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An open letter to the drivers of Ireland

I love driving, I find it an art and one that is hard to master. Unfortunately, across the world there are a lot of bad drivers. I’ve had my moments too; we won’t talk about that multi-storey parking garage incident back in Wales.

I am of the understanding however, that there is a high proportion of bad drivers in Ireland. It’s a combination of a lot of things I think. Mainly that they’ve been flung into the 21st century kicking and screaming, then there’s a dash of an inability to grasp there are other people on the road, and lastly a tinkling that some, if not a huge majority have not actually taken a driving test and only learnt to drive in the field behind their farm. That, I’m afraid to say, does not equal a driver. Even taking the test doesn’t make you a driver either. You have to understand the car you’re driving, understand how it handles on the road and have a good grasp of the techniques required from driving.

This is going to be my first rant of many, I’m sure. Today it’s about the use of the lights on the front and rear of the car.

First, citizens of Ireland, I must draw your attention to Road Traffic (Lighting of Vehicles) Regulations, 1963. (S.I. No. 189/1963). Specifically paragraph 20. Here it states the lights that you should have on your car and how they should be fitted. Then it continues to say (paragraph 20 section 1a) that lights shall be used in lighting up hours for increased visibility, and if extra lights are fitted and required they should be used.

[...]that is to say:—the side lamps, rear lamps, rear projecting load lamp, lateral projecting load lamp, marker lamp and identification mark lighting.

However, it continues to say, in the subsections that these lights should be turned off under the following circumstances:

Sub-paragraph (i) of this paragraph shall not apply—

(I) For a reasonable period after the commencement or before the ending of lighting-up hours, provided visibility is adequate,

(II) while the vehicle is stopped in the course of traffic, or

(III) while the vehicle is being driven in conditions of good visibility on a road to which a speed limit under section 45 or section 46 of the Act applies and which is provided with a continuous system of public lighting affording illumination equivalent at least to that afforded by dipped head lamps.

So, for those of you I lost when I mentioned the law. This is saying that you have lights on your car. That in circumstances between light-up and light-down you should have headlights on, any additional lights should be used in times of reduced visibility. Anything that you have turned on in addition to your headlights should be turned off in the above stated cases. But, you all knew that, right?

It then continues to mention that if the atmospheric conditions deem it so, then fog lights may be considered headlights for the purposes of paragraph b of the above sub-article. With me so far? So, by law during the period just after light-up and just before light-down you must have your headlights on, additional lights on you vehicle may be lit as long as it’s not during the specified situations above. Fog lights in the correct atmospheric conditions can be, and will be considered headlights.

(c) Where two fog lamps within the meaning of article 44 are fitted and each lamp is so placed that no part of the vehicle extends laterally on the same side as the lamp more than 16 inches beyond the illuminated surface of the lamp, such lamps when used in fog or while snow is falling may be deemed to be head lamps for the purposes of paragraph (b) of this sub-article.

Quoted above is section c, sub-article 1, paragraph 20. The bolding is my own. I just wanted to make sure you all understood how the law defined poor atmospheric conditions. It also clarifies the classification of fog lights as headlights while driving about in bad atmospheric conditions.

Now we have the law understood let us move on to the definitions. Firstly, I would like to clarify poor atmospheric conditions. It comes down to, very basic levels of understanding of, how far you can see. The law doesn’t define this term. However we all know what fog looks like, right?

Now I want to run through how to use your lights. For the purpose of this lesson I am using Napoleon, who is a Renault Scenic mkII 2003. Your vehicle may differ but the symbols, I will guarantee you, will be 100% the same.

This is Napoleon with his side lights on. Side lights should never be used on their own as you are driving, they are also known as parking lights. These are only to be used when you park up on the side of the road, with your hazards. You must turn off your headlights when parked as these can glare and dazzle other drivers. The second picture serves to show you what your dashboard will display.

In these next two pictures we see Napoleon with his headlights on. Some people call these their dipped beams and in most, if not all modern European cars these lights can be adjusted up and down, and left and right so they point on the road away from on-coming cars. If you car is right hand drive, and you’re going to a country with left hand drive as the prominent alignment then it is wise to have your lights adjusted to compensate. There is also law that states how far these lights must illuminate as well as how they should be aligned.

Above we can see Napoleon with his full beams on. Other people call these high beams too, as they point straight up and out and will always blind on-coming traffic. You are required to have these lights off in public places, in built up areas lit with public lighting and at all times when you can see the rear lights of a car in front or the lights of a car coming towards you. There is no reason to have these lights on if you can see other people.

We can also note that the symbol in the dashboard is strikingly different from the other two previously as it is now blue. Generally the action to turn on the full beams is different to the previous two settings, on Napoleon we twist the stick on the steering column once for sides, once more for headlights and then we pull the stick towards us until it clicks for fullbeams, and once more to turn them off. To flash another driver we pull the stick just enough before it clicks.

Here we can see Napoleon with his full compliment of lights on. At no point, ever, at all while I am driving will all these lights be on at the same time. Ever. Fog lights point to the road immediately in front of the vehicle and as such reflect light up from the road for better visibility. You should only use these lights if you are driving in fog or low visibility brought on by snow. You should never use these lights in rain or during the day, or at night when it isn’t either foggy or snowing. They reflect off the road and dazzle on coming cars, much like your full beam lights do. Also you must NEVER, never use your full beams in times of reduced visibility. As they point straight up and out the light bounces back and dazzles you, actually acting to reduce your visibility. Hence why I mentioned previously that I never drive with all these lights at once, because if you’re in need of fog lights you can 100% be assured that full beams will not help.

Inside Napoleon we can see that the dashboard clearly shows us when our fog lights are on. The front fog lights are optional extras in a lot of cars, however the rear one is required by law (at least in the UK it is). The front one is green, the light is pointing down and a squiggly line symbolises its need during reduced visibility. The rear one is red and much the same. In Napoleon I have two lights because my front and rear fog lights work independently of each other. This means I can have my front fogs on but not my rear ones and visa versa. In the vast majority of vehicles this is not the case. If you have the front on you will always have the rear on too.

Here we have a rear view of Napoleon and his fog light. These generally do not come in pairs, and usually sit opposite the reversing light on the car, some vehicles will have the light at the bottom of the car (Eddie had his fog light in the middle of his rear bumper).

You can clearly see in the low quality photo that the rear light is a lot brighter than the other lights present, it is about the same brightness as a brake light. And as such we can safely assume that if you have your rear fog light on you must always turn it off when in a line of traffic or being followed by another driver. These lights will, and always do, dazzle the driver behind and are again, against the law to have operating when the situation does not call for it.

The conclusion we can draw from this small lesson is this:

  • Your car is fitted with a set number of lights that may or may not include front fog lights.
  • The law clearly states the operation times for these lights and any vehicles that may be exempt from this law (if you drive a car, safe bet you are not exempt).
  • You turn your full beam lights off in built up areas, in public places, while behind another car or while another car approaches you and in fog or snow fall.
  • You turn off your rear fog light during fog when in a line of traffic, in a built up area, and while another car is following you.
  • You turn off your front fog lights during fog when in a built up area.
  • You turn off both sets of fog lights when driving in any conditions that are not snow fall or fog.

To summarise, if I ever see another person drive with their fog lights on during the day, or another person who doesn’t turn their full beams off, or doesn’t know their rear fog light is on I will chase you down, run you off the road, smash all the lights on your car before I drive off cackling like a mad woman.

Absolutely no love,


Here in ends the first lesson for The Drivers of Ireland.

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The businessman and his car…

The Van (capitalised because that is how it is addressed) is getting old. The Fiat Doblo isn’t as old as Napoleon but with nearly 250,000 miles on the clock in its four year life it has been through a lot. I think if Dad ever wanted to completely get rid of The Van I would buy it from him. It has become a bit of a legend in my life and something I would be sore to lose. There is many a story about how I used to get lifts to work in the back of it (it only had two front seats). People used to watch me appear from the back doors, brush myself off and say good bye to my mum and dad before walking in to work as if what I had done was something completely normal.

You could say it was completely normal; for me, at least. For his short time in the UK Napoleon became the family car with both me and Dad as named drivers. Unfortunately, now Napoleon is Irish my parents have to continue having adventures in The Van. They don’t see it as a problem, actually I think my mum prefers The Van to some extent and I know dad doesn’t trust any other car out there. The number of times dad started Napoleon in second, and then went straight from third to fifth and completely forgot about sixth; getting back into a car with mirrors smaller than make-up compact mirrors must have been tricky for him too.

People are aware that future me owns an Aston Martin Vanquish. However I also aim to own a Land Rover at some point, more specifically a Land Rover Defender. This is the realistic of my two future cars (who am I kidding? I’m also aiming for a Caterham Seven and a Range Rover Overfinch). In an effort to see whether or not I could drive a Land Rover, I called up my local dealer and asked for a test drive. To my surprise they gave me the keys to a SWB panel Defender 90; it was a beautiful sunny day so I took it for a spin in the Yorkshire countryside.

Here are the cliff notes: It has the aerodynamics of a brick, the acceleration of cow being hit with a stick and all the creature comforts in a Ford Sierra from the 1980’s. I loved it. I could even reverse park it with no issues (I can’t do that with Napoleon and he has parking sensors and a rear view mirror). It had the large wing mirrors that showed everything, it was incredible to handle in tight spots and only had what you needed. Well, ok, so what you needed on a working vehicle.

It was only then that I realised why dad insists on driving his white van. The Van is a work horse; it can be bashed about and sent up and down the M1 twice a week. It can be driven by two very spirited youths that have no respect for other people’s property (love you, dad) and even though it’s not rated for it The Van can easily carry a 1 tonne pallet. Though just don’t ask it to stop quickly, or actually at all.

But the day will come when The Van will have to retire (hopefully to Ireland, with me) and Dad will still need a cost effective way to get to his job in London. The Van is still cheaper than the train even with fuel and running costs so until The Van actually falls into its component parts never to be put back together again I think dad will continue to drive. What will happen after The Van goes though? My father, the upstanding man that he is, will need a suitable replacement.

There are two ways to look at this; firstly the van market. The Ford Transit is the first name that comes into anyone’s head. If it isn’t the name then it is most definitely the most iconic image in the White Van Man tradition. It would be the most fitting replacement for The Van. Compared to the Doblo it is bigger, however the engines are more sophisticated and built for the van market. The Doblo still had a domestic 1.9ltr diesel; the Transits all now come with TDCi diesel engines and along with fuel efficiency don’t kill nearly as many polar bears as they once did.

The other way to look at the problem of a Quinn family vehicle is this: Dad is technically on the Board of Directors and when he comes to work parks The Van among a plethora of BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E and C classes and probably the odd Audi A6 and A8.

Let me set the record straight here for a second. Businessmen do not drive those cars because of comfort, or style, or for some strange sense of belonging because the God of Coat Hanger Men demands it. No. They are family men, they need the five doors and the seats in the back (I don’t know why, children can fit in the boot) and they need a place to put the Waitrose shopping. The cars are normally company cars so come in a set style or dressed up to look professional rather than vulgar (I’m looking at you, Focus RS). Businessmen, contrary to popular belief, are also human and buy these cars (in their metallic black with leather interiors, 5 doors and 5 seats) because of the powerhouse that resides under the bonnet and the technology in the dashboard (annoying sat-nav voice aside). Not only do they drive to work each day but they decide to drive to the petrol station at ten o’clock at night because they “need” a “paper”, and return at gone midnight with a bottle of whiskey, several chocolate bars and a bottle of diet coke as the car ticks itself cool in the drive.

The BMWs, Mercedes and Audis of this world were not built for the commute to work but for the long, round about drive to the petrol station at ten o’clock at night. The cars themselves are quite reserved on the school run and the drive to the office (unless you get them with M, AMG or RS badges of course). They are poised on the road and because they’re German, they’re very well built. Are they a good option for my dad then? No. Because they’re built for that late night drive, they are not built for the long drive down to London each week. The suspension is sporty firm, the tyres are low profile and all the differentials and traction controls mean these cars were built for the Nürburgring. That’s fine if you are after that power and control and not a comfortable, quiet and smooth ride. This is why business men have them, because of the monster that lies within. They can finally enjoy the drive to work on that one occasion they get to overtake someone, or take a corner too fast. But when they get to work they can still park it in the reserved space and get out without a crease in their suit.

This is why, when my dad does ask me to help him pick a car to replace The Van, I will tell him to go get a Ford Mondeo.

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Why do I name my car?

It isn’t the first time I’ve been asked this question, and I don’t anticipate it being the last either. So this is me explaining it.

On the left is Napoleon. He is a 2003 Renault Scenic Privilege. He is awesome and the only thing more awesome than him is the Aston Martin future me owns. The next picture is Edward. Named after Eddie .T. Head of Iron Maiden fame. He was a Peugeot 206 LX. He was also awesome, but not as awesome as Napoleon. That is also my Dad. He’s a Mark 1, top of the range father, 1950′s vintage. He is also awesome, but he’s not a car (he does have a name though – he’s called Frank).

I name my cars because I believe you need to have a relationship with the car like you would another person. Don’t do something to the car that you wouldn’t think of doing to another person. Keep the car clean, respect it, only do things to it that you know are within the capabilities of the car. Only ever ask more from it when the situation absolutely requires it.

You must also know and understand your car. Lashing it around corners when it’s not built for it or driving it with the needle in the red as the engine screams is not good, and your car will hate you for it. Same at the other side, don’t damage your car by only ever driving it at 30mph, or constantly in second gear. In the same way a person needs exercise so does your car, take it down a motorway once a week so the engine has time to warm up. If a car does nothing but short drives before the engine warms up you’ll do more harm than good. Regular checks under the bonnet and under the car will help it as well.

Feed your car only the best. I know we have a penchant for the fast food of this world, because it’s cheap and convenient. It’s the same for cars. You’re driving down the road late at night and the little orange light turns on next to the fuel indicator. Or if you’re me it’s a red one and the car beeps loudly at you. Your only option is to pull over at the next petrol station and fill up (who really knows how much is in their reserves when the light comes on?). You only have a few notes on you, or a credit card that you don’t want to spend on so you pick the cheapest pump and have at it.

Napoleon is a diesel so I don’t really have much choice other than, well, diesel. When I had Eddie though, I had super this and four star that. I made the best choice for me at the time, but Eddie didn’t mind the cheap stuff, the engine got a regular dose of cleaning fluid and had a top off of oil. So even if I did eat the fast food I made sure it was supplemented with vitamins and good exercise.

Cars need names. They are not just machines, they are the vehicle that will take your brother to A&E because he poked his eye out with a spike, they’re the shelter for when you get locked out of the house in the middle of winter, they are in a rising number of cases a place for someone to live. They are an extension of you and part of you. Treat them with respect and dignify them with a name.

I’m not just a person, I’m Rachel Quinn. My car isn’t just a Renault, he’s Napoleon.

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