Spanish Roads

As in any country, motoring in Spain brings both challenges and pleasure … 

I think it’s fair to say that some of their motoring laws are overly complex and the roadsides are awash with signage which only leads to confusion for the non savvy motorist. Basically, there are speed restriction signs at the approach to most junctions outside urban areas, then once passed the junction, further signs reminding you of the maximum permitted speed. This also applies on motorways, so the countryside appears full of lollipops wherever you travel! On the plus side, many of the main routes and motorways across Spain are maintained to a far higher standard than in the UK but still fall short of the quality of road surfaces across much of France. On the downside, some of the minor roads are actually devoid of tarmac in places, simply resembling dust tracks! However, that simply adds to the charm of motoring in Spain, coupled with the complete lack of traffic on many secondary roads. Only recently, I drove in excess of 45 kms over mountain roads and only encountered four other vehicles in that distance, so saying many roads are quiet is something of an understatement.

One thing that won’t escape an astute motorist, however, is the average age of motor vehicles on the roads. According to a recent survey, the average age of a car on Spanish roads is now 11.5 years, compared with 8.89 years in 2008. This equates to some 11 million vehicles, and if the trend continues or simply stabilises, this figure could rise to 16 million by 2017. The average age is far higher than in the other four major European markets of Germany, UK, France and Italy. Statistically, 29% of cars on the roads of Spain are between 11 and 15 years old whilst a staggering 24% are over 15 years old!

The recession that took hold in 2008 is probably the main reason for this situation. Many families have struggled to make ends meet, especially in Spain where average earnings are considerably lower than in much of Europe, so updating a motor vehicle has either been unaffordable or lacked priority. A lesser factor is that cars actually last longer in Mediterranean climates as bodywork does not corrode as a result of adverse weather conditions. In an effort to try and encourage people to purchase a new vehicle, the Spanish government has run an incentive discount scheme, similar to that promoted by the UK government several years ago. Unfortunately, unlike the success of the UK scheme, buyers in Spain have not been quick on the uptake, so the scheme has been relaunched on several occasions, the latest version having started in March 2015. This will run for 12 months or until allocated funds have been exhausted, and will entitle buyers of qualifying new cars to a discount of up to €3000 (£2300).

People may well question the need to update an old car if it still serves their purpose. However, there are several major factors to consider when driving a vehicle considered to be past its sell-by date. The number one factor is safety. In tests carried out by the Royal Automobile Club of Spain (RACE), an impact between two vehicles with an age gap of 20 years saw the occupants of the new vehicle suffer serious but not fatal injuries, whilst those in the old car were killed outright. RACE stated that the chances of an accident increase proportionately to the age of the vehicle, as does potential fatality. Studies show that in a motorway accident in a car less than 4 years old, the fatality rate is 1:74 (one fatality for every 74 incidents) whereas in a car over 15 years old, this increases to 1:36. On ordinary roads, the comparable figures are 1:41 and 1:19! A second factor is the cost of running an older vehicle. On average, a newer vehicle consumes 30% less fuel and its emissions are 95% less, so it’s also kinder to the environment. It is acknowledged that perceived savings in fuel will depend greatly on the annual distance driven. Newer cars are also much safer with multiple airbags affording driver and passengers more protection, superior crush-proof zones, and often come with facilities that aid the overall driving experience. If Spain’s target figure of old vehicles were replaced with new models, in excess of 300 million litres of fuel will be saved each year, thereby preventing the import of over 1.96 million barrels of oil per annum.

Despite the recession, sales of new vehicles have continued to be quite buoyant in the UK market, with a particularly good performance in the first six months of 2015. However, unlike much of mainland Europe, the UK has a very large fleet of company cars, with many businesses updating their fleet every 2-3 years. The sale of these vehicles obviously impacts heavily upon monthly statistics which do not accurately reflect the number of private purchases. With more and more British families being squeezed nearer or below the poverty line, there is every chance that a higher percentage of older cars will ultimately be gracing the roads of the UK in the coming years.

Wherever in the world you may live, drive carefully and happy motoring!

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How To Fix The Economy

With a General Election imminent in the United Kingdom, and the economy very much at the top of the political agenda, this tongue-in-cheek solution was seen on social media …

An open letter to our political leaders. Here are some practical solutions to fixing the UK’s economy!

Instead of giving billions of pounds sterling to banks that will squander the money on lavish parties and unearned bonuses, use the following solution which we will call the Patriotic Retirement Plan. Currently there are some 10 million people over the age of 50 in employment. Pay each of them £1 million in severance for early retirement with the following stipulations:

  • They must retire. This will create 10 million job openings therefore solving the unemployment crisis
  • They must buy a new British-made car. That’s 10 million cars ordered and thereby fixing the decimated car industry
  • They must either buy a house or pay off their mortgage. This resolves the current housing crisis
  • They must send their kids to school, college or university. This will keep them off the streets and drastically reduce the crime rate
  • They must spend a minimum of £100 a week on alcohol or tobacco products. There’s your money returned in duty and tax

It really can’t get much easier than that! However if more money is needed, get all members of Parliament to repay their falsely claimed expenses and second home allowances.

Now for some more radical solutions:

  • Put pensioners in jail and criminals in nursing homes. This way, pensioners would have access to showers, hobbies and walks
  • They’d benefit from unlimited free pres rioting, dental and medical treatment, wheelchairs etc, and receive money instead of having to pay it out
  • With constant video monitoring, they would get instant help if they fell or needed assistance
  • Bedding would be laundered at least twice a week and all clothing ironed and returned to them
  • A guard would check on them every 20 minutes and bring their meals directly to them
  • They would enjoy family visits in a purpose-built suite
  • They would have access to a library, gymnasium, pool, education and spiritual counselling
  • Simple clothing, shoes, bed attire, slippers and legal aid would be free on request
  • Private, secure rooms for everyone with an exercise outdoor yard and landscaped gardens
  • Each senior could have a television, radio and computer, as well as daily telephone calls

A board of directors would oversee matters and handle any complaints, whilst the guards would have to adhere to a very strict code of conduct. Meanwhile, the criminals would have to exist on cold food, live in isolation in a tiny room and unsupervised. They would have a weekly shower and pay £600 per week for their accommodation with little chance of ever enjoying freedom.

Now for another point of contention. It seems amazing that during the mad cow disease epidemic, government officials could track a single cow from its birth and subsequently identify its calves yet are incapable of tracking 125000 illegal immigrants wandering around the country. Maybe they should each be given a cow!

Yours

A Grumpy Old Man

Britain’s Motoring Heritage

Situated in the heart of the South Warwickshire countryside at Gaydon, yet only minutes away from the M40 motorway, lies The Heritage Motor Centre, home to the world’s largest collection of British cars spanning the classic, vintage and veteran eras.

HMC Entrance

The museum’s early beginnings stem back to the days of the British Leyland Motor Corporation which was responsible for the production of Austin, Morris, Triumph and Rover cars. BLMC amassed a collection of preserved cars and needed a dedicated purpose-built residence to exhibit the collection as its former sites were both too small and unsuitable. The British Motor Industry Heritage Trust was formed with its mission to keep the memory of the British motor industry alive, telling the story of the motor car from early 20th Century to the present day. Opened in 1993, the current museum is housed in an Art Deco style building that complements the ever-changing exhibits. Currently the museum has a collection of some 260 vehicles of which about 160 are on display at any one time.

Whether or not one has any real interest in cars, this collection will provide an interesting insight into the world of the motor industry. One of the main features is the Time Road that houses cars from different decades and these sit on road surfaces typical of the time in question. This may sound somewhat cynical but some of the earlier road surfaces almost appear better than the state of our highways today! In addition to the vehicles themselves, visitors can learn more from an archive reading room as well as activities in the 65 acres of landscaped grounds.

Seeing as this collection was first set up under the auspices of the former British Leyland Group, many of the vehicles on show stem from their marques. This obviously means that many manufacturers are not represented although the Trust’s remit is gradually widening to encompass other brands. For some alternative cars, a visit to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in Hampshire is suggested.

Knowing the very poor build quality of some cars in the 60s, 70s and 80s, it is highly unlikely that many have survived to tell their own story. Such models include the likes of Rootes Group products, many Fords and most Vauxhalls.

The Mini shown above is anything but what it seems! Customisation has been taken to extremes and the car is 30cm longer than a traditional Mini of its time. The extra length was to accommodate a new driveline and longitudinally mounted Ford crossflow engine. Most of the transmission is Ford taking parts from a Sierra and Cortinas. Unlike the original Mini, the car is rear wheel drive, with front suspension coming from a Vauxhall Viva HC and the rear from a Triumph Dolomite. Brakes are a mixture of Viva HC, Cortina and Escort. The front and rear wheels are different sizes and the interior plus dashboard were also customised from a variety of different sources. In all, the car is finished to a very high standard!

If you’re ever in the area and want to idle a few hours in nostalgia then this museum is definitely worth a visit!

Ageism In The Workplace

For many people in this country, employment opportunities are being denied because of age…

Should someone now lose their job in their 40s or 50s, the chances of finding new employment in the UK presents a major challenge to even the most qualified of people. The media is now full of stories from older workers telling how they lost their employment through no fault of their own never to return.

Whilst official unempoyment figures may show that some 2.67 million people were seeking work as at mid February 2012, this figure fails to take into account those who may be in low paid part time employment and the many that fail to officially register with the Department of Work and Pensions. Other statistical analysis suggested that there were some 2.8 million people over the age of 45 without paid work in the UK as far back as September 2006.

On 1 October 2006 new laws were introduced to combat age discrimination in the workplace applying to staff under the age of 65. No longer will firms be able to deny an interview, refuse a job offer, deny training or sack someone under 65 on the grounds of age. Sadly this has had very little impact upon the attitude of employers towards the older applicant, yet it is something that is very difficult to prove. So why are so many people in their 50s and 60s without lucrative paid work?

One theory is that people feel discouraged to apply for jobs because of their age, whilst others attribute the inability to work because of health reasons. The older candidate is stereotyped as being inflexible, unable to adapt to new technology, and lacking creativity. They therefore fall outside the demographics of modern business methods. Whilst employers cannot specifically mention age in a recruitment advertisement, subtle phrases such as the ideal candidate will be expected to grow with the young company effectively exclude the older person from applying. In other words, discrimination is being shown but circumnavigates the law.

Another subtle form of discrimination against the older applicant are academic requirements. So many vacancies today specify a university degree, no matter how poor or irrelevant to the job in question that might be. This is fine for the younger applicant as at least 40% of school leavers move into higher education but some 30 years ago this figure was as low as 6%. This means that many older applicants do not meet the basic criteria and are therefore eliminated from the selection process. Potential employers overlook three important qualities here, namely that the older applicant will have considerable business experience, he or she is likely to be professional in their approach to work, and will undoubtedly be more reliable.

How times have changed! Back in the 1970s, nine out of 10 men over the age of 50 were employed. There was an attitude of respect towards the older worker, and in many industries, loyalty was rewarded. The next two decades saw a decline in traditional labour markets as industries closed due to a lack of competitiveness and in a period of rejuvenation, the emphasis on younger staff was born. Those who were in managerial or professional jobs have had most to lose if they were made redundant after their mid 40s.

With so many older people seeking new employment prospects, it is somewhat ironic that the government is forcibly extending the age before official retirement. Whilst this article is predominantly centred on the older generation of unemployed people, it must not be forgotten that there are currently over one million people seeking work in the 16-24 age bracket. Surely it would make economic sense to get some of these people into employment and training instead of prolonging the working life of those approaching retirement age.

Governments fail to acknowledge some of the major implications of long term unemployment. Firstly, people lose their self esteem and motivation as they see little to strive for in the future. In the case of a minority of younger people, this has led to recent riots, as individuals strive to make themselves heard in one way or another. For the older person, the onset of ill health is more prevalent as the mind ceases to function in a disciplined manner. Both scenarios subsequently put a considerable drain on the country’s resources, funds that could be used to support training for young people and, where necessary, paid to companies as an incentive to employ older applicants with the skills, knowledge and experience that are waiting to be exploited.

Anyone reading this who knows me will be well aware that I have first hand experience of age discrimination. Having been made redundant from a middle management position some years ago, I found it impossible to secure another position despite having had several interviews. Even recently, despite attending an interview for a position falling well below my skills and capabilities, the job was offered to a 30 year old! Whilst I am currently self employed and therefore not a statistic in the unemployment figures, I struggle to survive like so many people in a similar situation due to a considerable reduction in my workload over the last two years.