items that depicted what a chore driving has become in parts of Canada, what constitutes sensible driving and the perils of sitting behind the wheel.

The health issue first.   Driving a vehicle exposes your skin to excessive sunlight which leads to an enhanced risk of melanoma.  Well, duh!  What was remarkable was the commenters who dismissed this as junk science or alarmism. 

It's true, of course it is.   During my professional career I wound up with airline pilots as a segment of my clientelle.   Have you ever noticed the size of the array of side cockpit windows on an airliner?   They're massive.   Now imagine you're sitting in a chair beside that window array at high altitude for hours at a stretch as you cruise beneath a cloudless sky.   You're sitting there being irradiated by everything from light to gamma radiation and with very little atmospheric shielding because you're so damned high.   What do you get?  A markedly increased risk of melanoma, even brain tumors and other radiation-related afflictions.  So yeah, when you drive, wear long sleeves.

Then there was a story about "hyper-milers" a term used to describe motorists who coast up to red lights, apparently infuriating other drivers.   Coasting to a red light, of course, saves both fuel and brakes and, when done correctly, leaves you arriving at the light while you're still rolling instead of having to start all over again from a stop.   This too seems to infuriate a lot of commenters.

We figured this one out years ago in BC.   Along our highways we have light-change warning flashers about a hundred yards ahead of the actual traffic light.  These amber flashers go off to warn drivers that, at the posted speed, the light ahead will be changing before they get there so they might just as well slow down early.  It works.   People back off, gear down and begin coasting to the light.   It's really great for truckers who can avoid having to go through the gears needlessly  all over again.  It saves on gas (and GHG emissions), it saves on brakes, and it saves on intersection traffic accidents.   Smarten up, flat earthers.  These warning lights more than pay for themselves.

The final story was a lament on how it just isn't fun driving in Ontario today.  Having experienced it myself just a few years back you'll get no argument from me on that one.   Southern Ontario is a crappy place for driving. bloody awful.  I know because I live somewhere else, a place where driving is still great fun.

Once we flush the tourists out at the end of the season, the roads in central and northern Vancouver Island are magnificent.   Uphill, downhill, mountain twisties, coastal sweepers - they're really terrific once the flat earth crowd (everyone from central Alberta to Quebec) is finally gone.  It's not so much fun to find yourself sharing a mountain hairpin with an oncoming Saskatchewan tourist driving the biggest motorhome he could afford to rent.   They can make you practically yearn for an oncoming logging truck with no brakes or something else predictable to deal with.

So the summer driving season is upon us.   If you're going traveling, be as cautious about the sun as you would be if you were basking on a deckchair in the backyard.   Drive sensibly - easy on the brakes/easy on the gas.   And, if you're looking for fun driving realize it's a matter of getting yourself to the right place at the right time.


Anonymous said...

I thought auto glass all was uv-filtering? Not that it is the only issue... Interesting post.

The Mound of Sound said...

Apparently not so much as you might expect. Windshields block about 85% of UV radiation. Other auto glass is said to get half that. There are a number of companies offering aftermarket films for additional UV protection.

When I was a sprog (don't you love the "when I was..."?), we used to work all summer on getting a terrific tan. Today the sun will microwave you in 15-minutes flat.