Sunday, 5 November 2017

Volvo bug reports, issue #2; SMIDSY

"Sorry Mate I Didn't See You", as uttered by driver to person they nearly just killed due to failure to properly observe/assess the environment so making a decision based on incomplete and invalid data. Saying "sorry mate" is a way to imply that it was something minor like "sorry I didn't open the door, I didn't see you there", rather than "sorry I almost added you to this years KSI statistics, but I didn't look or comprehend the situation properly".

In this instance the driver did actually seem pretty horrified that she'd nearly done it, and she wasn't on her phone. What could be the cause then, on a clear and quiet afternoon with no other distractions in sight?

Tyndall's Park Road; Highbury Vaults is at the end of it. Before they blocked off Woodland Road on the left side of the climb, you could drive straight over. That kept the road a lot more hazardous, as there'd be cars trying to sprint across. Here though, Woodland Road provides an escape route to the side, with the raised section of road some mild traffic calming of the main university halls of residence to study route for students on foot & bike.  Coming downhill would have been a serious issue.

The vehicle is on camera for 4s of visibility before pulling out, but she doesn't actually stop at the give way, just slow down for <1s and then continue. You have to consider whether the fact that the roads were so quiet got her thinking "these roads are empty" and failed to properly stop & assess the situation. Or she was only looking the right, pulled out and didn't do a second check to the left as she came around.


Saturday, 4 November 2017

Volvo bug reports, issue #1: MGIF driver

Given some of the Volvo self driving car developers are ex colleagues of Bristol Traffic team members, we get to file bug reports. Not some directly accessible issue tracker where you get to file stuff like "XC90 driver nearly killed me" only for tech support to close as a "works as intended", but at least get to give them cues about how their land-barges get used and abused in the field. Here's one of this week's

As promised, some videos of this week's Volvos. Mid-afternoon, not rush hour but within range of school pickup times. Sunny days to treasure before the miserable season settles in.

First: "MGIF" , "Must Get In Front"

Definition: A driver who is focused on overtaking the bike without looking ahead to consider "What happens next?

In AI terminology a "planning horizon of 1", usually loses to any computerised chess/draughts player with a horizon >= 2 unless the latter is awful about assessing the value of all enumerated moves & countermoves.

In this instance,
  1. the speed limit of the bridge and the rest of the city for the subsequent 1-2+ miles in any direction is 20 mph. You can see one of the signs at 0:01 in the video
  2. the cyclist she chooses to pass is doing 19-20 mph, still accelerating in their underresponsive steel-framed MTB.
  3. The car a safe stopping distance in front is also doing 20 mph
  4. And it'll have to slow down once it gets to the end of the bridge due to the road there (i.e it's 100% predictable, irrespective of time of day & pedestrian/traffic numbers)
  5. the oncoming cyclist is going 15 + mph
Which means that

(a) there's no defensible reason to pass the cyclist "I need to break the law to overtake a bike cycling at the speed limit to get behind the other vehicle going at the same speed before I get into the city proper and really have to slow down".

(b) she's failed to anticipate how long it will take to overtake the bike, even as she speeds up to 25-30.

(c) the closure rate with the oncoming cyclist becomes about 40-45 mph. If the oncoming roadie hadn't been keeping to the far left of the lane, there'd have been a collision.

Looking back at the footage, she's hanging back at the split to two lanes at the tolls to make a late-binding choice of which one to go through -a slight sign of impatience.  She takes the left one; the right hand one is occupied by an SUV whose driver can barely see over the wheel, which is why the cyclist chose to hang back and wait: didn't seem safe to go ahead. As the Volvo comes through fairly rapidly, it's probable she has one of the contactless cards which you top up with prepaid bridge crossing tokens; sign of a regular user. Given time of day, perhaps a resident of N. Somerset doing a late pickup of a child from somewhere in Clifton, someone who cannot afford to be held up by any vehicle doing the speed limit.

Now, what is he dev team planning w.r.t. oncoming collision avoidance, where it assesses oncoming velocity of the approaching vehicle, adds with its own and estimates time-to-impact, so perhaps suggesting some alternate actions? And what to suggest? There's the "massively accelerate, swing in hard and then brake" strategy, which is an extension of this drivers decision (and essentially a reward), the alternative is: brake, swing behind the cyclist they tried to pass, put it off. Which is safer, but not generally that common amongst "legacy" manual-drivers. There's some psychological "we're committed now" decision which interferes with the more rational "braking to survive is a good idea" strategy.


P.S. UK DVLA now gives MOT history over time: can see that GP05RZE used to be a 3K/y child seat equipped barge of Hendon, NW London, then over to bristol to do 15K/y. Where you can see from the repeated warnings "pitted/scored disks, front headlamp deterioration" that the owner doesn't actually do any maintenance. Probably not a good sign. Almost as bad as a MkI Golf GTi with the wheels coming off..

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Don't expect any sympathy from the council

Maudlin Street, July 2017. In the background you can see some old bits of the BRI being knocked down and replaced with premium student accommodation.

In the foreground, you can see a car diagonally across a (contraflow) bike lane.

Tax-dodgers often complain that enforcement of the cycle lanes in the city is as observed as enforcement of anticorruption rules in the Trump cabinet; our dataset does imply this.

This is possibly the only vehicle we have ever seen in a bike lane to have actually earned a parking ticket. Indeed, there wasn't even an index category in the blog, "parking-ticket", until this moment.

What has brought radical change in enforcement about? Clearly, a full diagonal parking with your front sticking out in the car-lane-for-real-people qualifies for a yellow label on your windscreen. That's despite the fact that it's got a disabled parking permit and its only inconveniencing cyclists.

Except it's not parked is it? There's some disabled parking bays behind our photographer, and this car is backed up against the kerb exactly as you'd expect a car to end up if it slowly rolled down the hill and came to a halt without getting enough momentum to get up on the kerb and/or cause damage. Lucky for the owners there. Because instead of repairs they'll only have that parking ticket to argue over with the council.

Monday, 16 October 2017

No idea whatsoever

These are from mid sept, just some photos of some vehicles encountered on a traverse of the city, from Monty to the Triangle.

#1: Upper Cheltenham Place 16:02, September 9.

There's a car in the middle of the road; it's go belongings in the back including a childs seat. A PCSO is looking in it. Left hand side of the vehicle is pretty bashed up. No other vehicles "unusally" bashed. No skid/ABS marks. Other than the PCSO, nobody is paying any attention.

@2: Nugent Hill, 16:15, September 9.

A car is on the pavement/build-out on Nugent Hill. Both sides of the car are bashed, the gap between them suspiciously as wide as the gap between the two cast iron bollards just in front of the vehicle.

Again, nobody around. This one looks exactly what you'd get when you were parked on the hill, the handbrake wasn't on (+wheels not turned, engine not left in gear), and the car rolled down the hill. If that' the case, at least it didn't hut anyone or any other vehicle. Provided the engine hasn't been damaged/pushed into the passenger compartment, then the VW polo should already be up and running by now.

Overall then: the background hum of bodywork repairs which keeps the city alive.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Field repairs

Can we observe that this is least competent bit of wingmirror taping we have ever encountered in the city.

It's barely held on with sellotape, they haven't even bothered to rotate the mirror for better aerodynamics. This mirror doesn't stand a chance of surviving motorway speeds. Which means first trip up the M5 & they'll be in Michaelwood service station buying some emergency insulating tape and some scissors. Do you know how much insulating tape costs on service stations? Do you know how much insulating tape it needs to hold the driver side window up after a failure of the electric window mechanism? Too much. And yet its not easy to drive to Birmingham "gateway to the middle" while holding the window up with your hand. That's why you should always fix up your vehicle parts with insulating tape *before* you set off, and keep some spare in the back of the car as the long-journey kit, along with the WD-40 and the hammer.

This car and its field repairs? Not a chance. You'd be embarrassed to drive round the core inner city with mirror repairs that bad. It says "we care enough out our mirrors to want to preserve them" (weakness) and it says "we're not competent enough to tape them down". That is, unless the real issue was they got fed up with the noise it made swinging into the dorr, and did just enough to shut it up.

Ripping the thing off completely would have been the better option : "where we're going, we won't need wing-mirrors!". But no: the owner of this vehicle tried, just failed.

We should really have a ranking scheme for wing mirror repairs. We'll give this one; 1 out 5

Sunday, 24 September 2017

BMW: please don't drive like utter wankers

As the arrogant self entitled owners of an Important Car for Important People, we recently received a communication from the manufacturer. Here it is, unabridged

Dear BMW Owner

Due to the large number of people who have been killed recently by drivers —especially pedestrians and cyclists in hit-and-run incidents— the transport minister Jesse Norman has been in touch with us. He would like to pass on a message

"It’s great that driving has become so popular in recent years but we need to make sure that our road safety rules keep pace with this change.

"We have some laws that ensure that drivers who kill others are rarely punished, but, given recent cases, it is only right for us to look at whether dangerous drivers should face the consequences."

We at BMW would like to remind our drivers that all of us are representatives of the BMW family; whenever one of us drives like an utter wanker, we are all tarred in the brush of shame. We must strive to ensure that the badge of utter-wanker-driver continues to be held by Audi drivers alone.

Please, study the highway code, and remember that you should be prepared to stop at "Give Way" signs rather than slow down slightly. In particular, when joining a roundabout you are expected to yield to all users, including cyclists. The Highway code also covers other signs worth learning, what the orange light in traffic lightss, and the rules of zebra crossings.

The next time your BMW is due in for a scheduled service, please get in touch to attend one of our free "safe BMW driving" seminars, whose topics include:
  1. Speed limits: what, why and how.
  2. Indicators: the politer way to communicate.
  3. Overtaking: when you shouldn't.
We also offer to recalibrate the speed warning to 90 mph —just ask the service team to lower it.

Finally, when on a motorway, please leave at least two metres difference between you and vehicle in front —even when an owner of Ford Fiesta has mistakenly pulled into the fast lane while only doing 75 mph. It's safer for everyone.

There you have it. We'll try and drive better than others, and even explore the do-not-disturb option or our phones. We should be able to keep it up for a few weeks to see whether you can get used to it. Motorway speeds are probably going to be the tough one, given that even Corsa drivers will end up passing us —that's not what we paid for.

PS: Why are we getting email from Jaguar Land Rover Australia saying "Congratulations on the recent purchase of your Evoque, and welcome to Land Rover."? Some mistake surely.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Stopping distances experiment #2: The real world

Last week we discussed a (flawed) stopping distance experiment, where we argued that you cannot stop from 18 mph to 0 in 6.5 metres, no matter what the police claim. That's when you are prepared to halt and planning the exact moment to pull on the levers.

What does it a real emergency halt look like? It looks like this video. Taken about half an hour before the one of a BMW driving down a pavement to get past a traffic queue, for reference.

Here is what it looks like when someone runs out in front of you while you are freewheeling down a hill (Hampton Road, BS6). Speed? Let's assume 18-20 mph. You can hear from the noise of the (hope) hubs that there's no pedalling, so this is just a gentle 5-10 mph curve round the mini-roundabout-of-death, a few spins of a drivetrain in precisely the low gear you are always in when you come up the hill from the Arches, and then coasting, relying on gravity to do the work.

  • 0:26 small kid runs out from some cars, looks like 3 parked car spaces away. Assume: 12-16 metres.
  • No previous visibility, on account of the cars being bigger than him.
  • 0:27 cyclist sees this and shouts "wooah!"
  • 0:28 bike catches up with where kid was: he's run on to be with his friends. (Assuming 16 metres, that puts velocity at 29 km/h)
  • 0:29 cyclist has now slowed down to the kids running-along-the road pace. Asks child to look. Child doesn't appear to hear them.
The entire incident is over within five seconds. There wasn't enough time to slow down before any collison would have occurred. Shouting and swerving while you slow down is all you have.

The gradient of the hill will have made stopping hard, and this wasn't the "prepared for emergency brake" setup of our previous experiment. This is real world going round the town with your hands on the tops of the levers, with gravity fighting the decelleration. The combination of the time to see and actually slow down puts the total stopping distance at something like 20 metres. says you for a car @ 30kmh/20mph on a -12% gradient you shoud expect 6m of thinking, 14m of stopping. Which seems consistent.

Now imagine that incident happens once a "Kim Brigg's law" is passed: a pedestrian crosses the road, cyclist > 12m away, travelling at 18-20 mph. Cyclist sees pedestrian, shouts out. Tries to veer to the side, hits the child instead. That would appear to be enough to get the mini roundabout reinstated as Bristol's Public Gallows, and your eviscerated remains left to hang for days as school parents block the roundabout in their Volvo XC90s. "Look at that cyclist, he deserved it. Now, why is this anti-car council stopping me from driving at 30, can't they see I'm late for school?"

Who is to blame here?

It's not the kid's fault he wanted to be with his friends, it's not his fault all the parked cars made him invisible until he ran out.

He didn't look. Maybe he was enthusiastic about wanting to be with his friends. Maybe he listened for a car, but didn't hear any engine, so carried on out. Children are like that: Enthusiasm is not a crime.

What did the cyclist do wrong? Well, that's a question. Is freewheeling down a hill at 18-20 mph speed limit "reckless"? "careless"? Wilful endangerment of themselves and others? The Crown Prosecution would probably argue that, while everyone from the Daily Mail to the BBC would use verbs like "plowed" and "flew" as they covered the trial. In which case: driving round the area at 20 mph, especially in a low-engine-noise vehicle (hybrid, electric) is probably even more wilful.

The one thing you can point to the cyclist and say is: you knew term time had just started, and there were other kids on the pavement. Therefore it was likely there'd be more chidren ahead. So maybe you should have braked all the way down that hill. But: no matter what speed you go down that hill on a bike. if there is a car going the same way, it'll be right behind you or trying to get past.

Which moves to a more controversial question: is 20 mph too high a speed during school start/finish times? Should we drop from 20 mph to 15 in areas near schools? For everyone, drivers and cyclists alike?