Wednesday, May 10, 2006

School Transportation

Here's something that the US really do get right.

In the UK there is no school transportation (at least, there wasn't when I was a kid and where I came from). I either had to walk, get a lift or use public transport. Most kids I knew either walked or used a bus. This of course carries with it numerous risks, including getting hit by, well, a bus, getting mugged kidnapped, killed or worse.

Of course, it's impossible to completely remove these risks, but here they try really hard to reduce them as much as they can.

You'll have seen the yellow school buses in moves: they have fleets of them in every town. But they're actually more clever than simply providing a dedicated bus service for kids. They also protect kids getting onto or off the bus from other cars too.

When happens is, when the bus stops to pick up or drop off, this little Stop sign pops out of the left side of the bus and lights flash at the front and back. Cars travelling in either direction on the road are required by law to stop until the sign is taken back. Thus, the bus in a way has an in-built lollypop lady which can be deployed anywhere. The children can cross the road in safety.

In addition to this, sections of the roads around schools are defined as 'school zones' around them. At set times of the day, the lights marking the ends of the school zones flash, indicating that the speed limit in the zone is now reduced to 20mph. The police monitor this carefully, and so this is one place where having a cruise control is very useful: it's difficult to maintain a speed of only 20mph manually. It is however very easy to stop quickly at this speed, which is of course the point.

Of course, this doesn't stop it being annoying to drivers, but child safety is surely more important?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Lights (Part 1)

It's been a long time since I opened this blog without any postings. It's not that I haven't had any ideas, I just haven't had time to write them down.

Well, I'm going to make time now, and start by talking about lights. You might notice the 'Part 1' in the title of this post, and if so you might have correctly deduced that there's going to be more posts about lights in the future.

I have a lot to say about lights, but not the same lights in the same places.

But lights nontheless.

This post is about the lights on cars.

In the UK, the car light situation is pretty consistent. The only real difference you've find from car to car is the addition of fog lights at the front, and whether there's one or two reverse lights or fog lights at the back. Everything else is the same.

In the US, there certainly are rules regarding lights and things do have an element of consistency to them. However, there are a few interesting differences that should be noted.

For a start, no cars (at least in Texas) have fog lights at the back. This make some sort of sense, since I don't think I've known it to be foggy enough to warrant the use of fog lights since I moved here. But it does cause me a problem: I have fewer weapons now.

I found that foglights at the back are an excellent tool for conveying to the person behind to "Turn your fecking full beam off". You turn them on and leave them on until the offending driver turns off his brights. Here, you don't really have much else to use as a weapon. Even the brake lights are less effective here because most people drive automatics anyway, which tends to make people use their brakes more often as a matter of course.

The other thing that's different is the indicators. Here, the indicators can be red. Oh, and sidelights at the front can be orange!

For me, that's madness. If I see a car driving along with brake lights flashing, is he using his hazard lights or is he pumping his brakes? If I'm approaching a car in another lane and can only see one side, and his brake light comes on a couple of times, is he riding the brake or indicating to move out?

Too many variables if you ask me. But then, everyone is used to it, so is it a big deal? I don't know, but my thought is that such things should be designed to avoid ambiguity, since drivers make decisions based on these lights.

There's a darker side to this subject too... Here's an unfortunate car lighting similarity with the UK: some people put coloured lights on the bottom of their cars here too. I don't think they call the drivers of these cars Chavs here, but the resemblance is uncanny. America had better watch out: a new ruling class is on the rise...