Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Golden Rule of Driving

How safe a driver are you? According to a recent AAA Traffic Foundation Survey, three out of four drivers say that they consider themselves safer drivers than others on the road—an interesting fact. If we were really all as safe as we think we are, then automobile accidents wouldn’t be one of the leading causes of death in the US. In the end, thinking that we are safe drivers—and safer drivers than the other drivers around us—can actually cause problems, particularly when this attitude escalates into aggressive driving or road rage. We’re all human, and no matter how hard we strive to be safe drivers, we’ll all make mistakes. Learning to handle mistakes—both ours and others—can help to ensure that little problems don’t escalate into bigger ones.

As I’ve emphasized before, staying calm and reducing stress while on the road will not only make your trip happier, but will also help to keep your safe. For most of us, driving seems like a pretty routine activity. However, we shouldn’t let familiarity lull us into a false sense of security. I was walking near a highway the other day and was amazed by the speed of the cars rushing past me: it was really terrifying!

Your emotional state can actually have a huge impact on your driving. Try remembering a time when you were really overwrought: terribly upset, perhaps after experiencing a significant disappointment or loss, or extremely happy. When I think back on times like these, my memories are always really “dim,” as though I’m watching things from far away. This is because intense emotional states actually reduce your ability to observe and focus on events around you. Driving in the grip of strong emotions can actually be worse than driving with a cell phone. Drivers experiencing strong emotions are less likely to react quickly to hazards, observe their surroundings clearly, and predict what other drivers will do; at the same time, these drivers are more likely to make risky or sudden maneuvers and to feel as though they are detached from other cars and drivers on the road, which can lead to reckless behavior.

While some people may see driving as a calming activity, it’s a good idea to cool down before you get behind the wheel. If you’re experiencing strong emotions, try to postpone driving, if it is possible to do so. At the very least, give yourself time for a few deep breaths, a short walk, or another kind of focus activity before getting in the car.

Once you’ve started driving, try to maintain an even keel emotionally. First, avoid situations that will stress you out. If you hate driving in traffic, do your best to alter your schedule so that you can avoid peak rush hour traffic or find detours to avoid the most congested spots. Next, be tolerant of other drivers. Don’t be an aggressive driver, and, if you do encounter aggressive drivers, try to get out of their way without provoking a confrontation.

According to one National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey, aggressive driving contributed to 56% of fatal accidents between 2003 and 2007. This is a huge issue! Technically, aggressive driving is slightly different from road rage. Road rage is used to refer to incidents that result in criminal offenses; aggressive driving describes a range of unsafe driving practices. Drivers who bend or break the rules of the road and ignore common courtesy—for example, by speeding, tailgating, failing to signal, etc.—are aggressive drivers.

As I mentioned at the beginning, most of us think of ourselves as safe drivers, not aggressive ones. However, we all have an inner aggressive driver waiting to be unleashed. For many of us, our cars are places where we would like to feel secure, in control, and free. I remember buying and driving my first car; after years of using substandard public transportation, it was a very liberating experience! While this independence and control can be great, we also need to be tolerant of those we share the road with.

A lot of “road rage” incidents actually begin with an instance of aggressive driving that then escalates. For example, one car cuts off another on an entrance ramp. The driver of the car who has been cut off takes this incidence as a personal slight, and decides to show his or her displeasure by tailgating the car that cut him or her off. If the first driver responds in a similarly emotional fashion, the incident can escalate into a serious confrontation.

Remember that it’s not up to you to enforce the rules of the road. While you may not like the way others drive at times, try to give people the benefit of the doubt and don’t respond to aggressive driving by becoming an aggressive driver yourself. Instead, take a zen attitude to dealing with other drivers. If someone is tailgating you, switch lanes and allow the other driver to pass. If you get cut off, take a deep breath and let it go. You’ll be happier, saner, and safer in the long run.

Also bear in mind that every driver is a potentially aggressive, emotional, and confrontational drive, and you never know what someone may do if provoked. Avoid behaviors that can annoy other drivers, even trivial ones, such as:

  • Driving slowly in the left-hand or passing lanes
  • Honking as soon as a light changes
  • Cutting off other drivers
  • Using high beams near other drivers
  • Failing to signal
  • Tailgating
  • Displaying offensive signs or bumper stickers
  • Making gestures that could be perceived as offensive, even if they aren’t directed at other drivers

If another driver does attempt to engage in a confrontation with you, ignore him or her. Don’t respond to any attempts to provoke you and try to move away from the aggressive driver as quickly as possible. If an angry driver starts to follow you, don’t go home. Instead, head for the nearest police station or other busy place where people will be able to help you.

Remember that fatal accidents and confrontations can begin with fairly silly confrontations. Don’t let this happen—be tolerant, calm, and in control. Extend to others the courtesies you hope they will extend to you, but don’t get upset if other drivers don’t always return the favor. 

The Golden Rule?  Tolerate others’ mistakes, just as you hope others will tolerate yours.

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.

Advertisements

The Most Dangerous Game: Distracted Driving

While driving, have you ever: eaten a sandwich? Had a cup of coffee? Had a deep conversation with a friend? Tried to keep two children from fighting? Taken a phone call? Taken off or put on a coat? Fussed with the radio? Sent a text message?

 Like most of us, you’ve probably done at least one of these things while driving. Some of these activities, like having a conversation, may appear relatively harmless. Others, such as texting, are more obviously dangerous, not to mention illegal. The truth is, however, that all of these activities can and do lead to distracted driving.

Many of us drive frequently enough that driving comes to seem second nature—more habit than something that demands our full attention. However, driving, even in ideal conditions on familiar roads, always has the potential to be a hazardous pursuit. In fact, it’s often on the most familiar roads that we need to pay the most attention. This is because our brains easily become accustomed to routine so that, driving a familiar route, we see what we expect to see. It’s thus really easy to miss new hazards or obstacles: construction work, fallen trash cans, pedestrians, children, bicyclists, etc. Our full attention is required, no matter where we are driving.

I’ve occasionally noticed that, on both long highway drives and short routine drives in my neighborhood, I go for a length of time without consciously “seeing” what’s around me, because I’m lost in my own thoughts. I’ve always been a notorious daydreamer, and so, over the years, have had to condition myself to keep looking at the road and surroundings, rather than getting lost in my own mind. This is my own particular brand of distracted driving; however, there are many different causes of driver distraction.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines distraction as any activity that takes the driver’s full attention away from the road. There are three kinds of distractions:

  • VISUAL: something that causes the driver to look away from the road (turning to talk to someone, check the radio station, read a text message.)
  • MANUAL: something that takes a hand off the steering wheel (eating, drinking, answering a phone call.)
  • COGNITIVE: anything that takes the mind away from the road (being in the grip of strong emotions, daydreaming, having a conversation.)

All of these distractions are dangerous. However, a study sponsored by a group of major carmakers found that, of all distractions, visual ones are the most dangerous. It took many hours of sophisticated and expensive research to reach a basic conclusion: keep your eyes on the road.

Recently, distracted driving has become a major topic of concern, as the use of cell phones and other hand-held electronic devices continues to rise. In a recent study, 71% of adults between the ages of 18 and 49 admitted to using a cell phone while driving. A University of Utah study recently concluded that, whether hands free or not, the cognitive distraction produced by a phone conversation delays a driver’s reaction time as much as having a blood alcohol level of .08%—the legal limit for driving.

It’s tempting to think that one can get away with the occasional distraction, like answering that really important call or putting on make-up in the car to save time. However, distractions cause up to 25% of all car crashes annually—about 4,300 crashes a day. In 2008 alone, distraction-related accidents resulted in 6,000 fatalities. Even if you are willing to put your own life on the line by texting or eating a sandwich, don’t risk the lives of other drivers and pedestrians.  Also, note that a number of states are starting to institute bans on cell phone use and/or texting while driving. You can find an updated list of state regulations regarding cell phone use here:

http://www.distraction.gov/state-laws/

So, you now know the importance of focused driving and the terrible consequences of not paying attention. Now, what can you do to be a more focused driver?

  1. First, make a real commitment to driving attentively. Take a zero-tolerance policy towards your use of distractions.
  2. Next, notice what your “bad habits” are and try to minimize their impact. For example, I love to listen to the radio while I drive. To avoid having to look down to change the station, I’ve preset my favorite stations so that I can flip through them using the track changer on my steering wheel. I can listen to the music I like without taking my eyes off the road or hands off the steering wheel. Creating mix CDs or MP3 playlists, and then sticking to a CD (or set of CDS) or playlist throughout the drive are other great ways to minimize this particular distraction.
  3. Change your attitude toward your car. Don’t view it as a mobile home/work station/entertainment center. It’s a vehicle meant to get you from one place to the other. Eat before you leave home or after you arrive. If need be, try to get going a few minutes earlier, so that you have time to do your hair and make-up, make necessary phone calls, write e-mails, etc. etc. before you depart or once you’ve parked.
  4. Most importantly, turn off or silence your phone before you start driving and put it somewhere out of reach. This way, you’ll resist the temptation to receive calls or read texts. You could also invest in drive-safe software for your phone. These programs, which can be automatically activated when you start your car, will respond to incoming calls and texts with a message that alerts others to the fact that you are unavailable and will call them back when you reach your destination.
  5. Also, be careful not to let your mind wander too much. Keep your eyes on the road and don’t drive when overly fatigued. Be careful about driving when in the grip of strong emotions—a topic I’ll cover in greater detail in my next entry.
  6. Finally, if you are a young driver or are the parent of a young driver, try to set a good example for your peers and/or children. Drivers ages 16 to 25 are the most likely to engage in distracting behaviors, particularly texting, which—as a combined visual, cognitive, and manual distraction—is perhaps the most dangerous form of distraction of all. Since these drivers are also the least experienced drivers on the road, this is a very risky combination. Discuss these issues with the young drivers in your life and lead by example.

For more information on this important issue, check out the official distracted driving website of the US Department of Transportation:  http://www.distraction.gov/

You can find out more about cell phone and driving at a page run by the Federal Communications Commission: http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/driving.html

Finally, for a more personal look at the impact of distracted driving, check out the summary of a recent Oprah episode on the topic: http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/End-Distracted-Driving. If you’re still unconvinced about the perils of distracted driving, these stories will likely change your mind.

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.

The Magic Bubble: Maintaining A Safety Cushion Around Your Vehicle

I’ve written a lot recently about the importance of maintaining a safe following distance; I’m sure I will continue to harp on this very important point in later entries as well. So, I’d like to take a moment to clarify the concept of a “space cushion” and explain in greater detail how to maintain one around your car.

I visualize a “space cushion” as a giant airbag surrounding my car, or perhaps a magic bubble like the one Glinda the Good Witch uses for transportation in The Wizard of Oz. Basically, a space cushion is the empty space that separates your car from any potential hazards: other moving cars, parked cars, trees, road barriers, etc. This empty space gives you time to see, react to, and avoid any problem that may arise on the road around you. You need to maintain a space cushion in front of, behind, and on both sides of your car; I’ll cover each of areas in turn.

FRONT CUSHION

You can use the “three second rule” to make sure that you are maintaining a safe following distance, especially on the highway. Note when the car ahead of you passes a certain marker, perhaps a particular tree or shadow on the road. Then, begin to count: “one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three.” You should finish saying this before your car passes the marker. If not, then you need to slow down a bit to increase your following distance.

In general, most of us are probably used to driving too close to the vehicle ahead of us. As a result, this three-second space may seem abnormally large. However, imagine the car in front of you were to stop suddenly; how much space would you need to stop safely?

Say you are traveling at 60 mph, on a dry road, and are alert. In the time it takes you to react to the car stopping, you will cover 132 feet; you will need another 160 feet to come to a full stop. If you are traveling at 80 mph, you will need almost 500 feet to react and come to a stop. As you can see, the three-second space is definitely necessary!

Remember that when you are tired or otherwise distracted, you’ll need more time to react. If the conditions are less than ideal, it will take longer for your vehicle to come to a stop (particularly if it icy.) In these situations, you’ll want to add time to your following distance. For information on specific conditions (ice, snow, rain, fog, etc.), check out some of my earlier blog entries on these topics.

In heavy traffic, it can be tempting to reduce your following distance. However, this is the most important time to maintain an appropriate front cushion, as heavy traffic can slow down or stop suddenly for no apparent reason.

It’s also important to maintain a large following distance behind trucks, which can limit your field of vision, and motorcycles, which may be able to stop more quickly than you can. Also, try to be aware of other driver’s blind spots and avoid staying in this position for too long. Not everyone knows this handy trick for eliminating your blind spot.

Should someone cut you off on a road, don’t react in anger. Instead, take your foot off the accelerator in order to regain a safe following distance. Letting go of minor annoyances like this one will not only keep you safe, but will also reduce the stress of driving and help you to have a happier and more peaceful trip.

You also need to maintain a front safety cushion when you are stopped at a light or stop sign, or in traffic. First, remember that the car in front of you may have manual, rather than automatic transmission; as a result, the car may roll slightly (or a lot, depending on the skill of the driver) when starting to move, especially if you are an incline. Second, you need to give yourself enough space to pull out from behind the vehicle in front of you should the car in front of you stall or otherwise fail to start. Basically, make sure that you always leave yourself enough room for an “escape route,” if this becomes necessary.

REAR CUSHION

While this part of your safety cushion may seem a bit out of your control, there are a few steps you can take to diffuse potential tailgating hazards.

First of all, don’t get angry. While tailgaters can be annoying and frustrating, keep in mind that you never know why someone is tailgating you. Always extend the benefit of the doubt—maybe he or she is rushing to the hospital with a medical emergency. Acting on this assumption will help you to stay calm and respectful, instead of trying to “teach them a lesson” by braking suddenly or something along those lines. Be the bigger person!

Next, if someone is tailgating you, increase your following distance by one or two seconds. Basically, you want enough space for both you and the tailgater to be able to react to a sudden stop or other hazard ahead. When it is safe to do so, either move to a right-hand lane (if possible) to allow the tailgater to pass, or slow down a bit more that he or she can pass you safely.

Remember that traffic tends to move in packs or waves on the highway. If possible, try to stay in one of the gaps between packs, so that you are in a fairly open space on the road. Also, remember to stay in the right hand lane if you are traveling slower than the speed of traffic. People often become annoyed with, and then tailgate, cars that are moving a bit too slowly for the lane they are in.

SIDE CUSHION

Always make sure there is free space on both sides of your car as well. First, drive in the center of the lane at all times. Make sure to check periodically to make sure that you are still in the center of the lane and haven’t drifted to one side or the other.

When approaching a narrow gap, say, a one-way street lined with parked cars, slow down until you’ve made sure that there’s enough space for you to pass. Then, proceed slowly.

Also, be aware of those you share the road with, particularly cyclists and pedestrians. Give cyclists a wide berth when passing them. Imagine the amount of space that would be taken up by bicycle and rider if lying horizontal on the street; then, use this space to calculate your passing distance—around two yards. Remember that bicyclists do wobble sometimes!

Finally, try to keep clear space on both of sides of you when driving on a multi-lane road. As I mentioned above, finding “gaps” in the traffic flow is often a good way to do so.

With your magic bubble in place, you’ll be far less likely to end up in a minor fender bender or a major collision! You’ll also reduce the likelihood that other people’s bad driving will have a negative impact on you and your car.

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.