The July Car Update

  • Agila

    As many of you know I like cars. In fact, driving my car around Denver to get to baseball games is almost as much fun as playing. So this month I went to the UK, really just Cambridge, to visit Red Gate and of course I paid attention to the cars that I saw.

    First observation: They drive on the wrong side of the road. Not only that, but the steering wheel is on the wrong side. Of course the transmission shifts in the appropriate way and it seems like the controls are the same as they are in the US, just shifted a few feet to the right.

    Second Observation: Cars are small. Most of the cars are smaller coupes or sedans, but even a 5 passenger sedan seems slightly smaller than it might otherwise be in the US.

    Third Observation: It's a good things cars are small because roads are smaller. So small in fact that I found myself cringing as we passed through traffic in the city. People tend to drive up on curves or fit next to busses in ways that I am very much not used to. I've driven in New York traffic and this is much crazier in my mind.

    But despite the chaos, it seems most drivers respect the tremendous amount of cyclists and I didn't see any accidents during my week there in the city. I also saw lots of diesels, which is nice to see. I think the US could do better if they produced more diesels, especially some of the newer, cleaner, more efficient models.

    I was glad to get back into the US and drive my own cars around on the correct side of the road. It was also a time for maintenance on the cars and the first oil change for the Prius. I took some time to calculate out the costs of the car compared with our old minivan. To date, with conservative numbers, I've used 150 less gallons of fuel and saved $450. That's across 5000 miles and a little over three months. Using what I suspect are better numbers, 53mpg for the Prius, 18 for the minivan and $3.10 a gallon, we're more like 183 gallons and $568. With the $1500 tax credit, I think I've paid back half of the "hybrid premium" so far. For me, it was a good investment and it's saving some fuel.

    Lastly, if you do happen to live in Germany and want to get a cool job, Porsche is holding an open call for positions, including people that can help them build vehicle-communication technology. Women especially are encouraged employ. When I was a young, unattached, ignorant high school student, my ideal plan was to get my college degree, start my MBA and take a year abroad working for Porsche, get the latest 911 from them, and then go spend a year or so in Japan working for Sony and load up on their gear.

    Life has certainly changed!

  • With respect, they drive on the correct side of the road!

    They where there first.

    Keep writing, love your editorials.


  • Hi folks

    Well, I live in Australia, and like the UK we drive on the left hand side.

    In respect to the comment that Steve made about the steering wheel being on the wrong side, it seems to me that if you are in a country like Australia that has LHS driving, it is an advantage having the steering wheel on the right side. 

    Take the situation where the driver has to change gears.  Naturally the driver will remove his left hand from the steering wheel to change gears.  This means that his right hand is on the steering wheel all the time.  Now given that most people are right handed, I would have thought it is an advantage to have the most able hand always on the steering wheel rather than the opposite hand which would prevail in the USA.

    Now given that, I would have thought it is an advantage to have LHS driving.

    I agree with Steve's comment about the use of diesel.  You dont see many cars in Australia with diesel engines, and although we drive a Daihatsu Charade (1L - 3 cylinders) with a petrol engine, the next car we buy will in all likelyhood be a diesel.  At the moment we are looking at either a VW Golf TDI or a VW Polo TDI.  The fuel consumption on the open road is supposed to be 5.0 litres/100 KM.

    Anyway, thats what I think.

    BTW Steve, like the other writer who got in before me, I love your editorials - very interesting.


  • Tex Texin has a great chronological history describing how Left Hand Side/Right Hand Side driving evolved:

    There is also a Wikipedia entry on the subject:

    I agree with Ross Petersen that it seems to be more sensible to have the able hand (ie. right hand as 90% of the population is right handed) on the steering wheel and the other hand (left hand) on the gearstick, especially when turning. This means driving a right-hand-drive car is safer, which naturally implies keeping to the left side of the road is better naturally. Indded, the Wikipedia entry cites a 1969 study that countries with driving on the right have more traffic accidents than countries with driving on the left (note: Wikipedia does states the 1969 study was disputed).


  • I remember my father saying that eventually, they'd be driving on the right side of the road in England. To change this, just tell the trucks to go there first. The rest will follow soon....

  • The big difference for me was that cars are in short supply in the US.  What?  I hear you cry.  It's true though.  Trucks, jeeps, SUVs etc, you barely see a car!

    The other difference I noticed was that cars in the US are very conservatively styled when compared to Europe.

    Oh, another difference!  The completely bonkers TV adverts for local car showrooms are just fantastic.  These people are completely mad, and much more entertaining than the tat we get in the UK.

    I found driving in the US to be much more relaxing than in the UK.  Although I'm certain that indicators are not fitted to most American cars

  • Steve,

    If you only had travelled 30 miles up the road to Mildenhall, the largest US airbase in the UK, and you would have seen lots of American cars, with American drivers.  If you are very unlucky, you will also see an American car driving on the right hand side of the road!  (I joke not).

    I was always told that we drive on the left because it was the men who did the driving, and a true gentleman would never let a woman stand or sit on his right.

    Hope you enjoyed Cambridge - sorry about the weather!  I'm only 10 miles up the road, and it's been a stinking summer so far!


  • Steve,

    If you found cambridge  a little stressful try london (the land that politeness forgot) or even better try rome (the land that sanity forgot)

  • And if you think the roads of Cambridge are small try our deep West Country lanes - the vegetation touches my van on both sides at once as I drive home!!


  • on the origin of driving on the left, i heard it was because 90% of the population being right handed. In the days of horses and swordmanship your sword arm (generally right) needed to be free... embedding your sword in innocent pedestrians seen as bad form as well as being detrimental to your own health

  • Hi,

    I live just down the road from Cambridge and i hate driving around it. Cambridge is very anti-car with many areas now inaccessible due to automatic road barriers, the council are seriously considering a "congestion" charge for driving into the City. On the + side they have park and ride i.e. park your car out of the city at a designated terminal and get a bus into the centre. The downside is it is expensive and the services can be disrupted at peak hours.

    Roads that go through the fens - which along with the word flat define the geography around here - are really dangerous, twisty, narrow, and muddy; these roads have no crash barriers and a 15ft 45 degree drop into 30ft of freezing murky water, sometimes it's days before they find the car


  • I agree K.  I hate driving the fens, especially in winter when the roads are slippery too.  It scares me solid to see how fast some drivers go along those roads, overtaking on bends and bumps.

    West Country lanes are great.  I took some American friends down for a visit to the 'home county' () to show them where I hail from.  There's a fantastic road between Cully and Exeter where it starts as a rather large junction off the main road, turns a corner and becomes a fantsatic lane with grass growing in the middle.    There were some rather frightened faces in the car as we negotiated the lanes and passed other cars coming the other way.

  • Steve,

    I recently got back from 3 weeks in Kolkata, helping out in a street kids school.  If you think Cambridge traffic drives close, try Kolkata.  Myriad cars, taxis, buses, tuc-tucs, cycle and hand rickshaws, cycles and pedestrians, with hardly an inch between them!  The roads are wider than Cambridge, but as traffic is slower I also did not see an accident.  But I did see some bent cars that prove they happen...

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    When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor they call me a communist - Archbishop Hélder Câmara

  • Ha! Cambridge/London is nothing - try Paris!

  • The US could definitely learn from european autos.  My VW jetta TDI has been treating me wonderfully.  My overall fuel savings is about $250 bucks a month over my Dodge grand caravan (Blah!).  So much more fun to drive, oil changes every 10,000 (about every 14 weeks for me), and a heck of a lot more comfortable.  The 2008 diesel jetta is supposed to trump gas engines on emissions too.  Looking for a new one as soon as they come out.  Now if only we could convince the US that ethanol is going no where! 

    Sidenote - There is an Outback SUV nearby that drives on the 'right side' of the road however sits on the 'wrong side' of his car.  I would find that confusing.


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