Saturday, September 15, 2007

Are 4x4s Really Needed for Towing a Caravan?

A supporter recently wrote us questioning why people insisted they 'needed' a 4x4 to tow a caravan. She writes:

"My husband and I recently joined the Camping & Carvanning Club. Their newsletter carries a letters page, and in the one we received with our joining pack was a response page to a previous post - the jist of it appeared to be that a gentleman driving a Mondeo was complaining that many campers were driving huge 4x4s and justifying this as being necessary to pull their caravans, while his argument was that his Mondeo was well up to the job and the 4x4 was for reasons of fashion only.

Needless to say there was a whole host of angry replies, although interestingly a majority were accusing him of hypocrisy over the fashion charge (apparently he was using a fancy five berth caravan although only he and his wife were using it).Some you could agree with, and in fact a very good friend of mine owns an elderly Land Rover which is used for caravanning but she and her husband like very remote campsites where they usually need to cross muddy fields and the 4x4 is not used for town driving.

My favourite reply came from a camping family who "needed" their 4x4 as they had to pack children, tents etc in it. I liked this one particuarly as that is the same scenario my family faces and which is dealt with in exemplary fashion by our Ford Focus and a trailer!

I thought that this correspondence was interesting beacause while there are plenty of comments now about the use of 4x4s in towns, one area where their owners could "justify" their use was in the towing of caravans and apparently even this is now being brought into question. Personally, I have no problem with a 4x4 towing a large caravan (although in my area only a tiny proportion of 4x4s have towbars fitted), its when that vehicle doubles up its use as the family town car that offends me.

The C&C club recently recommended the following towcars (from lightest to heaviest caravan):

VW Golf TDI 1.9 (Caravan up to 1425 kg - 2/3 berth I think.)
Volvo V70 (1426-1525)
VW Passat 2.0 TDI (1526-1725 - getting quite big now and we're still not using a 4x4...) This one won the overall award so I imagine they think this is the average weight caravan.
Audi A6 Allroad (1726-1990)
Land Rover Discovery TDV6 (1900+)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Car Sticker that Warns Motorists to Ban the Phone

If you travel around London, it's not uncommon to see motorists chatting away on the mobile phones whilst driving. Our friend Arvind has been busy starting a new campaign to try and help reduce the trend. His new bright yellow car sticker warns drivers to Zap their phone not people.

“I got so frustrated at seeing so many motorists continuing to use mobile phones whilst driving that I thought I just had to do something about it. One day I was driving along in a slow moving London traffic queue near a school and there were 3 motorists around me using their phone even though it is now illegal and highly dangerous to do so.

The stickers have a simple message "Zap your phone, not our children" and have been designed in a glowing yellow color for maximum visibility and impact.

It is even worse when you see 4x4 drivers using their mobile phones whilst driving – their action could kill a child just like that.

I believe that my simple sticker idea will save many lives and injuries. Every car in the country should have one in its back window.”

Monday, September 10, 2007

Congestion Charge Zones Go International

It seems to be a sign of the times, and a sensible way to reduce pollution in our crowded cities.

For all of the harrumph we hear from the Conservatives in the UK over the Congestion Charge, the idea is spreading like wildfire across the planet. Maybe the Tories are just a bit behind the times?

Already there is a charging zone set up in Singapore, Toronto, and the state of Oregon, and recently in Stockholm, Sweden. Proposals are also under way in Manhattan, New York, San Francisco, California, Seattle, Washington, Milan, Italy, and Budapest, Turkey by 2010.

In Spain they are planning to charge SUVs that emit more than 200gm/km CO2.

And of course, in London, the new proposal under consultation is to change the C Charge so that it's better reflective of the amount a car pollutes. Vehicles falling in VED bands A & B would be exempt from the charge, bands C-F would be charged the normal daily rate of £8, and band G luxury vehicles would be charged £25 a day.

Readers can enter their responses online before 19 October.

What's the general feeling? The cars that pollute most will bear the greatest cost. So if anyone is thinking of buying a huge fat gas-guzzler for their European holidays, you might want to think again.

It’s the kids in the 4x4’s that really miss out

A view from a child's bicycle seat.

Cycling my son to and from school is brilliant.

On the way, we wave at people who wave and smile at us. On the way home, children often invite my son to stop and play with them on the swing-park or in their dens made of old tyres and bits of broken fence. At the school gates, almost every child seems to know us and the bike is seen as an engine of wonder. We’re often asked if they can ride on it and they’re always amazed when I say we’ve cycled over two miles from home. It seems we live further away from the school than anyone. We’re very lucky to be able to have such fun, to and from, school.

Outside the school, many children walk home with their mums or dads. These are the ones that get to play in the playground with my son after home-time, and often like to remind me to ‘do his seat belt up’ before waving us off. These are happy kids. They don’t get to have picnics on the way home but they can feel the change in seasons each time they walk to, and from, home with their mates.

There are other kids of course. The ones in cars. They don’t chat to their mates on the way in or out but they can, at least, shout to them when the doors are open and are visible through the windows. Their only knowledge of the seasons is through the windows and the brief sniff of the wind when they leave the air conditioned car to rush into the school.

It’s the kids in the 4x4’s that really miss out. The ones perched behind reflective glass, high above the sight their mates and able only, to sit in commanding isolation on top of the vast threatening pile of metal that glower so threateningly at the other kids. These aren’t cars that other children wave at, nor are they ones that kids happily pile into to shout “Hello Mrs Davies!”. These are the cars that no-one can see around – not even the adults - and all children are told to give them a wide berth. “The driver can’t see you, dear”.

Inside, the kids look out like bemused toads, trapped in a sterile box.

We avoid the road, but at each end of the journey, we have to brave these machines. Some of the cars are driven by courteous and helpful people who give you space, smile and even wave you on. The cold faced trophy wives, or men with something to prove, will not do these things. They snarl at all other vehicles and drive, surrounded by ‘idiots’, knowing that the machine they are driving comes with a guarantee they own the road.

They are in a 4x4.

The car industry concentrates on the dangers to those inside the car... but it’s being hit by a massive tonnage of metal that tends to kill kids. Still, there’s little sales revenue in mentioning that the machine you’re driving is an efficient killer of children, or pets.

On the way to the canal, we pass hoardings. More often than not, there’ll be an advert up for a 4x4. 4x4s are not advertised for the joy of motoring in a cheerful, co-operative environment. They’re sold as a defense against a hostile world of treacherous terrain and dangerous traffic. With names like ‘Warrior’, ‘Defender’ and ‘Patrol’ they’re chosen as a weapon by people scared or insecure enough to feel they need ‘Respect’.

From a God-like height above the road, and the knowledge that everything on the road must defer to them, these machines are driven arrogantly, aggressively ... and invariably blindly. Not to edge quietly and give way, but to assert their RIGHT to get through.