Posted by: safedriver | September 25, 2014

How patient are you behind the wheel?

mannersWhen I speak with people about my job as a driving instructor with Young Drivers of Canada they often say they aren’t patient enough to teach someone how to drive. I guess my demeanor is regularly calm enough to do this. I am a patient person by nature. I guess you would have to be patient if you teach someone to drive, but I’m also patient enough to coach 6 year olds in soccer, baseball and be a leader in Scouts Canada for the same age group. Part that keeps me patient is knowing what to expect from those I’m with. Are you a patient person by nature?

Many drivers seem to lose their patience while in traffic. What has caused them to act this way? Are they late for their appointment or job? Did they have a bad day and are taking it out on others? Or perhaps they just don’t seem to want to remain patient? I guess only they would know the answers to those questions. Being patient in traffic not only helps you keep your blood pressure down, but also helps you make more logical choices while behind the wheel.

If you want to remain patient while driving, here are some tips. Leave early enough to reach your destination so if something slows you down, you’ll still be on time. Keep the weather in mind when planning and also time of day. Rush hour is never a good time to make a short trip, so if you can, use an alternate route that may be less congested or change the time of day you’re making that trip.

Another thing to remember is the other drivers aren’t doing things to annoy you on purpose. When I was a judge on Canada’s Worst Driver during season one, we had a participant who actually believed drivers were annoying him intentionally. Once he realized the drivers who were also on the show were bad enough on their own without trying to annoy people on purpose, he took a different thought to the actions of other road users. This helped to calm him down while driving. He realized he didn’t need to take their driving ability personally.

To remain calm and patient while driving take a deep breath and relax. You’ll still get there, but you can’t go any faster than the traffic around you. And even if you did get there sooner, it’s only a matter of a couple of minutes. Is that worth the stress you put yourself in? Typically, when we feel stressed we tend to replay what caused that stress in our mind. This only adds to that stress behind the wheel. Let it go. Ranting about what causes your stress just gets you all worked up again.

The best way to remain calm and patient while driving is not to let it build up inside you. Don’t sweat the little stuff. If you let those little things float away, the larger issues won’t seem so big. This way you’ll be able to stay calm while driving and make those logical choices. Each day take a moment when you’re relaxed and calm to think about why those little things shouldn’t bother you and think about ways you can stay relaxed and patient while driving. You have so much to gain while staying patient behind the wheel and so much to lose if you don’t, but it’s up to you to make these changes.

Posted by: safedriver | September 23, 2014

The smart way to safely deal with school buses

school busAs written for The Insurance Hunters. Please visit their blog.

Remember the saying “You can’t see the forest because of the trees”? I think that’s very true for many drivers throughout our community when it comes to school buses. Many drivers know what to do when asked, but many times fail to do it. It’s almost as if they don’t see those big yellow buses. How can drivers improve their safe driving when near school buses? Well, I’m glad you asked.

The stopping distance from a school bus when they have their lights flashing and the stop arm out will vary depending on the jurisdiction you live in. When approaching from behind the bus, you need to stop well back, in some cases anywhere from 6 to 20 metres from the rear of the bus, which will allow the driver of the bus to see you in their mirrors so they can safely let the kids off the bus.

If you’re approaching the bus from the opposite direction, you must stop far enough away that will allow the kids to safely cross the street to get on or off the bus. Avoid stopping so close the kids become reluctant to cross in front of your vehicle. This is the general rule in most jurisdictions, but check your jurisdiction to ensure you’re making the correct choices. The only time you wouldn’t have to stop when approaching a stopped school bus from the opposite direction is if there is a concrete or grass median down the centre of the road.

So now that we’ve all been refreshed with the rules, let’s improve our ability to spot these school buses. To some, that may sound kind of strange. How could you not spot a big, yellow bus? Easy; drivers get distracted in thought as they head to work each day and also when they come home. Keep looking well ahead while driving and from building to building to help you spot the buses. Expect they will stop so you’re prepared to stop as well. Be aware of what’s happening behind you at all times to know if you can make a safe stop if the bus does.

If you’re dropping your kids off at school, find a place that won’t interfere with school buses. They have specific drop off areas at each school, so clogging up those areas just isn’t a good idea for anyone. Perhaps dropping your kids off down the street from the school or around the corner from school will work better for them. And besides, why would you want to drive near a school bus that is letting off 40 or 50 kids at one time? That would slow you down as well.

The fines and demerit points alone for passing a stopped school bus with their lights flashing and stop arm out are severe enough to annoy any driver, but the thought of hitting a child as they walked out from in front of the bus send shivers down my spine, as I’m sure it does with you.

Posted by: safedriver | September 12, 2014

Missing your turn doesn’t have to happen…

procrastinating2Planning your route No one is perfect. We all make mistakes from time to time. However, after making a mistake do you learn from it? Can you think rationally after the mistake to pull it all together and complete what you wanted to do? Some people panic after making – in their mind – a major mistake. But it doesn’t have to be that way…especially while driving.

Many drivers each day miss their turn. For whatever reason, they drive straight instead of make the left turn. So now what? Do they panic and stop and then back up into the intersection? Some have done that and that just creates a bigger problem for them and those around them. So what can you do if you do miss your turn?

If you’re in the left lane and saw the street sign you were looking for as you passed through the intersection, you could go around the block to your left and rejoin up with the road you were looking for. If you’re in the right lane, you can also go around the block. By doing three right turns, it will bring you back to your intended street. Other options is to go further up the road and just turn around with the help of a parking lot or gas station. If you’re able, you could do a 3 point turn if it’s required and safe to do so.

The above mentioned solutions are really based on making the mistake to begin with, but what can you do to help you ensure you’re always on track? The best thing is to plan your route ahead of time. On a regular daily commute it’s pretty easy to get to your destination. Early lane changes allow you to be in the proper lane well in advance so you won’t miss your turn. This is especially important if there’s heavy traffic.

If you’re going to a destination you haven’t been to before, it’s important to plan your route ahead of time. Use the old fashioned paper map to help you figure out where you’re going. They toughest part may be trying to fold the map back up the way you found it. Once you’ve laid out your route with the map, write down the key points of the route you’ll take. That’s less distracting than having a map open while driving. Keep the notes brief with large writing. This helps you glance at it without having to take your eyes off the road very long. Also write the name of the street that is just before your turn. This way, once you pass that street you know the next one is yours.

Other things to consider when planning your route would be the time of day. If you’re traveling during rush hour ensure you do early lane changes. Don’t rush yourself if this is the case. If you can plan your trip so you can avoid rush hour, go for it. It will reduce your travel time and also help reduce the stress you may have. Also, see if you can find the local radio station that has the traffic reports. Most will give updated traffic reports every ten minutes or so.

If you’re not alone, involve your passenger and let them become your navigator. Ask them to give you the directions ahead of time to allow you time to focus on driving. So as you can see, planning your route doesn’t have to be difficult or stressful. You just have to plan your planning.

Posted by: safedriver | September 11, 2014

Blame it on the rain…

20140707_184618We’ve had a lot of rain lately and that got me thinking; what goes through a driver’s mind when they’re driving in the rain? Do most drivers just think about the fact they’re dry while inside their vehicle? Are they most concerned about their visibility or is it their traction? This intrigued me so I went out and asked a few random drivers their thoughts.

To not make it look too weird, I camped out at a local gas station during a rainy day. I struck up conversation with those pumping gas nearby and this is what they said. The most common answer I heard about what goes through their mind while driving in the rain was “Staying dry”. I think that goes without saying, unless you forgot to close your sunroof or forgot to put up the top on the convertible.

I did get “Being able to see properly” as another answer, but it wasn’t even a close second with 3 of the 15 people I asked giving that as their first answer. The third choice was a disappointment to me; “If I can I stop quickly enough” said by 2 people. Maybe since this answer was the third of all three answers given it may explain why rear crashes are in the multitude during the rain. Shouldn’t drivers think about their visibility and their traction and not just about staying dry?

When I followed up with each person and asked them how the rain affected their ability to stop. Most hesitated before answering but then most said their tires may not grip the road as well. I brought up wet brake pads as well and they all thought that was a good point. I took this opportunity to try to educate these few drivers about safe driving in the rain.

When I asked each of them when the last time they checked their tires for proper tread depth or inflation, they couldn’t tell me. One of those I spoke with actually went to the air pressure pump and checked their tires. Impressive! Did they do it because they felt obligated since I was wearing a Young Drivers of Canada shirt? Who knows; I’m just glad I made them think a bit more about the responsibility of driving safely in the rain.

I asked each of them if they drive differently in the rain and most said “A little more cautiously”. When I asked them what they meant by that they really didn’t have much of an explanation. I asked if they leave more space between their vehicle and the vehicle ahead of them. Most said they try, but that other drivers just end up taking away that space. To be honest, that doesn’t happen as much as people think it does. Give it a try and find out for yourself.

I had suggested they look ahead of the traffic pattern and if they see brake lights well ahead of them, they should begin slowing as well. Why wait until the driver directly in front brakes before they do? The driver directly in front may brake late and that would cause them to brake late, perhaps causing a collision.

Rain seems to be a distraction for many drivers. It also becomes an excuse during a collision. The rain and wet roads didn’t cause the collision. It was the driver not adjusting to the road conditions and the traffic around them. When driving conditions are not ideal, drivers need to adjust. Do you adjust appropriately?

Posted by: safedriver | August 19, 2014

Be careful, we know who you are

1919630_714766208596804_6969920507047309994_nGrowing up with red hair, I was easily spotted by people I knew. It was a little tough to hide in a crowd. One of my kids also has red hair and it’s fairly long. He too gets recognized by others in a crowd. People would come up to him and say they saw him at a park or at an event, even though he didn’t see them. I think the same can be said with drivers. People who drive the average vehicle with no distinctive markings can blend in with the crowd very easily, but those with unique markings or company logos will stand out. This would mostly be true with commercial vehicles.

For those drivers who drive a vehicle for a living they are in the public spotlight as many people can recognize their vehicle. The signs on the vehicle serve as advertising to help generate business for the company they work for. However, if done incorrectly, it can also stop potential customers from using that company.

A friend of mine happened to witness someone driving a commercial vehicle passing her and her family and as they passed, the driver threw garbage out of the driver’s side window. Now, littering is a very bad habit at any time. Littering from your vehicle is just wrong. Can we assume the person driving this vehicle wasn’t the owner of the vehicle or of the? If they were the company owner would they have acted that way? With a company logo splashed on the door of the vehicle, it was pretty easy to find out who they are.

The friend of mine who had taken this photo emailed the company, along with the licence plate so the owner knew who it was. It’s not good public relations when you do this. It not only hurts your environment and your community, it also hurts the company that you work for. The garbage the driver threw out of their window landed on the vehicles behind them. Could that have caused those drivers to suddenly swerve as they saw objects coming at them and possibly hit other vehicles? Absolutely. If a collision happened, other charges would have been laid.

If you’re driving a company vehicle, think of it as driving a billboard. You’re driving an advertising sign. Everyone knows where you work. If you do something illegal or wrong, people will find out. When word gets out, people stop using those companies because of what they’ve done. Word of mouth is a huge way to advertise; good or bad.

Years ago I had taken a cab ride from the local airport to my home. It was a short drive at roughly 30 minutes. The driver of the cab was driving over 100 km/h on city streets at 1:00 in the morning. I felt completely at risk and immediately asked the driver to slow down. He did, but not by much. The next day I emailed the company from my Young Drivers of Canada email address. The general manager replied back to apologize and attached the discipline letter sent to the driver to show that he was being disciplined. For the most part, I was satisfied.

Unfortunately for my friend, the company she contacted failed to reply to her. Did they discipline in house and forget to reply, or did they just ignore it? In the long run, it will be their loss. Not only did they throw garbage out the window, they also threw money out the window.

Posted by: safedriver | August 12, 2014

How much should we rely on new vehicle technology?

As written for The Insurance Hunters. Please visit their blog.

We all know how fast our society moves forward with technology. Recently I realized I’ve had a cell phone for 20 years. But boy, have they changed over those years. I was excited when I could text instead of spend the money on a long distance call when I was away from my city and needed to contact my family. Cell phones aren’t the only things that technology has changed. Vehicles are so different that they were just a handful of years ago. How has their technology affected you? Let’s do a before and after we had these new technologies for vehicles.

mirror indicatorA number of new technologies have back up cameras. Before these cameras were made available, you had to either turn around to see what’s behind you while backing or use your rear view mirror. By the way, turning around is better as you get to use your peripheral vision to notice movement before the person gets behind your vehicle. The rear view camera can only show you the rear of the vehicle. Danger from behind doesn’t always originate from the rear; it can also come from the sides. By the time you spot the pedestrian behind you, it could be too late.

Some vehicles have flashing lights on their side mirrors that activate when someone is approaching your blind spot. Before these sensors were made available, you had to check your mirror and blind spot before changing lanes. What happens if the sensor is covered with mud or snow and can’t sense that another vehicle is in your blind spot? Will you take it for granted your blind spot is clear? It’s amazing how we can get used to our conveniences in our vehicle and when it’s broken or when we drive a different vehicle, we feel lost.

For these types of technologies, drivers may develop weak habits and trust the technology and forget how to do those things themselves. Is that the proper direction drivers should go in with all of this new technology? If drivers remember to use their mirrors regularly, you’ll know if another vehicle is entering your blind spot. Keep your short term memory sharp and never drop your guard.

Other technology makes driving a vehicle and servicing a vehicle so much easier for the driver and vehicle owner. Technology has made vehicles smoother to build, drive and maintain. The cost of maintenance has been reduced in many cases because of this advanced technology the automakers have done. However, should drivers also drop their guard because they feel nothing will go wrong with their vehicle?

This advanced technology was made by humans. Humans make mistakes. The advice to all drivers and vehicle owners is not to drop your guard with maintenance either. New technology for vehicles is amazing and that makes driving these vehicles awesome. However, take the responsibility that something may still go wrong and you’ll need to take over. Your brain is the best technology sometimes.

Posted by: safedriver | August 7, 2014

Turning left on a red light?

IMG_20140807_104856If you think about it, there are a lot of rules to learn when you’re learning how to drive. I’ve had many people ask me if certain rules still applied as they did when they first learned to drive. Sometimes, what they thought was a rule never was. Perhaps they were given wrong advice or what they thought they were told wasn’t exactly what they remembered. However, there are some rules that some drivers were never really taught. Did you know you can turn left on a red light in many jurisdictions?

Most of us already know that turning right on a red light is common practice in many jurisdictions. The rules still apply; come to a legal stop, look for a sign that may prohibit such a turn, yield to pedestrians and other vehicles, proceed when safe to do so. Simple enough, right? The purpose of this is to help keep traffic moving along to help reduce congestion. Visibility is a huge part of whether it’s allowed at certain intersections. For the same reasons, left turns at red lights are also allowed. But there are still some rules which need to be followed.

For those jurisdictions where it’s allowed, it’s usually permitted when you’re turning left from a one way street onto another one way street. If you think about it, it’s like making a right turn on a red light – but in a mirror image. You start from the lane closest to the curb. You begin turning when the curb begins to turn. You enter the first lane around the corner, closest to the curb. Sounds like a right turn, correct? And it also sounds like a left turn from a one way street onto another one way street.

There are some jurisdictions which also allow left turns at a red light from a one way street onto a two way street. Those can be a little trickier, but fully legal. Again, you must stop legally at the red light before proceeding. You must also look for a sign that prohibits the turn, yield right of way to those with a green light and proceed when safe to do so. To find out if it’s legal in your jurisdiction, check with your local authorities.

Knowing the rules of where you drive not only allows you to remain free of violations, but can also help traffic to keep moving along in a safe manner…including yourself.

Posted by: safedriver | August 6, 2014

A discussion regarding e-bikes

ebike 2There seems to be some issue about a road vehicle lately that is causing some discussions in many communities. E-bikes are more and more common for commuters since gas prices have gone higher. The problem seems to be, are they a scooter or a bicycle, or something in between and where should these riders ride these vehicles?

Riders of e-bikes can reach speeds of up to 32 km/h. Many have taken these vehicles onto pedestrian and bike paths, which can make it very risky for pedestrians along the way. Keeping these vehicles on public roads can also make it dangerous for the riders of e-bikes as their speed is often 50% of what the drivers who pass them are doing. Some people wish to have these vehicles off those pedestrian/bike paths as they feel the danger is too high for pedestrians. I fully understand their concerns, but perhaps there are other solutions to consider.

ebike 1Typically, e-bikes can travel on any road that bicycles can travel on. Certain municipalities may prohibit these e-bikes, even though they allow bicycles. Part of the problem with that scenario is there are many bicycle riders who can also reach speeds of 30 km/h and above while they ride on bicycle paths and in bicycle lanes, so why not e-bikes? That’s a good question and not one to ignore.

Why not educate the riders of e-bikes to help them stay safe on the roads and near pedestrians? Learning to share the road with all road users is the responsibility of all road users. They need to constantly use their mirrors, signal their intentions, yield their right of way and take it when safe to do so. The penalties are the same for the riders of bicycles and for the rides of e-bikes, so each rider needs to know, based upon their jurisdiction. (What are e bikes?)

Sometimes the riders of e-bikes are caught in the middle. Their device is often too slow for public roads, but too fast for public walking and biking paths. So where should they go? If they are prohibited on pathways, give them another safe alternative. The key word here is safe.

For safety reasons, e-bikes should be allowed in bicycle lanes. If the rider comes up to another cyclist, they should pass when it is safe to do so. Just like any other road user. If a quicker cyclist comes upon a slower moving one, they pass when safe to do so. Why not the same for riders of an e-bike? One of the purposes of bicycle lanes is to allow those riders a safer place to be and to keep some space between them and motor vehicles. That plan is working, for the most part. Riders of e-bikes should also have the same benefits since they have similar concerns.

Most of these riders are conscious of the pedestrians near them and keep their speeds down, but there are a few that seem to wreck it for everyone else. Do we need a law because of those few instead of rewarding the masses because they are more aware of the risks and adjust their driving accordingly? I see someone who lives in my community travel safely each day in the bicycle lane. They signal turns and yield right of way when required. I’d hate to penalize someone like that because of the few who are careless and reckless.

Posted by: safedriver | July 25, 2014

Technology and distractions – what have we done!

IMG_20140725_095804As written for The Insurance Hunters. Please visit their blog.

I currently have the pleasure of being able to drive two new vehicles; one for work and one for pleasure. Both of them have new technology within the seating compartment that makes driving…shall we say…different than it was a mere ten years ago. Although some of these technologies may seem cool to have, they can add to distracted driving if used at the wrong time.

Remember when we just had the stereo in the vehicle? All you had to do was find the best six FM and best six AM stations, program them into the stereo and you were set. Now, you can program dozens of stations and that doesn’t even mention satellite radio. You can now plug in an mp3 to your vehicle and it will play hundreds of songs you’ve got saved in it over the car’s stereo speakers. Not only can you have more choices to the music, you get to decide which songs to listen to! Although that sounds cool, it’s also a distraction. Having just a few choices made it less distracting for drivers to choose their music. This allowed the driver to stay focused on their driving task.

The touch screen that many vehicles are getting will also allow you in many vehicles to see your text messages while your vehicle is stopped. This is provided you have Bluetooth capabilities. The Bluetooth capabilities also means you can have your GPS on the same screen while you’re driving. What happened to keep your eyes on the road? There are more electronic distractions that seem to be “standard features” with many new vehicles, but will they create a new distraction for drivers? Chances are it will…unless the drivers can control themselves.

When Bluetooth came out it was “sold” to drivers so they could keep their hands on the wheel while driving. That’s great, but you really drive with your mind and your eyes. Some of these technologies lead the driver’s eyes away from the driving task and focus their attention at the distraction. Perhaps we’ve gone backwards with our technology? Perhaps we need to “dumb it down” so drivers have less to distract them while they’re driving.

Until the automakers can make the vehicles less distracting to drive – perhaps make everything unusable while the vehicle is in motion – we as drivers need to control the technological distractions. If it’s the music, pre-program the songs you want to listen to so you can avoid making changes while driving. Turn off your Bluetooth while driving, especially when traffic is congested so you can focus on the driving task.

Even though you may have your hands on the wheel most of the time, with too many distractions already built into the vehicle, it really becomes more mind over matter as whether you can stay focused enough while driving. It’s either that, or go back to driving that 1974 Volkswagen Beetle where all it had was an AM/FM radio and a heater.

Posted by: safedriver | July 24, 2014

Questions for a tailgater…

IMG-20121011-00357When I’m teaching my students at Young Drivers of Canada I will often remind them to ask questions any time they feel confused or aren’t sure what to do next. I promote the asking of questions, including with my kids. What better way to find out an answer to a problem. With this in mind, I have a few questions that I would like answers to. Oh, and my questions are for those drivers who like to tailgate.

Dear tailgater, why do you do it? Do you really think you’ll get to your destination a lot sooner? Following distance isn’t measured by car lengths. Once upon a time many drivers thought so, but it’s no longer the case. There are a lot more factors that need to be included.

Dear tailgater, did you know that most of the time it takes you to stop comes from what your eyes see (perception), the time it takes your brain to get the message and time to get your foot from the gas to the brake (reaction)? The stopping distance itself takes the shortest time of all.

Dear tailgater, did you know that it takes roughly 3/4 of a second before your brain identifies the brake lights of the vehicle ahead of you are on. It then takes roughly another 3/4 of a second to get your foot from the gas pedal and move it to the brake pedal. It then takes another 1/2 second to actually stop your vehicle. This is in ideal conditions of course. This is at city speeds and explains why you need to stay a minimum of two seconds behind the vehicle ahead of you. Add in inclement weather or higher speeds and that stopping distance takes much, much longer.

Dear tailgater, did you know you can block your view up ahead when you follow so closely? If you stayed further back from the vehicle ahead of you, you can see traffic slowdowns earlier and switch lanes to keep traveling to your destination.

Dear tailgater, did you know your selfishness to attempt to reach your destination is putting the occupants of the vehicle ahead of you at risk of injury? If the vehicle ahead of you had to brake remotely hard for a pedestrian about to step in front or of a cyclist attempting to enter their path close to them, you would rear end their vehicle. As a matter of fact, your vehicle would hit their vehicle before you had the chance to take your foot off the gas pedal.

Dear tailgater, did you know you’re also going to severely damage your own vehicle if you tailgate and the driver ahead of you stops suddenly? Why would you want to do that to your own possession? How hard did/do you have to work to pay for your vehicle only to have it damaged by your own actions?

Dear tailgater, in every jurisdiction you’ll be charged with following too closely after the crash. That’s a reactive charge, not a proactive charge. In other words, drivers rarely get ticketed for following too closely before a collision happens. It’s usually after they rear ended someone. Not only will you be charged by the police, but you’ll also have the deductible to pay before your insurance kicks in. and as far as your insurance, expect your annual rates to go up. Once they start to go up because of a claim, they rarely drop. It can be a very expensive hobby.

Dear tailgater, I hope this makes sense and I hope you can answer these questions. If not for me, at least for yourself.

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