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.

Posted by: safedriver | July 21, 2014

Take this moment to learn something

IMG_20140720_202942Spending time with my family is a big part of my life. I love my kids and try to do extra little things with them whenever I can. It was such a nice night recently three of my kids decided to come with me on a bike ride. That too turned into a teaching moment.

We decided to stay is the quiet residential area to which we live. There are quite a few streets with hills and nice things to look at as we travelled through the neighbourhood. It was perfect for my kids and me to wind down after a busy weekend. Or, that’s what we thought.

As we were riding through the area we would often check behind us for vehicles approaching. We kept toward the curb most times to ensure there would be space for passing drivers. Even though we were doing that regularly a number of drivers decided to speed past us in a closer than comfortable position. When I say speed past us, I do mean speed past us. In a quiet neighbourhood, that wasn’t necessary, especially with young kids on their bikes and another on a skateboard.

I do understand that the speed limit is set at the same speed in many residential areas just as it is on major roads – 50 km/h, but since there will be more pedestrian traffic and cyclists, why drive that fast? In school zones, the speed limit is reduced to 40 km/h in Ontario and 30 km/h in other provinces. I know school is currently out for the summer, but those same kids who walk to school in that neighbourhood are now outside enjoying their times on their bikes. With this in mind, why drive so fast?

A couple other times drivers flew around the corner without stopping at the stop sign. They weren’t even close. Let me clarify – they weren’t close to stopping, but were close to my 3 kids and me. I know many drivers tend to do a “slow and go” when approaching a stop sign, but in reality, they still need to look out for pedestrians and cyclists. And even if they did roll through the stop, at least slow down and go wider around the cyclists.

The only thing positive about these moments was the opportunity to teach my kids about road safety. I explained that stop signs don’t stop vehicles. Drivers stop vehicles. If the driver didn’t want to stop, they won’t. They realized that staying close to the curb and riding in single file will help keep them safe. They realized that checking from behind regularly lets them know when vehicles are approaching. They learned that if the rider at the back of the pack yelled “car”, it helps all the other riders ahead of them stay in line. That doesn’t just work while playing road hockey by the way.

Another thing they learned this day was to ensure it was safe before entering intersections. They learned to trust themselves and not to trust drivers. They learned the stop sign was also meant for them and not just for drivers of vehicles. Now if only I could teach those drivers who passed us a few things too.

Posted by: safedriver | July 17, 2014

Surprise inspections should not be a surprise

Burlington-20140617-00954Safety is a big issue within our lives. We do what it takes to ensure our kids are safe, our homes are safe and our valuables are safe. Sometimes however, we forget about the routine things that help keep those things safe – our vehicles. We use our vehicles to get to and from work, to go on vacation and to run our weekly errands. We even use our vehicle for work. We take them for granted so often that when something unexpectedly goes wrong, we get annoyed. The interesting thing is that it doesn’t have to be that way.

I was able to recently visit a location where commercial vehicles were pulled over and inspected. Most drivers were unaware of this inspection location and that was probably a good thing. Over a two day blitz recently, some of the results were; 76 inspections with 67 charges were laid for unsafe vehicles and 2 plates were removed from the vehicles. Surprise! I was speaking with one of the staff and to be honest, I was a little surprised with the results. I think some of the drivers may have been surprised too, but they shouldn’t be. Should commercial drivers be more careful with the vehicles they use to earn a living compared to regular passenger vehicles? Not really.

Oakville-20140617-00955Everyday passenger vehicles need to be just as safe as commercial vehicles. I completely support safe vehicles. Commercial drivers need to do a daily inspection of their vehicle and they should take it seriously. With the added weight and heavy loads they move or carry each day, it makes a lot of sense to ensure their vehicle is in top shape every day. But what about passenger vehicles? Shouldn’t they be in good shape too?

I recently got rid of an older vehicle because it was becoming unsafe. Too many mechanical issues were starting to act up. It was safe for my son to drive, but there were some issues that would needed to be addressed soon. The cost associated to these repairs were too high and based on the mileage and the shape of the vehicle, I decided to get another vehicle instead of making those repairs. Before buying the newer vehicle, I had it inspected by my trusted mechanic. Why buy something that is unsafe or needs more work done to it? My thought was this – drive the vehicle and look after it so if a surprise inspection happened, there would be no issues, except for maybe minor ones that may have just developed. Having the confidence of your vehicle is a huge relief.

Visiting the police officers and staff who were inspecting commercial vehicles was a good experience for me. Knowing this can happen at any time and any place should be a warning to all drivers, not just commercial drivers. Every driver should ensure their vehicle is safe and ready for the road. Your life, the life of your passengers and the life of other road users could be at stake. Putting off repairs only puts off the higher expenses later on…like deductibles after a collision, fines or perhaps even lawsuits. Although these drivers wouldn’t like the fines they received this day, it’s a lot better than injuring themselves or someone else because of an unsafe vehicle.

Posted by: safedriver | June 30, 2014

Learning to deal with “Are we there yet?”


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

Staying focused on driving is something every driver has to do, but with so many distractions, it seems to become more and more difficult. The biggest discussion about driver distraction over the past few years has been cell phone use, but there’s one big distraction that seems to be overlooked; having our kids in the car during holiday travels.

Raising kids is fun but also challenging, especially while driving. It would often seem like an eternity for them when they last asked “Are we there yet?” even though it may have only been ten minutes. After experiencing this after a couple of drives I realized we needed a new plan to keep my kids occupied and away from distracting me while I drove.

Use the early travel time to talk about the trip and to look outside the windows at the scenery. Involve your kids with the trip and the time will fly by. Go deep inside your memory bank and pull out those driving songs you did when you were a kid. It may also help if you learn some of the kid’s songs before you leave on your trip.

If the kids are young, give them a variety of things to occupy their time. Give them books with bright pictures, a few toys that wouldn’t fall to the ground and could be attached to their car seat and games. As the kids got older, we would bring books to read, books on tape, hand held video games and music. And when I say music, I mean their music, not yours. If you give them ear buds or headphones, they can hear it and not you. Keep the items a surprise for them until you need them. In other words, don’t let them know what you’ve brought to keep them busy. The added surprise of the items will help keep them occupied for a while.

One of the things kids would often say is that they need to use the washroom. Plan those stops within your trip. Know where a rest stop would be that falls upon your route. Taking those few minutes to make a planned stop helps relieve the pressure, so to speak. This allows you, the driver, to let them know when they will be stopping when they ask. Those few minutes of stopping will also allow your kids to move around and burn off some more energy before they head back into the vehicle.

For those of us with kids, you know they always get hungry. Prepare some snacks that they enjoy and bring those along. Bringing some drinks for them will also help because you know they’ll get thirsty. Just remember, after that drink they may have to use the washroom, so plan when to give out those snacks. The job of the driver is to stay focused on driving and to remove the distractions. With this in mind, it’s partially the driver’s decision as to when the kids should begin to get these items

Posted by: safedriver | June 27, 2014

Go ahead, be an athletic supporter….but do it safely

flag carI’d like to say that I’m a very supportive person. If anyone in my family wants to do something a little different but safe, I support them. I know how important it is for them, even if I wouldn’t do it myself, so I know supporting them is the proper thing to do, again, provided its safe. I also support my favourite sports team, regardless of how poorly they’re doing at the time. I wear their logos whenever I can and cheer when they do well. Let’s just say I’m a team player. But when is showing your support dangerous?

We often see the small flags of sports teams in the windows of vehicles. I had one for my favourite hockey team once and did place it in the window of the family vehicle, until it was stolen. Oh well. I’ve also seen drivers with smaller flags or pennants hanging from their rear view mirror . Those can also hinder the view of pedestrians from the driver when they make a right turn. But how many other ways of support can lead to poor driving decisions or distractions?

My son and I witnessed a driver with a huge flag over the rear window of his vehicle. Was it a little distracting? Absolutely. I’m sure it was distracting for both the driver and the other road users. I appreciate supporting your favourite team, but doing it safely should be on every driver’s mind. Using the small flags which are placed on the side windows works well. We see many people with those on their vehicle that they go almost unnoticed. During the recent World Cup of soccer, we now have seen flags that are designed to fit over the hood of your vehicle. They are a little more secure and less distracting. Would that work for more drivers? Perhaps, but that’s their choice.

Think about the issue for the driver. The rear window is completely covered up. They can only rely on their side mirrors and like most drivers; they most likely aren’t using those side mirrors as often as they would need to. Also, the side mirrors don’t give you the same view as the rear view mirror, so their supportiveness is also hurting their safety while driving.

Think of other ways to support your team without putting you or others at risk. Give yourself some time to decide if it’s a safe way to do it before acting on your thoughts. Be supportive of your team and become an athletic supporter. Well… you know what I mean.

Posted by: safedriver | June 25, 2014

What are bike boxes and how do they affect you?

Changes to our driving community often arise based on issues raised by multiples of people. For many years bike safety has been a concern to many and as a cyclist myself and as a parent of 4 kids who cycle a lot, I can fully understand just how scary it can sometimes be while riding a bike on public streets. However, when laws and communities change to help cyclists, drivers of vehicles also need to be informed so they can all work together for a safe mobile community. This is one of those times.

Hamilton 2-20140624-00958My local community has put out some bike boxes at a few intersections. There are a number of communities that have done the same. These are designed to allow cyclists to have a safety zone in front of motorised vehicles to come out of a bike lane for the purpose of making a turn onto a crossroad, especially while waiting at a red light. This area is usually marked with large bike stencils and are placed in front of the stop line. Some communities have different coloured paint, like this green paint in the photo, to allow it to stand out from other road markings.

A bike box minimizes confusion between turning cyclists and motorised traffic. The most common use of a bike box is to assist left-turning cyclists, but they have other unique applications such as for right-turning cyclists on one-way streets. They help the drivers of vehicles to better see the cyclist before they proceed.

So this is how it works. For cyclists – when the traffic signal is red, use the bike box to move to the far side of the street to make your turn onto the cross street, provided the bike lane isn’t already in the position you need to make your turn. For drivers of vehicles – the first of two white stop lines defines where you are to stop when the signal is red. If turns are permitted “on red” at the intersection, you may advance into the bike box to make a turn provided the bike box is not occupied by a cyclist.

To have a better understanding, check out this excellent video with detailed information. Check out the website of your local community to see if bike boxes are being placed within your community. We all need to share the road, regardless of how much of a hurry you may be in. But we also need to keep up to date to changes within our driving community.

Posted by: safedriver | June 24, 2014

Summer packing – how to do it properly

towing trailerAs written for The Insurance Hunters. Please visit their blog.


As long as I can remember, my dad was always very good with puzzles; especially jigsaw puzzles. He had the patience to put things where they belonged to benefit him later. Maybe that helped him when he had to pack the family vehicle for summer vacation. He always had a good place for everything. To be honest, I’m glad I inherited that family trait from him. With four kids, it certainly has come in handy over the years.

One thing I’ve learned is to keep the larger objects like coolers and full sized suitcases on the bottom when packing a minivan or SUV. They can withstand having heavier items on top of them. They can also improve the driver’s visibility if they can remain below the sightline of the top of the backseat. Without visibility from the rear, it creates problems for the driver in heavy traffic or if they have to back up at any time.

Speaking of the backseat, the highest you should pack is to the top of the backseat in a minivan or SUV. Objects above that level can fly forward as a projectile if the driver has to stop suddenly. This could injure someone or distract the driver from their driving decisions. I’ve seen the back of vehicles piled so high there was no way the driver could see through the rear window. This makes lane changes much more difficult.

It’s a good idea if you can put the smaller items inside larger items as that can also save space. For example, put all beach equipment or fishing rods in one large bag. If needed, find a rooftop carrier so you can put items in it that you won’t need until you reach your destination. Items you may need during your trip should be placed near the opening of the storage compartment. This way you can get to them with ease any time you stop at a rest area.

Keep a smaller cooler handy so on long trips you can have easy access to the juice, pop, water and snacks. If you’ve got room, use the floor behind the driver’s seat to put larger items that won’t move around, perhaps that smaller cooler. This would make it easier for your passenger to reach them. Don’t ignore the front of the vehicle. Having your maps at the ready, but secured, for your navigator to use. Secure all loose items so they don’t create distractions for you.

Packing your vehicle takes time to ensure you can do it safely. Perhaps pack it the night before you leave. This gives you time to think about it and do it properly. As an add-on, don’t forget to plan where you’re going to stop for breaks if you have a long trip. This allows everyone to stretch their legs, use the washroom or even get a snack. Packing and traveling doesn’t have to be a negative experience, if you take the time to do it properly.

Posted by: safedriver | June 22, 2014

Brake early…with no regrets

IMG-20121011-00357Hindsight; we’ve all experienced it from time to time. We end up doing things and after it’s done we wish we had done something else. How often does this happen to you? Perhaps a better question is how often does it happen to you while you’re driving? Do you regret making some of your driving decisions?

One of the most common regrets I believe many drivers face is how quickly they approach stopped traffic. With the most common collision in North America being a rear crash, it’s no wonder drivers have regrets about what they did. That is, if they really knew what they did was wrong. Why would any driver who is approaching stopped vehicles suddenly brake to stop just in time? Do they think about what could happen if a problem occurred while braking that would require them to need more time to stop?

I watch drivers every week and almost every day brake late as they approach stopped traffic. A multitude of things could go wrong. What if their brakes had an air bubble in their brake lines and their brakes didn’t respond as soon as they needed them to? What if they hit a slippery section on the road which would lengthen their stopping distance? What if they misjudged their braking distance because of their higher speed and realized they needed more time to stop? All of these factors could really affect whether a driver could stop in time, especially if they braked late.

Since those things can happen to any driver at any time, why take that chance? When I see drivers brake late, most that I’ve spoken to feel they aren’t braking late, so let’s try this on for size. What if, when you see traffic stopped ahead of you, you begin to ease off the gas earlier than you normally would? If you can keep your vehicle moving by the time the traffic in front begins to move instead of coming to a stop, you can also save fuel. There’s a big plus with today’s gas prices!

Another plus is the wear and tear of your brakes. Braking late creates more friction on your brakes, which cause more brake wear over a shorter period of time. Why throw money out the window when you don’t have to?

So how do you know you’re braking late? There are a few ways to figure this out. If you hear a tire squeal or your ABS brakes activate when you’re braking, you know you had to brake hard for a routine stop. If the movement of your passengers is severe toward the front of your vehicle, you should have braked sooner and more gradually. If that little voice inside your head says to you “Man that was close”, you most likely had braked late. Perhaps even your passengers have said something to you about your late braking. How many times do you need these signs to tell you to begin braking sooner?

Making changes to your driving style can save you a lot, as I’ve already mentioned. It’s time to listen to that voice in your head, and perhaps your passengers. If you do make some needed changes, I’m sure you’ll have no regrets.

Posted by: safedriver | June 12, 2014

Back in or back out? Is there a real difference?

002We are all creatures of habit so much that we rarely change what we’re doing until someone or something brings it to our attention. We do things that we always do hoping to get the same results. Does this sound like you? Well, now is the time to make some conscience changes to your driving that can benefit both you and other road users. Are you excited yet?

Every now and then I’ll drive my sons to school if the weather is bad and if my schedule allows it. The route that many people take to this school will make the roads in the school area very congested. It’s a residential area very populated with kids. Even though this seems to be a common travel path, we end up watching a resident back out of their driveway, often right in front of a moving vehicle causing that driver to hit their brakes suddenly. The resident seems oblivious to the danger he poses on himself, his vehicle and other road users by blindly backing out of their driveway. Does he realize what he’s doing is risky?

Since this driver seems to back out of their driveway each morning around the same time, it appears they’re off to work. To make it easier, they should really back into their driveway when they get home later in the day. What’s the difference? Driving forward out of the driveway takes less time than backing out and gives the driver better visibility when entering the roadway. Backing onto the road means you’re backing into possible risks such as other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

When they got home from work later in the day the school traffic would be gone and therefore become far easier to back into the driveway. Backing into the driveway means you can pass the driveway before entering it to see if it’s clear; such as no garbage cans, bikes, etc. There’s also far less risks you’re backing toward if you back into the driveway, so it becomes easier in that respect.

If you drive forward onto the road, you’re visibility would be improved and you could keep your motion going as you move into the traffic flow. Simple, huh? If it’s that simple, why are so many drivers pulling forward into their driveway and then backing out? Is it because their parents did the same thing? Is it because they’ve never really thought of it? Do they really even care? Only they know the answer to that question. Do you know why you do it?

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