Monday, November 26, 2012

550 km driven since I got my car a month ago

I have hit the 550+ km mark since I got my Nissan Micra at the beginning of November, almost a month has passed. I started commuting solo on Monday 12.11, that was two weeks ago. I have not driven every day for one reason or another but I have used my car rather often. The period I have loaded to my public transport card expires within two days. So this is it, my transportation will be my car, and I hope we will get along well.

The route to work is getting familiar, and I feel comfortable driving my car, I have chosen well without a doubt. I do not feel as nervous as with the first time I drove solo, but not cool either. I am rather anxious at the beginning and calm while driving, I listen to the radio and to my navigator because I like someone talking to me and reminds me to keep myself in the correct lane. Still if you ask me to tell you what do I prefer, I will rather let my husband drive me to work and I will take the bus back home, if only public transport was reliable and one could have more choices.

I missed my days when we were living in the city center and I could take my latte in the mornings and read my beloved Economist magazine, sit comfortably in the metro, then the bus, and arrive relaxed to work. I did not even have to look at any timetables, there was always something to take and especially in the winters I loved I did not have to get my car out of the snow. The situation is rather different now, we live outside of the city center, we have a garage for two cars, and a big house, but I think I am a city girl by heart.

I guess the big winner with this arrangement is my husband so far. He does not have to bring and pick up our son from kinder garden most of the times as he was doing previously, nowadays I bring my son to kinder garden and he picks him up. I do have breakfast with my son calmly at home in the mornings, it takes a bit longer to get to work (about 50 minutes) but only 20-25 minutes to go back, (kinder garden is a big d-tour). I get to spend more time with my family as I am arriving earlier to home for sure, it used to take about 1 h and 15 minutes if I missed the right bus back.

Good stuff, I am not sure how long it will take until driving is not an issue anymore, I guess now parking is the issue, but I am working on it. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Feeling better after a week of driving

I have done my daily commute by car three times last week. The route to work is longer than the one back home because I have to bring my son to kinder garden first, driving to the school adds about 5 km more to the total distance. It is 23 km on the way to work and 18 km to drive back home.

Most of the route has a 80 km/h speed limit, with some small parts of 100 km/h, and the journey from home to my son's school is all on low speeds, around 40 km/h in average, some parts 50, and 30, round abounds, pedestrian crossings, left turns and several traffic lights. But the sun is already up, so the light is much better. I also love that I get to start my day slowly and have breakfast with my son at home before going to work.

The journey back is quite dark already, mostly 80 km/h and 100 km/h speed limits, I get to switch lanes several times, it could be more challenging than the one from home to work because I have not really driven it many times, so I have to pay attention to the lanes I should be in while exiting and entering roads. Normal highway driving stuff like keeping the speed constant, looking far ahead, anticipating, and overall being careful when overtaking and switching lanes.

I think I started to feel more at ease while driving, still nervous before getting into the car but it feels better once I hit the road. I have used my training watch to monitor my heart rate and speed while driving, I only check the graphs and data afterwards though. I usually put on my heart rate belt, and start the training on my watch while I am still at home getting my son ready to go, the heart rate peaks tend to be during that time and when I stop at my son's school, so basically when I am physically moving. But some interesting peaks while driving too.

Day 1
  • avg. heart rate, driving to work: 130 bpm (super high, I was nervous, more at the beginning but still my heart rate did not come down that much during my driving)
  • avg. heart rate, driving back home: 122 bpm. (I had the parking incident, slight scratch on my bumper, peaks were recorded before I started driving back..!)
Day 2.
  • avg heart rate driving to work: 121 bpm (10 bpm less!) great improvement
  • I did not record it while driving back home
Day 3.
  • Morning journey to work: 118 bpm
  • avg. heart rate driving back home: 104 bpm. I think this reflect more my heart while driving, the extra 10 bpm on the journey to work could be explained by the peaks observed while not driving but walking and hurrying at home

For reference, my average heart rate while walking is around 123 bmp and while runnning around 165 bpm with peaks of 184. Maximum heart rate is about 197 bpm

Highlights of the week

Encountered a slow moving vehicle on a high speed road. I encountered a slow moving vehicle going on 50 km/h on a 80 km/h road. Those cars are not allowed on 80 km/h roads but somebody decided to drive it there nevertheless. I saw it after a car slowed down to take an exit, and there it was in front of me, I slowed down, brake slowly and switched gears back. I checked my possibilities for overtaking it as soon as I saw it, but it was too risky. I think I did the right moves, I was not nervous and felt in control of the situation, the slow car took the next exit after about 200 meters and I continue my journey to work safely

Road directions signs. Before I started driving solo I practiced the route to work several times with my husband, but not the route back home at all. Therefore I feel a bit apprehensive of it because besides going on high speeds I must look at the road directions signs at high speed in night driving and take decisions on changing lanes, exiting roads and merging back. On the last stretch of the route there is two ways the road directions sings redirect traffic,and I took a difficult one, one merging with heavy traffic and being redirected back to another lane and then back to the exit I should be taking. In summary not nice, it happened the second day while driving back home, I did it but I did not feel particularly at ease. Check the space, observed my blind spot and switched lanes, merged or exited, several times on a 3.5 km road stretch but I would not do it again, I feel I need more practice. I know which lane to take for a peaceful journey home now

Overtaking maneuvers. See above on a need more practice part. I decided to overtake because the car in front of me was going to slow. I do not mind the speed but I mind that many cars start to accumulate to close to me, I prefer when I have space to maneuver, so I saw the space and moved to the left, speed-ed up and started to look on my mirrors to see when it was safe to move back to the right that I did not see the road was bending so I had to do a quick movement to steer back, then I changed lanes to the right. I feel I need to get more practice, quick movements are not safe if the pavement is slippery, it was not, but I should be more careful next time.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Urgently in need of reverse handling and parking skills

The one thing I have not practiced that much is car reverse handling, a very important skill for parking. No wonder I panic at the thought of busy parking lots or taking my car to the city center. On my defense I can say that I have been busy learning to drive forward at slow traffic and in highways, and getting rid of my fear of driving overall. Hey I have to give myself some credit.

So what happened?. While trying to get out from my parking spot I hit the car parked next to me, yes I did see I was driving too close, I stopped, got out the car, looked from the outside, my car was very close to the other parked car and all I wanted to do is call somebody to help me get my car out of that position because I did not know how to. Well, I tried on my own unsuccessfully but now I think have a better idea how I should have done it, but not back then. I will practice with some cones in an empty parking lot this weekend, and I hope I will not get into incidents like this again.

The damage. I got few scratches on the bumper of my brand new Nissan Micra, and a minor one on the car next to me. Only minor visual damage, sad nevertheless. It happened after only 200 km driven :(

The cost. Insurance is paying mostly for all repairs on my car and the one I damaged, I have to pay 180€  and my insurance bonuses got reduced, which means I will have to pay more on car insurance this year. Well on a bright note, I did not think I had any bonuses to begin with. They cannot go in the negative, can’t they?

What happened after the parking incident. It was quite dark so I could not see the damage that well there, I took the license plates of the car I damaged, drove home, actually it was a more calmly feeling than in the morning trip to the office (judging by my heart rate log). Once at home I investigated the contact details of the owner of the car, and informed him about the incident.

Comments from my husband. Tell the insurance you will repair your bumper later, most likely you will get more scratches, sight!. And here you have two lego cars, one with front wheel driving, the other one with fixed wheels, observe what happens when you reverse and plan accordingly. Keep them on your car. As embarrassing as that sounds it can be very helpful, I think I am taking those cars to my parking lot practice this weekend.

Monday, November 12, 2012

I should know better

Today was my first commuting to work driving solo. It did not go as smoothly as I would have hoped, I arrived safely to my destination however. I will probably update this entry to tell how the way back went. It is going to be dark. Below a list of mistakes.

  1. Gear shifting mishap. Switched to second from third to take a roundabout, took my foot out of the throttle but the speed was too low for it, so I struggled getting back to first once in the roundabout. Not sure what I did really, the engine did not stole, but I my wheels spin quite a bit because I press the gas too much. I keep telling to myself, relax you should know better. The guy on my back kept his distance, I guess he must have thought judging by my wheels that the pavement was slippery and I was a clumsy driver.
  2. Overtook a truck when I did not really have to. This was an overconfident me, I was going behind a truck,  85 km/h on a 100 km/h limit. A very short stretch really (1 km) but I said I have the space let’s overtake, it went fine but it was too risky. First I was not sure if I could merge to the right immediately after overtaking, because I needed to take an exit immediately after, Grr. It went fine, overtook, took the exit, slowdown before the curve, switched to third once in the curve to break a bit more on the engine, but I will not do it again. I should have known better..
  3. Advice. Do not keep your sunglasses in the car if the weather is cold.  There will be some condensation happening immediately after you put them on, that happened because the glasses were cold and my skin was warm. Man it got my heart raising because I could not see, put them off immediately, put my normal glasses and try to clean the dark ones while waiting at the traffic light. But they got condensed again. I keep my normal glasses on for the rest of the journey, the sun was not shinning that much on face anyway.

Average heart rate: 131 bmp. (a piece of the log included geting ready, taking the garbage out and helping my son to put his coat on)
Calories: 346 :)

Check the log, speed and route:

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A day as a taxi driver

The plan for the day was to drive alone for the first time to my work place, but, my husband needed a ride to a place near my office, so he came along. We however decided that he and my son were to be siting on the back seat, and no instructions were allowed.  So we went for a taxi driver setup.

I have driven many times the same route (about 20 km long), but always accompanied by my husband as a copilot. His company is quite reassuring because besides telling me where to go, he also lets me know when something can be improved on my driving.  Lately he has not been telling that many things so I am assuming I am ready to venture on my own.

Day. Saturday morning
Traffic conditions. No traffic jams. It was relatively calm, but not deserted
Speed limits. 40km/h, 80 km/h and a short trip of 100 km/h
Weather. Already on the plus side +3C or so, still, it has been colder before so it could  be icy on areas not exposed to the sun.
How did the trip go. Quite good!, my concentration and eyes were on the road, making sure I was keeping the car on a speed I could control and based on the weather conditions. I changed the lanes when I have to, observed speed limits, and arrived safely to my destination. The gear changing techniques could be better, e.g. switching early to higher gears.
Highlight of the route. There is a part of the route on which one of the three lanes is ending, so it is becoming a two lanes road for a short period. On a previous journey I missed the sign and I was taking my time to merge into the left lane, I noticed too late but the driver on the left lane anticipated that I will have to merge at the last minute, scary stuff..
This time, a big truck and I will expect a professional driver missed the sign too, and I was the driver on the left lane, I did not overtake him and gave him plenty of space to merge because I thought he will do the same as I did. He did, he even signaled shortly.

I decided to record my heart rate on the way there and back. You can still see driving is a big deal for me. Probably I can compare my Heart rate graphs later as my driving skills improve and I feel more confident.

After reaching my work place, my husband gave me instructions (from the back seat) where he needed to go, I was a bit nervous because it was a new place, but we went there. On the way back he then sit next to me. This time I remembered to start my gps device to record track, speed and distance and see the correlations to my heart rate. See the graphs below

Heart rate graph. On my way to my work place, then to drop my husband to his destination

Heart rate on the way back home. Lower, maybe because my husband was in the passenger seat

Speed clearly on legal limits :)

My Nissan Micra and my son getting into the car

The logs above can be seen from

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Driving assignment of the day

Assignment of the day: Going to pick up my son from daycare. 

Distance: 4 km to destination from home. (8 km back and forth)

Road conditions: slippery 0 Celsius and congested (commuter rush hours). Dark, but good visibility considering everything is lid 

Speed limits along the route: 30, 40 and 50 km/h

How did it go. I was a bit tense during my driving, happy and relieve when I arrived home. I had the radio on but I cannot remember what was in there, probably because they were talking in Finnish :D

My son's evaluation of my driving. Antonio, today I am taking you by car to home. Mama, where is papa? Are you capable of driving alone :D?, yes Antonio. Ok he said. Then, once at home. Antonio did you like the trip?, yes mama but you drive slower than papa. I assume I did good

What was I thinking while driving and why was I so tense:

First at traffic light waiting for green to turn to right, the car behind me is a bit too close for my liking, let’s move a bit to the front. Well the driver behind me close the gap again, sigh!, but turning went ok.

Second. Road speed limits is 40 km/h, I am sticking to it on my meter and slowing down when approaching pedestrian crossing to see all those people without reflectors, and be prepare to break softly, it is slippery you know. So that keep me busy.

Third. A left turn approaching with traffic light, nothing challenging, made sure to take the right lane for the turn, signaled my turn, took the turn at the right speed to be able to react to pedestrians crossing.. ok

Forth. Move to the right lane, to turn right in the next intersection. Arrow lights easy.

Fifth. A left turn approaching without traffic light. Had to give way to almost everyone except for the guy on my left, hey the guy on my left is going already, ok wait longer, luckily nobody was behind me, but now someone is and now I can go.. went ok

Sixth. The slowest part, 30 km/h speed limit, two way road with bumpers and lots of things obstructing the road, had to be aware of cars coming from the opposite direction and check well in advance if the two of us could fit in the road or if I have to wait for them to pass first. Went ok.

Seven. Arriving at destination, plenty of room to park the car. Happy still managed to put the car a bit too far from the edge for my liking, but I am not obstructing the traffic. So it is ok.

Sigh! I have to do this again to go back home.. let’s get Antonio and go back.

On my way back, I was reluctant to do a 180 degree turn on a two way street (everybody does it) but not me, I rather went to a swimming hall parking lot and used it for turning around. Safer.

Pretty much the same things on the route back, but I was happy when a taxi driver was waiting for me to pass in that full of obstructions road. I was waiving at him and other drivers to let them know my appreciation, but keeping my eyes on the front of course .

Then, almost when arriving home there is another left turn. I signaled and waited while cars from the opposite direction where crossing, went a bit to the front making sure I was not blocking any lanes. Great the last car is gone, traffic turned to yellow, lets cross.. I managed and nobody complained, probably the guy waiting to turn left behind me, was happy I went already on yellow.

Pondering which car to buy. Test driving results

Test driving results. Well FIAT looked really good in pictures, but both models I tested did not cut it for me, ergonomic wise. That's the bad thing of being on the short side.

FIAT punto dynamic 1.4 75hv. it had the quietest of the engines I tested and a nice gearbox, clutch handling and changing gears was easy. I was able to adjust the seat height, but the steering wheel was a bit too close to my chest for my liking, the wheel is adjustable but I just could not push it further away, then the wheel was blocking the speedometer board, so I had to really look down to see the speed i was going. Then I almost twisted my neck while i tried to get the seat belt because the middle pillar was a bit far from the passenger seat.. in summary it was not so good ergonomic wise. Definitely not a car I feel comfortably driving :(

Next was a fiat panda. That brought a wide smile on face as soon as I got in, great visibility, very wide windows, Antonio was on the back and he could easily see outside as well. It was a very basic model so it did not have a telescopic steering wheel, basically I could adjust it vertically but not horizontally, the passenger seat could only be adjusted horizontally (so not the height), and not enough for me to comfortably reach the clutch. Despite of it, I feel a bit more comfortably than with the punto, I could see the speedometer but it was a bit harder to see the road when going up on a hill. The engine was a lot more noisy than the punto, gear box changing ok, but the clutch handling proved a bit more difficult.

Next, i said to the dealer, if you plan to sell new pandas soon, let me know, i will be interested in a model with more seat and steering wheel adjustment capabilities :)..

He next suggested, would you be interested on a Nissan Micra? if you want you can still test drive it.. so back to the road we went, this time on a Nissan Micra. My husband ponted out, Fabi, this would have been cheaper for us for you to get some driving practice, instead of those extra lessons you took.. I highly recommend :D

Well, I have to say, this one was the best, the one I feel more comfortable with, visibility was good, I could reach the clutch not only with my toes, put my head on the head rest, reach the seat belt, my chest not close to the steering wheel, those things taller drivers take for granted. Still on interiors and engine, the fiat punto had them better and it was silent in the cabin. The Nissan engine (1,2 3 cylinders and 80 hp) had a fine acceleration, enough for short merging lanes, noisy at times but not like the panda, which had a smaller engine. Clutch handling was superb, very forgiving on novice drivers like me. Gear box ok. and should I say I parked the car on my first attempt :)

I got an offer for a Nissan Micra 5d Visia 1.2 80hv, which the seller claimed only valid for a day because some Nissan promotion is ending tomorrow (i speak about this later). and after that i went to the web pages and I already found a Nissan Micra model with a more powerful and less wasteful engine, only driven 5000 km since the beginning of this year, esittely car? maybe I can ask for that one (Nissan micra Acenta 1,2 98 hv DIG-S)..

Still the whole family will go to check a KIA picanto next.. and see the price deal i can get on this other micra..

This was fun.. but definitively I will need a navigator if I am to adventure driving solo.. I will miss my husband voice telling me to correct something.. maybe i should tape him ;)