Sunday, 27 August 2017


New Zealand drivers are taking a small step to faster speed limits
New Zealand Minister of Transport Simon Bridges has announced that some roads will have a new 110 kph (68 mph) by the end of the year, instead of the usual 100 kph (62 mph) limit on country roads and motorways.
The minister said, “We’ve invested heavily in our transport system to deliver safe, reliable and world-class roads. People will soon be able to benefit with more efficient and quicker journey times. A new speed limit of 110 km/h on the Tauranga Eastern Link is to be put in place by the end of this year. The Roads of National Significance are the safest roads in New Zealand – with no deaths on these roads to date.” (The Tauranga Eastern Link is a new motorway near one of New Zealand’s fastest growing cities.)
The Tauranga Eastern Link Motorway
Several other motorways and expressways have also been scheduled to get the new speed limit after the Tauranga motorway. So, how much difference will the new limit make to roads safety? Probably not a lot, if the experience of other countries is anything to go by.
For many years Germany has had no speed limit on motorways and that has not unduly affected the accident rate. Although it has no motorways, the Isle of Man also has no speed limits. Australia’s remote Northern Territory also had no speed limit on one highway, but that was changed due to increased fatal accidents due to thrill-seekers, and collisions with animals. Meanwhile, Bulgaria, Poland and the United Arab Emirates each have a 140 kph speed limit on selected highways. Thirty-eight countries have a maximum posted speed limit of 130 kph, 66 countries have a maximum of 120 kph, while 36 countries have a limit of 110 kph. Just 54 countries now have a speed limit of 100 kph or less and many of those are underdeveloped with poor quality roading and vehicles, or difficult terrain. For example, Papua New Guinea and the Nunavut Territory of Canada have a limit of just 70 kph. The modern world is travelling much faster than in earlier times.
New Zealand highways have been improved greatly in recent decades while the accident rate has declined. The time is right to raise the limit on selected roads, or Highways of National Significance as some roads are now called. These are divided roads that have at least two lanes in each direction, a good surface, wide shoulders, gentle curves, crash barriers and limited access. They are equal to the best anywhere.
After the change in New Zealand the country will still be among the slower paced nations. Most New Zealanders are ready to move up a gear and will welcome the change.
Of interest to many commercial drivers is that no mention has been made of also raising the speed limit for heavy vehicles. At present, New Zealand has a 90 kph limit on all heavy vehicles, and vehicles towing trailers, including cars towing trailers and caravans. But, after allowing for a 5 kph tolerance for trucks and buses and a 10 kph tolerance for cars, that gives an effective speed differential of not 10 but 15 kph (a 25 kph differential with the new limit). This leads to traffic flow conflict. Many car drivers want the heavies to travel slower so cars can pass more easily. But most heavy vehicle drivers claim that the speed differential is causing accidents due to reckless overtaking by car drivers. Most truck and bus drivers say they would feel safer with a uniform speed limit for all classes of vehicle. A uniform speed limit with uniform enforcement would remove most of the need for overtaking.
Before the merger of the Ministry of Transport highway patrols with the Police Department about 20 years ago, the tolerance policy was uniform with all classes of vehicles effectively limited to 110 kph, with a 10 kph tolerance for cars and a 20 kph tolerance for heavy vehicles. Under that regime, truck and bus drivers felt safer. But about 15 years ago a new policy was adopted for heavy vehicles with the tolerance set at 5 kph. That created an effective speed differential of 15 kph. The traffic flow conflict immediately increased and so did the number of car versus heavy vehicle fatal accidents. The policy change has been a failure.
As a voting bloc, car drivers are the majority and they can demand from government what heavy vehicle drivers cannot, even though many car drivers believe the opposite to be the case. A typical car driver opinion cropped up on Facebook this morning from one Bill Shugg of Wellington in response to a comment similar to the above: “BS it is the flow you call that is causing the problem trucks don’t like being passed and build up huge convoys behind them. The different speed allows better cornering vehicles to pass you road hogs so you don’t hold us up on hills both up and down. FFS JUST PULL LEFT. Oh and slow down in the wet so people can see. Better idea put freight on rails where it’s safer.” Thanks, Bill Shugg. I believe President Trump has a vacancy for a man of your talents to write speeches and advise on policy. You should apply.
Different speed limits for different classes of vehicles (split limits or SSLs) apply in many countries apart from New Zealand. But the wisdom of them is regularly questioned by most commercial drivers who find themselves at the coal-face for long hours every day and frequently are faced with life and death situations, on dual carriageways as much as minor roads. The claim by some that flow conflict will not exist on dual carriageways is mythical. Passing and lane changing by reckless car drivers is a constant threat to truck and bus drivers, and speed differential plays a major part.
Australia has uniform speed limits for all classes of vehicles except in the Northern Territory and a limited number of other highways where there is a 10 kph differential. The Australian fatal accident rate is slightly less than New Zealand where speed differentials are greater and cover all rural areas.
Some critics of uniform speed limits site Europe to support their cause. They say it works well there and the accident rate is low. But most European countries do not permit trucks on their roads during weekends and public holidays – the time when car drivers are at their most reckless. Sometimes I think the wrong people may have been banned.
Now let’s compare countries and their accident rates and how SSLs have their effect on safety. The world average annual road deaths per 100,000 inhabitants is 17.4, but that is not a reliable base to research from because of the widely varying rates of vehicle ownership throughout the world. A much more reliable statistic is the number of fatalities per billion kilometres, but many countries don’t report those stats. That leaves a third option, fatalities per 100,000 vehicles, as the best way to research road safety statistics. The African continent is by far the most unsafe place to be on a road with a death seven times higher than the rest of the world. If we put Africa aside we get 72 fatalities per 100,000 vehicles per year for the rest of the world.

From my research, the most surprising discovery is that in the United Arab Emirates, the only place where trucks, buses and cars can all legally travel at 140 kph, the death rate is only 38.2 per 100,000 vehicles. UAE roads are twice as safe as the world average, not including Africa. Another interesting discovery was that in Kosovo trucks can legally travel 10 kph faster than other vehicles. There is no international uniformity when it comes to speed limits. Politicians react to the whims of the electorate, regardless of the logic of the electorate. In Germany, the ban on trucks on weekends and public holidays must be music to the ears of truck drivers who, when they are allowed on the autobahn, are restricted to 80 kph while amateur car drivers have no speed limit. That probably goes some way to explaining why the fatality rate in Germany is only 6.8 per 100,000 vehicles; on the most reckless days the most solid objects are removed from the line of fire of the most reckless amateurs.
Of 197 countries, only 65 have split speed limits. The largest differential of 70 kph is found in India where the death rate is 130 per 100,000 vehicles, which is almost double the world rate (less Africa), and would be even higher if fewer people used public transport. In Saudi Arabia where the speed differential between light and heavy vehicles is 45 kph, the death rate is 119 per 100,000 vehicles. Russia does a little better where the death rate is 53.4 per 100,000 vehicles with a differential of 50 kph. Trying to establish a link between accident rates and split speed limits is not easy because so many other factors can come into play and often statistics are vague or not available. Europe generally has low accident rates, but the high use of public transport, excellent roads, strict enforcement and the absence of trucks at high accident times all play a part.
In the United States, 34,000 died during the last year on record, but that is only 12.9 per 100,000 vehicles and equates to 7.1 fatalities per 1 billion vehicles kilometres. I have an interest in the US accident statistics because I have driven in 47 of the 50 states as a car driver or truck driver. When I first drove there in 1985, the country had a nationwide 55 mph (88 kph) speed limit on all vehicles. In 2001 when I started driving trucks there, the individual states had gained the right to set their own speed limits and about half opted for SSLs with trucks limited to 10-25 mph slower than cars and buses. It is interesting to note that while many countries have SSLs for all heavy vehicles, the US allows buses to keep pace with cars in all states. There was much unease with the split limits when I drove trucks and the flow conflict was mostly on the freeways. In most other areas trucks and cars had the same speed limits. Gradually, the states have been changing to uniform speed limits and now only eight states still have split speed limits.
Unfortunately, there is a myth that persists with car drivers and politicians whereby they believe that heavy vehicles take longer to stop, don’t corner as well, and the drivers of heavy vehicles are irresponsible and unskilled, and therefore they should be compelled to drive slower than car drivers. The fact is that truck drivers must pass character, drug, and police checks. They must pass stringent theoretical and practical driving tests.  Once qualified and employed, they sometimes clock up more miles a year than most car drivers will drive during their whole lifetime. Trucks are expensive to fix and insure, carry expensive cargoes, and drivers must be at the top of their game every minute of the day, if they want to remain in employment.

In America, trucking is a huge industry and handles 70% of all freight, using 3.5 million heavy duty trucks, typically a tractor unit hauling a 53-foot semi-trailer with an all-up weight of 80,000 lbs. If there is anywhere in the world to test the viability and safety of having trucks travelling at the same speed as cars, America is the place to make that test. America has been through the 55-mph uniform speed limit that ended in 1987, the individual state shambles and SSLs that followed, to the now dawning of the reality that trucks and cars are safer when travelling at the same speed.
The speed limits for US trucks now range from 55 mph (88 kph) to 85 mph (136 kph) in a small part of Texas. Four states allow trucks to travel at the car speed of 80 mph (128 kph), nine states have a truck speed limit of 75 mph (120 kph), and 19 states permit trucks to keep pace with cars at 70 mph (112 kph). These higher truck speed limits have not compromised safety, and meanwhile, from insurance statistics we learn that 75% of truck accidents are caused by drivers of cars.
From the point of view of most truck driver, California is a rogue state that insists in having unreasonable restrictions on trucks. The state has a 55-mph speed limit on trucks that is strictly enforced, while cars are legally limited to 70 mph but in practice can travel much faster. But in the last year for which statistics are available California had 244 truck deaths, the second highest in the nation after Texas with 543 deaths. Texas also has an SSL of 75 mph for trucks and 85 mph for cars. Florida has split speed limits on some roads and the annual truck death rate is 194.
Split speed limits impose undue stress on all drivers, and for truck drivers they make a long day on the road even longer with an increased risk of crashing due to fatigue. The National Motorists Association (representing all drivers) have joined forces with trucking organizations to fight against split speed limits on the grounds of safety. Interestingly, many large truck fleet operators want to retain the split limits. But their motivation is fuel saving rather than life saving. Insurance companies pay for crashes, but owners pay for fuel and for some that makes fuel a more important concern.
One owner-operator truck driver, Steve Barnes, from Cascade Locks, Oregon, has been waging a war on split limits for many years. During his research, he found that highway speed limits are set using the 85th percentile principle where the limit is set where it best suits the speed of 85% of drivers. If 7.5% will be travelling slower and 7.5% faster than the limit, the 85 percentile achieves a speed that is safest for the greatest number.  This also means that both groups of 7.5% are driving less safely than the 85% and they are involved in a higher proportion of accidents. However, due to ill-informed political persuasion from car drivers, trucks are excluded from the 85% in some states and are forced to drive slower and therefore more dangerously. Those states are now becoming fewer in number and more of the remaining state with SSLs are looking at changing.
Perhaps the greatest contradiction with SSLs is that they only apply at the top end of speed limits, apparently so that trucks can stop short of hazards. But surely, if that was logical, SSLs would be applied to city streets where people can step out into the traffic without warning, which they do frequently, and when they do truck drivers stop just as soon as cars, if not sooner. It makes no sense to have a lower speed limit on heavy vehicles on rural roads where the driver seated up high has the best view of the road ahead.
When the Tauranga Eastern Link gains its 110 kph speed limit there will be no valid reason for it to not apply to all vehicles.

Saturday, 19 August 2017


Australians may not be eligible for election to their own Parliament

Australians are facing a major constitutional crisis with a legal opinion claiming that the entire population may be ineligible for election to their own parliament. And New Zealand is to blame. Already, several MPs with parental connections to New Zealand, have resigned or are waiting for a court ruling. The most senior being the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.
Australian Deputy Prime Minister
Barnaby Joyce
But is appears to go much further than that. This may be the deepest constitutional crisis since the Rum Rebellion of 1808-1810 when Governor William Bligh was arrested by the military and sent packing back to England. Yes, that was Bligh of the mutiny on the Bounty. The poor man couldn’t do anything right. The dismissal of Gough Whitlam’s government in 1973 was, by comparison, just a game of fiddlesticks. The 2017 crisis is the real thing.
According to Sydney barrister and mediator, Robert Angyal, a simple law change in New Zealand several years ago may have rendered all Australians ineligible for election to their own Parliament. The New Zealand Immigration Act grants automatically to all Australians the right to permanent residence in New Zealand. They only have to turn up at the border and they can stay as long as they like, work and enjoy all the benefits of New Zealand citizens, including the right to vote after one year, and citizenship after five years. They have that right, unless they are not of good character, which may exclude some politicians, but who would expect them to admit to that?
So, they have an extremely serious problem.
The problem being that Section 44 of the Australian Constitution states that any person who is a citizen of another country, or is entitled to the benefits of being a citizen of another country, is not eligible for election the Australian Parliament or Senate. So, the New Zealand law has slam dunked the Australian Constitution, the Government, and probably every law enacted in Australia since Australians gained the right to be New Zealanders. For Kiwis, this is better even than having the All Blacks beat the Wallabies, and this time it didn’t take balls to do it.
One course of action would be for all the members of the House and Senate to renounce their right to New Zealand citizenship. But another immediate problem presents itself. Who would they make the renunciation to? The Australian Governor-General who was appointed by a Cabinet that comprised disqualified MPs? That won’t work. Somehow, Australia must get rid of all its ‘elected’ federal politicians. Whoever accepts the declaration, would have to be a foreigner. One rather dramatic way would be to invite President Trump for a state visit. He could just disembark from Air Force One and say, “You’re fired!”
On the other hand, Foreign Betty might just be a better choice. She would do it ever so nicely, and the Royals have always had a closeness with Australia. Some went to school there, and her husband was once rumoured to have other children living there. Yes, it should be Foreign Betty. She is not an Australian or a New Zealander. Yes, Betty is the one. But listening to the declaration 226 times might be a bit much after the long flight. She could die at number 99 and what a pickle that would be! A better idea would be for old Betty to just, nicely of course, dissolve both houses and call for fresh elections. But no, that won’t work either. Australians would still be electing people who are disqualified.
Here is my suggestion. New Zealand can come to the rescue with a trans-Tasman political restructure. Since 2010, New Zealand has become skilled at fixing things broken, and I believe we can fix Australia’s constitutional crisis. We can offer to establish a new nation called Anzac. It would comprise two states; Aoteoroa and West Island. The federal capital could be sited on the Sunshine Coast, because it has better weather than Wellington, and Aoteoroan politicians would get more frequent flyer points.
Australian Prime Minister
Malcolm Turnbull
The buildings that currently house the federal parliament and government offices, could be occupied by the West Island State Government. The current states of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Northern Territory and Tasmania would become district councils. All city councils in West Island would become community boards. It would be a very simple structure with lean, mean running costs and low taxes.
The above plan would enable Barnaby Joyce to keep his job while enjoying the benefits of being a real New Zealander. Malcolm Turnbull may have to resign due to shame because no doubt West Islanders would start calling him Malcolm Turncoat, and worse. However, if he was to survive the political turmoil and ensuing elections, he would have an easier workload as the Premier of West Island.
Meanwhile the main workload would be carried by Anzac Prime Minister Bill English and his deputy Paula Bennett, or at an outside chance Jacindarella Ardern and Kelvin someone.

Friday, 18 August 2017


Is it more dangerous to live in an urban or rural location?
Ask a hundred people at random if they would feel safer living in an urban or rural area and most will opt for the country. They will site fewer crimes, accidents and disasters. They will almost always mention fewer everyday pressures in country life. In the country people are more law-abiding and friendly, and is safe to leaves houses and cars unlocked.
Let’s compare town and country in New Zealand to see just how accurate the assumptions are.
Mass Murders/Massacres in New Zealand
Starting with the most recent massacres or multiple murders, we go to Ashburton in rural Canterbury, a town of 20,000 people. In 2014, Russell John Tully gunned down two women at the local Work and Income office because he had a ‘grievance’. There was nothing big city about Ashburton. It was an otherwise peaceful small town in a sparsely populated rural district.
Russell John Tully
In 2001, William Bell killed three workers at the Panmure Returned Services Association clubrooms. Panmure is in the eastern suburbs of New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland. So far the score is city 1, country 1.
In 1997, the focus was on tiny Raurimu, a railway and timber village almost as remote from the big cities as it is possible to get in New Zealand. Madman Stephen Anderson went berserk with a gun and killed six people.
In 1995, it was the turn of New Zealand’s fourth largest city, Hamilton, to lose six people in a hotel fire deliberately lit by Alan Wayne Lory. The score is now city 2, country 2.
The Dunedin city Bain murders have been in the headlines since five family members were found shot dead in 1994. City 3, country 2.
In June 1992, Masterton, another 20,000-population town far from the big cities, was the scene of the Ratima family murders when Raymond Wahia Ratima killed seven family members. Score 3-3.
Next, we go to a farm near tiny Paerata, 50 kilometres south of Auckland. There on, 20 May 1992, Brian Schlaepfer gunned down six people before shooting himself dead. Score 3-4.
The Aramoana Massacre in 1990 is believed by many to be New Zealand’s worst ever mass shooting. But, sadly, that is far from the truth. Aramoana is a quiet seaside settlement about 30 kilometres northeast of Dunedin, and it was there that David Gray shot and killed 13 people, injured another four and was shot dead next day by police in a two-way exchange of gunfire. Score 3-5.
The Featherston POW Massacre (often described as a riot) occurred on 25 February 1943 in a rural district of the southern Wairarapa. A confrontation between New Zealand Army personnel and Japanese prisoners of war started when the prisoners refused to work. A New Zealand officer then shot and injured the most senior Japanese prisoner. There is disagreement about what happened next with some claiming the prisoners panicked and others claiming they charged the New Zealanders. In less than a minute the shooting was over with 49 dead and 80 injured. The city versus country core is now 3-6.
Kowhitirangi, a farming district inland from Hokitika, was the scene of the Stanley Graham shootings in 1941. Graham shot and killed seven people before being shot and killed by police. Score 3-7.
Other mass murders of the last 100 years include six shot at Morrinsville, Waikato, in 1934, and seven shot at Himitangi, Manawatu, in 1929. Mass murder score, city 3 events, country 9 events. This means that the likelihood of becoming a mass murder victim is three times greater in a rural area or country town setting than in a city. If it is a violent death that you fear, stay in the big city for safety.
Road Crashes in New Zealand
According to NZTA statistics, the top ten roads where drivers are most likely to be involved in an accident, are all rural state highways. They include SH31 in Waikato, SH43 in Taranaki, SH94 between Te Anau and Milford Sound, SH37 Waitomo, SH41 in King Country, SH77 in Canterbury, SH2 between Featherston and Upper Hutt, SH30 from Te Kuiti to Atiamuri, SH34/SH2/SH30 between Whakatane/Kawerau/Matata (the Bay of Plenty Triangle), and SH2 between Napier and Wairoa.
A typical road crash scene in New Zealand
New Zealand’s worst road accident happened in 1963 when 15 people died after a bus crashed off SH1 on the Brynderwyn Hills. The brakes failed on the bus while descending a steep, winding hill in rural Northland. The next worst road crash happened in May 2005 when a tour van driven by George Gibson collided with a truck on SH27 in rural Waikato. Gibson died along with all seven passengers.
Car crashes involving three or four people travelling with inexperienced young drivers are a frequent occurrence on New Zealand’s rural roads.
Industrial Disasters & other Accidents
With most heavy industry located in or close to major cities, one would probably expect industrial employment to be more dangerous in the cities, but again the records show something quite different.
The country’s worst industrial accident happened on 26 March 1896 at the Brunner Mine a few kilometres east of Greymouth in Westland. An explosion in the mine took 65 lives. An explosion underground was also the cause of 43 deaths at Ralph’s Mine near Huntly in the Waikato in 1914. Another mine explosion killed 34 miners at rural Kaitangata, Otago, in February 1879. More recently, in November 2010, 29 miners died at the Pike River Mine 46 kilometres north of Greymouth, again due to an explosion. The nearby Strongman Mine in 1967 was the scene of yet another explosion, this time killing 19 miners. Mining accidents in New Zealand have been frequent through history. The mines are mostly located in rural areas where mining is often the only opportunity for employment.
Shipping disasters have been frequent throughout New Zealand history and, since they mostly happen at sea, have little relevance to this city and country safety comparison. However, the remote Motu River in eastern Bay of Plenty was the scene of the worst river accident when 18 people drowned in a canoeing accident in 1900. The Cave Creek disaster of 1995 happened in the Paparoa National Park, a remote Westland area, when a viewing platform collapsed killing 14 people.
Life Pressures
Many people leave the big cities to coincide with retirement. Usually they want to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and opt for what is a freer, safer and more relaxing environment. Some will quit the city for lower priced housing in rural areas, but there is a reason for country houses being cheaper. The countryside can be a place with pressures not seen so often in the cities. For those wanting full or part-time employment, the opportunities are limited. The loss of the one industry that keeps a small town prosperous can quickly reduce people to poverty, despair and crime.
In the big cities and larger towns there is always choices for employment, schools, shopping, services, business opportunities, social life and choosing friends and neighbours. The abrupt loss of one of these can seriously affect rural residents, and not for the better.
Now available as an e-book

Life expectancy may be a little higher in rural, but not because life is easier there. Rural areas traditional have older populations due to young people moving to the cities for opportunities in education and employment, and older people moving to the country for retirement. So, the true-life expectancy in the country is not clear. However, a significant indicator of the pressures of country life can be found in the suicide statistics. In rural areas, the suicide rate is 12.5 per 100,000 rural population, while the urban rate is 10.8 per 100,000 urban population.
Comparisons with Australia
New Zealand and Australia are similar countries in many ways with almost identical rates of urbanization, employment, wealth, culture, customs, crime rates and other factors, notwithstanding that Australia has a much larger population and land mass. The urbanization rate for Australia is 89% with New Zealand just 1% less urbanized at 88%. From this one would expect that the crime, disaster and accident rates would be apportioned on an 88-12% basis for New Zealand, and 89-11% for Australia. But that is far from the case.
An analysis of the 100 most violent crimes in Australia since 2000 shows that only 57% were committed in urban areas where 89% of the population lives. In the country areas, where only 11% of the population lives, they had 43% of the national violent crimes.
Australian road crash statistics show an even more alarming pattern for rural residents. In remote Northern Territory, the Stuart Highway from Darwin to Pine Creek is rated as the place most likely to involve motorists in an injury or fatal accident. That is followed by several sections of the Bruce Highway in rural Queensland. The six most dangerous places to drive are all in rural areas of the Northern Territory and Queensland. Although the total death toll may be higher on some urban motorways, the percentage of travellers completing journeys without incident is much higher than the rural areas.
Comparisons with the USA
In gun-crazy America, the trend is similar. Country people are far more likely to die violently than their big city counterparts, notwithstanding that more city people carry guns for protection than do country folk and the murder rate is higher in some cities like Chicago and Detroit.
But even with the high rate of gun ownership, Americans are less likely to be shot dead than killed in an auto crash. Americans who live rurally drive more, drive further, longer and faster than city dwellers and die at the rate of 27 deaths per 100,000 population, compared with just 10 per 100,000 for city folk. Drink/drug driving is also a greater problem for rural residents.
Although some city Americans retire to less populated areas, those who see out their final years in New York City (America’s highest population density city), live on average over two years longer than the national average. Many New Yorkers don’t own cars, use only public transport and do more walking than other Americans.
The USA, even with the 18 million in New York City and 12 million in Los Angeles, is slightly less urbanised than Australia and New Zealand. The American spread is only 80% urban to 20% rural, compared to 89-11% for Australia and 88-12% for New Zealand. But whichever way you look at personal safety, the trends are the same. It is much safer in the city than in the country.
Sources: Wikipedia; official stats. for New Zealand, Australia and USA, Time Science and National Geographic.

Monday, 7 August 2017


Will the new revolution on wheels take-off or stall?

Internal combustion engines have had a long reign as the principal means of propelling land transport, but perhaps they now have a limited future, because the use of electric vehicles is on the rise. The internal combustion engine (ICE) is noisy and dirty, and the fuel that they burn is said to be running out rapidly. The ICE is blamed by many people, including many scientists, for climate change and health issues due to exhaust pollution.

To many people, the electric vehicle (EV) using renewable energy, has come along just in time to save the planet from destruction. By 2016 more than one million EVs had been delivered worldwide, but that represents less than 0.1% of the worldwide vehicle fleet. As of 2010 the world vehicle population exceeded one billion for the first time, or approximately one vehicle for every seven people.
The first production electric car was designed by
Thomas Parker in 1884

Building the infrastructure for gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles, including roads, fuel stations and supply network, manufacturers, and suppliers has taken over 100 years. While much of the infrastructure will remain unchanged, much new infrastructure will have to be built from scratch for EV’s. Some people believe that conversion from ICE to EV can be achieved in five or ten years. Others are more cautious with some predicting 20 or 30 years as a more realistic time frame. The governments of the UK and France have already declared that they will pass laws requiring 100% EVs by 2040. But that is only a declaration to change the law, and a law changed now can just as easily be amended or revoked later if the target date becomes unrealistic.

At this point, one has to ask, if EVs are the way of the future, why were they not the way of the past?

Well, some will say that the oil companies and/or banks and other big business interests blocked the development of EV’s. My response to that is that other posts on this blog deal with conspiracy theories. Other people will say that EVs were only recently invented or discovered. Let’s examine that and how the development timeline of the EV compares with other methods of propulsion.
Thomas Edison with an electric car in 1913

Steam was the earliest form of mechanical motive power with experiments taking place in the 17th and 18th centuries. Then in 1800, Richard Trevithick developed a high-pressure steam system that paved the way for mobile steam engines. Throughout the 1800’s  steam was king. Many different types of steam vehicles were used on railways, roads and in industry. But steam road vehicles were hampered by some countries prohibiting their use on public roads. During the early 20th century, ICE technology advanced rapidly and steam became largely outdated except for railways, and eventually steam fizzled there too.

The internal combustion engine defies a point in history pin-pointing its creation. Many scientists and engineers have contributed to its development over a long period of time, starting with John Barber, who in 1791, patented the first gas turbine. It was nothing like modern day ICEs but it was a start as a method of propelling a horseless carriage. Three years later, Robert Street patented an internal combustion engine, the first to use liquid fuel.

In 1807 Isaac_de_Rivaz, a Swiss engineer, was the first to use an electric spark in an ICE. Other developments took place over a period of years until 1876 when Nikolaus Otto, Gottlieb_Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach patented the compressed charge, four-stroke engine, and Rudolf_Diesel developed the first compression ignition engine in 1892.

Continued below . . . 

For those supporters of electric vehicles, I have some disappointing news. EV’s were not invented in the 1990’s or 2000’s. Historically, they are placed between steam and internal combustion, with the first model electric vehicles built by various people in the early 1800’s. In 1828, Hungarian inventor 1nyos_Jedlik, invented the electric motor and dynamo, and built a small electric car. Then came the non-rechargeable battery and a car designed by Professor Sibrandus Stratingh of the Netherlands in 1834. His car was able to complete a short trip before installing a new battery.

Rechargeable batteries followed in 1859 when Frenchman Gaston_Plant invented the lead-acid battery. This battery was improved in 1881 by Camille Alphonse Faure and led to their availability on an industrial scale. An electric-powered bicycle was displayed at the 1867 World Expo in Paris, and in 1881 a three-wheel version was tested on a Paris street.

The first production electric car was designed by Thomas_Parker in London in 1884. Parker was famous for having electrified the London Underground and some tramways. Parker’s compamy had an almost complete monopoly on the British electric car market in the 1890’s at a time when steam and electric were each trying to dominate the market while internal combustion was a distant third in the race for most sales. In the 1890’s, the United Kingdom and France were the first nations to buy EV’s on a grand scale, and now more than a hundred years later both countries are about to set 2040 as the year when EV’s will replace ICE’s totally.

Back in the glory days, before the rise of the ICE, EV’s outsold all except steam and held many speed and distance records, including the first to break the 100 kph barrier in 1899. In 1900, Ferdinand Porsche started production of the Lohner-Porsche Electromobile with hub-mounted electric motors and a petrol engine, making it the first hybrid. It remained in production only until 1905. The first American EV was built in 1891 by William Morrison of Iowa. It could carry six passengers at 23 kph.

In Europe and America some homes had been wired for electricity by 1900 and that boosted the numbers of EV’s purchased. At that time in America, 40% of automobiles were powered by steam, 38% by electric and 22% by gasoline. But the golden age of the EV was about to end.

Speed and range limitations coupled with production costs and a dearth of recharging facilities ended the first surge in EV popularity. Most EV manufacturers closed within the first 15 years of the 20th century. Improved roading, longer trips, and cheaper and more readily available gasoline, turned people away from electric and steam. It was all about cost and convenience.

The Apollo moon landing craft were successful electric vehicles.
But all three are parked permanently on the Moon
EV interest never died completely. Trains, trams, trolley buses, fork lifts and mining equipment have continued to be electrically driven, but the golden days of the 1890’s-1910’s seemed gone forever. From time to time, concerns about fuel prices and pollution stir interest in EV’s, but it has never been sufficient to put the EV in a dominant position in the market. The EV carries a burden of history.

In 1990, as concerns about the cost of gasoline, pollution and climate change increased, General Motors unveiled the GM Impact electric car at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Later, GM produced 1,100 cars designated as the EV1. Meanwhile, Honda started production of the EV Plus, but stopped production after just 340 units had been built. Then came the hybrid Honda Insight, which after six years in production had sold 17,000 units worldwide. That was an improvement, but it was dismal in a world that was then producing 66 million vehicles a year.

The burden of history is still plaguing the electric car. They sound clean, green and efficient on the surface, but there are still serious questions about their practicability. They are expensive to produce, although the cost may decrease with time. They are inefficient to operate with a limited range and the considerable time required for recharging. But proponents of the EV say all that is changing rapidly. Now questions are being raised about the cost and supply of the electricity that will be needed to supply a predominantly EV world fleet. Proponents say wind and solar will meet the challenge. But wind and solar are unreliable and costly, and depend on heavy industry to produce wind and solar equipment. In the United States, 33% of electricity is produced from natural gas, 30% from coal, 20% from nuclear and only 15% from renewable sources, including hydro 6%, wind 5%, biomass 1.5% and solar less than 1%. As the so-called clean, green fleet takes to the highways, there will be increased dependence on dirty sources of electricity.

Electric cars have always been expensive and the play-things of the wealthy, even though the support to introduce them comes from the political left. The cost of producing EV’s may well decline, but as it does, the cost of buying the electricity for them will skyrocket. Renewable energy sources are expensive and less reliable, and the demand for electricity will increase as the EV fleet grows. The consumption of electricity for recharging vehicles may become the major part of household electricity cost. With a rapidly growing EV fleet, demand for electricity will outstrip supply. Prices will escalate and power cuts may be inevitable as suppliers’ struggle to expand the electricity infrastructure.

There is one more enemy of the EV; changes in driving habits. Increasingly, cars will be used only for longer trips into the countryside and city to city. This trend is already taking drivers into areas where recharging will be unavailable in the near future. They will also increasingly be taking trips that will not allow time for recharging. Traditionally, EV owners have been city folk, but city folk are now turning to public transport in increasing numbers.

There may be a future for EV’s, but it will be a long haul waiting for EV technology to catch up to ICE technology and while the infrastructure expands to meet the new demands. For those who believe that EV’s will be the majority on the world’s roads within 10 or 20 years, my advice is don’t hold your CO2 waiting for it to happen.