If you have landed on this site looking for a particular blog then please check the listing below. If it is not a recent one then go to the appropriate page above to view past blogs as per the area of interest it covers. Hope you enjoy the read.

Passing the Mythical UK Driving Test !!

Getting a driving license in UK is generally considered the toughest with Germany securing the second position. Though there is no analyzed data to verify this, instead it is mostly inferred based on the experience of drivers who holds a foreign license and has tried the British test too. Also some famous articles written by driving research authors like Tom Vanderbit from USA, who apparently failed the UK driving test, substantiates the above perception. I also went through the dark moments of these tests. Though I considered myself to be really good with my driving skills, as Tom Vandebit puts it, I was baffled at some of the test questions; like, "What to do when approaching a horse and a rider on a roundabout?" The correct answer is something of a national refrain, gaily sung from Bournemouth to Blyth: "You should expect the rider to go in any direction!!".

The practical test too is one of the longest in the world, stretching a neat forty minutes, which can be the worst forty minutes of your life if you have to give the test in the streets of London or the suburbs around, with the piercing glance of the examiner always on you. Nevertheless, I guess at the end it is all worth it, as UK is considered one of the safest places to drive. However, the entire credit for this cannot be given to the driving test alone.

So, are planning to take your test or just starting to think about getting a driver’s license? If yes, then always helps to learn some facts about this most coveted license in the world and the test you need to qualify to get it.

Here are few facts about the British driving test. Inaugurated in 1935, nearly 92 million people have taken it. The average time spent preparing is 16 months. Aspirants take an average of 56 hours of professional instruction, spending around £1,600. The percentage of young people holding a licence has continuously declined. The stats says that around less than 40% of candidates passed the practical test on the first try, while less than 60% passed the theory test. The average number of attempts to pass the practical test is around 3. There has been a case reported where a woman passed the test after the 90th attempt.

So in case you have not cleared the tests in the first or the second try, do not be dis-hearted, it merely says that you have scope of improvement, understand your short coming, practise it and wear your lucky charm when you try the next time. The very fact that there are so many people out there from every walk of life, who got a UK license, proves that it’s not something unachievable. You just need to practise and try again. I have put across some points below which I feel will be of great help to anyone who is learning to drive or is going to attempt these tests.

Theory Test ( you need to get 43 answers right out of 50 questions ).
1) There are no short cuts. You need to practice all of the 1000+ questions that DSA uses in these tests. Some of the answers are not what you expect. Thus revising them and understanding why the particular answer is right is of great importance. Going through each of the#ose 1000+ questions at the least twice or thrice will do you good. Undoubtedly, the best material for preparation is The Official DSA theory test for car drivers. You can buy one through DVLA website or in Amazone. If you can't then beg, borrow or steal but get the latest edition CD, otherwise one of those new questions might turn out to be your waterloo and refrain you from getting the magical figure of 43/50. The Highway Code is also a very important. You don’t need to buy it as it is available online for free. [Click here to get one.]

2) There are various places on the internet where you can attempt a free mock test. Take as many as possible and apply for your theory test only when you are able to score above 43 on a consistent basis. Word of caution, don’t take the same test again and again also ensure that the mock test covers questions from all the topics as per the DSA guidlines for the theory test. [Check here for a mock test]

3) You don’t need to pay extra money to your ADI for the theory test preparations. Practicing these 1000+ questions are going to be enough. Even if you pay them, you would need to do the same in order to clear the theory test. The questions are very simple and mostly repetitive and thus there is not much to learn. Thus in all there would be around 250 different types of questions, the rest are simply the same ones repeated in different words.

Hazard Perception Test ( 14 videos, each contains one major hazard scored for 5 points except 1 which contains two hazards and thus scores 10 points, totaling a score of 75. You need 44 out of 75)

1) According to me, this is one of the simplest test for anyone who can identify any movement happening around. Its only seems to be tough because of the format in which it is conducted. Thus practicing it as it appears in the actual test is very important before the test day. There are various mock tests available online which is of great help. Again, the recommended preparation material is the official DSA guide to hazard perception. It is very helpful and prepares you perfectly for what you are going to experience in the test centre. [Click here for a mock test]

2) One thing to keep in mind that will help you with this test is to look for moving hazards. Only these are considered for scoring points. Thus, the simplest thing to do is to keep a watch for any vehicle, pedestrian, or cyclist, which appears or gets into motion during the video. It can also be an already visible bus, which is turning to stop in a bus stop as the video progress. Though it would be beneficial to identify all possible hazards and flag it on the way, but let that not divert your attention from any moving hazards that develops as the video progress.

3) You need to identify these moving hazards at a very early stage in order to score a 5 out of 5, for that particular video. This is the tricky part, coz at times as soon as you feel a hazard is developing, you might raise the flag and be under the impression that you have scored the hazard. But, as per the test there is a particular point after which the movements turn into a scoring hazard. So, a trick to use here is to click 2-3 times after you see a particular hazard as it will help you to register your flag with the proper timing to get a score. But beware that continuous clicking is not a good alternative to perceiving the actual hazard and thus should be avoided. Only after you detect a hazard click 2-3 times so that the flag is raised at the proper time. I have seen many people failing in the hazard perception test due to registering the flag quite early, thereby losing the entire points for that particular video.

Practical Test (15 minor faults are allowed, 1 serious or dangerous fault is a fail).

1) Learning to clear the UK practical test is one of the best ways to learn safe driving. And this is the reason why those holding a foreign license almost always fail in the first attempt of their UK practical test. These drivers though they are well versed with the tricks to manoeuvre the vehicle along the road, are not accustomed to do it with safety standards actually required. And thus they fail in these tests miserably. An advise for such experienced drivers is to unlearn some of your cool driving practices; namely, driving with one hand, driving without checking the mirrors, driving close to the parked cars etc. Though these are techniques you have mastered through your experience and might not cause any real danger on the road but they are a big no for the UK driving test. If you don’t unlearn it successfully, it will show up during the stressful 40 minutes that you would spend with the examiner. So go through at least 10 hours of driving sessions with an instructor to specifically correct such dangerous skills that you have gained through experience. New learners have a higher chance of passing the test in the first try. But the areas they fail are the reverse manoeuvre, handling junctions etc. that again can be mastered with practice and concentration. I have listed some points below which are the key areas you need to focus when you drive during the test and thus learn it during your practice sessions.

a. When you are stationary always put the handbrake and change the gear to neutral unless you are on a signal which is about to change. In that case waiting with the gear in 1st is okay.

b. When you move, always look around give the appropriate indicator, move the gear to the 1st and then again look at you blind spot before lowering the handbrake and starting your vehicle. You can do this very slowly taking care that the vehicle should not go behind before it moves ahead.

c. Always look at the back and the appropriate side mirrors before giving a signal. When in doubt look all around before doing it. Take your time as doing it wrongly is going to cause you minor faults.

d. Practise and follow the MSM routine and turn it into a habit.

e. Following the speed limit is of at most importance. When in doubt keep it at 20 before you see a speed sign.

f. When passing parked cars, keep your car at a safe distance from them. If it’s not possible then drive below 20.

g. If have to cross the lane to pass a parked car slow down and always give way to the vehicle coming from the opposite direction though they might have enough space to pass through. Otherwise it’s a serious fault and you fail straight away.

h. When arriving at any hazard it is advised to slow down completely using your brakes and come to a stop if required. When you are planning to stop just use the clutch with brakes and stop, change your gears to 1stonly after you stop. But if you are continuing then change the gear to the appropriate one as soon as you decide to go ahead. Remember, gears are for going and brakes are for stopping.

i. As soon as you see a roundabout sign, slow down completely (look into the mirrors before you do so) and choose the lane as per the lane signs. If there are no lane signs then keep left with left indicator ON if you are going to take an exit in the first half of the roundabout. Keep to your right and give a right signal if you are going to take an exit in the next half of the roundabout. Don’t give any signal and keep to your left or centre lane if you are exiting straight. Remember to change the indicator to the left one immediately after passing the previous exit to the one that you need to take.

j. When doing the reverse manoeuvre do it very slowly and ensure that you finish it even if you have to move your vehicle forward and backwards to get to the right position. The multiple movement in the manoeuvre are minor faults but being tensed about getting it wrong and avoid the observations around might cause a serious fault.

k. If you find yourself in the middle of many hazards and totally confused on what is to be done, then go slow and act in a way that will be safest for you and for people around. This will help you to drive in the safest way and will ensure that you lose your provisional license by the end of the test.
2) The best way to practice driving for the test is to start a running commentary. You need to describe what is happening in front of you, what it might lead to, hence what is that you need to do and thus act accordingly. Also include the safety checks and other measures that you need to keep in mind within your commentary, such as; as soon as you see a parked car get into the habit of saying to yourself “there is a parked car so go on a bit to the right and keep a safe distance, to go right let me check the mirror first, give indicators, check for any vehicle coming on the other side. No vehicle so let me go …..” so on and so forth. This will help you to think like the examiner and thus do things that he is expecting you to do.

Follow these simple techniques and you will see yourself driving safely with a full UK driving license, pocketed in the first attempt itself. In case you have failed on your first try, don’t give up or get tensed, as it will only worsen your performance on the road. Consider it as an unlucky day, practice for the next one keeping everything that the examiner briefed you about and you are sure to impress him the next time he examines you.

What is this Fuzz about Wind Farms ?

After an embarrassing 'speedy' exit of Chris Huhne, some 100 MP's from his own coalition is trying for an equally speedy exit of his much supported subsidies for onshore wind farms. But what is the fuzz all about? What are these 100 MP's worried about? Would all this help or hurt the common man? These are some of the questions that my next door granny asked me. So, I thought of writing a "wind farm fuzz for dummies" blog. It very important to be aware as it is we dummies - the common man - who has to suffer the consequences. Yes, I did use the word 'suffer', because as it looks, whatever be the outcome of the political jugglery , the uncrowned, foolishly misled, consumer kings i.e. us, are going to face the brunt.
For those who just cannot connect the relation between the two words "wind" and "farm".A Wind Farm is a large area of land or water where a group of wind turbines are erected to generate electricity.The ones on land are called onshore and those in large rivers and seas are called offshore wind farms. A wind turbine is a huge vertical fan which rotates when wind blows on it and this rotation turns a turbine inside which generates electricity. For all those who are interested to learn further visit these links > Wind Farms <> Wind Turbines < (Source: Wikipedia)
Q: So what has the government to do with Wind Farms?
A: As we all know energy is the key commodity for any nations growth. With the continuous depletion of current sources of energy like fossil fuels, the cost of energy has been sky rocketing, a hard fact that all of us are very aware of, thanks to the constant upward price changes by our energy companies. Thus it's very important to find alternative energy sources to meet the energy demands of the future and to stabilise the energy prices. Otherwise it's predicted by visionaries that the next big war and unrest will be for energy. Also all of us has heard about climate change issues, the biggest threat to mankind's sustainability on this planet. To tackle this evil, government all over the world are spending huge amounts of tax payers money on projects that will help to reduce the damage that we have done so far. This is why renewable energy is such a hot alternative energy source. Renewable energy is energy which comes from naturally replenished resources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, and geothermal heat. If we are able to do this then we have a source of energy which is clean and which is available in large quantity and for ever. Thus it will tackle all our energy related problems and will drive us to an era where it will be clean, cheap and in abundance. If you want to know more about renewable energy you can visit the link > Renewable Energy < (Source: Wikipedia)

To support the development of such green energy, governments provide subsidies to companies involved in generation of electricity using renewable energy.In UK the subsidies are given in form of Renewable Obligations Certificate (ROC) payments. This is the money that the Wind Farm owners get in addition to the profits that they make by selling the electricity. Now this money that the government pays has to come from the consumers. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has stated that these subsidies adds up around £26 to every household's energy bills and this will go up to £50 by2016.

So the MP's rejection to these subsidies looks justified? Let's first see what are the reasons they have provided in their letter to the PM.
  1. They have concern for subsidies provided to onshore wind farms as they are inefficient and unreliable source of energy and thus not worth the subsidies coming from tax payers wallets.
  2. They ask this money to be divided among other renewable energy and energy efficient projects
  3. They have urged to change the existing wording of the National Planning policy framework to empower and provide advantage to local people who would like to challenge certain unwanted onshore wind farms.
  4. They want the planning inspectors involved to be more concerned about the views of local people and the planning considerations rather than meeting the carbon emission targets.
You can view the full letter here > MP's letter to PM < (Source: The Telegraph)

What surprised me is the fact that the letter mentions only subsidies to onshore wind farms as an inefficient way of spending tax payers money. The truth is that the subsidies for onshore as well as offshore wind farms are almost the same. Then the only logical reasoning is that the onshore farms are being targeted more because of it's noise, visual and space impact on the peoples staying locally. It can be inferred then, that the MP's main reason for objections is to support the local people who want to fight against certain wind farm owners. Clearly playing out vote bank politics rather than being genuinly concerned about the tax payers money. Nor are they worried about the impact on the poor man's energy bills, which is what every pro-petitioner has been basing their argument on.

Q: So is onshore wind farm really bad?
A: Government legislation requires that 10% of electricity supply must come from renewable sources. UK being one of the windiest country in western Europe, wind power is the most cost effective option to meet these legislative goals. Around 4000 additional modern wind turbines are all that would be needed to deliver 10% of the UK's electricity, roughly 2,500 onshore and 1,500 offshore. Also regarding the efficiency and reliability of Wind farms, there are certain myths and facts that I would like to clarify:

1. Myth: Wind farms are inefficient and only work 30% of the time .
Fact: A modern wind turbine produces electricity 70-85% of the time, but it generates different outputs depending on the wind speed. Over the course of a year, it will typically generate about 30% of the theoretical maximum output. This is known as its load factor. The load factor of conventional power stations is on average 50%. A modern wind turbine will generate enough to meet the electricity demands of more than a thousand homes over the course of a year. An with more funding and research the design and engineering of these turbines will only evolve to be more efficient.

2. Myth: Wind farms are ugly and unpopular
Fact: When the first sky scrappers of the world were constructed, they were termed as ugly and unaesthetic. But as their necessity couldn't be avoided for the sustenance of our city, they became accepted and with evolution of design and architecture, they are now marvelled for their aesthetic appeals. Similarly structures like wind turbines wont be an eyesore for the next generation as it will evolve further by then in every sense. However, even in current times, studies regularly show that most people find turbines an interesting feature of the landscape. On average 80% of the public support wind energy, less than 10% are against it, with the remainder undecided. Surveys conducted since the early 1990's across the country near existing wind farms have consistently found that most people are in favour of wind energy , with support increasing among those living closer to the wind farms.

3. Myth: Wind farms kill birds
Fact: The RSPB stated in its 2004 information leaflet Wind farms and birds, that "in the UK, we have not so far witnessed any major adverse effects on birds associated with wind farms". Wind farms are always subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment and BWEA members follow the industry's Best Practise Guidelines and work closely with organisations such as English Nature and the RSPB to ensure that wind farm design and layout does not interfere with sensitive species or wildlife designated sites. Rather, a recent report published in the journal Nature confirmed that the greatest threat to bird populations in the UK is climate change.

4. Myth: Wind farms are dangerous to humans
Fact: Wind energy is a benign technology with no associated emissions, harmful pollutants or waste products. In over 25 years of its existence around the world, no member of the public has ever been harmed by the normal operation of wind turbines. In response to recent unscientific accusations that wind turbines emit infra sound and cause associated health problems, Dr Geoff Leventhall, Consultant in Noise Vibration and Acoustics and author of the Defra Report on Low Frequency Noise and its Effects, says: "I can state quite categorically that there is no significant infra sound from current designs of wind turbines. To say that there is an infra sound problem is one of the hares which objectors to wind farms like to run. There will not be any effects from infra sound from the turbines."

5. Myth: Wind farms are noisy
Fact: The evolution of wind farm technology over the past decade has rendered mechanical noise from turbines almost undetectable with the main sound being the aerodynamic swoosh of the blades passing the tower. There are strict guidelines on wind turbines and noise emissions to ensure the protection of residential amenity. Further, there are research happening to improve on the design of the blades in order to minimise the swoosh sound further. With continuous research even these noises will be a think of past for our future generation. All we need to do is be patient and give time which is true for any great technology that we currently vouch on. For these technology to evolve it is imperative for the local government to support the companies and research institutions involved and removal of subsidies is equivalent to killing the industry instantaneously and shun the great benefits that it would have provided in the future.

Also the DECC's statement on how subsidies are affecting the energy bill is not relevant here as in the letter the ministers have stated that the savings from not subsidising wind energy should be distributed to other renewable energy. Thus effectively the burden on the average British household energy bills are not going to change.

In the light of these facts, I find cutting down of the £ 500 million a year subsidies to the wind industry is turning a blind eye on our best renewable energy resource. It's effects will surely bring insecurity into the energy future of this country. And all this for some cheap political mileages.
A more realistic approach will be to cut the subsidies in phases and re-direct it to the research institutions working on the wind technology, ensuring that the technology evolves, the turbines become more efficient and our future generation gets a chance to live in a clean, green and energy affluent nation.