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Editorials

Driving Passion

Friday, June 20, 2014   by: David Root

I love driving. It’s one of the reasons I became a Driving Instructor, so that I could share that passion and help train young people to be good drivers.

As a wee lad, I used to play in the cab of my grandfather’s 1960 Ford F-100. I would happily sit (or stand) on the seat, twisting the steering wheel back and forth, pretending I was driving — across town, across the country.

Occasionally I would run inside and ask permission to blow the horn. “Just once!” my grandfather would say. 

“The second time was an accident, Papa… really!”

Over the years I have gotten the impression that not everyone is as skilled a driver as perhaps they could be, and as an instructor I see that in my students.

They all pass the course, because that is our job — to teach them the skills they need to be safe. Some require extra lessons, especially the ones who do not, for a variety of reasons, get as much chance to practice as they should.

But we persevere, and they get through the course.

There has been some suggestion, both locally and province-wide, that the folks at DriveTest — the agency that conducts Driver Examinations on behalf of the province of Ontario — is not as diligent as they could be. There have been claims that their pass rate is too high, that they are letting young people (and others) slide through with less than adequate skills.

This is certainly not the case.

What has happened is that more young people are taking “driver’s ed” now than ever before. The standards are very high, and include 20 hours of in-class instruction, 10 hours of in-vehicle instruction, and 10 hours of additional learning (could be simulators, e-learning, videos, etc), all of which must be following curriculum approved by the Ministry of Transportation.

That I am aware of, I have had three students fail on their first attempt. All three made errors while driving that disqualified them — one began a lane-change without looking properly, one rolled a STOP sign, and one made a right turn after stopping for a police officer who was directing traffic, and did not wait for the officer to tell her to proceed.

Otherwise, my students have done very well.

I have even had two students score perfect on their road test.

I have watched as other students have returned to the office after being unsuccessful — again, it is usually an error, often a rolling stop.

So, young people do fail their road tests, but most often it is simply an error — an error which really does matter, even though many adult drivers might not see these errors as such a big deal.

After all, everybody rolls a stop sign, right?

Well… it seems that way. My students are frequently dumb-struck as they watch what experienced drivers do on the roads. Some cannot even call what they do “rolling” a stop, as that implies they had first slowed their vehicles on approach. 

All too often I watch as people just scan the intersection and then step on the gas and continue through as though it were a yield sign.

And yes, I do know there are some people who are actually calling for most STOP signs to be replaced with YIELD signs. Frankly, I think that is nonsense.

Part of the problem — as eloquently described by Young Drivers of Canada’s Scott Marshall in this video — is that treating a STOP sign as a “Slow and Go” is dangerous. The problem is that they are not thinking about stopping, they are thinking about going.

If someone steps out in front of them, or if there are cyclists, pedestrians or other vehicles, they could wind up in a collision.

Planning to just “slow and go” does not prepare you to have to stop.

Even my students get caught at this. They will approach a stop sign, scan left-centre-right, slow down and look again, and then… go. That’s when I press on the brake on my side of the car!

They will look at me and say, “I stopped!” 

But I point out that they only thought they stopped. Because they were looking further down the street, they did not notice the motion of the car. Yes, we were going very slowly, but we hadn’t stopped.

The problem here is, because — in the case of a right turn — they were looking down the road to their left to see if there was any oncoming traffic, there could have been a pedestrian or cyclist that was coming from the right who was expecting us to stop. That person could walk/ride out into the crosswalk in front of us, and if we don’t stop… it could be nasty.

As I drive around town I am continually shocked to see the bad habits displayed by motorists. 

You would think I wouldn’t be, after all these years. It’s not that these bad habits surprise me, but the sheer numbers of careless and outright bad drivers is shocking.

No doubt, many people would be surprised to be identified as a “bad driver.” That they have not been involved in an “accident” (read that, collision), or perhaps only a couple, or have not received a traffic ticket is the standard by which they judge themselves.

Unfortunately, that sets the bar rather low.

To address the second point, there are not enough cops to do an adequate job of traffic enforcement, locally. They are too busy responding to domestic disturbances, shop-lifting, break-and-enters, and other such calls to spend a lot of time looking for speeders and people running red lights and STOP signs.

Secondly, that a driver has avoided colliding with other drivers is, in many cases, just a matter of luck.

Speeding is perhaps the most common offence I witness. Driving along at the speed limit I am most often the slowest vehicle on the road. And yes, while I recognize that going 10-over isn’t that big a deal, I would be happy if people were only going 10 over. 

In many cases, it’s 20 or 30 over. 

FYI — if there is no speed limit signed on a city road, the speed limit is 50 km/h. Speeding on McNabb Street has become such a problem that the City has posted four additional signs stating the speed limit is 50 km/h… signs that are not required, and frankly that are being ignored.

The City has also purchased and deployed a number of small, yellow, pole mounted radar devices to advise drivers of their speed.

Unfortunately, too many drivers seem to be trying to get a “high score” rather than adjusting their speed to the posted limit.

I was riding with a friend last summer who pointed out a feature of these units I had not seen until then.

I knew that when you exceed the speed limit, the numbers on the display would flash. What I did not know, and found out that day, was that when you exceed the speed limit by over 10 km/h, there is an additional white fast-flashing light that appears.

His wife was not impressed that he was so familiar with that particular feature.

People speeding and not stopping for STOP signs and red lights are my two biggest pet peeves. There are others, but these are top of the list.

I hear people try and excuse their bad driving, saying “Modern cars have really good brakes, so you can drive faster and stop quicker.”

Hmm. Maybe, maybe not. Technology hasn’t improved the average driver’s reaction time, though.

If you are travelling 50 km/h, your vehicle is moving at 14 metres per second. The average reaction time is 2 seconds — the time between recognizing the hazard ahead and moving your foot and pressing the brake pedal. 

That’s 28 metres your vehicle will travel before the brakes are even applied. That is roughly 5 car lengths. 

Bump that speed up to 60 km/h (17 m/s), 70 km/h (19 m/s) or 80 km/h (22 m/s) and you can see that the time between recognizing the hazard — the vehicle that stopped suddenly, the kid running out onto the road — and hitting the brakes increases dramatically, as does the distance travelled.

It could mean the difference between avoiding a collision or being involved in one. It could mean the difference between life and death.

Slow down. Please.

Leave 5 or 10 minutes earlier, so you don’t feel the need to rush.

And please stop for STOP signs and red lights.

Every time I read or hear of a collision at an intersection, I also read or hear a comment that “That’s a bad intersection!” 

No, it’s not. Someone did not stop. It isn’t the intersection’s fault.

Driving may be a necessity, but it is also a privilege. Please, drive with caution.

 

But… that’s just my opinion.

 

Next week: Distracted Driving

 

 

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