10 driving resolutions for the New Year

 I hope you all had a safe and joyful holiday season.

I always love making New Year’s resolutions.

For other people, that is.

In case you are too partied out to make your own, here are some suggestions:

1. Drive Sober. Despite gains made in anti-drunk driving campaigns (and no thanks to those incredible B.C. Supreme Court justices who overturned that province’s very successful spot-check program), drunk driving remains — statistically, anyway — the single worst thing you can do. So, don’t.

More: This winter, don’t be like this driver

More: How to eliminate your car’s dreaded ‘blind spot’

2. Drive Unimpaired. While alcohol is (as far as we know) still the most common impairment, other drugs — notably among young people, marijuana, other “recreational pharmaceuticals,” and also some prescription or even over-the-counter medications — are a significant problem too. Lacking roadside detection technology for these substances, this one is harder to get a handle on. But we know it’s huge. Smoke away if you choose to — no skin off my fender. Just don’t drive.

3. Drive Refreshed. A big part — again, we’re not sure how big — of our traffic safety problem is driving when tired. After two hours behind the wheel, your eyes start to drop; when that happens, it gets more difficult to keep your car on a proper trajectory, which leads to shoulder drop-offs, and all too frequently, to rollovers. Even a five-minute break at a roadside plaza can help give your eyes that needed respite.

4. Drive belted. Our traffic fatality statistics are still significantly better (proportionally, of course) than those in the United States. Virtually all of the difference can be attributed to better seat belt wearing rates in Canada (about 93 per cent nationally, as of 2010) versus the United States (about 85 per cent). So, what’s keeping the other seven per cent of you (15 per cent of them) from slamming into the windshield or steering wheel in a minor fender-bender? I mean, if you’re gonna die in a car crash, shouldn’t it be SPECTACULAR? Shouldn’t it make the front page? Not 50 km/h into a lamp post. And if you don’t think that might kill you, figure that a world-class sprinter averages about 40 km/h in a 100 metre dash. You can probably run half that fast. Go run into a lamp post as fast as you can. Tell me how much fun that was. Understand that the kinetic energy increases as the square of the speed. At 50 km/h, you’d have to absorb over five times as much energy. Your airbag can only do so much. Rest in Pieces.

5. Learn how to drive. As Driver Trainer extraordinaire Gary Magwood puts it, “We can’t drive when we’re sober!” A couple of hours with a trained professional can improve your driving skills a hundredfold. We are very fortunate in Canada to have several advanced driver training programs available at a very reasonable cost. How reasonable? WAY cheaper than a new fender. Or a burial.

6. Turn on your frickin’ headlights. Daytime Running Lights (DRL) in most cars do not illuminate the tail lights. Arguably, those are more important than front lights, because a large fraction (I’d dare say a majority, but I don’t have the stats to back that up) of our driving is done on freeways, where cars seeing you from behind, especially in rain, in fog, or at dusk, is much more important than them seeing you from in front (the whole point of DRL is not to make YOU see better, but to make you BETTER SEEN). And for sure, you’ll be going faster on the freeway than elsewhere, so the danger is geometrically greater.

The problem stems from the tragically (nearly criminally) incomplete Transport Canada DRL regulation which does not mandate rear illumination. Now, I get it — that might be too expensive to impose upon the carmakers. But it should at the VERY least require that IF DRL is active, the instrument lighting must NOT be on. So many people seem to think that if their dash lights are on, all their lights are on. That ain’t necessarily — almost always is NOT — so. If you aren’t sure what your car does w/r/t DRL, there’s no need to even worry about it — just flick the lights on, all the time. No probs. I’m sure that anyone reading this probably knows this already; maybe your resolution should be to tell at least one person — a friend, a relative, a co-worker, the brain-dead driver beside you at the stoplight — about this every week.

7. Adjust your mirrors correctly. There is no such thing as a “blind spot” in most cars. Except that all too many drivers — all too many driver trainers too, sad to say — have a “blind spot” in their brains that doesn’t let them understand that if you crank your side-view mirrors out MUCH further than you’ve probably been taught — you should be able to just see the left side of your own car if you lay your head against the side glass, and the right side if you lean over so you’re halfway over the centre console — you have a 180-degree panorama of what’s coming from behind (or beside) you.

Why would you want to see the sides of your own car? You KNOW where they are — guaranteed, right where they were when you left home this morning — and there’s no way the side of your own car is gonna hit you. It’s what’s BESIDE the sides of your own car that you have to keep track of. Need a “reference point?” Easy — when an object appears to leave the field of view of one mirror, it enters into the field of view of the adjacent mirror, or into your peripheral vision (it may help to think of your car as having ONE mirror that’s been broken up into three pieces). If you’re seeing the same thing in TWO mirrors (apart from a very small overlap) then what is it that you’re NOT seeing in ANY of your mirrors? Without turning your head so you’re zipping down the highway for a third of a football field per second without looking where you’re going?

Yes, it may take some getting used to. But I have had drivers with 30, 40 years of experience tell me that this is the single most important driving tip they have ever learned. I used to be almost alone in the dark on this one, until the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) produced a paper proving this geometrically over a decade ago. No more excuses.

8. Don’t text or talk when driving. The first one should be particularly obvious, but obviously is not. Many (most?) jurisdictions now ban texting, as well as hand-held cellphone use, even though several studies have shown that hand-held versus hands-free doesn’t make much, if any, difference. It’s the mental engagement, not the reduced manual dexterity, that affects our driving ability.

9. Back in to your parking spot. I admit I was a bit of a latecomer to this, only adopting it after Peter Christianson of Young Drivers of Canada pointed out some years ago how much safer it was to pull OUT of a parking space frontwards, so you can better see what sort of traffic you’re about to enter when you leave that spot. A “pull-through” spot, where you drive in frontwards but can also drive OUT frontwards, is best of all.

10. Drive polite. As if your name, photograph and home address were mounted on a huge placard on the roof of your car. We would never do the impolite, downright hostile things we do in a theatre lineup or a grocery store checkout line that we do in the anonymity of our cars. If we eliminated that anonymity, maybe we’d be more polite. When someone does something stupid on the road, just give him room to be stupid. At the very least, let him go have his crash with someone else. If YOU do something stupid, back off, and try to indicate that you’re sorry. Don’t make the situation worse by becoming aggressive.

There — that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Happy New Year!

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