Category: Driving

Italian Driving Rules: A Few Things to Know Before Hitting the Open Roads of Italia

Whilst on holiday in Italy, some opt to rent a car and motor through the country, exploring all it has to offer. Since this usually requires an international driver’s license or some other special permission, public transport or tour busses are usually the way to go when touring with a large group. While the bus might be a more practical option, it is not the most serene.

On a recent high school tour through Italy, bus trips were plentiful and an EF Tour guide gave some firsthand insight to some of the regulations garnering automobile transport in Italy. Whether by bus or automobile, before one takes to the Italian roads there are a few things to be aware of.

While Paris has the highest accident rate in the world, according to Roman tour guide, Matteo,but Italy has the worst drivers in the world. Though law makers have attempted to curb speeding, the system is hardly efficient.

For example, as you pass from the country roads into the outskirts of Florence, there is a “speed box” that clocks the speed of cars as they pass along the road. The box takes a picture of the car and license plate and if one is caught traveling down that road faster than 28 mph, a ticket is mailed to the driver’s house about 3 to 4 months after the date of the offense. If one doubts that they are indeed the offender, they can make an appointment with the police station to obtain the photo of their license plate and speeding car.

Because of this rather complicated system people usually opt to pay the fine since most don’t remember what road they passed through several months prior. This procedure earns the Italian government sizable revenue but the number of offenders has not decreased.

Italy is also making an attempt to curb air pollution given off from automobiles therefore busses are only allowed to drive a limited amount of hours per day. Each bus is equipped with a disk that records information for the police to check at will. At any point in time, a bus can be pulled over, even if the bus was not breaking a law. Cops check the disk to see if the bus has gone above 62 mph at any time on their day’s journey, or if the busses have been driving too many hours that day. The disks don’t clock actual mileage though, they clock the time the bus has been running, so if a bus is stuck in traffic the time spent unmoving is counted against the driver’s time.

Engines on tour busses must be turned off while waiting to pick up passengers otherwise they will accumulate too much time on their disk. While this sounds like a great way to cut auto emissions, tour groups looking to escape the 100 degree heat after a summer walk through Pompeii, step foot on a steamy bus that can not be turned on until all passengers are fully loaded an accounted for. An attempt to purify the air makes for unhappy bus drivers and visitors.

Weekend drivers can take pleasure in knowing that their trips won’t be spoiled by trucking accidents. In Italy, as trucks are only allowed to drive on roads Monday through Friday. This has slightly improved road conditions in that traffic is somewhat reduced on weekends. However, since many opt to take small road trips on the weekends, one now has to battle the oodles of other drivers that have the same idea as they had therefore the traffic is still held up, but for different reasons.

Before hitting the open roads of Italy one must carefully plan their means of transport. Renting a car is often an appealing option, though be sure you are aware of all the rules and permissions needed. Bus transport is an economic option as well, though being packed on a bus in 100 plus degree heat in the summer is about as enjoyable as it sounds. And while many tourists might not be used to the rules garnering roadway travel, the Italian government is taking steps to ensure the safety of the roads as well as the cleanliness of the environment, even if it seems to hinder the driving experience.

Commentary Driving Helps Parents Teach Teen Drivers How to Focus

What does a teenage driver think about when he (or she) gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle? Chances are he thinks about things other than traffic and what’s going on around him – things like dating, parties, the latest number one music video, schoolwork, and so forth. But, driving is a complex task. It takes complete attention and concentration.

How can a parent tell if his teen driver is clearly focused on the driving task? How can he tell what kind of information the teen is processing? Is he properly organizing what he sees? One way a parent can help his teen learn to stay focused on the driving scene is to engage him in commentary driving.

What is Commentary Driving?

Commentary driving is talking – calling attention to parts of the surrounding environment that could directly or indirectly affect the driving task. The driving environment includes, but is not limited to: Condition of the car and driver, traffic signs, road markings, what can be seen (or not seen) in the mirrors and the presence of other vehicles. It takes into account the weather conditions, pedestrian activity, distractions, time of day, and much more.

 

Here’s an example of commentary driving:

Picture a teen driver about to enter a residential area straight ahead. It’s Saturday afternoon and the weather is warm and sunny. There are children at play, including a group on the sidewalk kicking around a ball. A car is approaching from the opposite direction. A few older kids are riding bikes farther down the block, but scatter to both sides of the road as they see the two cars coming near. There is a controlled intersection just ahead, plus there’s a green traffic light two blocks ahead. How does commentary driving work?

In commentary driving the teen is asked to state first what is most important: “Children in the street and on the sidewalk.” At the same time he should react by slowing his speed. He lists other hazards in order of importance: “Oncoming car. Upcoming intersection with stop a sign. Green light ahead. Glare from the sun.” He might also mention mail boxes, a blind driveway hidden by bushes, and what his speedometer reads. The idea of commentary driving is to train the driver to focus on the most important danger(s) first and to keep his mind on the ever-changing picture.

Developing Driver Organization Skills

A parent can help a teen develop good driver organization skills. With the parent behind the wheel and the teen in the front passenger seat, ask the teen to comment on what he sees, beginning with the most hazardous or most important clue. Discuss whether or not the clues are organized and what changes need to be made to improve the order.

Commentary driving is a good way to identify distractions and builds confidence. Allow the teen to get as much driving time as possible. Frequently test his organizational skills through commentary driving. After a few sessions, there will hopefully be a significant improvement in the teen driver’s performance.

Using the Senses in Learning to Drive

As new teen drivers gain experience, they learn to use their other senses. They develop an even greater awareness of the driving environment. Skilled experienced drivers are constantly aware of changing weather conditions, the different odors in the vehicle and the feel of the vehicle contacting the road. They instantly identify and make adjustments for pedestrians, animals crossing the highway, construction and distractions. Continuing commentary driving will show a parent how much more the teen sees as he gains more driving experience.

Commentary driving is an effective way to improve driving skills. It is gathering the most critical clues and responding in time to prevent an accident or driving mishap. Think of commentary driving as a method for gaining a better understanding of the driving environment at any given time. OTR (Over-the-road) truck and bus drivers go through the same routine in professional driving school. Trainee drivers are required by their instructors to comment on every driving-related thing they see in order to improve focus and driver performance.

A teen driver has a responsibility to keep others safe, as well as himself. He is responsible for preventing harm to property. Explain to your teen driver how important it is to always be aware of his surroundings. Set an example for your teen by being a defensive driver. Commentary driving is a way to reduce anxiety for a new driver and his parent; both are focused on the driving task. It’s a way to build good driving habits and skills that will keep a new driver – and those around him – safe from harm.

Winter Driving Tips: Vehicle Safety Guide for Ice and Snow

For drivers those who live in areas where ice and snow are problematic, preparing for a winter drive can be tricky business. Ideally, a person should aim to stay off the roads altogether amidst harsh weather conditions. When this isn’t possible, certain safety tips should be applied.

Before even getting into the vehicle, drivers should make sure to clear all snow from the roof, hood, windshield, windows, trunks and tail lights and headlights. Clearing just enough to see through the windshield is not enough. All windows should be cleared for full visibility; snow on the rooftop should be clear to ensure it doesn’t collapse onto the windows and obstruct vision; and snow should be cleared from the headlights and tail lights to ensure the car is visible to others.

When driving in snow and ice, drivers should be weary of hills. Drivers should remember that when driving in snow, going downhill can be trickier than going uphill. Keeping a certain amount of momentum can be necessary when driving uphill. However, when driving downhill, proceed with caution. It’s easy to lose control of where the vehicle will end up.

Anticipation is key. Adjusting based on where the car might be headed 10 seconds ahead of time can be a significant factor for a driver to stay out of a ditch. For instance, if the driver sees a sharp turn with a lot of ice, he or she should take the turn with caution or avoid it if possible.

Avoid abrupt turns or abrupt braking. Taking a turn too sharply, or braking too quickly and abruptly can cause a loss of control for the driver. Also, it can help for the driver to put the car in neutral before braking, since neutral doesn’t pull the car forward like having it in drive. This can help the car come to a fully controlled stop if conditions are severe.

 

Ensuring one has appropriate emergency supplies can be a life-saving practice. Ideally, these items would be together, perhaps in a bag of some sort, and would be easy to access in an emergency. The trunk is an ideal spot.

For Safer Driving

  • Chains
  • Snow shovel and scraper
  • Sand or kitty litter for traction

If pushing a stuck car out of snow, drivers should remember to rock the car gently in order to build momentum. Also, the driver should be careful about spinning out too much, as it might simply dig him or her deeper into the snow.

In the case of ice driving, remember to keep speeds low and to avoid sharp turns or abrupt breaking.

In Case of an Emergency

  • Booster cables
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Flares or reflectors
  • First Aid Kit
  • Exterior windshield cleaner
  • Bright cloth

Drivers should be sure to replace batteries periodically.

Survival Supplies in Case of an Emergency

  • Extra warm clothes
  • At least two blankets, and/or sleeping bag
  • High calorie, non-perishable food (including can opener if necessary)
  • Cloth/paper towels
  • Water

Being prepared can mean the difference between life or death. That also means checking weather forecasts in advance.

 

Driving Route One through Big Sur, California: Highlights along One of America's Most Famous Roadways

The stretch of coastline, loosely referred to as Big Sur, has something for everyone. Some highlights are featured here from south to north.

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle is a National Historic Landmark and destination for one million visitors annually. Built for William Randolph Hearst beginning in 1919, major construction continued until the middle of the century. In 1957, Hearst Castle was donated to the State and is currently maintained as a state historic park with tours available.

Elephant Seal Rookery

The elephant seal rookery located on the ocean side of Route 1 near San Simeon is the largest on the West Coast of the United States. It is free to visit.

Piedras Blancas Light Station

Piedras Blancas Light Station is located at the northern entrance to San Simeon Bay. First activated in 1875, the light was automated one hundred years later. The station has been unmanned ever since. The property is now maintained by the United States Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management. Docent-led tours focus on everything from the history of the light to the natural history of the surrounding land.

Salmon Creek Falls

Salmon Creek Falls is located near the community of Gorda. It is a 120 foot waterfall, which is easily reached by way of a path on the inland side of Route 1.

 

Henry Miller Library

Henry Miller stated: “It was here in Big Sur I first learned to say Amen!” The Henry Miller Library is the repository of both books and artwork by Henry Miller, including an impressive collection of first editions. There is a peaceful lawn and sculpture garden where tech savvy travelers can even take advantage of free WiFi.

Nepenthe

Nepenthe is a restaurant with spectacular views of the coastline. Once owned by Orson Wells, the property became a restaurant in 1949. Lunch is served every day, and dinner is available year round except Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is also a café called Café Kevah, as well as a shop called the Phoenix Shop.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is maintained by California State Parks. The main attraction is McWay Falls, a waterfall which plunges 80 feet directly into the Pacific. This is the only perennial waterfall in California which falls directly into the Ocean.

Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn

Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn was founded by Helmuth and Helen Haight Deetjen. Administered today by the Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn Preservation Foundation, the property is operated on a non-profit basis. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and guests can stay in cabin-like rooms tucked beneath soaring redwoods. There is an excellent restaurant.

Point Sur Lighthouse

Point Sur Lighthouse is the only complete turn-of-the-century California lighthouse open to the public. Completed in 1889, the light sits atop a 361-foot tall rock. The light was automated in 1972. The property was transferred to California State Parks in 2004, and three-hour, docent-led walking tours are offered.

Bixby Bridge

Bixby Creek Bridge opened Big Sur to automobile traffic in 1932. It is 714 feet long and 24 feet wide. At its highest, it is over 280 feet high. The main span is 320 feet long, and the bridge is one of the most photographed sites in Big Sur.

Point Lobos

Point Lobos was called “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world” by early California painter Francis McComas. Today it is considered to be the crown Jewel of the California State Park System. The Park is a destination in-and-of-itself and may be explored at length.

Audi A5 Review – Winter Driving

The Audi A5 coupe comes in an all wheel drive version that can handle winter weather conditions. Audi has made a car capable of driving in snow and ice.

The Audi A5 is a 2-door sports coupe that is designed to achieve both stylish luxury and high performance. Buying into the hype, this writer purchased a fully loaded pitch black A5 in the early part of 2010. In contrast to most car articles that list performance specs, options and technical data, this is a true story of how the Audi A5 performed in some of the worst driving conditions this writer has ever seen.

Audi Dealership

There is always some aspect of apprehension when purchasing a new car, especially when switching to a new automaker. As many people already know, the feelings when purchasing a new can fluctuate between excitement, anxiety, doubt, and skepticism.

One recommendation is to find a dealership and sales associate that you are comfortable working with. The dealership where my car was purchased was not the first Audi dealership I visited and I did not even begin the buying process until I found a sales associate I was comfortable with. In a strange way, when you meet the right sales associate, you just know. If there is any doubt, they are not the right one for you.

 

As with any major purchase, there is a negotiating and bargaining process that is to be expected. Did I believe I got away with some great steal? Probably not. Did I think the dealership made some pretty good money off my purchase? Probably. Do I believe that I received a good deal and a great car? Absolutely. Of course I checked Edmunds.com, filtering through endless forums for prices being paid by consumers across the country, before even stepping foot into a dealership.

Audi A5

Like most people, I do not proclaim to be an automobile expert, but I can appreciate a nice car. When initially purchasing the A5, I’ll admit I was drawn to the flashy day running lights that are so obviously emphasized in the commercials. However, I also knew that I wanted a coupe, and that it absolutely had to be all wheel drive. Fortunately, the A5 is available in an all wheel drive version.

Winter Driving

Growing up in the Midwest, I learned to respect winter weather while driving. Of course this lesson was only learned after multiple accidents. From personal experience, front wheel drive cars tend to do fairly well provided the driver uses common sense and safe driving practices. However, I will admit that every time it snowed or rained in the wintertime, getting into a rear wheel drive car felt like stepping into a death trap.

I cannot count the number of times my rear wheel drive car seemed to slip right out from under me, in what appeared to be clear conditions, except for maybe a little snow and ice. I have vowed never to purchase a rear wheel drive car again, so long as I live in an area that receives significant amounts of snowfall.

How the Audi A5 Handles in the Winter

On the night of November 20th 2010, rain started to drizzle down on the twin cities. By the early morning hours of November 21st, the rain had become a sheet of ice covering almost every hard surface. Unfortunately, I had gone out earlier in the evening when the weather was still clear. I remember walking on the sidewalk was nearly impossible, managing only a few steps before slipping and sliding. I remember thinking to myself that driving home was going to be an ordeal. In normal conditions, it may take me 15 minutes to drive home from where I was that night. Although it ended up taking upwards of 2 hours, I fared much better than most people.

According to the Savage Pacer News Site, there were 438 reported crashes on roads throughout the state. Please keep in mind that all these occurred within a timeframe of a few hours. I can only describe what I saw, which were 5 to 7 car pileups, countless scattered accidents, cars pulled over on the side of the road, and semi trucks as well as city busses stopped in their tracks.

Numerous exit ramps onto interstates were completely blocked off. The ice did not discriminate by make or model, as both compact cars and SUV’s slid off the road. I can only assume that most of the drivers were not driving recklessly and were even cautious due to the weather conditions.

Aside from the occasional slip when braking, the A5 was able to handle roads too icy for people to walk on. Although I had initial apprehensions about my decision to purchase the Audi A5, I knew I made the right decision as I drove past countless accidents. I know I am not an expert on cars nor am I a car salesman.

All I know is that I got home safe that night.

Winter Driving Tips for Ex-Californians: Plan Ahead With Checklist and Watch Road Conditions

The slippery roads and icy conditions that begin to appear in November require a different mind-set. No longer can one hop in the car with shorts and flip-flops and take a trip on a whim.

Winter Driving Checklist

Here’s a simple list of what former Californians need to do stay safe in winter:

  1. Plan ahead. Consider delaying the trip until the weather improves. Use the Internet or television to check travel conditions before leaving. Don’t venture into areas that are unfamiliar, particularly roads in open fields where horizontally driven snowfall can cut visibility to zero.
  2. Carry such items as an ice scaper, snow brush, extra window-wash solution (the kind that won’t freeze in minus-40-degrees-Celcius weather), sand to add traction, a shovel, first-aid kit, blanket, dry clothes, matches, fire extinguisher and non-perishable snack foods.
  3. Keep your gas tank full at least half full. One doesn’t want to run out of fuel if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
  4. Every November, switch to snow tires. Make sure to change all four tires to those with extra traction for winter conditions, such as icy roads. Never “mix and match” winter tires with those used during warmer seasons.
  5. Switch off the California mentality of “get in and go.” Drivers should slow down and leave a two-second interval between them and the car in front of them. Watch out for bridges, where black ice is more likely to form and the chance of losing control of your car increases.
  6. Check the tires’ air pressure at least once a month. Air pressure decreases as the mercury drops.
  7. When driving, listen to the radio for weather updates. Drivers need to leave themselves extra driving time to get to their destinations.
  8. If a driver is taking a longer trip, he should let a friend or family member know where he’s going and his estimated time of arrival.
  9. Keep an eye out for vehicles with flashing lights that remove ice and snow from roads. Never pass around or in between such vehicles.
  10. Drivers need to have a mechanic check out their cars or trucks before winter sets in. Get the needed repairs done in advance.

Cell Phones and Road Conditions

Another essential thing to have in winter is a working cell phone to call for help during emergencies. A word of caution, however: Many states and Canadian provinces ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving.

The main thing is don’t be impulsive. Be prepared and get into the groove of winter driving. And former California drivers should look at the positive side: They likely don’t have to worry about earthquakes knocking down freeway overpasses.