Each year our vehicles are having more and more technology added into them. Some of that have been great advancements in vehicle safety. Things like ABS and crumple zones. These are thing that have been added to our vehicles to make us safer, or to increase our survivability. The problems start when we buy a car with all this fancy stuff in it but have no idea how it actually works.
Let’s use ABS as one example. Many people think ABS will help you stop faster. With the newest technology under the right circumstances it will. However that is only under very ideal conditions. The vast majority of the time though it is threshold breaking that will stop you the fastest. What ABS is really designed to do is work with our natural panic reaction when something goes wrong. When something bad is going to happen we freeze, just pushing the brake pedal to the floor. This causes our tires to lock on any surface other then dry asphalt. When our tires lock up it take away the vehicles ability to steer. Meaning we blow into whatever it is that’s in front of us even if we tried to turn the steering wheel. What ABS does is allow the wheels to turn for a split second giving you some control back.
An example of new technology that’s emerging is known as forward collision mitigation. The idea behind this technology is that the vehicle reads something in front of you and says “Oh no we may be in a crash”. Then pushes on your brakes to try to keep you from crashing. This sounds like a good idea in theory, but if you don’t know what to expect or how it works it could bite you in the butt. The scenario that always plays through my head is I’m driving down the middle lane of a three lane roadway. There is a vehicle on my right hand side. He does a triple lane change right in front of me to make a left hand turn. He was within 6 inches of my front bumper. Sure he might be an a-hole but i was never in any real danger as he kept moving over back out of my way. Would my forward collision mitigation think we’re about to crash and hammer on my brakes for me. Meanwhile the person behind me isn’t expecting something like that to happen so now he hits me from behind. I don’t know if it’s possible, but that’s the issue. All this new technology put in our vehicles that we don’t know how it works or what to expect.
Sometimes you may have to do a little of your own research to find out how exactly all these safety measures in your vehicle work. You may even have a number of things if your vehicle you didn’t even know existed. Traction control or stability control. Any of a number of technologies that could work against you in certain circumstances. So we have to be aware that these things exist and that almost all new vehicles out no the streets have those things.
Why is it that so many people have a tough time understanding how to park? The idea gets beat half to death during driver training. Even if you have not taken any driver training, you likely spent hour after hour learning how to parallel park because you knew you would need to be able to do it on your drivers test. So where did things go wrong? Most people can figure out your average parking stall. Unless there’s a little scuff of snow on the ground, then it becomes a free-for-all. You’ll see some people parked in the middle of what used to be two stalls. Then the person who parks beside them will position themselves properly length wise only to be three-quaters of a stall away to the side taking up to stalls width wise. And like good little sheep everyone else who parks in the area will follow suite and just keep making things worse. If you’ve parked in a parking lot before you should have a decent idea how wide a stall is. Should be able to notice that the centre of the two rows usually line up down the street lights or between the curbs. The light pole should not be lined up with your rear doors. It should be in line just behind (or in front of) your bumper.
When parking on the street it can be a little easier. Be nice and close to the curb (within fifty centimetres in Alberta) and leave room to be able to get back out after the fact. If you need to parallel park in that spot may be slightly more difficult if you don’t practice the proper technique. The only other thing to really keep in mind is not to block a driveway or alley way. Doesn’t really sound to hard. Yet so many people can’t seem to get it right. Blocking half of a driveway is illegal. Parking within one and a half meters of the entrance to a driveway in Alberta is a seventy-eight dollar fine. Not a big one, but would mean you just worked the last three or more hours for free. So long story short take a couple seconds to think about where you’re leaving your vehicle before you abandon it so you won’t have to come back to a ticket. Or worse an angry person.
Where have all the manual transmissions gone? Starting out as a new driver it’s terrifying to think about having to drive a manual transmission. After lots of practice and a few stalls in intersections, it is relatively simple to get the hang of. There was a time where you didn’t really have a choice, manual was all you could get. Then it became almost something to be proud of. “I can drive a stick-shift”. Recently it seems almost impossible to buy one. If you are looking at a bottom of the line vehicle, for example a base line Ford Focus, they do still exist. If you’re looking for anything larger or better and want a manual they seem to only be available in two-wheel drive sport cars. While one can understand the draw to wanting an automatic, it would be nice to have the option to buy a manual at least. There are so many advantages to be found. One being that it keeps you more aware of where you are, your speed, and what could be around you. Since you always have to know what gear you’re in, when it’s time to shift gears, and how the others around you will effect your immediate need to change your gear. It can also give better control in a sticky situation. One great example would be when it is very slippery and you’re having a hard time getting started moving. In an automatic you can put your gear shift to one or low. This will have the vehicle keep the tires from spinning too fast once they lose traction. In a manual you can put the vehicle in second gear. This will reduce the amount of torque the vehicle outputs, reducing the likelihood that you will lose traction to begin with.
Every year in Alberta we get this white stuff falling from the sky know as snow. Anyone who has been here for more then six months knows the effects this can have on road conditions. But every year, almost everyday even, during the winter months people continue to prove to themselves that we just can’t seem to navigate these conditions. Now to be fair there are even some people all year long that show us they can’t even handle nice dry warm summer conditions. Winter is far worse thou. What happens the first big snowfall of the year every year? People start running into everything and anything; each other, light polls, ditches, etc. There may be the odd person who has never seen snow before, but the vast majority will have seen snow before, likely more then once. So why does this keep happening? I’m sure most people would like to blame “stupidity” or just the road conditions. What is really causing it thou is bad driving habits. In the summer we have so much traction available to us that we can get away with some really bad things. Such as ; cornering at unreasonable speeds, hard accelerations where we shouldn’t following a little closer, and so on. Then when winter hits we don’t adapt in time. We’re still used to driving that way. However because we now have a large change in traction all at once these things start to catch people. In twenty-fourteen alone there were over three hundred fifty people killed in motor vehicles (just over one a day), and there were over a hundred forty thousand reported collisions (about three hundred eighty per day). It’s totally outrageous. From province to province this varies a little but on a per-capita basis each if fairly close to the same stats. Again i ask why? Why are we letting this continue? Imagine if any airline company was killing three hundred people a year in Alberta alone. People would be outraged. Companies would be shut down air travel would cease to exist. But because while driving it’s only happening to one or two people, generally, at a time there is no real feed back or call for change. Do you find that to be acceptable? Or do you think there needs to be change as well?
Something that is almost never thought about, and rarely taught, is proper cab setup. In our experience a fair number of people will just find a position that seems comfortable for them in their vehicle with little too no thought as to the practicality of their setup. The first thing that should be done every time is a walk-around. Just take a few seconds to walk around the vehicle. We just want to make sure that nothing odd happened while we were away. Make sure there’s no flat tires, damage from a hit and run, or a curb or post you may have forgotten you parked near. After you’ve done that (take about 5-10 seconds), then get inside the vehicle. If you were not the last driver a good place to start is by putting your foot behind the brake pedal and see if you can touch the floor behind it. If you can’t you’re too far away. When we’re going to make a full brake application, like would be done in an emergency, we want to be able to push the brake all the way to the floor. Once the brake pedal is pushed all the way down we still want to have some bend left in our knee. This will act like a shock absorber if we are not able to stop in time. If you can fully lock your knee when getting that brake application, it will only take a very minor collision to potentially do serious damage to your leg. This distance also gets us near to a position where we can pivot our foot on our heel from the gas to the brake. Being able to pivot from one pedal to the other can shave off a few tenths of a second from your reaction time, and allow for more controlled inputs. Next with your back properly against the back of the seat, set your head restraint (note: it’s called a restraint and not a head rest) to the proper height. It should be right in line with the widest part of your head or the bump on the back of your head. Now put your seatbelt on. If it can be adjusted on the B-pillar (the thing that keeps the roof off your head right behind you) it should be set just slightly above your shoulder height. Definitely not below shoulder height. This should have you very close to how you actually sit while you’re driving. Double check your distance from the steering wheel. Holding the wheel at the three and nine o’clock position, your elbows should be at more then 90 degrees. You want to be about seven to ten inches away from the wheel. A fairly easy way to check this is to put your pinky finger in the middle of the steering wheel and try to touch your chest with your thumb (will look similar to the “call me” sign). This will give you enough space for the airbag to fully deploy before you contact it in the event of a collision. The steering wheel should be in roughly the middle of the tilt position. Imagine if the air bag were to deploy, it should be centred with the centre of your chest. Lastly you need to adjust your mirrors. A lot of people have their mirror set with way too much of their own vehicle visible in their mirror. You should only be able to a tiny sliver of the widest part of your vehicle (such as the rear fender or rear door handle), to use as a reference point, the whole rest of your mirror should be monitoring the space around you. Once you are more familiar with the vehicle you’re going to drive then you may even be able to move the mirrors out a little more so that, while you’re sitting properly in your seat, you can’t see your vehicle at all in your mirrors. With a slight lean to either side you can still see your vehicle, but will let you see a little more of what’s going on around you. Also check your interior rear view mirror if it still has two pivot points on it (two spots that the mirror can be adjusted separately). Some newer vehicles may no longer have two. If your’s dose then push the one closest to the windshield up as high as you can before adjusting your mirror. This could, for some people, give up to two inches more view out the front windshield.
There are so many different views on what a proper following distance should be when driving in Alberta. Our provincial government recommends a two second following distance at all times. This is a good starting point for a number of reasons. Research has shown that it takes three-quarters of a second for a person to perceive that something has happened. For example someone has made a very hard brake application. So from when their brake lights come on, to when you realize that they have come on, takes about three-quarters of a second to even realize it has happened. Then you must react to the red brake lights and make a choice of what you’re going to do. For example push on your own brake pedal. This thinking process will take a person another three-quarters of a second to do. This brings our total time passed to one-and-a-half seconds. Then we must actually do what it is we have decided to do. In this case move our foot over to the brake pedal, push it down, allow the brakes to apply and finally start slowing down. This will take about another half second. So this is where this two second recommendation comes from. This is all assuming that your are switched on and ready for this to happen. Then if you are slightly slower then average (even by just a tenth of a second), or if you are looking at something else (maybe something on the side of the road or looking at what song is playing on the radio) then this time will take even longer. So well two seconds is a good starting point more will always be better. Give yourself more time to react when the worst happens, should you not be fully ready and expecting something bad to happen out there. While most people think of themselves of great drivers while constantly complaining about how bad other drivers are, so many fail to assume that someone will make a mistake. Thus not leaving themselves enough time to react.
January is intersection safety month in Alberta. These are one of the most dangerous parts of driving. There are so many things going on in one small little area. We have to watch for pedestrians, traffic moving in all different directions, lights to change, other people who get confused, and potentially emergency vehicles. If one was to truly think about it, how we get through these areas safely everyday is a wonder. Well, then again, a good number of people don’t manage to do so every day. How often have you seen on the news, or driven past a collision in or right near an intersection? Almost everyday it feels like. What do you need to know that you may of forgotten or maybe even never known? First of all for me it feels like most people forget that EVERY intersection is also a crosswalk unless signed otherwise. This means unless there is a sign saying that pedestrians can’t cross then they have the right away over drivers. Next would be that Yellow lights are not an indication to go faster. It means that unless you can’t possibly stop without breaking the laws of physics, then keep going, otherwise you are supposed to stop. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had the person behind me run the yellow while I stopped for it, just to have them get stopped at the next red light and wait for me anyway. Time cannot be made up by speeding or running a yellow light the only way to really make up time in the city is to have good luck on the timing of the light sequences.
Pedestrians don’t get away scott free either. While they generally have the right of way, they don’t have the right to just walk into traffic with their heads down and ear phones on. A pedestrian must give drivers time to stop safely for them. Remember learning in elementary school about “Point-Pause-Proceed”? Or maybe your kids came home so excited about learning this? It’s not meant as an idea for little kids. If more adults would do this as well we would have way fewer pedestrian collisions. Point to let people know you want to cross. Pause to make sure they see that you want to cross and are going to be able to stop. Then only when it is safe you may proceed. The flashing hand used at lighted intersections is very similar to a yellow light. Once the hand starts flashing it dose not mean that if you run really fast you can make it. It means you missed your chance to cross. If however you are already on the crosswalk once the flashing had started then it is a warning that traffic direction will soon change and you may want to finishing crossing.