Discovering Cruise Control on the 1,300 mile drive back from Romania settles a long running argument about distance driving. But how fast can you go before putting yourself at risk of a speeding fine?
No booze the night before, no carbs for breakfast (or coffee, it makes you wee), open the windows, gag the kids, stereo on full blast, and keep a pin handy to jab yourself in the eye when you feel sleepy.
The list of advice on tackling a long distance journey is long and literally torturous. But nobody describes the sheer sense of achievement to be had from successfully transporting yourself across a continent.
Flying a plane is not commonly thought to be boring, even from halfway across the world. So why is tackling much shorter distances in a modern vehicle – likely loaded with features to make the journey comfortable, safe and fast – considered the seventh circle of hell?
In our case it was because of a sharp difference in opinion on how to tackle mega drives. One view came direct from the Sebastian Vettel school – as fast as possible in all situations – relying on lightning reflexes to keep out of trouble and hefty doses of aggression to bully other cars out of the way.
A fearsome 600 mile drive from Bratislava to deepest western Germany in 2012, torrential rain all the way, showed that the sheer determination intrinsic to this approach makes it highly effective.
Meanwhile, what we call the Alain Prost approach – the F1 driver who famously never drove faster than he had to – neatly divides the distance to be covered by the time available. This target speed is then rigidly adhered to, calling on all forms of anticipation to avoid harsh acceleration or braking, the enemies of fuel economy.
The 627.5 mile drive between Maastricht and Vienna in 2011 with enough energy left to enjoy the beer afterwards saw a gentle nod of assent from across the table.
After years of wrangling, ultimately it looked like the Steady Eddie approach would win the day. But boy it was boring. On long trips, being seen to be brisk is important.
The theory might be right, the costs lower and the stress less but maintaining a terminal velocity of eighty odd miles an hour even on derestricted autobahn is beyond ludicrous.
Just in time – only 103 years after its invention – cruise control rides to the rescue. Previously disregarded as one of the host of gimmicky extras loaded on our car, trying it for the first time on this trip from Romania now sees it join xenon headlights and digital speedos on the list of essential extras for driving in Europe*.
No more heel ache from keeping the throttle in a set position. No more approximation. No more steadily and inevitably declining average speed as the day wears on. No more constantly checking the speedo to see if the mandated average speed has been exceeded.. And keen progress through road works, for instance, while other drivers hover below the limit.
Finally, no more achieving only what you set out to do. In these early days at least we’ve gone further, faster than ever before.
Indicated speed versus actual speed. The argument now rages around the optimal cruising velocity. How fast can you afford to go before putting yourself at risk of a speeding fine?
By UNECE Regulation 39 all speedometers must overestimate. The margin varies by manufacturer but must not exceed 10% plus 4kmh (so a maximum 92kph in a 80kph zone). That’s a significant difference on a long trip.
Then there’s how much over the speed limit law enforcement will allow before they pull you over. Put all that together and an indicated 145kph in a 130kph zone is pushing it, but not too far.
New fangled smartphone speedometer apps theoretically put all this beyond doubt, but there are a number of issues. First and foremost for these apps to work you need the roaming function switched on. Not a problem in the UK but prohibitively expensive on the Continent.
We’ve used four different ones now – out of the 400 available on iTunes – and to put it politely they’ve all been unreliable. The GPS system they use is not 100% accurate in Europe plus all GPS devices are affected by ‘atmospheric conditions’, i.e. the weather.
We’ll have to wait for the European satnav system Galileo before we can fully put this one to bed. And who knows when that will happen?
What do you think? Are we too fast, or too slow? How do you tackle long distance journeys? Have you found a reliable speedometer app? Leave your comments below.
* Xenon headlights can be switched automatically for driving on the other side of the road, so no fiddly headlight stickers, while digital speedos will also read in kmh.
Next: all the data from our May 2013 ‘Istanbul or Bust’ trip: how long, how far, driving time – and how much it all cost…