Kevin Ashton didn’t take the usual route into computing. The man who coined the term “the internet of things” actually studied Scandinavian literature at the University of London. He now lives in Austin, Texas, and is one of the foremost thinkers on exactly where the internet is taking us and how it will impact on our everyday lives. In a recent interview he envisioned that in “25 years we’ll be able to live in Edinburgh and commute in our self-driving cars to London via a trunk road designed especially for the purpose, at speeds of up to 250mph.” Well, maybe… but one thing is for sure: I’ll still be stopping for a bowl of delicious home-made soup at Tebay services in the Lakes.
If Kevin’s vision comes true, chances are that Mercedes will be making many of the cars we’ll be driving, I mean, that we’ll be driven in. In terms of sales, the maker has just had its most successful ever first half year (1,144,274 units sold) and most successful ever June (209,309 cars delivered). Sales are up 35% in China and 47% in South Korea. The German builder uses terms like “private retreat” and “digital living space” to describe today’s cars and its prototype luxury sedans.
However, this week Kevin’s free-flowing future seemed a very long way off and, rather than doing 250mph on the M6, I spent an interminable weekend doing about 30mph on the traffic-choked A3.
But at least I was trapped in the new Mercedes E-Class (best ever sales, figures up 68%). It was a svelte, stylish and cool (in both senses) companion that did its best to make the patience- pulverising drive quite pleasant.
The car is a two-door, four-seat coupé. In the past year alone, Mercedes has unveiled four new additions to its E-Class line-up: an estate, a convertible, an all-terrain number and a supercharged saloon. I’ve never understood the appeal of coupés. They don’t have the sporty spritz of a two-seat roadster nor the practicality of a saloon or an estate. Essentially, you get a biggish car with two back seats you can’t clamber into without splitting your trousers/skirt. We took some friends out for dinner and the fuss the two wives made clambering out of the back was hilarious until the moment my wife caught her heels and fell to the pavement, only to be almost flattened by a woman passing by on a mobility scooter. Once you are in, however, the interior is superb. It’s a leather-wrapped, chrome-pimpled retreat with a great sweep of open pore elmwood trim. Stretching across the dash are two high-res 12in screens that create a super clear “floating” widescreen display.
There are a choice of three engines – one diesel and two petrol – ranging from 191bhp to 328bhp. The E300 is the slightly less powerful petrol. It’s smooth and agile and the nine-speed gearbox matched with all-wheel traction means it never puts a foot wrong. You’re swaddled with aids to take the strain out of driving. But with a car this good, you’ll want to turn them off and drive yourself – even if it is all the way to Edinburgh.
Summer holidays: what you need to drive in France
It’s July, the kids have broken up from school and the long summer break is here. Many families will, at some point, have decided to holiday in France or have decided to drive through it to Spain or other parts of Europe. To stay on the right side of the law in France, there are a few things you’ll need to prepare before you leave.
It has beautiful countryside, great food and wine – and families love it. Whether you’re camping and canoeing in the Ardeche, driving through fields of lavender and old stone villages in Provence, visiting the Loire chateaux, sightseeing in the great cities or aiming for the Cote D’Azur’s sun-baked beaches, you need to follow the local driving laws.
From headlight beam deflectors for right-hand drive cars, a ban on hands-free devices, different speed limits, to a lower alcohol limit for driving, to the things you need to carry in your car, don’t just set off and hope for the best.
You must carry these items in your car when driving in France:
Two NF certified disposable breathalysers (French version), for example, AlcoSense sells a twin pack for £4.99 online or in Halfords.
Reflective jackets for all passengers.
Headlamp beam deflectors.
A GB sticker to attach to your car if your number plate doesn’t already include this.
Tell your car insurers that you’ll be driving abroad, some policies will not cover you as standard and require your dates of travel.
Don’t use your mobile phone when driving unless you have a built-in fully integrated hands free kit in the car. Bluetooth earpieces or wired earpieces are strictly forbidden and receive a €135 fine.
Drive on the right and watch your speed. Speed camera detectors are illegal in France. By law, if your satnav comes with them or with camera locations, you are required to disable the alerts. Failure to do this can result in a €1,500 fine.
Driving in Paris requires you to buy a clean air sticker for your car that shows how much you pollute. Buy these online for around €4. If you fail to do so and you’re stopped, there is a fine of between €68 and €135 awaiting you.
Carry your full and valid UK driver’s licence that will allow you to drive in all EU countries, including France, proof of insurance, proof of ownership (V5C is accepted), ID (Passport/national ID).
Alcohol driving limits and local laws
Don’t drink and drive at all. And be aware of ‘morning after’ drink driving. It’s easier to be over the limit the next day without realising than you might think.
For a start, it is illegal to drive in France without an NF approved breathalyser in your car. AlcoSense single use NF breathalysers (French version and sold in a twin pack for £4.99 online and available in Halfords) are one of only a couple of products worldwide to meet and exceed the NF standard. Derivatives of these breathalysers are used by police forces in over 30 countries including the Police Nationale and Gendarmerie Nationale in France.
The AlcoSense single use NF breathalyser will quickly and accurately show you if you are under or over the lower French drink drive limit with a simple colour change. The further up the graduated tube the green colour appears, the greater the concentration of alcohol you have in your system. If the green reaches the line, you’re over the French limit.
Take care, drive safely and have a great summer.
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