Category Archives: The Driving Range

The Driving Range: Self-Driving Cars

Dani Ben-Ari

Those who grew up watching the TV show “Knight Rider” and dreamed about owning their own self-driving cars, may now find that those dreams can come true thanks to a new bill signed by California Governor Edmund “Jerry” Brown that paves the way for driverless cars in his state.

According to an AP report, that bill will establish safety and performance regulations to test and operate autonomous vehicles on state roads and highways. Brown signed it at the headquarters of Google, Inc., which has been developing autonomous car technology and lobbying for regulations. Self-driving cars are already cruising California and could be sold commercially within the next two years.  Who knows, you might even need a driver’s license at all by 2040, if the trend catches on.

In the meantime, Google’s fleet of 12 computer-controlled vehicles (mostly Toyota Priuses) equipped with self-driving technology has logged more than 300,000 without an accident while the computer controlled the cars. The only documented accident with one of the Google vehicles was a fender bender that took place while a human was in control.*

The cars use a combination of technologies, including radar sensors on the front, video cameras aimed at the surrounding area, various other sensors and artificial-intelligence software that helps steer. While Google is currently the most visible company working on these types of vehicles, similar projects are in development at other organizations, including Caltech.

According to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, “the cars could address a variety of current transportation issues. First and foremost, he said, “The self-driving cars would be safer than human-driven cars. They also could ferry around people who are usually unable to drive, such as blind people, as well as those with other disabilities, as well as people who are either too young or too old to drive, not to mention those who become too intoxicated.”

Brin also went on to describe how a car that drives itself can significantly reduce traffic by chaining together with other self-driving vehicles and using highways more efficiently. “Drivers wouldn’t be limited to listening to NPR and honking during their morning commute; instead they could use that time to be productive, like the millions of people who take public transit currently do. In addition, self-driving cars would be able to drop you off at work and then pick up another person instead of idling in a parking lot. If you did opt to own your own car, it could park itself in the most efficient way possible.”

Still, there are numerous legal and technical problems that would have to be resolved before the cars are commonplace. Asked who would get the ticket when a driverless car runs a red light, Brin replied, “Self-driving cars do not run red lights.”
*Both Nevada and California laws require the cars to have a human behind the wheel who can take control of the vehicle at any time.

Japanese car makers prove driving force on road to economic recovery in US

By: Dani Ben-Ari

Although there seems to be little to celebrate when it comes to the economy here, Bloomberg News reports that, “rebounding auto production and sales are bright spots this year amid tepid job growth and wavering consumer sentiment.”

In fact, Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp.’s North American plants, are now leading an industry-wide assembly surge that is boosting the sagging US economy with Honda, showing a 75% surge in output. Toyota’s production has risen 66% , followed by Nissan Motor Co. All are now aiming to keep raising North American assembly and parts purchases to soften losses from the yen’s sustained strength.

“The Japanese currency traded yesterday at 78.8 yen to the dollar, compared with 86.6 yen to the dollar two years ago and 121.9 yen five years ago. The stronger yen makes it harder for companies to make vehicles in Japan and sell them profitably in the U.S., which encourages more North American manufacturing,” states Gus Faucher, a senior economist in Pittsburgh for PNC Financial Services Group Inc. “There is a lot of pent-up demand for autos, and it’s likely to stay strong for the next few years.”

Industry experts also point out that more than 87% of the Honda and Acura models sold in the United States during the past twelve months were made in North America. In addition, Honda a record 894,196 cars and light trucks were built by Honda in North America in the first half of 2012, up from 510,658 a year ago, while Toyota produced 944,570 vehicles (a 374,429-unit increase from 2011’s first half).

“Barring any unforeseen developments, it’s conceivable” that Toyota will make a record number of vehicles in North America this year, added Mike Goss, a spokesman for the automaker’s Erlanger, Ky.-based manufacturing and engineering unit for the continent.

Other manufacturers also showing growth in production include GM, which built 6% more vehicles during the first half of this year, and Chrysler Group LLC, which raised production by 23%. Ford Motor Co.’s output also increased by 3%.

In addition, Automotive News reported that “Nissan, is adding 1,000 workers to make Sentra small cars at its Canton, MS, plant, and is building a third auto-assembly factory in Mexico, raised production 21%, while affiliates Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. have expanded assembly at plants in Alabama and Georgia a combined 18%.”

Car buyers might be interested to note that so far this year, the top selling cars throughout the country include” the 2012 Ford Fusion; 2012 Ford Focus; 2012 Toyota Camry; 2012 Subaru Impreza; 2012 Lincoln MKZ; 2012 Ford Mustang; 2013 Dodge Dart; 2013 Infiniti G Coupe; 2013 Ford Mustang; and the 2013 Scion FR-S.

Warm Weather Riding with Pets and Children

It does noÂ’t take long for children and/or pets to become overheated in a car, even on a mild day with the windows cracked open. In fact, even if it is in the mid 70Â’s, the interior of a car can quickly climb to over 100 degrees or more minutes. And while many of us have all either been left in cars to wait for our parents while growing up, or have left our own children or pet sitting in a vehicle while we ran into a store “for “just a minute”” without any serious consequences, it is important to remember NEVER to do it!

Keep in mind that an average of 38 children, most under the age of two years old, have died from heatstroke each year since the late 1990Â’s after being trapped inside an overheated vehicle. In fact, it should be noted that a child’s body temperature can “rise as much as five times faster than an adultÂ’s” in the same situation.

As the temperatures climb inside the car, the extreme heat can cause a child to exhibit the following symptoms: Leg and/or stomach cramps, hot, red, dry skin but no sweating; rapid pulse, headache, vomiting, dizziness, irritability, rapid, shallow breathing, confusion, lethargy, and at worse, unconsciousness or even coma.

If you do find a child in an overheated car, remove them immediately and place them in a cool, shaded spot, or get them into an air-conditioned room as fast as possible. Fan them and remove any excess clothing. If possible, apply cool water to their heads, back of the neck and wrists. Even better, immerse them in a tub or pool of cool water. However, be sure that the water is not too cold, as this may actually cause the child to start shivering, which in turn can raise their temperatures even higher. If the child is conscious, be sure to give them water to drink (slowly), and keep their feet elevated. In extreme cases, call 911.

Note: Readers who leave their dogs in locked cars while they run errands during the summer need to keep a close eye out for signs of heatstroke or stress. If the dog is panting heavily, salivating or foaming at the mouth, get him to a cool place quickly and place ice on the pads of his paws, as well as on the back of his head. Also provide small sips of cool water. If you do not see any improvement after a few minutes, call your vet.

NHTSA & Chuggington Team up to teach Children how to be Safe in and around Cars

By: Diana Duel

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)has teamed up with the popular animated tv series Chuggington to teach children how to be safe in and around cars. The nationwide traffic safety campaign is geared specifically towards children from the ages of 2 to 7 and includes a public service announcement featuring characters from the show, a kid-focused safety pledge and downloadable tips and activities for parents and caregivers to use with children.

“This exciting partnership with Chuggington will help us bring our traffic safety message to young children and parents alike,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Educating children at an early age bout the importance of wearing bicycle helmets, looking both ways when crossing the street and buckling up leads to a lifetime of good traffic safety habits.”

Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death for children, with 1,314 fatalities and 179,000 injuries to those 14 and younger in 2009. In 2007, an estimated 262 fatalities and 115,000 injuries to children 14 and younger occurred from pedestrian incidents involving children playing in or around motor vehicles.

The new partnership  combines NHTSA’s safety guidelines for pedestrians, school buses, bikes and car seat use with Chuggington’s characters to reach parents and children.

“Chuggington’s characters learn important life lessons in every episode of the show and often earn badges as rewards for appropriate behavior,” said Dick Rothkopf, chairman of Ludorum, the creators of the show. “The ‘Think Safe, Ride Safe, Be Safe!’ traffic safety pledge and badge is based on this concept. We hope that children will be excited to learn the rules of the road while they interact with Chuggington’s characters and earn their ‘official’ Chuggington Traffic Safety badges.”

Parents and educators can access the Chuggington kids pledge and online tools by going to

Selling Your Vehicle

By: Diana Duel

While there may be several advantages to trading in your old car when buying vehicle from a dealer, such as reducing the purchase price, and saving your self the hassle of selling the car yourself, anyone planning to do this should be sure not to bring up the fact to the dealer until you have negotiated the price for the new one.

On the other hand, a private sale will allow you to get more money for your used vehicle than a dealer would pay. A dealer will never give you the Blue Book value since he, in turn, would be looking to make his own profit on the resale of your old car. To find out just what the fair market price would be, you can look it up at your local library, or simply check it out online.

Advertising your car can be done in the classified section of any newspaper. Online sites such as CraigÂ’s List are also available, though you should be sure not to give too much personal information, such as your home address or phone number in the listing until you are sure that the potential customer is a legitimate one. CraigÂ’s List will allow you to list the car and have interested parties respond to it through their site. Buyers should let you call them first. Then, if you feel okay you can let them know where to come and see it.

Do not let strangers test-drive it alone. However, if you decide to let them, hold onto their driverÂ’s license or ask them to give you the keys to their car to hold until they come back as a safety precaution. If you do not have license plates on the car you are selling, tell the buyer in advance. Cars without plates cannot be driven on the street.

You will also need to find out how the buyer intends to pay for the car you are selling. Insist they give you cash or a certified check before they take possession of the vehicle. Remember, personal checks can bounce or even be stopped

Buckle Up your Pup

Diana Duel

May 2011

According to a survey conducted by AAA, more than half of dog owners questioned admitted to “petting their dogs while driving,” while 21 percent said they often allow their dogs to sit in their laps! The majority of those surveyed admitted that although they themselves “buckle up,” they almost never use any kind of restraint to protect their dogs in case of an accident.

This, however, can pose a lot of danger; not only to the animal, but for everyone else in the car. An unrestrained dog can become a projectile. Even when weighing just ten pounds, warns Jennifer Huebner, manager of the AAA National Traffic Safety Programs, a dog will exert roughly 500 pounds of pressure in a crash at 50 mph. Furthermore, a dog weighing 80 pounds when involved in a crash at only 30 mph, will exert 2,400 pounds of pressure.

Additionally, dog seatbelts can help avoid accidents by preventing a frightened or even angry dog from jumping in the front seat when it becomes excited by something it sees outside the vehicle. Such sudden actions by a dog may unintentionally interfere with the driver while the car is in motion.

Huebner also states that front seats are “particularly deadly for dogs,” regardless of whether they are restrained or not. This is because airbags when inflating can be explosive during a crash, harming a dog more than the actual impact itself.

Be forewarned: Invest in dog seatbelts. Or, at least restrain your dog inside a crate that is tethered to the car. You will be glad you did should an accident occur.

Better to be safe than sorry.