Cars News and Reviews Seven Ways to Keep Your Teen from Texting While Driving- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Thursday

"One in four (26%) of American teens of driving age say they have texted while driving, and half (48%) of all teens ages 12 to 17 say they’ve been a passenger while a driver has texted behind the wheel."

These findings are from a 2009 report from the Pew Research Center. That's a lot of distracted driving in an age group already notorious for its bad driving record.

Of course, when you're 18, you're invincible, and immortal (that's why armies like to draft young people). Four out of five young adults claim they can safely text while driving. Moreover, there is - sometimes intense - pressure from friends to stay connected at all times.

So our job as parents is to convince our children that, even though they see it happen all around them, it's really not a good idea to text and drive. In fact, it's illegal in most states. But that doesn't seem enough of a deterrent. So it's up to us: parents need to mount an in-house ad campaign against texting while driving. Here are some ideas on how to go about it.

1. Starting now, don't text and drive.

You weren't doing that anyway - weren't you? All your research into the safest child seats are for nothing if you don't pay full attention to your driving. Drive like your life depends on it - it does.

Moreover, even if your angel baby is still tiny, she's got eyes to see, and what she sees most (and wants to imitate most) is you. The angel baby may grow into a gangly teen, surly and rebellious, but you're still the role model. Don't text and drive while your children are in the car. What am I saying? - don't text and drive, period! (Also, ask anyone who takes your child in their car not to text and drive).

2. Ask your child to answer your phone.

Ideally, your phone is turned off while you're driving. But if you're expecting an urgent phone call or text that can't wait until you've found a place to stop, ask your child to answer it. Playing your secretary swells their chests with pride, and gets them used to the idea of a designated in-car texter/phone answerer who is not the driver.

3. Give a cellphone with strings attached.

Most parents don't give their children a cellphone without teaching them the proper use of it, including the etiquette. Together with such house rules as "It stays out of your bedroom after lights out", it's okay to add, "And later on, you will of course never phone or text while driving, because that's stupid" - even if your child is years away from a driver's license when they get the phone.

4. Talk to your teen about texting and driving.

Your child has buttons: push them. Remind them that texting while driving is illegal in most states (and should be in all); make them responsible for the fine plus any increase in your car insurance premium. If they've ever fallen off their bike, talk about how much worse a car crash would feel. Make no bones about it: a car is potentially a murder weapon. If you know of someone who was involved in a bad car accident, talk about how it has changed their lives. (If you don't, I am happy for you).

Acknowledge how hard it is to unplug, even for the duration of the drive; and point out why it's worth it. As safety educator Robert Bliss likes to say to his students, “When you get in the car to drive home today, do me a favor — turn your phone completely off, and not just on vibrate or silent mode. You will go through three stages. The first is severe anxiety; the second is a feeling of relief, and the third is that you’ll feel safer behind the wheel and more in control.”

This is an ongoing conversation, not a one-shot deal. Treat it as a protracted advertising campaign: small bite-sized pieces repeated consistently is the most effective way to get the message across. Marketing executives know this, as do parents trying to teach our children table manners. Except that texting and driving is much more dangerous than talking with your mouth full of food.

5. Watch this movie with your teen.

Please consider watching "From One Second To The Next", together with your teen and discuss it afterward. Produced by Werner Herzog for AT&T's "It Can Wait" campaign against texting and driving, the movie shows the harrowing consequences of accidents caused by distracted driving: the pain and anger of the family members of the victims, and the changes, much for the worse, in the lives of everyone involved. None of its 35 minutes is easy to watch: that's the point.

"From One Second To The Next" - Werner Herzog. 35 mins.

6. Tell your teen about passenger safety.

Even if your teen is among the growing number of young people who are not interested in driving, chances are they will at some point get a ride with friends who do drive. Talk them through the barrier of being the uncool one who requests no texting while driving. They're really doing their friends a favour, and keeping everyone in the car safer.

Just as you remind them of the "designated driver" policy at parties where alcohol is served, you can remind them of the "designated texter" policy in the car.

7. Ask them to sign the pledge.

Give them the car keys with strings attached. Make them pledge, formally, to be smart about driving, not to drink and drive, and not to text and drive. The act of putting your signature on a piece of paper is significant. So is publishing your pledge on Facebook, for all your friends to see.

Will your child think you're a nag? Yes. Will they roll their eyes? Why yes! And still we need to persist. Just like we nag them about their homework, or cleaning up their room. We don't have a choice, really: Nobody dies from a messy room; but in 2011 there were 1.3 million car crashes (25% of collisions in the US) involving the use of cell phones. Let's all do our bit to bring that number down.

Meanwhile, keep looking over your shoulder: technology isn't standing still, and carmakers are working on the digitally connected car. They're essentially talking about a car-size smartphone that - by the way - takes you from A to B. Now that promises to be immersively distracting.



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Cars News and Reviews The Netherlands, 2136 AD- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Sunday

The land area that comprises the Netherlands is partly a gift from the rivers of which is forms the delta, and partly hard-won from the sea, through the building of dikes, poldering, and the incessant pumping of water (you didn't think all those classic Dutch windmills were built to be pretty, did you?).

Half of the place is below the current sea level (-6.76m at the lowest point), and the Dutch think it's reasonable - indeed, prudent - to spend 1-2 billion euros per year to shore up their defenses agains rising sea levels, in a nationwide multi-decade plan called the Deltaprogramma.

Nobody here has time for climate change denial: global warming is treated as a given. This perspective pervades news coverage, discussions at talk shows, and education. For instance, the map below was developed by Red Geographics for use in schools. Dark blue areas indicate regions currently below sea level; light blue shows regions at risk at a sea level rise up to 7 meters (23 ft).

Dark blue: land below current sea level. Light blue: land 0-7 metres above sea level.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying the Dutch are environmental saints. Sure, they bike. But they've got their own western-sized footprint. Shell (which started out as Royal Dutch Oil) is still a large employer. They drive more than they need to. They still get less energy from wind than they should, considering how much wind they have at their disposal. But at least global warming is firmly acknowledged as a reality in the national discussion.

I have just discovered a young-adult book by Evert Hartman, Niemand houdt mij tegen (Nobody can stop me). This is an adventure in the 22nd century, when half of the Netherlands has turned into sea, the remaining population is squeezed on the remaining land area, and immigration is a serious issue.

Sixteen year old Richard is present at the arrest of two Belgian girls, who have entered the Netherlands illegally. He decides to help them, together with Wesley, who is a clone. Hartman foresees self-driving cars that navigate a network of tunnels. Below a partial translation of the chilling opening pages. Hartman wrote this novel in 1991.


It hadn't made any difference.

The raising of dikes, the enforcement of sea barriers, desperate measures by the Department of Water Management to save the dunes - it had all been for nothing. The oceans' levels had risen with a speed that no-one had thought possible.

People fought to preserve the land, but in 2076 an innocent-looking westerly storm unexpectedly grew into a hurricane. The head of North Holland was submerged, the Wadden Islands were nearly destroyed by erosion, and chunks of the provinces of Friesland and Groningen disappeared into the waves.

In a panic, the population fled to higher-lying ground. Thousands perished.

Exactly fifteen years later saw nearly the same sequence of events. The only difference was that this time the storm came from the northwest. At the coast of South-Holland and Zeeland the sea was whipped into a wall of water: the Delta dams built in the twentieth century were run over as if they didn't even exist.


People screamed for countermeasures. Those were put in place: billions were poured into the further raising of dikes and the reinforcements of sea barriers.

All in vain. The sea kept rising; a new storm flood washed over the Afsluitdijk [the nation's longest dike, connecting the provinces of North Holland and Friesland] and turned the low-lying land into a sea. The centre of government was moved post-haste from The Hague to Amersfoort. There, at their wits' end, they arrived at the unavoidable: evacuation of the west and north of the country, and the construction of dikes farther inland, all within five years.

Some resigned themselves to that decision, others protested angrily: The government had been far too late with its measures; they should have done much more about that damned hothouse effect; they should have put the preservation of low-lying Netherlands at top priority above all else; moving within five years was completely impossible! They were going to ignore the government decree, and staying.

This was followed by a period of unimaginable chaos, in which police and army were finally deployed to evacuate all of Holland and low-lying Utrecht. What remained was a landscape dotted with dead towns and cities. With one unique exception: Rotterdam.

[The city of Rotterdam had made its move after the first storm in 2076 and built an enormous sea wall around an area of seven by ten kilometers. They moved their harbours onto new islands. On the other hand, the denizens of Amsterdam decided to move their city physically, at exorbitant material and labour cost, stone by stone: canals, harbour and all, to the higher-lying Staphorst].

When all was done, in 2136, the new Amsterdam lay, just as it did before, three to four meters below sea level.

But by then the polders in the west had been turned into sea. By then all that remained of the dunes was a sand bar.

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Cars News and Reviews Short holiday for CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Saturday

Starting August 25, 2013, domain name is going on a short hiatus. This doesn't mean I stop blogging.

I hope to re-instate the re-direct from by mid-September, until then please access the blog directly at

This is partly a result of my inept blog management, partly a confuse-a-spammer experiment. Thanks in advance for your understanding.

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Cars News and Reviews Ten Ways to Calm Car Traffic- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Tuesday

Delft, the Netherlands, is a rather venerable town: think of its medieval origins, its ties to the royal house, its rise as a trading power in the 17th century, its artists, writers and scientists. But its 100,000 residents don't think about that stuff too much while going about their daily business.

For my parents, a lot of that business was done by car. When I was growing up, my dad would happily negotiate the narrow canal-side streets, park on the very edge of the canal, or else on the expansive market square between the New Church and City Hall. Buses would pile into the same market square to disgorge hordes of tourists following umbrellas. Trucks would come in for deliveries, causing traffic jams in the one-way streets. I didn't realise it at the time, but it probably stank of exhaust - none of it unleaded.

In the late 1970s, the city of Delft decided to do something about the noise and the pollution. Since then, it has been a pioneer on a long but inexorable path to reclaim life from the effects of car traffic, especially in the medieval city core. It started innocently enough: the city centre was divided into four quadrants, and you couldn't drive from one to the other directly, you had to drive around. You could still bike everywhere.

Then, some streets (mostly those with shops) were declared pedestrian zones. Other measures were put in place to put private cars in the position where it belongs: as a transportation mode of last resort, in as much of the city as possible. Over time, Delft was transformed into a much more pleasant place, more vibrant than before, safer for pedestrians and cyclists, and with much lower carbon emissions.

The cool thing is that through all this, the city has remained accessible for everyone. While cars have certainly taken a second place, they are by no means banned entirely. The city has worked very hard to find ways to share its roads safely, while giving priority to green traffic. Here are ten policies that help make it happen.

1. No Parking.

One simple and effective way to send the message that cars are not welcome, is to provide few or no parking spots for them. A lot of time and gas gets wasted in looking for a parking spot; Delft has pre-empted that by building two parking garages just outside the city core.

Parking was banned from the central market square, reclaiming the vastness of the medieval square. To park elsewhere in the city centre, you need a resident's permit, and the willingness and skill to parallel-park your car into a canal-side spot - without railings. I should add there are always some spots available.

2. Pedestrian Zones.

Many of Delft's shop-lined streets and plazas are pedestrian zones. However, these have a twist: where so indicated, bicycles are allowed, as long as it is understood that pedestrians have right of way. Electric bikes and mopeds move too fast and are banned from pedestrian zones.

Not inclined to exclude anyone, the city has installed handicapped parking spaces nearby pedestrian zones, often closer to the stores than the spaces for delivery trucks.

3. Separate sidewalks and bike paths.

This goes almost without saying: sidewalks and bike paths, physically separated from each other and from the car lanes, are amply proven to be the safest for pedestrians and cyclists. A recent Dutch invention is the street with two-way bicycle paths on both sides of the street.

The photo (by Prodeo, for PolitiekDelft) shows the inverted triangles painted on the road, indicating that cyclists on the bike path have right of way over car traffic crossing the bike path in either direction.

The two-way bike paths are very popular with cyclists because you don't have to cross a busy street unless you really have business on the other side. It also causes motorists to slow down even more when approaching a bike path, making it safer for the cyclists.

4. Shortest path from A to B is a bike path.

Many of the narrow streets are one-way for car traffic only, but can be traversed in both directions by bike. The photo below shows the No Entry sign modified by "bicycles and mopeds excepted".

Riding on this policy (no pun intended), is Delft's pilot programme for parcel deliveries inside Delft by bike, FietsXpress. The logistics is provided by alumni of the Delft University. Its couriers claim they can deliver packages faster than a van; they are certainly quieter and greener.

The trailer says "I run on muscle power", the way city buses say "I run on natural gas".

5. Bicycle Street.

The round blue sign with the bicycle indicates a bicycle path: those sections of the road that are reserved for bikes, and must be used by them. The additional designation "Fietsstraat" (bicycle street) indicates that the whole street is primarily reserved for bicycle traffic. Mopeds, motorcycles and cars are still allowed, but "as guests".

The wording is chosen carefully: where you are a guest, you are expected to be on your best behaviour. Sure enough, on streets like this you often see a car patiently crawl behind some cyclists until the opposite lane is clear to pass.

The friendly wording is backed up by a law stipulating that in case of a car-bicycle accident, the driver of the car is held liable until proven otherwise (but " proven otherwise" almost never happens). This law is particularly strict when the cyclist is under the age of 14.

6. Public transport on bicycle streets.

In order to maintain full accessibility for all, you do need some motorised traffic. Not everyone can get around on a bike. City buses have routes that go right through the city, where on occasion they have to encroach on bicycle streets. For these routes they tend to use smaller buses which are more versatile. The sign below indicates a bike path modified by "Scheduled buses excepted".

In principle, the rule of thumb is that public transport has right of way over all other traffic. But in practice, bus drivers share the road with everybody else, and are generally particularly careful around bikes.

7. Public transport lanes.

Even outside the city core, some of the thoroughfares have been modified to restrict car traffic. Where there used to be two or three car lanes with a berm, now there might be one car lane each way, a wide sidewalk for pedestrians, bicycle paths accomodating two-way bike traffic on both sides of the road, and a two-way bus / tram lane in the middle of the street.

8. Bus-taxi hybrid.

For the handicapped and the elderly with special mobility needs, there is RegioTaxi, public transport that takes you from door to door. Their modified buses can accomodate wheelchairs and other mobility aids. Because you share the ride with others, it's less expensive than a taxi. But if you have a demonstrated need for RegioTaxi's mobility aids, you generally qualify for the discount that makes it almost as inexpensive as a regular bus ride. RegioTaxi buses tend to ride on the cleaner natural gas.

9. Narrow car lanes.

On roads well outside the city, bike lanes are wide and car lanes narrow. And when the Dutch say "narrow" they aren't joking. Indeed, many more rural roads that don't see much car traffic provide width for 1.2 cars, while the bike lanes, indicated clearly by the red surface, take up nearly half the road.

The car in the photo above is about the size of a Mini: not large. In order for it to pass any car coming from the opposite direction, one or both cars would have to encroach on the bike lanes, where they are allowed - as guests.

I should point out that they haven't actually made the road itself narrower. But where it used to be all grey asphalt with a single dashed line down the middle, now they have painted those bike paths' red surfaces on the side to indicate cyclists' right of way. It's the quickest and cheapest way to modify a street to make it much safer for cyclists.

10. Selectively porous streets.

On some streets, car traffic is banned with the exception of city buses, RegioTaxi, delivery trucks (with strict size and emissions restrictions), and a very small number of private cars (for instance, those belonging to residents). Access to these streets is physically restricted by a line of steel posts, spaced far enough apart to easily let through bicycles and pedestrians.

A fat pole in the middle of the lane can be lowered to give access to authorised car traffic. These are operated either by an access card, much like in a parking garage, or else by a remote operator, aided by on-street cameras.

A general warning sign (the red-rimmed triangle with the exclamation mark) is augmented by a graphic warning of the dire consequences of trying to run one of these unforgiving poles.

Not car-free.

It is telling that the Dutch have chosen to call the areas that fall under these policies not car-free zones, but car-sheltered: "autoluw". The Dutch word "luw" has a special connotation as a quiet shelter from wind, which in Holland can be very forceful, and loud, sweeping all before it.

It's an acknowledgement that yes, for some things we really need those cars. Just not for all things.


Shared at Green Living Thursdays and Small Footprint Fridays



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Cars News and Reviews The Netherlands: Bike-Friendly By Law- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Thursday

In the Netherlands, riding a bike to get from here to there is such a part of the psyche, that the Dutch don't even consider themselves a cyclist nation: it's an integral part of daily life. I have pointed out that the country's bike-friendliness comes from the fact that just about everybody bikes. That solidarity has always been there, but in the past decade it has been reinforced - strogly - by a change in traffic laws.

Photo Murdockcrc

When I was taught traffic rules in a Dutch fifth grade, the rules of thumb were simple: "Faster traffic has right of way". And "Traffic moving straight forward has right of way". That last bit meant that if you were on the bike path between the sidewalk and the car lanes, any car making a right turn crossing the bike path had to stop and wait for you to pass.

Rules are not that simple any more: inside cities, often the car has the lowest priority. And in the last decade or so, the law is tilted significantly in favour of slow traffic, in an acknowledgement of a plain physics fact: that if a collision should occur, the heavy guy always wins.

This is explained on the website of the ANWB, the Dutch automobile association (whose name, ironically, still means the "Dutch Cyclist Association"). This is what it says on their page on liability in case of accidents:

"In the case of a collision between a motor vehicle and a cyclist or pedestrian, the law provides for extra protection, since it considers the cyclist or pedestrian as the more vulnerable traffic participant. After all, a motor vehicle represents a higher risk for the surrounding traffic, because of its speed and weight.

"Basic Rule.

The driver of the motor vehicle is liable for the accident, unless he can prove otherwise. In practice, this is extremely difficult.

"Cyclist/pedestrian up to 14 years.

In the case of a collision between a motor vehicle and a cyclist or pedestrian under 14 years of age, the owner of the motor vehicle is almost always held liable for all damages sustained by the child.

"Cyclist/pedestrian 14 years and up.

In the case of a collision with a vulnerable traffic participant of 14 years or older, the driver is responsible for at least 50% of the damages, unless he can prove the accident is outside his control. In practice, the latter is unusual, and very difficult to prove. The 50% level is a lower limit."

So there you have it: the Dutch are bike-friendly, not just out of solidarity with their brethren on a bike, nor out of the kindness of their hearts alone: On top of those factors, there is a very large stick pushing Dutch drivers to be protective of cyclists and pedestrians. No wonder they insist on making roads as safe as possible for bikers. Since this change in the law was implemented, riding a bike in the Netherlands has gone from very easy and safe, to a downright amazing experience. Crossing the road as a pedestrian has also become much safer.

Communities trying to promote cycling and walking might want to consider this "encouragement" as a very effective means to awaken awareness among drivers of the cyclists sharing the road, and to pre-empt the aggression shown by drivers toward cyclists, which rears its ugly head in too many places, and which understandably discourages many risk-averse people (like moms) from riding their bikes on the road, or allowing their children to do the same.



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Cars News and Reviews Review: 2013 �koda Roomster- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Sunday

This summer, we made a new friend: Jasmin is a warm-hearted, many-sided person with a sunny disposition, and quite without fear. She currently lives in Prague, but her life story spans three continents. She speaks three or four languages fluently, and will engage in a lively conversation about almost any subject you care to bring up, in several languages at once if necessary.

Jasmin had made the trek from the Czech Republic to the Netherlands, accompanied by her diminutive shih-tzu puppy Gracie, in Jasmin's Škoda Roomster, stopping here and there on the way to visit Jasmin's many friends.

Photo Cellotrixx via Wikimedia Commons

The Roomster is a worthy match to Jasmin: it also is versatile, up for anything, and offers plenty of room inside for friends. With its slightly raised seats it embraces you with an easy welcome. In the front, the wraparound windows give you a good view around. Children rejoice: in the back, the windows are actually taller than in the front, defiantly going against the current trend of the disappearing side window.

Not only that, in the Roomster's "VarioFlex" seating arrangement all three seats in the back row can be moved forward and backward independently: if you're trying to fit three child seats in the back row, this might make all the difference between success and having to buy a big minivan to accomodate your third child.

Flipping down the back of the middle seat allows the safe transport of a cello. Removing the middle seat altogether makes space for street gear like a skateboard. Removing one or both side seats allows you to carry one of more adult bicycles. Toss out all the back seats and the rear of the car becomes one cavernous cargo space for transporting whatever is important to you.

Jasmin kindly let me take a spin in her Roomster. The car had nimble handling (parking in Holland's tiny parking spots no problem), its five-speed gear box was pleasingly smooth, and its 1.2L gasoline engine (with less than 70HP - it was a few years old) did very well in city traffic among the vigorous-driving Dutch. It also carried Jasmin and her puppy on the German Autobahn just fine. The only change Jasmin would like to see in her car is improved fuel consumption.

Indeed, the 33 mpg reported by German drivers is distinctly underwhelming for a 1.2L engine - but that might have to do with the German driving style. British drivers report an average of 37 mpg. Of course, opting for a turbodiesel engine can get you a much larger improvement: in fact, the 1.2L TDI engine in the GreenLine II Roomster averages 46 mpg even when driven by Germans: that's more like it.

If I were the owner of a small business: a baker, say, or a florist, this versatile car could be my carry-all vehicle, inside and outside working hours. Its low price, and low fuel consumption, is friendly both to small businesses and families. It would be more than fine for a family of four with one or two cellos.


Škoda Roomster

1.2 TSI 86PSGreenLine II
TypeS1.2 TDI CR 75PS
Emissions rating  
MSRP£ 12,615£ 16,195
CelloMom Rating
Fuel Economy:
City/Hwy quoted 33 / 48 mpg47 / 64 mpg
Avg. quoted 41 mpg56 mpg
Avg. actual 33 mpg (37 in GB)46 mpg
Carbon emissions, quoted134 g/km 109 g/km
Engine1.2L TSI 4-cyl 1.2L TDI, 3-cyl
Power85 HP @4800 rpm74 HP @ 4200rpm
Torque160 Nm (112 lb-ft) @1500-3500 rpm180 Nm (133 lb-ft) @2000 rpm
Transmission5 spd Manual5-spd Manual
FuelUnleaded gasolineDiesel
Length, mm(in) 4214 mm (165.9 in) 
Width, mm(in) 1684 mm (66.3 in) 
Height, mm(in) 1607 mm (63.3 in) 
Weight, kg(lbs)1146 kg (2526 lbs)1239 kg
Trunk volume, liters(cuft) 480 / 1585 L (17/56 cuft) 
Turning radius, m(ft)   
Top speed, kph(mph) 107 mph103 mph



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Cars News and Reviews Why I Love High-Speed Trains- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Thursday

The California High Speed Rail Authority plans to install a network of fast trains, including a trajectory that will carry passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles (about 400 miles) in less than 3 hours. By 2029.

I can't wait till 2029 - I mean, by then I could be a grandmother! So, having vowed to have a car-free vacation this year, I've booked this summer's family holiday travel on a few fast trains that are already running.

There is a pretty dense network of high speed lines in western Europe (high speed means top speeds of at least 200 kph, or 124 mph), and an equally dense of slower but still fast trains in eastern Europe.

Getting connected from the Dutch corner is still difficult: you have to take Thalys to Paris, then transfer from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon to catch the southbound high speed trains, not a trivial task if you're toting luggage at rush hour.

I'm sorry to say that on this trip we managed to miss altogether a ride on France's pioneering TGV (Trains à Grande Vitesse) lines on this trip, opting instead for Trenitalia's older, regular-speed Thello, the overnight service from Paris to Florence. The children particularly enjoyed camping out in a couchette, but to tell the truth this train is ready for an update and/or a facelift.

We emerged blinking into the early morning light in Florence, the place to gorge yourself in art, architecture and history, as well as the excellent cuisine. The place really is like one big museum; even the town-centre railway station at Santa Maria Novella has a pleasing esthetic, and is decorated with huge mosaics.

This rather venerable station will soon be joined by a completely new station that is dedicated to Trenitalia's high speed trains, Le Frecce (The Arrows). The stunning design (by Foster & Partners) makes a futuristic apparition of this new station, which is part of an ambitious effort by Trenitalia to build 21st century stations in every major Italian city, adding another layer to its rich architectural history.

It seems it's the least you can do to give the high speed trains a proper platform, so to speak. These trains, developed by Bombardier Transportation and AnsaldoBreda, top 300 kph (186mph) on the flat Po river delta.

300 kph is fast. It's fast enough to give you a sense of vertigo (if that isn't too much of an oxymoron for horizontal motion). Where the track runs parallel to the Autostrada, the train zips by cars going 120 kph (75mph) on the fast lane. Track-side sunflower fields and vineyards go by in a colourful blur. We've come a long way since the first lumbering locomotives running on coal-powered steam.

The ride is very comfortable: very stable, and particularly cushy in business class with its wide leather seats (with built-in 220V outlets for your devices), WiFi, drinks and the morning papers (all Italian). Underneath the A-line formed by back-to-back seats there is space for a medium-sized suitcase: no need to heave it onto the overhead storage space.

There is even a quiet car (extremely unpopular with Italian travelers who prefer a social experience). Tickets from Florence to Rome start at €29; even a business class seat starts at €38 if purchased a few days ahead. The FrecciaRossa covers the Rome to Milan segment (600km or 373 miles, the same distance as San Francisco - Los Angeles) in about three hours: there's no better way to cover that distance. Not surprisingly, most Freccia Rossa trains run at near-100% occupation, which helps keep the carbon emissions per passenger-kilometer very low.

Photo by StuporesMundi

In short, I find myself quite in love with these Italian fast trains. My only gripe with them (as with all other high speed trains) is that entering or exiting a tunnel makes your ears pop, because the high speed of the train and the size of the tunnel conspire to compress the air in the tunnel significantly. I hope there is a way to re-design the tunnel mouth to minimise this effect.

Once those dedicated train stations are ready, they will be architectural landmarks. Perhaps one reason to build separate stations for the Frecce trains is to inoculate them agains the legendary Italian tardiness on the rail network. But already they keep excellent time.

Of course, for timeliness nothing beats Swiss trains. But Switzerland's mountainous terrain precludes the kind of speeds you can achieve on a flat plain. And that's perhaps just as well: those SBB trains have plenty of tunnels to traverse.

On the other hand, SBB's regular trains have windows that you can slide down to let in the fresh air. Some go down two-thirds of the window's height. Passengers are expected to be smart about not leaning out.

Photo by Sebastian Terfloth

German InterCity Express (ICE) trains do not have windows that can be opened. But they do move: up to 240kph (150mph) on the north-south segment along the Rhine river. These are built by a collaboration between Bombardier and Siemens.

Seats are not over-stuffed, and very comfortable. There is a 220V outlet between each pair. The coolest thing about these Deutsche Bahn trains is the small display above each seat, that shows over what part of the train's journey that particular seat has been reserved. This means that if you come aboard with a ticket but without a reservation, you can easily find a seat that you can occupy for the duration of your travel, without running into the unpleasant surprise that you have to give up the seat of your choice to someone who has reserved it.

Another, very unpleasant, surprise can come in the shape of a train accident. European trains have been in the news lately when a high-speed train was derailed in Spain, and also because of a head-on collision of two trains in Switzerland.

But while rail and air travel accidents always make the headlines, in fact both are far safer modes of travel than driving a car: For European rail travel, the statistics indicate 0.11 deaths per billion passenger km. Compare that to automobile accidents in the US, which account for 15.9 deaths per vehicle km, more than a hundred times higher fatality rate than for European rail.

These statistics are counted over large populations. In my personal case, heading as I am toward menopause, I have lately been often sleep deprived, easily distracted, and frankly rather accident prone in many small ways. I figure that right now my family is much less safe in a car with me behind the wheel, than in a train driven by a professional conductor. So I'll happily keep booking us on trains. Until better days.

The other truth is that I rather enjoy a break from the driver's seat. I like the luxurious feeling of being ferried about, I love being able to take in the surroundings, even if it whizzes by at 300 kph. Not to mention playing games with the children, reading a book, or getting something to eat in the cafe car. All that, at average speed significantly higher than what I can safely get in a car, and at far smaller carbon footprint than taking an airplane. At intermediate distances, high-speed rail is the obvious way to go. I'm hooked.



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