Monday, December 01, 2008

As computers get smarter - well more pervasive anyway - humans forget they still have a brain of their own!

Overhead electronic roadsign

Flicking through a pile of unread freebie trade magazines, I came across an article in the November 2008 issue of Information Age, Denise Plumpton, director of information for the Highways Agency is quoted:

“Even though care are getting more mechanically reliable, we are still getting large numbers of breakdowns ... It appears that one of the unintended causes of the SatNav revolution is that people run out of fuel far more quickly than they used to.

Perhaps their reliance on the SatNav means they don’t actually relate the instructions telling them to drive so many miles in one direction to the amount of fuel they might need to carry out those instructions. But certainly, the rise in [empty tank] breakdowns has risen exponentially over the past couple of years.”

Digging through the agency’s press releases turns up the figures.

“... nearly five thousand drivers ran out of fuel on England's motorways in the first six months of 2007 - and almost a quarter of them were in the North West, one of the Highways Agency's seven regions ... by the end of October there were 10,225 breakdowns caused by drivers running out of fuel nationwide - with the North West still topping the table with 2,333 incidents.”

Having discovered this trend, the agency mounted a roadside and media campaign (in England) to encourage drivers to check their fuel more frequently.

Turns out that a broken down vehicle isn’t just a nuisance for the people in the car. Other drivers slow down to gawk at the breakdown, causing congestion and even further accidents. With the average breakdown taking an hour to be recovered, that’s a lot of slowed down traffic. So on one busy stretch of the M62, the agency have arranged for free tow truck service, cutting the vehicle recovery time down to 20 minutes. They reckon that despite the cost, it’s a positive net impact on the UK economy to keep the traffic flowing, and it’s cheaper than just adding more lanes to existing motorways.

The joys and wonders of the Highways Agency’s Business Intelligence (BI) initiative!


MJ said...

I think a rise in the number of fuel related breakdowns is probably because people are trying to stretch out the need to pay for rising fuel costs and not something that can be blamed on satnavs.

Fuel at over a pound a litre? Filling a smallish hatchback now costs nearly 70 pounds? It's no small wonder that people keep driving when the fuel light comes on.

Alan in Belfast said...

Except the stats were taken about 18 months ago ... before the fuel went up past the magic pound.

Though I do notice myself playing chicken with the fuel meter - particularly in the last car which had a "miles remaining" counter that went down quite low before blanking out and refusing to spill the beans on quite how little petrol was left!

dr. adder said...

Well, some of these people don't have brains - they just sit back and expect the magic box to do everything for them, perhaps they should be programmed (the satnav that is) to say 'have you checked your fuel' or 'please stop at the nearest service station before entering the motorway' like a SatNag.

I'm just thinking what chaos there will be when they bring out the car that does drive itself - there will be people who will not question its actions and will not take over manual control when necessary.