If Shakespeare had written guidance for roundabouts…

As author Umberto Eco admits in the Guardian that there are books on his personal book shelves that he has not read and probably never will, we ask how many motorists have actually read the definitive motoring book of our time.

Eco asks, “Who has actually read Finnegans Wake – I mean from beginning to end? Who has read the Bible properly, from Genesis to the Apocalypse?"

And here at duck2water, we would like to know how many of us have actually read the Highway Code from introduction to final appendices

According to the Driving Standards Agency, the Highway Code celebrated its 80th birthday in April this year and is, so they say, one of Britain’s best selling and most iconic publications.

On commemorating the first edition of the road user’s guide Road Safety Minister Mike Penning said, "The Highway Code is the official guide to using the roads safely and responsibly. The Code has helped to save thousands of lives over the last 80 years, which is cause for celebration.

"The Highway Code is not just for new drivers, it holds crucial information for everyone from experienced motorists and motorcyclists to horse riders and pedestrians.”

So, as Mr Eco delves through the dusty tomes of his own personal library I shall attempt to find and revisit a memorable read from my own youth. Yes the ubiquitous Highway Code – it should be a valued possession of every road user in the UK.

Image © austinevan via Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

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Losing absolute faith in German engineering

I’ve always been a great believer in the strength of German engineering. Perhaps I’m just a dupe for national stereotypes, but I’ve always understood it that the Germans just do mechanics and machines better than anyone else.

This is why, way back in 1995, I worked two jobs and saved for that little bit longer so that I could buy a second-hand Mercedes instead of a Japanese or French car. Eventually, after a long European road trip full of mishap and misadventure the old beast finally exhaled its last breath of CO2 just as we hit Munich – it was as if it had been leading me home to die.

The fact that the Mercedes 450 SEL turned out to be something of a temperamental thing, despite being beautiful to look at and a beautiful runner when it did actually run, I always attributed to bad luck and a probably careless previous owner.

So this is why I am surprised to learn that Warranty Direct’s list of Europe’s five least reliable cars contains no fewer than three Mercedes models. As they are so given to mechanical failure and have high repair costs and not inconsiderable car insurance bills, I’m not sure why, despite the many, many allures of classic Mercedes engineering, I am now, as I had planned to, investing in a Mercedes as my next car.

Image © schoschie via Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

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Laser traffic jam removal

When people say the word “laser”, you probably think of eyes, hair removal, exciting museum robbery scenes and Star Wars.

But from now on – be prepared to also think of road traffic-flow improvements. 

A new type of high-tech laser is going to be used by investigating officers to help them take key measurements of crash sites quickly and get vehicles moving again. 

At the moment when a road needs to be closed after an accident, officers need to painstakingly go about with a tape-measure so that later they can better determine the cause of the crash and, potentially, who is liable. 

However, these new lasers, which sit on top of a tripod and cost about £250,000 each, will hopefully speed up the process and will lead to a better traffic flow across the UK. 

The British Roads Minister stated, “There is nothing more frustrating than being stuck in a traffic jam for hours on end.

“But even worse than that is the shocking £1billion cost of those lost hours for our economy. That is why we are determined to improve clear-up times following accidents so we can get our motorways re-opened as quickly as possible.

“Motorway closures in England cost the economy around a staggering £1 billion a year. That is an unacceptable brake on the country's economic recovery and must be reduced.”

Anything that makes going from point A to point B smoother, we like.

Image by dmuth via Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

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Give us a pony and we’ll take you to Holyhead

What do you do if your car insurance doesn’t cover you to drive with a horse box attached to your vehicle? You take your pony to the train station and try to get it on a train – obviously!

Well, at least that’s just what a man in Wrexham, north Wales, attempted to do.

The man apparently arrived at Wrexham Station’s ticket office and asked for two tickets to Holyhead.

When his request was refused he reportedly replied “I know the law” and promptly led the animal onto the northbound platform, having travelled in a lift up to a bridge across the tracks, and yes, the pony went along for the ride.

Pictures featured in the press show the man as he tries to get on the train with the pony close behind him. However, a conductor was soon on the scene to stop the pair from getting into a carriage.

It is said that there was a brief argument, but eventually man and beast left the platform.

A spokesperson for Aviva Trains Wales explained that they exercised a “no livestock” policy on their trains and commented, “We do allow small animals, such as dogs and guide dogs, onboard but not large animals that could pose a risk to the general public.”

Here at duck2water car insurance, we wonder what the hapless traveller did next – we’re guessing that hitch-hiking might have been problematic too.

Image © Todd Huffman via Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

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Cornish pasty power

Here we go again – apparently scientists have found a way of partially running a vehicle on oil extracted from, amongst other things, leftover Cornish pasties.

This environmentally-friendly fuel resource would otherwise be chucked into landfill but according to the experts, when extracted from the discarded food products and mixed with diesel it can be turned into greener fuel for motorists.

Reportedly, there are even plans to sell this bio-diesel across the UK at petrol stations!

The company which plans to take on the manufacture of this pasty-juice, Greenenergy, already produces 10 billion litres of biodiesel and normal diesel every year and is investing £50 million in its factory in Lincolnshire so that it can efficiently process the used Cornish cooking oils.

The firm’s chief executive has stated, “We've always tried to find ways of reducing the environmental impact of our fuel and as oil prices continue to rise, it's obviously important to develop alternative sources of fuel.”

Some processed foods are 30% cooking oil, so throwing those types of food into landfill is quite wasteful on the oil front.

We wonder whether petrol stations will only be able to call it Cornish pasty petrol if the pasty the oil originally came from was made in Cornwall. Well – the pasty has achieved protected status now – can’t ignore that!

Image by Gareth_Rogers via Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

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Turning to the dark side – viral video Passat advert at work to sell cars

Okay, so they missed a trick by not launching it on May the fourth but Volkswagen’s new advert for the Passat model has taken the internet, and car ad enthusiasts, by storm (troopers not withstanding).

The little boy’s futile attempts to use Jedi mind powers to bring objects to life are backed by the thumping theme music from the Star Wars films and take on a tragi-comic quality until the family car mysteriously responds.

I don’t know about you, but I think the ad is great. The diminutive Darth Vader threatens mysterious mischief but cannot even raise so much as a woof from the family’s pet Labrador.

Yet, when dad arrives home in the Volkswagen, the young Jedi Master is able to use his powers to make the car flash and beep (or was it dad’s remote key fob) and the boy’s reaction is priceless.

In terms of selling the car’s prowess as a piece of automotive engineering I’m not sure the ad has much to say, but as a soft-sell brand awareness campaign – with the intervention of the video’s viral presence on social networking sites – its Jedi mind trickery is obviously working.

The Passat is the car I am looking for – I must buy it and go about my business.




On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, from Swindon

You have to wonder about how much the driver from Swindon who has 39 penalty points on his/her license must be paying for car insurance.

Most of us live in fear of even accruing a few penalty points, lest we start edging ever closer to the dreaded twelve. This of course is because twelve is meant to be the point at which we forego the right to drive and instead become eco warriors by default – consigned to a life of bus rides, bicycling and train station platform hopping.

We know that the twelve-point rule can be waived, although only in “exceptional circumstances”. The DVLA states that in a “small percentage of cases where the driver has accumulated 12 or more penalty points”, courts can opt not to disqualify.

Even so, 39 points is pretty incredible – how exceptional must this driver’s circumstances be?

Unfortunately, although we are allowed to know some details of the case, we are not allowed to know anything specific that might reveal the driver’s identity.

I thought that I might hazard a guess at theis person’s exceptional identity and search through a list of Swindon’s famous names – it didn’t take long, I could only find one: Billie Piper.

Not convinced that rushing to film the latest series of Diary of a Call Girl might qualify as exceptional circumstances, I confess that I’m stumped. I am, however, tantalized by something I’ve just learned: Ian Fleming author of the James Bond novels lived in Swindon while he wrote such classics as Quantum of Solace. I know it’s a long shot, but maybe, just maybe, the real 007, many times saviour of our planet, operates from a bachelor pad in Swindon. Now that would count as exceptional circumstances…

Image by Stan1ey via Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

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