Learner drivers on motorways? About time


A YEAR or so ago I ticked off another entry on the petrolhead bucket list; I maxed a car on a limit-free stretch of German autobahn.

Two things stick out from that afternoon somewhere near Stuttgart. The first is that as it was a Skoda Fabia Estate with four hefty Brits and their luggage aboard, the point at which it physically wouldn’t go any faster wasn’t actually all that quick. Secondly – and more importantly – the discipline of other drivers meant it felt far safer had I attempted to do the illegal thing and pull off the same trick on the autobahn’s British equivalent.

I’ve long moaned about what motorway driving’s all too often about. Impatient sales reps in Audi A4s driving inches off your back bumper. Lorry drivers sauntering through 50mph average speed zones at whatever speed their Scania feels happiest. People who cut across all three lanes sans indicator to make their turnoff at the last possible moment. Oh, and the chap in the battered Peugeot 206 who was so incensed by another driver he decided to stop in the middle lane of the M6 before lowering his window and flicking another motorist the finger.

Motorways are the fastest roads in the UK yet – in my experience at least – home to the worst driving. So plans to let up ‘n’ coming motorists learn how to use them are well overdue.

It defies logic that when I passed my test a couple of years ago I was able to jump into my 998cc Mini Mayfair – a car barely capable of the motorway speed limit – and drive down the M57 on a shopping trip to Warrington. Yet while the current theory test does touch on motorway driving, it seems silly not to go over it in the practical tests at all.

Obviously this does pose one big problem – although not one that’ll affect you in the North West, where lots of motorways criss-cross the M6 as it snakes its way up the country. If you live in Norfolk, Cornwall, or the far-away bits of Scotland and Wales, there are no motorways.

Perhaps we could either set up a scheme that allows learners to travel over and spend a day learning these roads, because it is important that the next generation of drivers knows that there is no such a thing as a slow lane on motorways and that those chevrons painted onto the roads on the busier bits haven’t been put there for fun. It also seems a bit bonkers that you need no practice whatsoever before being allowed to slot a family hatchback into a 70mph torrent of busy traffic.

The fact is the speed I cracked in a borrowed Skoda in a foreign country felt safer than the M62 does most nights. Making people learn the ropes is long overdue.

Why Volkswagen is investing in a car-free future


IT’S potentially the biggest shake-up in motoring since Henry Ford set up shop. Yet its instigators would rather you didn’t buy the cars it’ll create.

MOIA might sound like a Radio 2 newsreader or one quarter of Irish folk band Clannad but it’s actually the Volkswagen Group’s latest company, putting it alongside Audi, Bentley, Porsche and Skoda. Except that MOIA isn’t a car company. It’s – and you’ll have to imagine me waggling my fingers as I say it – a “mobility services company”.

Brilliant, I initially thought. Europe’s biggest carmaker has decided to help The Champion’s more mature readers by using knowhow from the Golf and Passat to reinvent the mobility scooter. No longer will looking cool while wobbling about 8mph be the preserve of pensioners travelling in those tiny three-wheelers styled to look like Harley Davidsons – I can just imagine a Golf GTI-inspired mobility scooter with a golf ball gearknob, subtle go-faster stripes and clever traction control.

But I was wrong. Apparently MOIA is aimed not at the over-65s, not even at Ford and Vauxhall, but at Google, Apple and – more imminently – Uber. The whole concept of how we get around is changing, and Volkswagen is determined to be all German about it and lay its towel down before anyone else does.

Unless you’ve been in a cave for the past year you’ll already know that Google has managed to find enough time away from making search engine cartoons to create a car. Only a few months ago Ford acknowledged Apple is now one of its big rivals. And just about every cabbie from Liverpool to Louisiana is feeling a tad cross with Uber muscling in on their turf.

At the moment MOIA is all about car-sharing and ride-hailing apps but don’t be surprised to see it dipping into Volkswagen’s vast parts bin to rustle up a car or two of its own. Nor should you raise an eyebrow when Toyota, Renault and everyone else follow suit. When cars are banned from the big cities, it’ll be whoever wins the mobility-sharing race that rules the roost.

There will be a time in a distant future when moving about in Liverpool involves hailing a ride with some likeminded mates in a vehicle none of you own – but I don’t know if it’ll be VW, Apple, Google or Uber supplying it.

As long as it isn’t a mobility scooter styled like a Harley Davidson I won’t mind too much.

Why you really ought to do the Blackpool Illuminations in a classic car


YOU DON’T have to venture far for one of Britain’s greatest drives. Blackpool’s Illuminations are big fun in the right car – as long as you’re prepared for it to average about three miles an hour.

I’ve ‘done the lights’ pretty much every year since I earned my licence and loved every minute. You can enjoy it in just about any car but to make the most of it bring a convertible that won’t overheat in prolonged stints of traffic, make sure it’s an auto so your left leg’s still working by the time you reach the Pleasure Beach, and tell your mates to wrap up warm because at no point will the roof be going up. Vauxhall’s Cascada, Mercedes’ E-Class Convertible and BMW’s 4-Series Cabriolet are pretty much perfect for the job.

The cars to cruise up the seafront and bask in the gaudy glitz of the lights and waft in the vinegary smells are better than ever. The only problem – if my last couple of trips up the coast have been anything to go by – the traffic management seems to have got worse.

Go on a busy Friday or Saturday night and you can expect to be queuing as you soon as you emerge from Lytham St Annes, sometimes with your engine off for 10 or 15 minutes at a time. That’s fair enough for one of the North’s most congested tourist hits, but what isn’t are the scary manouveres other impatient motorists pull to try and beat the queues.

On a visit last weekend drivers routinely drove up the wrong side of the road at well above the 30mph speed limit, usually with terrified-looking tourists heading straight at them in the other direction. For the best part of half an hour I watched as headlights flashed, horns blared and tyres screeched as people desperate to see the lights before everyone else caused other cars to career towards the kerb. It wasn’t just cars full of impatient Illuminations-watchers either; the single worst offender was a double decker bus, its driver thinking sticking his hazards on was enough to allow driving up the wrong side of a busy road.

Without wanting to sound like Alastair Stewart on some bad Nineties rerun of Police Camera Action it was some utterly appalling driving – but I reckon the ball’s in Blackpool’s court to sort it out. It’s great the Illuminations are hauling in the sightseers, but I suspect a massive accident caused by an impatient oik driving up the wrong side of the road won’t do the show any favours.

It’s a resounding A+ for the lights themselves – and I’d still recommend seeing them – but a firm ‘must do better’ on the traffic front. Same again next year?

Suffer hay fever? Don’t worry, Audi is here to help

The new Audi Q2 arrives here in NovemberHAY FEVER sufferers shopping for a new set of wheels ought to take a look at Audi’s latest models.

It’s now fitting the A1, A3, Q3 and TT models with a new air conditioning system that neutralises virtually all particles that cause allergic reactions. The system will also be fitted to the new Q2 model (pictured) when it arrives in November, although chances are you won’t be driving up the A1 in a fit of sneezes and puffy eyes by then.

I’m lucky enough to to be one of the few Brits who doesn’t suffer from hay fever, but I know plenty of car nuts who are particularly vulnerable to the menace of the high pollen count. It’s reassuring to see one of the big boys in the new car world taking their woes seriously.

Driverless cars will make motoring more fun, not less

Audi has already proved with this driverless TT you can have zero effort and motoring fun in the same carTHERE’S something ironic about a motoring-friendly monarch announcing a bid to back driverless cars.

Her Majesty loves driving so much that for years she had a Rover P5B parked nearby just for her personal use (and don’t forget, she’s a trained mechanic). Yet it was the Queen’s Speech last week that the Government used to signal it was going to be doing more to make driverless cars a reality, partly by encouraging British firms to make them work properly and partly by insisting that we should all be able to get insurance cover for them.

Which you’d think would leave me a little uneasy.

I – as anyone who’s read Life On Cars over the past seven years might have gathered by now – love driving. I love it so much that I’ll end a stressful day at the office by hopping into an MX-5 and doing 15 miles for no good reason other than it being enjoyable. I love jumping into different cars and delving into the different facets of what they do, and discovering whether they’re better at making big distances disappear or making corners a thing to be reveled in. I’ll go the long way around simply because there’s a nice road somewhere in the Peak District, and wind down my window in the Mersey Tunnel if I’m in something with a memorable exhaust note. Enjoying driving is what great cars are all about.

But driverless cars get my support, and it only takes a return trip to Oxfordshire to explain why.

On a working day with an appointment in Abingdon I spent four of my eight hours doing just one thing; driving. It wasn’t the sort of driving I crave, but a dull, monotonous slog on congested bits of the M40. Not since I watched the Star Wars: The Phantom Menace have I clocked up the hours I’ve lost from my life. Time I could’ve spent tapping up articles on my laptop or dreaming up new and creative ways to banish Katie Hopkins from Britain forever were spent looking at the back of stationary Nissan Qashqais.

Driverless cars will give us all those wasted hours back. As long as David Cameron enshrines our right to safely enjoy the B4391 on a sunny Sunday afternoon then I’ll happily back any car that lets me sit in the back with a laptop and a pint while it does all the hard work.

I suspect even Her Majesty would probably approve – she can finally sack the chauffeur!