Posted by: safedriver | March 26, 2015

How to avoid the perils of potholes


As written for The Insurance Bureau of Canada. Please visit their blog.

We seem to have a pretty good crop so far this year. It almost seems after each rainfall there’s more and more. The crop seems to grow quickly when the mild weather happens. Does this sound familiar? Do you think I’m referring to fruits and vegetables? I’m actually referring to potholes on our roads. The mild weather seems to create more potholes after a cold winter, so what can we do to prevent being gobbled up by them? Well, I’m glad you asked!

The first thing to realize is what type of damage driving into a large pothole can do to your vehicle. It can cause a fair bit of damage to your vehicle’s suspension system, alignment, steering control, your tires and your rims. Those are enough reasons to avoid driving in a pothole as they can be very costly repairs.

To help you spot potholes early enough to avoid them, look well ahead and see if you can spot a change in the shading of the pavement. If it’s darker, it may be an actual pothole. This gives you early information to do something to avoid having your wheels drive into it. The other advantage of looking ahead is if you notice the vehicles ahead of you all moving over slightly, chances are there’s a reason and that reason may very well be a pothole. Seems like a good reason to follow the trend, doesn’t it?

Another way to spot a pothole is seeing larger puddles on the road. If it hasn’t rained recently, chances are that the puddle you spotted is actually a pothole holding onto that water. Again, do your best to avoid driving into that larger puddle.

Now that you’ve spotted the pothole, how can you avoid driving into it? Many drivers will slow down dramatically before they hit the pothole, but that can still damage your vehicle. The added problem of slowing down is the traffic behind you. Those drivers may not expect you’re about to suddenly brake and may not be prepared. So why increase the odds of vehicle damage just to avoid vehicle damage?

The best thing to do is to adjust your vehicle’s position on the road. Sometimes that means moving closer to the lane next to you. To ensure you can do that safely, it’s a good idea to position your vehicle in traffic so that there won’t be another vehicle immediately beside your vehicle. This is commonly referred to as a staggered position. In other words, you’re driving beside space. This space allows you a safe cushion to move into to avoid those dreaded potholes.

Making these changes to your driving not only helps you keep control of your vehicle under these conditions, but it also saves you money for repairs. Seems like a win-win situation to me.

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Posted by: safedriver | March 23, 2015

Driving into the sunset isn’t always romantic

136Like most people, I enjoy having the bright sunshine compared to an overcast day anytime. Feeling the warmth on my face relaxes me and makes me happy…well, most of the time. Driving toward the bright sun isn’t always relaxing and driving into the sunset isn’t always romantic. Sometimes it can be blinding. Even though that’s the case there are a few things we can do to help make driving safer in those conditions.

The most common thing drivers do when they’re faced with bright sunshine are sunglasses. Wearing a pair of sunglasses will help to block the glare, not just the brightness. They help you focus on the things you need to while driving, including the traffic lights, pedestrians, road signs and other road users. However, make sure the sunglasses don’t impede your visibility to the sides. Sunglasses with wide arms can add to a blind spot which may stop you from noticing something approaching from the side soon enough to avoid it, such as cyclists or pedestrians.

Other than sunglasses, don’t forget about the sun visor to help block the sun. This is adjustable and can swivel toward the side if the sun is shining through the side window. I’ve watched how some drivers will shield the sun with their hand while driving, only to leave the sun visor up in the ceiling. The added problem with this is trying to safely steer with one hand on the steering wheel. Why not use the tools your vehicle came with? When you do use the sun visor, push it toward the windshield to block the sun. This will still help you spot traffic lights and road signs.

Sometimes the sun can be high enough to not really bother us, but the added glare from the sun can make it difficult for us to see properly while driving. To help reduce this glare, ensure you clean the inside of your windshield regularly. Using a glass cleaner will help get rid of the grime that seems to gradually build up over a period of time. If you allow smoking in your vehicle, cleaning the inside of each window every few weeks will make a huge difference.

Here’s the second worst case scenario. You’re heading toward the sun with sunglasses on, the sun visor lowered and the inside of the windshield clean, but the sun is below the visor and it prohibits your view, what can you do? If you always keep a hat with a brim, such like a baseball hat it can help to shield the sun while you drive.

Here comes the worst case scenario. Regardless of all the things you’ve done to help keep your visibility while driving toward the bright sun, it’s getting tougher to see clearly from that glare, what do you do? Pull over to a safe place and wait for approximately 15 to 20 minutes until the sun has gone behind the buildings or trees. Once that happens, you know you’re good to go again.

Now file away these tips and save them for a rainy day. I mean a sunny day.

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Posted by: safedriver | March 14, 2015

Are you ready to leave winter driving behind?


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

Well, it might finally be here – spring. We’ve had a long, cold winter and I think everyone is looking forward to nicer weather. Many people begin to feel happier when the temperatures begin to rise. When that happens, we also begin to see more kids playing outside. I enjoy watching my kids outside getting fresh air, but as a driver, having kids playing outside creates added risks on the road. Are you ready for these and other risks?

When the weather warms up, you’ll often get a bit excited that spring is on the way. Car windows get rolled down and stereos get turned up. Both of those things can distract the driver from their job of driving safely. Loose papers inside your vehicle can blow around when the windows are down. Securing any loose items such as papers is a good thing to do to help you avoid distractions. Focus on your driving as the weather improves.

When weather improves and the windows drop, many drivers tend to rest their elbow on the door and drive with one hand. Show how good a driver you are by keeping two hands on the wheel. Having two hands on the wheel will help you steer around a sudden problem with ease. Typical reaction time often isn’t quick enough to allow you to grab the wheel with your second hand when you need it. By the time your brain tells your hand to get back on the wheel, it’s too late.

As the temperatures rise, you’ll find more kids sledding, playing road hockey and just fooling around in the yard and near the street. It’s always a good idea to mentally prepare ourselves as we drive when changes with the weather happen. This is important at any time of year, but especially during spring and summer when we’ll find more kids outside playing.

Expect to see kids darting out onto the road without much warning. To prepare ourselves, reduce your speed while traveling in areas that have kids. In many areas across Canada, school zones and park areas already have a reduced speed limit. Just because school may not be in session doesn’t mean you can increase your speed. Slow down so you can respond to these kids quicker. Also, stay away from parked vehicles as much as possible as kids can dart between them at any time, especially as they slide down a big snow pile.

Look for feet in front of parked vehicles well before you reach them. From a distance, you’ll have a good angle to spot them. When you get too close to the vehicle, it will be more difficult to spot those feet about to walk in front of you. Once you learn to anticipate their actions, you can help keep them safer.

Remember, there may be other drivers who are caught up with “spring fever” just like you who may not be paying much attention to their driving. Someone has to, so let’s put our safety in our own hands.

distractedDo you ever find yourself in public doing something just a little out of the ordinary? Figuring no one is watching, you just keep doing what you’re doing. Well, sorry to bust your bubble, sometimes people do watch. Okay, that sounds creepy, but it’s not really. It’s kind of funny actually.

Recently while I was stopped in traffic I noticed the driver behind me was moving their head a little odd. In reality, they looked like a bobble-head. I thought maybe they were singing, as many people do. After a few moments I realized what they were doing – they were dancing in their vehicle. While stopped they hand their arms and hands moving all over the place. If they had a front seat passenger I’m pretty certain they would have smacked them in the head. It was pretty comical to watch. This had me thinking of all the other unusual things I’ve seen drivers do while driving.

Many people eat snacks while driving. Most of these snacks take very little thought, but can be distracting none the less. There was a time I watched someone eat a full size sub while driving. A friend of mine was driving so I was able to watch a lot longer than if I was the person behind the wheel. They had to use two hands for the sub so they could keep it together without spilling most of it on their lap. To do this, they had to guide their vehicle with, you guessed it, their knees. Once I noticed that, it was time to move as far away as possible so their actions wouldn’t affect us.

You know how sometimes the temperature in your vehicle can get a little too warm? Most drivers will either turn the temperature down or crack open a window. Not in this one case. I witnessed someone taking their sweater off. They weren’t stopped at a traffic light. They were in full motion. Okay, that’s talent – and dangerous. Why couldn’t they wait until they were safely stopped at a red light or stop sign? Could they pull over to the side of the road and do it there? Sure, but where’s the excitement in that?

There’s so much to do while driving that many drivers have a difficult time keeping up. Glancing at many things is a common part to driving, so adding things less important shouldn’t really happen. Well, during rush hour one day, I noticed the driver next to me was reading. Many drivers read the gauges on their vehicle or perhaps the GPS to help them plan their route. But this driver was reading a book. I guess driving was a little boring for them. Either that or the book was too good to put down.

With all the talk about distracted driving, this next one left me speechless. While out with my sons, we approached another vehicle and happened to notice the vehicle was drifting slightly in their lane and was also driving much slower than the other traffic. As we passed the vehicle, we noticed the driver was texting while driving. To help the driver keep their vehicle in their lane, their front seat passenger was steering. I guess that’s better than steering with your knees, right?

So tell me what you’ve seen that falls under the category of odd, crazy or just funny. Sometimes we need things like this to let us know we’re fairly normal…most of the time.

Posted by: safedriver | February 28, 2015

How to deal with road raging…as the giver and receiver

AngryDriverLet’s face it; we’re not happy all the time. Neither are the people we come across in our daily activities. Sometimes the grumpy, annoyed or angry feelings come with us where ever we go, including when we get into the vehicle. If you take these negative feelings with you while driving, this can often lead to road raging. So let’s take a look at both angles of road raging – the giver and the receiver.

Let’s first address you, the road rage giver. Why do it? In most cases, road ragers are just having a bad moment, bad day or bad few days. The stress seems to build up and when the smallest thing that doesn’t go in their favour happens, then wham! They take most actions from other road users very personal. They often feel those people did those actions to them directly. Well, that’s not really the case. The main difference between an angry driver and a road rager is follow-through. The angry driver may say things aloud in the vehicle to themselves or their passengers. The road rager will act upon their rage.

When I was a judge on Canada’s Worst Driver during their first season, we had a participant who felt other drivers were doing things just to annoy him personally. This tended to get him so angry he often retaliated to these drivers by cutting them off or by hitting the brakes suddenly causing the driver behind to do the same, almost crashing into them. That’s often what road raging really is – retaliation to someone else’s actions. During that season of the show, we used the other participants as examples to him that people make mistakes while driving; quite often not intentionally toward someone else. After we did that he seemed to have a better understanding that people do make mistakes while driving and became less of a road rager. He tried not to take other driver’s mistakes personally.

So what can you do to avoid being the road rage giver? If you’ve had a bad day, put on your favourite music in your vehicle before driving away, close your eyes for a few minutes and take deep breaths. This will slow down your heart rate and put you in a relaxed mood before you head off on your commute. If what’s causing your stress is at home, try to leave it there when you get into your vehicle. The same can be said if the stress you’re feeling is with your job. Leaving your “work problems” at work allows you to stay calm while behind the wheel. Always take a few moments before driving if you’re feeling annoyed, angry or grumpy to relax and clear your mind of those issues. And never take the actions of other drivers personally.

Now, what can you do if someone is the road rager to you? The first thing is never retaliate back to them. Drivers have been seriously injured or even killed through the act of road raging. You’re no better than they are if you act like them. Also, avoid making eye contact with them. That sometimes seems to fuel their rage even more. Another possible solution is to turn off the road you’re currently driving on to get rid of them. If they follow you, keep making smooth turns until they decide it isn’t worth pursuing. If they still persist with the raging, drive to the closest police station or fire station. They’ll tend to back off after they see where you’re going.

Remember driving is a journey, not a race. Take the time to relax and focus on this journey. Personal problems will come and go, for you and other road users. Take a moment and think of the consequences of your actions before you do those actions. You’ll be safer because of it.

**Note** Here’s an update of a related road rage incident.

**Second note** Check out the video of this driver getting caught road raging by police!

Posted by: safedriver | February 21, 2015

Safe Driving Week should last a full year


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

Throughout Canada we generally have two weeks of the year that focus on safe driving; one week in the spring and the other at the end of the year. This is usually brought to the interest of drivers through various organizations and government. The reasoning is to highlight to drivers the importance of safe driving and to remind them of things they may have forgotten or never knew to begin with. I enjoy how the media jumps all over these two weeks, really letting the public know what should happen on our roads. But don’t you think you owe it to yourself to increase those two weeks to… I don’t know… maybe the entire year?

Most people can realize on their own when their driving isn’t as good as it could be. Sometimes their passengers tell them and if different passengers are saying the same thing, chances are that it’s true. When I was a judge on Canada’s Worst Driver, there was a participant who had multiple people nominate her to be on the show. It was obvious to many of her friends she was an unsafe driver and they let her know about it. She still denied she needed to change her driving habits and even though she was on the show, she still said she was a good driver. Some people, huh?

In order to make a new habit you first of all must want to make the change. Changes to your driving habits won’t happen if you have no interest in doing it. I’ve often said to drivers; I can’t teach you how to drive if you don’t want to learn. If you want to change, you need to follow through and practice the new skills each time you drive. If you want the outcome, you have to put in the work.

Now, depending who you ask, it takes anywhere from 21 to 30 days to make something into a new habit. If you have a bad habit, it may take a little longer to make those changes because you have to unlearn your bad habit before you can build it into a good habit. If you think about it, having one week to change your driving attitude, skill or belief just isn’t long enough. You need more time. You should think about long term gains by making these changes. Is it safety? Is it financial? Is it regaining respect from family or friends?

To help you solidify these changes, make a conscience effort before entering your vehicle of how you’re going to drive. If you don’t know exactly how to change your driving habits, ask a professional – not your best friend. No offence to your friend, but they may not know exactly how to break down the changes to help you. An expert can help you with that. Once you have the tips, tell yourself what you should do, not what you should not do. Positive advice reinforces positive change. And after time, voila! A new habit!

** A related article… Is it time to make a fresh start can be read here

Posted by: safedriver | February 6, 2015

For some drivers, what would it take…

untitledWhere ever I go I often get asked driving advice. People want the little bits of information that will either prove to them they’re doing what they’re supposed to do, or advice to help them with things they never really knew. Often the purpose of my articles is to inform drivers of both of those things, so I don’t mind. Sometimes, it’s about the driver who never really gave certain things any thought. So with that in mind, here are a few things for you to think about the next time you’re driving.

What would it take for you wave thank you after another driver did something nice for you? Many drivers will often reduce speed to let you change lanes in front of them. Once you get fully into that new lane, use your right hand to give a wave. The right hand can be seen through the rear window as you wave and that will show the driver behind you that you appreciated their kindness. Think about how you feel when another driver doesn’t acknowledge your act of kindness and how satisfied you feel when someone waves thanks to you. Do unto others…

What would it take to signal your lane changes and turns? Communicating is huge within our society, so take that mentality and bring it into the vehicle with you. Letting other road users know why you’re slowing down helps to keep them calm until you make that turn. Signaling before making the lane change actually helps the other drivers know what you’re doing that they could help you make the change by slowing down to give you room. If you don’t signal how would they know you wanted to move over?

cyclistsWhat would it take to move over to allow cyclists a clear path as opposed to trying to squeeze between them and the other lane of traffic? Cyclists are vehicles of the road and they should be treated as such. Giving them a full lane early will allow the driver behind you a better chance to see them before they get too close. This is especially important if there are no bicycle lanes. Just because some cyclists ride carelessly doesn’t mean you should give them a difficult time. Think of each cyclist you come to as a member of your own family and you want to protect them.

What would it take to come to a full stop at stop signs? Most drivers slow down enough so they “won’t get a ticket” but is that good enough? Those drivers aren’t thinking about stopping – they’re thinking about going. If that’s the case, they won’t be looking for pedestrians, cyclists or other drivers approaching the intersection. That’s a recipe for a collision and most certainly injuries or worse. Come to a full stop, look to see if it’s clear to precede. This would make it easier to spot and solve any problems you may see before entering the intersection.

What would it take for you to adjust speed in poor conditions? Those driving conditions are not ideal, so why drive like they are? Speed limits are set for ideal conditions, so if the road has reduced traction or reduced visibility…your speed should also be reduced. This would give you more time to see, think and respond to problems you may encounter. Make sense?

What would it take to have you make these changes to your driving style? Some thought before the action? More respect for other road users? More respect for yourself? It’s never too late to be a safer driver. You just have to want to do it.

Posted by: safedriver | February 4, 2015

Is it time to make a fresh start with your driving?

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

Mmm, fresh! I love the smell of fresh baked foods, fresh air and freshly cut grass. There’s something to be said about starting new. Many people make New Year resolutions at the beginning of the calendar year with the hope of making changes that will be positive in their life. With that being said, I’d thought I would offer some suggestions for drivers who would like to start new skills during this calendar year.

The first suggestion I would like to offer is driving attitude. Many drivers are less patient than they could be while driving. Instead of getting annoyed with other road users, take a deep breath and ask yourself what is it about their actions that goes against what you’re doing. Does it really affect you as much as you think it does? After having this change of attitude over a month or so, you’ll be a much calmer driver, making better driving decisions because you’ll be thinking clearer.

Another new tip to offer is to become more of a proactive driver. Some people are chronic late comers. They leave things to the last moment. If this sounds like you, try these tips. Once you know how long your commute will be, leave early enough to give yourself an extra 10 or 15 minutes for travel. If you get to work 10 or 15 minutes early, you’ll have time to grab a coffee and relax before starting your work day. If you need that extra 10 or 15 minutes during your commute, you won’t be tempted to rush and make poor driving choices because you’ll be late.

Something that many drivers could benefit from making a new start is cleanliness. I’m not talking personal hygiene, I’m talking the vehicle. Securing loose items from inside the vehicle means less distractions. Items stuffed under the driver’s seat can become dislodged and can roll under the brake pedal. That may prohibit the driver from braking firmly in an emergency. Loose items such as wrappers and paper can blow around on a windy day in the spring and summer with the windows down, so put those away before driving so they don’t take your attention away from the driving task.

The last suggestion for a fresh start this year I would have to say should be slowing down sooner when approaching red lights or stopped traffic. Early slowing has many benefits for drivers. It saves fuels, saves brake wear and gives you the feeling that you’re going someplace. That feeling will often help you feeling positive as a driver and become less stressed on your daily commute.

These are just a few suggestions to get you started off in the New Year. Will you use them? Will you keep them longer than a week? I hope so, but don’t limit your fresh start to just these few. Make the entire year your year of safe driving.


Posted by: safedriver | January 29, 2015

Should residential speed limits drop?

017 (2)Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? Remember how the tortoise won the race because they were moving slow and steady? As drivers we can learn from that story, plus much more. Not only does a slow and steady speed help you with fuel savings, it also helps you respond more easily to problems. So let’s dig deeper and see what else we can gain.

The Ontario provincial government is looking at reducing the speed limit across the entire province from 50 km/h to 40 km/h, but only in residential areas. The main roads will be the same speed as they are now. Their goal is to reduce injury and death in those high populated areas. There are sections in some communities that already have the reduced speed limit of 40 km/h, but that’s mainly just in school zones. So let’s think through the advantages of driving 10 km/h slower in the quiet residential areas.

Some drivers will be annoyed with this change of speed because they believe the reduced speed will slow them down from reaching their destination. The actual time you lose getting to your destination by reducing your speed by 10 km/h is only a mere seconds – maybe. Those few seconds you may lose from driving at a slower speed would have been eaten up waiting at stop signs anyway, so what’s the real problem? There isn’t one. So why drop the speed limit by 10 km/h if there’s no real difference for drivers? It’s more about pedestrian and cyclist safety. They can gain a lot from this.

We’ve often heard how we should drive according to the conditions. This is usually related to rain, snow or extremely windy conditions, but what about crowded residential areas? Many of these roads become narrow since they often have parked vehicles line up on at least one side of the street; both sides in some areas. Not only do you have a narrower path to travel, you now have many things that can block your view of approaching pedestrians or cyclists. If this is the case, why would you want to drive faster? Driving slower gives you a better chance to see danger before it reaches your path.

By dropping the speed limit from 50 km/h to 40 km/h, it will take the average driver on dry, clear roads with properly maintained tires and brakes approximately 9 less metres to stop after seeing a pedestrian step off the curb compared to driving at 50 km/h. That’s pretty significant if you think about it. Even if a pedestrian or cyclist was struck at a lower speed, the injuries could be less severe. Seems like a winning formula here. The latest stats from 2010 show almost 7000 pedestrians and cyclists combines were either injured or killed, just in Ontario. In order to make those numbers go down, drivers have to play a big part.

As drivers we need to work together with our pedestrian and cycling traffic to help keep them safe. While driving its helpful if you begin predicting their actions. Move your eyes from building to building to spot them before they reach the curb. Remembering that kids won’t always look before crossing the street should always be on our mind while driving. Combining that with a reduced speed and it can become a lot safer for these pedestrians and cyclists, the same people you care about.

Posted by: safedriver | January 20, 2015

Is your driving based on opinion or fact?

DSC02396I love life. Just about every day you have the opportunity to learn something. Sometimes what you may learn is very subtle, but there’s still something to take away from your daily experiences. This is all true, provided you’re open-minded enough to want to learn. I can safely say the same thing about drivers. Many drivers are open-mined enough to learn something new, but others seem to be a bit stubborn and stuck in their ways. Which are you?

Shortly after I became a driving instructor for Young Drivers of Canada I began the challenging task of re-training licenced drivers. Many of whom had been driving longer than I had been alive. The reason I knew this? They told me. However, that didn’t discourage me. I began showing them things from our program and when they saw how well it worked, they began listening to me more intently and seemed eager to try other “new” things.

You see, these weren’t really new things. To some, they were different things. Things they never really knew. Some of their knowledge came from their many years of driving experience, but other knowledge came through conversation alone. The dangerous part of the latter was it was never proved to them as a driver. They were only taking someone else’s opinion that it worked, that it was the way it should be. Is that considered stubborn? Naïve? Trusting?

Don’t you think there needs to be some proof? After gathering new information, sit and think about it. Determine if there’s value with what was explained to you. Be open-minded enough to believe it, but skeptical enough to try it before making up your mind that it works or doesn’t work. Where do I get my facts? It’s from being involved in road safety for 27 years. It’s from watching drivers attempt those same skills to either get immediate success or find out they don’t work, time and time again. It’s from practical experience, not just opinion.

I was recently speaking with drivers about the value and myths associated to all-wheel drive and 4-wheel drive vehicles. If you give it some thought and understand what each of those vehicles can do, those types of vehicles provide power to each of the wheels instead of just the front. It has a better chance to get the vehicle moving in deep snow or icy roads. That’s about it. Too much power and the wheels will spin. Go ahead and try it. Too much speed around the corner and the vehicle can lose traction. Remember inertia? I wouldn’t want anyone to try that on purpose just to see if it’s true, but I do think it’s worthy of thinking through the process.

These are facts and can be found in each manufacturer’s guidelines. However, one of the drivers I was speaking with said it provides traction. When I asked how they came to this conclusion, he just said “It’s a fact”. Well, not really. Facts are based on research with multiple sources. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but let’s use an educated opinion. After hearing or reading something pertaining to driving skill, either speak with other professionals or experts in that field or try implementing those techniques in a safe manner. Dig deeper into the subject matter to find out what the majority of experts are saying. Opinions are important, but so are facts.

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