Will roads disable autonomous cars?

And will break pedals become a thing of the past?

ANY RELATION TO USAIN? Chevy’s Bolt, an EV, joins the Volt in the automaker’s lineup.
ANY RELATION TO USAIN? Chevy’s Bolt, an EV, joins the Volt in the automaker’s lineup. –Chevrolet

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We’re just back from two weeks in Ireland.

Surprisingly (to me) it wasn’t a land of leprechaun-size vehicles. For the most part, we encountered good-size vehicles, though not the preponderance of SUVs. Wagons and hatchbacks still live on the other side of the pond.

A few observations:

All those stories about buses having to back up and execute a delicate pas de deux to get by each other on rural roads are true.


Paddy Downes, the owner-operator of the new Mercedes bus we traveled in for 10 days, was a master of the art.

In retrospect, I would have adapted to driving “on the other side’’ of the road, but I’m happy the need didn’t arise. It was nice to travel without the stress of also having to do the driving and navigating.

Autonomous driving isn’t coming to Ireland any time soon because so many roads are so narrow there aren’t even center lines.

On a visit to my ancestral home on Inishbofin, an island in Galway Bay, it was interesting to observe cars.

Islanders bring them over on a special barge, preferably on a calm day.

The only way they generally leave is as scrap.

There are no garages or service centers, just handy islanders who make do. Our tour operator had a skeptical look when an islander, who was about to take a group out in his Izuzu SUV, said, “I’ve good new brakes!’’

We only saw diesels. It seems that the authorities visited the island a while back, dipping into islanders’ car tanks and likely finding fuel similar to what they have in their home oil burners. There’s a lot of angst about the situation, especially with no place to buy proper diesel fuel.


Of course, nothing may happen. And, if it does, these islanders have a tradition of being self-sufficient.

After all, my Inishbofin cousins grew up without a lot of what we’d call necessities. They didn’t get indoor plumbing until 1972, electricity until 1982, and proper phone service until 1987.

So what does this have to do with us?

We’ve been inundated with stories about self-driving cars in the last year.

Established carmakers, start-ups, suppliers, and universities all are working on vehicles that can read street signs and lane markings to accomplish 100 percent automated vehicles.

Er, has anyone taken a good look at our over-used and abused highways?

Who’s to say that the so-called “smart car’’ will be able to read signs and lane markings in those instances when its driver can’t?

In New England, those road markers aren’t all that great today, at the end of the summer road-repair season. Salt, ice, snow, plows, and potholes will attack lane lines and markers over the winter.

For sure, we have the individual technologies to make autonomous driving happen. It’s just that no one has been able to tie them all together yet.

The software world is sure it can be done.

The hardware part—where the rubber meets the road—will have the final word.

Pending that, I’ll be a believer when a couple of those Irish tour buses accomplish their “Rites of Passing’’ without input from the drivers and no road markings.

One-Pedal Driving

One of the features of the Tesla S is that it’s one-pedal driving in many situations—with the regenerative braking system coming into play when the operator removes a foot from the accelerator. (Remember when we used to call it the gas pedal?)


Chevy is promoting four driver-selectable braking modes for its coming Bolt EV, which the company says will have 200 miles or more of range.

The vehicle can be operated in Drive or Low in tandem with a Regen on Demand paddle on the back of the steering wheel to increase braking (and energy recapturing into the battery pack). For most, it will be an occasional-use gimmick, but those seeking to maximize range will have plenty of options.

Of course, there IS a real brake pedal for those times when you really, truly have to stop.

Convertible top maker Haartz now is marketing a special brush for use in keeping your drop-top clean. —Haartz

Convertible Cleaning

The Haartz Corporation, headquartered in Acton, is the world’s No. 1 supplier of convertible top fabrics as well as a leading supplier of interior trim materials.

Over the years, we’ve had a few convertibles in the family and have found frequent gentle washing to be the best way to keep the tops clean, especially the light colored ones.

Now Haartz has come out with a new cleaning brush, especially designed for its products.

It has an easy-grip wooden handle and bristles made from fibrillated Nylex, a polyester fabric, that Haartz says can loosen dirt and debris without damaging top materials. Light dish detergent or an associated top-cleaning solution also can be used.

File it under “nice innovation’’ for those of us without convertible tops to clean.


It’s opening weekend for the football season so it’s worth mentioning that there’s a Dallas Cowboys’ limited-edition (400 units) Ford F-150 on sale at Dallas-area dealerships. Sure, Texas is the truck capital of the world, but a New England Patriots Edition would be a natural … Maybe someone can mention that to Herb Chambers this morning (7-10 a.m.) at his Cars & Coffee open house at Chambers Ford of Westborough. He’ll have a rare 1967 Shelby 427 Mustang on display along with local folks’ cars … Also today, European motorcycles take over the lawn at Brookline’s Larz Anderson Auto Museum (10-2) … And the Ty-Rods have their 44th Old-Timers Reunion at Lancaster Fairgrounds. It’s a show for some old-time rods and lead sleds.

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