Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello (Petrol)

Posted on 16th January 2008

Continuing the motoring theme, I recently discovered a newish site, PetrolPrices.com. It follows the comparison site idea, but for petrol (and other fuel types) at petrol stations and supermarkets, etc. across the UK. Although it hasn't been going for long, it does seem to have gained quite a bit of interest and is a worthy addition to your bookmarks.

The only annoying thing (for me persosnally) is that I had the idea to do this (as I'm sure several other did) several years ago when I first started developing websites :) However, I am surprised that no-one has developed this kind of site before, as it is a resource that has been wanted for a very long time. In my case I didn't develop my idea further, as I didn't know of a reliable way of getting at realtime data. Originally I was going to allow users to enter prices from their local filling station, but this is open to abuse, and considering that I wouldn't be able to verify the prices, would likely have been very unreliable. PetrolPrices.com have overcome this hurdle, thanks to Catalist. Although they existed back in 1998, my research never revealed them and I'm sure others had the same problem. With data for over 10,000 stations up and down the country they certainly have that data market sewn up.

I shall be using PetrolPrices.com from now on, but from initial searches it would seem that the price I'm paying currently is quite low. Although there are petrol stations that charge a lower price, the effort getting to/from them would probably negate a lot of the benefits of filling up at stations that are actually on my route to/from work. However, I see it being very useful when driving long distances, particularly when on holiday to find the cheapest and closest filling station.

File Under: cars / driving / website

Roadhouse Blues

Posted on 15th January 2008

Driving to work these days is becoming more and more treacherous. Today the rain was relentless, and as a consequence there was a lot of surface water. Driving over the Avon near Tewkesbury the river has flooded the fields, so that it appears both sides now have a massive lake. It also seems much more extensive than the flooding last year. However, this doesn't seem to warn drivers enough. Our drive took us almost to the first Cheltenham turn-off to hit the accident today. Just two cars, but they managed to block the outside lane while police cleared the carriageway and got them on to the hard shoulder.

Yesterday an accident just after the M42 joins the M5 caused a tailback along the the two motorways and even down the A38 dual carriageway that passes my house. Yesterday's accident took several hours to clear, and happened around 7am. As a consequence I was late into work, and likewise several hundred other motorists. That's two in two days. There have already been several others so far this year. A few years ago I remarked that in the first 10 days of driving to work, I encountered 7 accidents and twice the motorway was closed. I think the motorway only got closed once last year, but there were several accidents.

The journey I take is from Junction 4 of the M5, down passed Bromsgrove, Worcester, Malvern, Tewkesbury, Cheltenham and Gloucester, finally leaving the motorway at Junction 11a. My trip at both ends is just a few minutes, along dual carriageways, so the bulk of the journey can average 60-70 mph. It's a 45 mile trip and usually takes 40-45 minutes on a good day. On a bad day like yesterday it can take 2 hours.

There seem to be 3 factors that people are not getting.

Firstly, that the weather is to be respected. Driving in the rain, wind and snow or on wet or icy roads is not fun, especially in the dark.

Secondly, use the correct lane. This is especially true of road hogs who insist on sitting in the outer or middle lanes, when there is nothing on their inside. The two outer lanes are for overtaking only. Driving with the excuse that a mile or more ahead you will be overtaking another vehicle is not good enough. These people seem to believe they have every right to restrict traffic flow and bunch cars up, making the likelihood of an accident occurring much greater.

Thirdly, respect other road users. It's not unusual any more to have someone suddenly appear in my rearview mirror, decelerating from 100mph to 70mph, to a foot away from my bumper. I saw a van do it once for a major logistics company, to someone else, while driving in the rain. It annoyed me so much I actually called their "Am I A Good Driver?" hotline number and complained. Just because you can do more than 70mph, doesn't mean you have the legal right to do so, or insist everyone gets out of the way as soon as you appear. If they are overtaking another vehicle, then give them a chance to do so. Hassling them only makes the more resistant. It also means they aren't concentrating on the road properly, as they also have to concentrate on you and watch out for you hitting them when you don't stop in time.

Any one of these is a potential danger, a combination of two or all three is just asking for trouble.

Another annoyance for many people is articulated lorries. During rush hour they also cause excessive traffic build-up, which again increases the risk of accidents. On several occasions I've even seen articulated lorries drive in the outer lane of the M5 over a certain stretch where they seem to believe they have the right to use all lanes. Now that I take a colleague to work, if I spot this again, rest assured I will be getting him to take photos.

A while ago I made a suggestion that any vehicle weighing more than about 4 tons should be restricted from using any road (motorway, main road, country lane or side street) during the hours of 7am-9am and 4.30pm-6.30pm. It seems others had a similar thought as there was a government petition at one point. While I don't believe that lorries are necessarily the cause of all accidents, they do put pressure on some drivers to drive like they do. Taking heavy goods off the road might not be the complete answer, but it might help to make the roads during congested periods a little less stressful.

Obviously the the optimum solution would be for the government to properly invest in our public transport infrastructure, so that for me to get to work wouldn't take over 2 hours as it would currently do. Regular bus and train services, use of appropriate stations and decent rolling stock all need investment and improvements. But then that would also mean we wouldn't use our own transport, and would reduce the fuel consumption (reduced tax income), reduce car ownership (reduced license income) and reduce traffic congestion (reduced toll income), so I can see why the government might be reluctant to invest. However, with global warming and the rise in accidents, surely we should be thinking more about reducing our road usage. I'd rather live in a world with less pollution at the very least.

File Under: cars / driving / rant

The Long & Winding Road

Posted on 3rd April 2007

It still amazes me how badly some people drive. I drove from Gloucester to Milton Keynes last night, which is a distance of about 80 miles. It took 2 hours. Seeing as much of the roads were either main roads or dual carriageway (the trek on the M40 was only 5 miles), it should have taken quite a bit less.

However, driving 40-50mph in a 60mph limit doesn't help. Having idiots slow down and even break, because a car several hundred yards in front of them slowed down is just ludicious. I used to think lorries were the most infuriating as they clog the motorways during rush hour, but it seems there are even worse drivers who thankfully steer clear of motorways.

It would also seem that road hogging crosses the age barriers as well as gender. I've noticed more and more that you cannot stereotype the kind of person that gives little care for other road users. I do wonder though, whether children see how their parents drive and pick up the bad habits.

In the UK you have to redo your driving test once you reach 70, which is a good thing, as many older drivers develop disabilities that may impair their driving, which unless tested, they may not even be aware of.

But I do think there should better testing done earlier too. The current driving tests give the new driver an open road. Even though they have not had any proper experience driving on a major road or motorway. It's not very often that your driving lessons give you in any sort of medium to long distance driving situation.

So I would like to see better take up of the Provisional Driver (Green P plate), so that new drivers can get further lessons for motorways and regular driving along major and country roads. Then for them to have an extended test where they are asked to take a journey of 1-2 hours, so the examiner can see whether they are being over cautious, too aggressive or just inconsiderate. It might help to curb some of the bad habits some drivers pick up.

File Under: driving / rant / road

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