Monthly Archives: March 2010

Road Rules: Know Your Signs!

Road signs are there for your safety and protection—listen to what they have to tell you! Road signs are designed to be self-explanatory and easy to follow; however, they can at times be quite confusing.

For example, we all know that a red light means stop, and a green light means go.  I will confess, however, that I ran two red lights yesterday. Driving in an unfamiliar neighborhood, I was tired and hungry. My passenger was giving me haphazard directions (left…uh…right…uh). The radio was on. I simply didn’t see the light. While I’ll address distracted driving specifically in a later post, for now I want to give you My Cardinal Rule of Signs: they don’t work if you don’t see them. As you drive, make sure that you keep scanning above and to the side of the road in order to spot all relevant signs and lights.

I’ll begin my discussion of road signs with a brief overview of stoplights, as this appears to be a particularly troubling category for me.

STOP LIGHTS

*Red lights—whether they are blinking, solid, or an arrow—always mean stop. “Stop” means come to a full stop.

*Yellow lights mean slow down. Unless you are already in the intersection when the light turns, begin slowing down in order to come to a full stop at the stop line or crosswalk.

*Green lights mean go. However, there is a caveat. You can only go once the intersection is clear. If there are slow pedestrians, bikers, or other cars still in the intersection, you need to wait until they have moved on.

Now, on to signs. Each year, the Federal Highway Administration publishes a Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which explains national signage standards in great detail. If you’d like a very thorough review of traffic signs, check out their website:

http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/

I’ll provide a (much) briefer overview here. The MUTCD divides signs into six categories: regulatory signs, warning signs, guide signs, motorist service signs, construction signs, and recreation and cultural interest signs. Each category of sign uses different shapes and colors.

REGULATORY SIGNS

These signs are the signs that tell you what you must or must not do on the road. Stop signs, yield signs, one-way signs and do not enter signs all fall into this category. Other kinds of signs with white backgrounds—like parking signs, no U-turn signs, keep right signs, etc.—are also regulatory signs.

Stop signs are perhaps the most common, and also most important, member of this category. Remember that the main point of a stop sign is to prevent collisions in an intersection. This means that you need to come to a full stop BEFORE the stop sign, either before the crosswalk, if there is one, or before the stop line. If you stop and then realize that you can’t see into the intersection, you can pull forward a bit to check for traffic. Only do this after you have come to a full stop, however.

You’ll also encounter stop signs that are attached to school buses. When a school bus stops, flashes its lights, and extends the stop sign, you need to stop behind the school bus and wait until the driver has signaled for you to pass and/or turned off the lights and retracted the sign. It is illegal to try to pass a school bus when its lights are on. Remember that there are likely children crossing the road!

Yield signs are another common kind of regulatory sign. Yield signs are triangular, with a red rim and white background.  When you see a yield sign, slow down so that you can stop if you need to. Allow other cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians to pass before you proceed.

WARNING SIGNS

These signs, which always have a yellow background, are designed to warn drivers about upcoming obstacles. Most of these signs are diamond shape. Depending on the image displayed on the sign, warning signs can indicate that you are approaching a sharp curve, a pedestrian crossing, or another hazard. One of these signs is round. This is the sign that indicates a railroad crossing, and it is the only round sign in use!

GUIDE SIGNS

These are the all-important signs that keep you from getting lost! These signs indicate the route, highway, or street that you are travelling on. These signs are often, but not always, green.

MOTORIST SERVICE SIGNS

Frequently, but not necessarily, blue in color, these signs let you know what services are available on the route that you’re travelling. They indicate where you can get food, gas, and lodging, along with other important services like hospitals. On a long road trip, these signs can be a godsend!

CONSTRUCTION SIGNS

Constructions signs are always orange diamonds. They let you know about any approaching construction hazards.

RECREATION AND CULTURAL INTEREST SIGNS

These signs are always brown. They contain information about interesting sights near the route you are travelling on, including places like national parks, museums, and monuments.

And now…

Don’t Be That Guy!

Many of us are tempted to speed up when we see a yellow light, in order to avoid having to stop at the red light. Resist the temptation…don’t be that guy! Other drivers and pedestrians will be expecting you to slow down; they may also pre-empt their own green light and/or walk sign. Don’t create a risky situation at the intersection. Always slow down as soon as the light turns yellow.

To learn more about this topic, or a broad range of subjects from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Car”, visit DefensiveDriving.com’s Safe Driver Resources website!

 

Check out these sites for more information about online defensive driving in Texas, online defensive driving in Florida, and business driver safety.

 

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Awkward Encounters—Driving Edition: know who has the right of way!

Few things are as awkward as getting caught in a stand-off with a stranger—one of those encounters in which you both move in the same direction to pass one another, then pause and awkwardly stutter from side to side. In the worst cases, these encounters end with a collision.

Now imagine that you are in the same situation, only in a car. You and a stranger approach an unmarked intersection at the same time. You stop, you wait, neither moves. Each of you stutters forward slightly, then stops. In this instance, a collision is not only embarrassing but could also be costly and dangerous.

Luckily, there are straightforward, simple rules governing right of way that will prevent such awkward encounters.

First, there are two types of intersections: controlled and uncontrolled. Controlled intersections are marked by signs or lights. The rule for these situations is simple: obey the sign.

Also remember that pedestrians always have right of way. Jaywalkers who dart suddenly into traffic are very annoying; however, you still need to let them cross.

The rules for uncontrolled intersections are a bit more complicated. I’ll divide these situations into a few different categories.

*Two drivers arrive at an intersection

In this situation, whoever reaches the intersection first has the right of way. What if they arrive at the same time? In this case, the driver to your right has the right of way. If the other driver is directly opposite you, those who are going straight or turning right have the right of way.

*Smaller roads intersecting larger roads.

Say you are on a smaller road that intersects a larger road, for example a two lane road that meets a three lane road. The drivers on the road with more lanes always have the right of way.

*T-Junctions

Although the name is fairly self-explanatory, a T-Junction occurs when one road ends in another, forming an intersection shaped like a T. In this case, the drivers on the through road (the top of the T) have the right of way.

*Access roads and highway ramps

The drivers exiting the highway have the right of way. Those driving on the access road need to yield to them.

Remember these rules and have no fear of awkward intersection encounters! And now, a friendly reminder:

Don’t Be That Guy

Even if you are in a hurry, don’t be tempted to disobey stop lights, stop signs, or right of way rules. While you may think the road is clear or other drivers are paying attention, this may not in fact be the case. These rules are here for yours and everyone else’s safety. As in most driving situations, a little patience goes a long way.

To learn more about this topic, or a broad range of subjects from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Car ”, visit DefensiveDriving.com’s Safe Driver Resources website!

How to Pass Safely

The first time I drove in a foreign country was without a doubt one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. First, I was in a rental car with standard transmission and without power steering. I’d never driven a car without power steering and hadn’t driven standard in years. Second, I was driving on the “wrong” side of the road for the first time—and the gearshift was on the “wrong” side as well!

The worst part of this whole misadventure, however, was that I had to drive to a rural town north of the city I was living in. The road I was travelling on was a narrow two-lane highway with no shoulder, populated entirely by vehicles that were either very old and slow pickup trucks overflowing with people or German sports cars with agitated and anxious drivers. (I swear that, on that day, these were the only two kinds of cars on the road.)

For the entire two-hour drive, I clutched the wheel in a near panic, convinced that I was either about to witness a head-on collision—German sports car making a bad pass—or participate in one as I nervously tried to pass a slow pickup. My heart got a better workout during that drive than it does during a five-mile run.

In honor of this terror, I’d like to share a few tips with my companions on the road that day about passing .

First, pass only as a last resort. Passing another car on a two-lane highway is tricky, as it’s difficult to gauge relative speeds properly. Remember those train problems you had to do in Algebra? Those were terrible. I usually got them wrong. Passing is a real-world equivalent of those problems, and a head-on collision is much, much worse than a bad math grade.

Next, make sure that you are in a location suitable for passing. This means that the road should be straight and flat, so that you can see a ways ahead of you. For the same reason, you don’t want to pass in low visibility weather.

After that, make sure that your pass will be legal. Only pass when there is a dotted yellow line on your side of the road. Never cross a solid yellow line to make a pass. Also remember that you have to pass on the left. Right hand passes, i.e. when you pass on the shoulder of the road, are only permissible when the car ahead of you is turning left.

Once these basic conditions are in place, you can begin contemplating your pass. Make sure that you are far enough behind the car ahead of you that you can see the other side of the road clearly. Now, check to make sure that there are no cars approaching in the opposite direction.

This is the really tricky part. Remember that, because you are also moving, it is difficult to judge the speed of approaching cars. It’s also difficult to judge how long it will take you to pass the car in front of you. If the approaching car doesn’t appear to be moving, then you should have enough time. If the approaching car does look like it’s moving, don’t make the pass! Be patient.

Next, signal that you’re going to pass by using your blinker to alert cars behind you and tooting your horn (or flashing your lights at night) to warn the car you are passing. When all is clear, pull out and make your pass.

If a sudden obstacle (like an animal or falling tree) or an approaching car suddenly appears, hit your brakes and return to the right hand lane. Don’t try to outrun the oncoming car! You won’t win much in this game, and you risk losing a lot.

To wrap up our discussion for the day, I’d like to introduce a new blog feature:

Don’t Be That Guy: Road Courtesy Tips

If someone is trying to pass you, don’t speed up to frustrate his or her attempt! This is both dangerous and annoying. Don’t be that guy; instead, pull over to the right side of the lane to give the passing car more space and, if possible, slow down a bit to make the other driver’s life easier.

To learn more about this topic, or a broad range of subjects from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Car”, visit DefensiveDriving.com’s Safe Driver Resources website!

Eliminate Your Blind Spot!

At one point or another, someone—a parent, concerned friend, or Driver’s Ed teacher—drilled into you the importance of checking your blind spot before changing lanes. I, for one, had a Driver’s Ed teacher who kept a large feather on the dashboard. If you failed to check the blind spot before changing lanes, she would hit you with the feather. I got the sense that she would much rather be beating me with a large stick; luckily, state law no longer advocates corporal punishment as an effective teaching technique.

However, the feather did teach me to check my blind spot religiously before changing lanes. In fact, I suspect that my constant head-swiveling would have probably resulted in an accident sooner or later. Luckily, I recently discovered the not-so-secret trick for eliminating the blind spot once and for all. I’m pleased to share this discovery today, in the hope of saving future generations of Driver’s Ed students the strange embarrassment of being beaten with a feather.

Whenever getting into a car in which you haven’t already adjusted the mirrors, follow these simple steps:

  1. First, straighten your rear view mirror so that it reflects what is directly behind you. Don’t tilt this mirror to catch a side view. That’s why we have the aptly named side view mirrors.
  2. Next, lean to your left until your head is just touching the window. Now, adjust your left-hand mirror so that you can only just see the side of your car. When you sit up, you shouldn’t be able to see the side of your car at all. While this may seem strange, remember that there is no real reason to keep checking in on how the side of your car is doing.
  3. Finally, lean to the right, so that your head is aligned with the center of the car; the center is usually marked by the dome light or rear view mirror. Now, adjust your right hand mirror so that you can only just see the right side of your car.

You can check that your mirrors are aligned correctly when out on the road. Say that a car is approaching on the left. Watch the car in your rearview mirror; as soon as the car disappears from your rearview mirror, it should appear in the left hand mirror. When you can no longer see the car in the left-hand mirror, you should be able to see it in your peripheral vision.  Follow the same procedure on the other side. If you notice a “gap” between mirrors, you should adjust the mirror position slightly. You may need to tilt a mirror up or down, depending on the height of your car.

You might need a few days to adjust to this mirror position. For example, you may flinch when changing lanes using only your mirrors. Don’t worry; no one will attack you with a feather. Once you’ve adjusted, you’ll find that this is a much safer and easier way to drive.

To learn more about this topic, visit http://www.defensivedriving.com/safe-driver-resources/how-to-get-rid-of-your-blind-spot.asp.

Or visit DefensiveDriving.com’s Safe Driver Resources website to read up on a broad range of topics ranging from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Battery”.

Hydroplaning: Do’s and Don’ts

While hydroplaning may sound like a fun water sport, it’s actually incredibly dangerous. Essentially, hydroplaning occurs when a car’s tires lose contact with the road; driving a car that is hydroplaning is similar to driving on ice.

In dry conditions, the wheels of a car have no problem “gripping” the road. As the road becomes wet, however, maintaining the friction between wheels and road is more difficult. The grooves in car tires are designed to channel water away from the front of the tires, essentially “clearing” the water from the road and allowing the tire to grip. Hydroplaning occurs when, for one reason or another, the water isn’t getting cleared fast enough; water pressure builds in front of the tire until the water pushes under the tire and lifts the wheel off the road.

COMMON CAUSES OF HYDROPLANING

1.      Speed. The faster you drive in wet conditions, the more likely it is that your car will hydroplane. Basically, you aren’t giving the tires enough time to funnel water away from the wheel. Driving slower in wet conditions will help to prevent hydroplaning. As a rule of thumb, drive at two-thirds of your normal speed.

2.      Tire condition. Worn tire treads don’t function effectively. Make sure to check your tread depth regularly; you can do this by inserting a penny, upside down, into the tread. The tread should cover at least part of Lincoln’s head. Tires with low pressure can also cause hydroplaning; checking your air pressure regularly is another key preventive measure.

3.      Depth of water. Naturally, your car is more likely to hydroplane on deeper water. For this reason, try to avoid puddles whenever possible and be extra careful in very heavy rainfall. An important note: The first rainfall on a dry road will bring the dirt and oil on the road to the surface. This makes more an especially slick—and dangerous—surface.

HOW TO RECOGNIZE  HYDROPLANING

Hydroplaning is not as obvious as, say, a skid. When your car begins to hydroplane, you may notice a “loose” feeling as the car loses contact with the road. The steering may also feel loose or too easy. If you’re on a straight, you can try making small turns to see if you still have steering control. You can also look behind you (or have a passenger do so for you.) You should be able to see dry “tracks” in the water behind you where your wheels have made contact with the pavement. If there aren’t any tracks, you’re probably hydroplaning.

DOS AND DON’TS

First of all, when hydroplaning, DON’T:

1.      Brake suddenly.

2.      Turn suddenly.

These actions will throw your car into a skid.

What TO DO depends on what kind of car you are driving.

For ALL FRONT WHEEL DRIVE CARS and REAR WHEEL DRIVE CARS WITH TRACTION CONTROL AND ABS:*

1.      Identify an open space ahead.

2.      Depress the accelerator slightly.

3.      Steer gently in the direction of the open space.

For REAR DRIVE CARS WITHOUT TRACTION CONTROL AND ABS:

1.      Identify an open space ahead.

2.      Ease off the accelerator.

3.      Steer gently in the direction of the open space.

You should regain control of the car shortly.

NOTE: Never activate cruise control when driving in wet conditions. Your car will recognize the build-up of water under the tires—which leads to hydroplaning—as a “slow down” and send more power to the wheels. This increased power will increase the water build-up and exacerbate the problem.

*Cars with traction control and ABS will have icons on the dashboard that indicate these functions.

To learn more about this topic, visit http://www.defensivedriving.com/safe-driver-resources/what-to-do-if-you-hydroplane.asp.

Or visit DefensiveDriving.com’s Safe Driver Resources website to read up on a broad range of topics ranging from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Battery”.