Car sizes, and safety: New vs used

I mentioned last year I was thinking about upgrading my car, which is frequently unused during the week, but still needed on occasions. Car share hasn’t reached our area yet.

Buying cars is not something I do lightly. In 18 years of driving, I’ve only owned two vehicles: a 1993 Magna (owned 2000-2008), and a 2000 Astra (owned 2008-).

Like any shopping, for something big or small, I agonise over it.

Car sizes

After some thought, for the purposes of shopping, I had narrowed down to a Toyota Corolla or Camry sedan.

Here’s something interesting: the old Mitsubishi Magna I used to drive was considered a midsize car.

The Toyota Corolla is considered a compact car. But the newer Corolla sedans actually have very similar dimensions to the Magna.

Car Magna 1993 Corolla sedan 2013- Camry 2011-17
Length mm 4746 4620 4820
Width mm 1775 1775 1820
Height mm 1430 1460 1470
Weight kg 1356 1300 1447

The Camry isn’t much longer than the Corolla, only 20cm. And only slightly wider: 5cm. Hmm.

Fuel consumption also not that different, on paper: Corolla 7.4 litres/100 km. Camry 7.8.

More reading on car sizes: How Small Cars Got Big, by John Cadogan

Traffic heading into Southland on a Saturday morning

Used car safety

I want something with a five star ANCAP rating.

But given how little I drive, I’m also on a budget. So a 5-8 year old car is probably the target.

Here’s where things get interesting. How Safe Is Your Car provides ANCAP ratings of vehicles going back about 5 years.

Older than that, they give you “Used Car Safety Ratings”, which rather than being based on crash tests, are based on actual crash statistics: “Driver Protection rating based on analysis of real world crashes.”

And these show the Corolla rankings dropping markedly: a 2012 Corolla got five stars for ANCAP, but only rates 2/5 on the crash statistics — no better than my old 2000 Astra, or indeed the old 1993 Magna.

What I’m not clear on is whether there’s a difference between the hatch and the sedan. It doesn’t distinguish. The sedan is a bit bigger, and might perform differently in real world crashes.

In contrast to the Corolla, the 2006-2011 Camry got a four star ANCAP rating, but rates 4/5 on crash statistics. (Camrys from 2012 onwards have five star ANCAP ratings.)

I wonder if driver behaviour is a factor here? Camrys are not a very exciting car…

Sunday afternoon traffic on M1 exit to Kingsway

Finding the dealer

Last Monday afternoon, before I’d twigged on the real world used car safety ratings, I went to test-drive a Corolla I’d found on Carsales. Just getting there was a slightly torturous drive.

The car dealer was on a busy divided arterial road. I was approaching from the wrong direction, so I did a U-turn. It was about 3pm, and the road was very congested, but a kind motorist let me in… into her lane… the right-hand lane.

None of the other drivers were that considerate, and as we all crawled along, none would let me merge left… so I missed the car dealer.

Okay. I’m still in the right hand lane. I found the next U-turn point, so I could try another pass.

Ahead of me at the lights was a red car. When the light changed, we both did U-turns and headed back the way I’d come.

I noticed the red car also did another U-turn. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who’d been unable to merge across.

What fun. We’re all going around in circles.

I didn’t see if they made it a second time; I went a bit further down the road to where there was slightly less congestion, and managed to get into the correct lane this time and hit my target.

Test the right car, dummy

Having eventually made it to the car dealer, I chatted to the bloke and looked at the car.

A splendid beast indeed. I took it for a drive around the (large) block while he checked out my old Astra as a trade-in.

The Corolla was lovely. Good size, drove smoothly, not too many Ks on the clock.

I was even (perhaps overly) enamoured of the indicator lights on the wing mirrors.

Then I noticed it doesn’t come with cruise control. I hadn’t even thought to check. Only some models of they year’s Corollas come with it.

If I was just driving in the city, I wouldn’t need it. But I don’t actually drive much in the city. A few times a year, I drive to the country to visit the in-laws, and it’s incredibly valuable to have it.

Apparently you can get kits to fit cruise control afterwards. They’re not too expensive. But isn’t this just the type of after-market modification that messes with your insurance premiums?

And I’m likely to only get a pittance on the old Astra, at least from that dealer. I wasn’t expecting much, but 4 digits would at least be nice. He actually suggested I simply keep it. Yeah nah. Presumably it’s only value is parts.

Anyway, given what I’ve since discovered about real world crash stats, I’ll keep hunting, and I’m now leaning towards a Camry instead — or one of the others ranked highly in the TAC’s list of used vehicles.

Update 22/5/2018: I had been considering a Mitsubishi Lancer. Recent models are five star safety rated, and according to my cousin who has one, they’re made in Japan and very reliable, while being a bit cheaper than a Corolla.

Mitsubishi are discontinuing the Lancer in the next year or two, so the basic model hasn’t changed in some time — not that it matters. I think I’ll take a look at one.

Melbourne’s landmark intersection is a debacle, and authorities are doing nothing to fix it

I’ve posted about Rule 128 before.

Rule 128 says:

Entering blocked intersections

A driver must not enter an intersection if the driver cannot drive through the intersection because the intersection, or a road beyond the intersection, is blocked.

Penalty: 3 penalty units.

The Age recently got hold of figures revealing there were just 18 fines per month for this offence in 2016-17. Yet it’s a constant problem in the CBD, especially during peak hours.

People had told me it was particularly bad at the corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets in evening peak. I don’t normally go that way on weekdays, so I took a look on Thursday night. They were not wrong.

Motorists blocking pedestrian crossing, Flinders/Swanston Street #Rule128

Every traffic light cycle is like this. The photos in this post are all from Thursday between 6:06pm and 6:23pm.

Motorists blocking pedestrian crossing, Flinders/Swanston Street #Rule128

I asked a passing police officer about it. The reply: “There’s nothing we can do.”

And he told me pedestrians sometimes cross against the lights, delaying traffic. He said it twice. It’s mentioned in The Age article too.

Well yes, sometimes that happens. And yet, it’s irrelevant. The only thing that was delaying cars at this intersection was other cars.

Are “there’s nothing we can do” and “pedestrians also do silly things” a standard talking point coming down from management?

You can bet if a few pedestrians started blocking traffic, the police would move in fast. Remember the case of Jafri Katagar, the “Stop Racism Now” protestor?

Watching this happen every single cycle was almost excruciating.

It took ages for this bloke in the wheelchair, and his carer, to find a gap between the cars on the crossing, that was big enough for them to squeeze through. Ditto the bloke with the pram, just visible on the right, trying to get back to the ramp to the footpath after going around the cars:
Motorists blocking pedestrian crossing, Flinders/Swanston Street #Rule128

Mostly, north-south trams were not being delayed, though every so often there would be a close call with a westbound motorist. Eastbound traffic (from Flinders Street or St Kilda Road) wasn’t being delayed.

Motorists blocking pedestrian crossing, Flinders/Swanston Street #Rule128

This westbound tram came through. It had the green, but a vehicle partly blocking its tracks on the far side made it stop before it could get through. By the time it could move again, pedestrians were crossing, delaying it further:

Tram delayed by cars blocks intersection

How do any of the authorities responsible for this mess think that it’s okay that this keeps happening?

Motorists blocking pedestrian crossing, Flinders/Swanston Street #Rule128

What can they do?

There are at least six things the authorities can do:

Get police to direct traffic. Put officers on duty and direct the traffic through, taking special care not to let vehicles enter the intersection unless it’s clear.

Start fining people. Put a few police officers there and fine each one that blocked the intersection. Publicise it, and I bet you’d soon see a behaviour change.

They do enough blitzes on pedestrians. It’s time they ensured motorists obey the rules and stop compromising pedestrian safety.

Signage and line markings. Crosshatching on the intersection; “Keep intersection clear” signs on approach. Of course the rules already apply, and similar markings even on level crossings aren’t infallible, but it can’t hurt to remind drivers of their obligations.

Educate people on the law. This problem is not isolated to this location. Right across the CBD, but also in suburban areas, motorists regularly ignore Rule 128. It makes things difficult and unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists, and delays other traffic. Some people clearly need reminding.

Motorists blocking pedestrian crossing, Flinders/Swanston Street #Rule128

Close that option to traffic. If the busiest intersection next to the busiest entrance to the busiest railway station in Melbourne is continually breached by irresponsible motorists every single traffic light cycle, and authorities won’t lift a finger to fix it, it’s time to look at directing that traffic somewhere else. Remove one lane of the approach side to the intersection, and make all vehicles turn left there to St Kilda Road.

This is consistent with the method used in other cities to discourage traffic through the busiest part of city centres — for instance Toronto’s King Street — impose compulsory turns that prevent cars driving more than one city block.

There is likely to be a review of traffic flows in this area as part of the metro tunnel project, but this is a problem now — it can’t wait until 2026.

Motorists blocking pedestrian crossing, Flinders/Swanston Street #Rule128

Upgrade the traffic lights. Make them only show a green to westbound traffic if there is space on the far side of the intersection. If it fills up, switch back to red. We’re always hearing about intelligent traffic systems. Technology could fix this.

Time to fix this

Some of these are immediate options. Some would take longer to implement.

But it’s an important location, and a landmark intersection.

Huge numbers of tourists take happy snaps in front of Flinders Street Station. What must they think of these incompetents who can’t prevent a few cars each traffic cycle causing havoc for hundreds of pedestrians?

And I must emphasise: this problem is a common occurance right across the CBD, particularly in the evening peak.

Motorists blocking pedestrian crossing, Flinders/Swanston Street #Rule128

Victoria Police, Vicroads, City of Melbourne and Minister Luke Donnellan must take responsibility for this, and get it fixed. This is simply not good enough.

Dash it all! Why intersection markings are changing

You may have noticed that some intersection markings, including pedestrian crossings, are changing.

Solid white lines are becoming dashed white lines. Ditto turning lines at intersections.

Intersection near Southland Shopping Centre

This change brings Victorian practice into line with the Australian standard.

NSW (and probably other states) used to have solid lines too, but sometime in the last few decades have switched to dashed.

Until recently, Victoria was the only jurisdiction to still use solid lines, but started switching in November 2015.

I first noticed them in early 2016:

This Vicroads page (since removed, but still available via the Web archive) explains it all.

It says they won’t go around and convert them all, but new lines will be in the new style, so it’ll be a gradual transition.

And it says that when they restoring/repainting part of a solid line (or a set of two solid lines), it’s meant to stay solid. I’ve seen numerous locations where this isn’t the case; whoever has done it has left one solid, one dashed line, or lines that are part solid, part dashed.

Mixed intersection markings, Murrumbeena

I can see how it’d make sense to move to the national standard.

Other changes over time have been more significant. It used to be that right hand turning vehicles had priority over left turners.

This change will mean the crossing looks different from the stop line. It may prevent confused motorists turning and stopping at intersection exits where they see a red light and (currently) a solid line.

And one might fantasise that somehow possibly it might also improve motorist compliance at pedestrian crossings, to kerb the relentless and unchecked practice of vehicles blocking pedestrians.

Though somehow I doubt it.

Cyclists on the footpath

I described this on Twitter the other day, but I’ll expand on it here.

I was heading out in the car on Saturday afternoon.

Got in, beeped, looked behind me, slowly backed-out of my driveway.

BANG! A cyclist riding along the footpath with his dog (roughly at running pace) collided with my car.

I stopped, moved my car back into the driveway, and asked if he was okay. Thankfully he was. And his dog.

They carried on down the street, at the same speed.

Bicycles parked at Ormond station

Cyclists on footpaths

Cycling forms a vital part of the transport network, helping people travel longer distances than might be practical by walking, but without having to drive a vehicle.

Sometimes there are good reasons for cyclists to avoid riding on the road. Riding on some roads can be perilous due to driver behaviour.

Probably not my on street though. It’s fairly quiet. But what would you do if taking the dog out for a run?

In Victoria it’s completely legal to ride on the footpath for cyclists under 12, or accompanying those under 12. (Regulation 250)

(The bloke I encountered was an adult.)

The problem isn’t so much the bicycle itself, as the speed compared to other footpath users.

Just as cyclists come of worse in on-road collisions with motor vehicles, pedestrians come of worse in footpath collisions with cyclists.

For a bike going at anything much above walking speed, there’s a real danger of a collision with a vehicle or a person, especially given limited visibility to/from driveways and garden paths — in fact years ago one of my sons was hit by a cyclist while coming out of a front garden gate.

And yet some cyclists will persist in riding at speed along footpaths. Really not a good idea.

What could I have done?

My fence isn’t high, but the speed he was going, I’d have little chance of spotting him even if driving out forwards.

And he obviously didn’t spot me, and either didn’t hear the beep, or didn’t realise where it came from, or couldn’t stop in time.

There is one thing I could do: my driveway is short enough that I could have a quick look up and down the footpath before I get in the car. It might help.

Stay in your lane

Intersections on curves can be tricky. Even slight curves.

Every time I pass the Astor on Dandenong Road in a car, particularly eastbound, I watch what happens.

It’s not uncommon for vehicles to veer into the next lane over as they cross Chapel Street. Usually, thankfully there’s nobody in the way.

This morning it happened to me.

Google Maps satellite view, Dandenong Road and Chapel Street intersection

I was driving outbound, this morning at 10am. I was stopped at the lights, in the lane third from the right (including the turn lane), which becomes the second from the right on the other side of the intersection.

The lights turned green and the cars at the front, including mine, started off. Before I know it, a grey Mercedes to my right is coming into my lane.

Contact. Mild contact. Somewhere near the right front corner of my car. I can only feel the slightest of impacts. I can’t hear crunching, but just a quiet bump. A mere nudge.

I swore (mildly), beeped, and somehow managed not to instinctively veer into the next lane across from mine. Back years ago when I learnt to drive, my instructor told me: don’t avoid one crash by causing another.

Thankfully the other car veered back into its lane.

It kept going. They didn’t seem interested in stopping. I made a note of the licence plate number, and when I could, I pulled over for a look.

The car

No visible damage. I prodded and poked the point of impact a bit. It seems okay.

(Due to the warning of impending expensive repairs from the mechanic, I’m hoping to replace this car when my finances have recovered from the holiday and the investment, which by accident have fallen in the same year.)

Two things spring to mind:

Obviously, be careful to stay in your lane when you’re driving. If you’re at the front of the queue, perhaps do a visual check before you start to cross.

In the absence of line markings, some intersections have a grid of studs in the road surface that show where the lanes go.

I’m not sure why they’re not installed at this spot; given the number of mishaps, I’ve seen, it’d be a welcome upgrade.