BEHIND THE WHEEL - TIPS FROM THE PROS


November

     Be nice to your car!        

I recently heard a young driver at a high school put her car’s transmission in Park before the car came to a stop.  The mechanical grinding sound was awful, but she and her passengers just started laughing. She doesn’t realize that this could seriously damage the automatic transmission and lead to a repair costing over a thousand dollars.  When parking a car with an automatic transmission, we teach new drivers to put the parking brake on firmly BEFORE shifting to Park, and when leaving, take the parking brake off AFTER shifting out of Park.  This way, the parking brake is holding the car in place, especially on a hill, protecting the transmission from damage.  Our Instructors teach much more than DMV requires, including ways to take better care of your car.  We teach new drivers how to check the motor oil level and vital fluids under the hood.  We show them how to check tire pressure and where to find the correct level (sticker in driver’s door jamb, NOT what is written on the tire itself). We demonstrate how to look over their car for fluid leaks and loose parts underneath. If you take good care of your car, it will take better care of you.  And we show you how.  The DMV may not care what you know about your car, but in the long run, you will.

August

     Teens driving teens: a dangerous combination      

Newly-licensed drivers under 18 receive a Provisional Drivers License until the driver has had their license for at least one year or turns 18.  This prohibits driving with passengers under 20 unless a front-seat passenger over 25 is present. This law is designed to give a new driver more time and experience with the complex skill of driving without the distraction of just other teenagers in the car.  A recent rollover crash in La Jolla shows us the importance of more time to develop good judgment behind the wheel.  A brand new driver with 16 teenagers packed in an SUV lost control on a winding road, rolling over and causing 5 to be hospitalized.  This SUV has space and seatbelts for just 7 passengers, so it was far overloaded. Even though speed and alcohol were not involved in this case (as they are in so many teen driving tragedies), bad decisions, no adult supervision plus a lack of vehicle control all contributed to an accident that should have never happened.  It could have been much worse: about 65% of teen driving deaths occur when another teenager is in the car.  The Provisional Drivers License can only reduce the risks to new drivers if parents and police enforce the 1-year ban on driving with just teenage passengers.  

January

     Be careful on wet roads

Since we don’t get a lot of rain in Southern California, even during the Winter, drivers aren’t used to the reduced traction on slick roads.  In snow country, drivers have more experience when it’s slippery and develop a healthy respect for physics.  Yesterday morning, a 19-year old San Diego teenager lost his life when his car spun out on a wet curve, right into the path of a fuel tanker truck.  His car ran wide and crossed 3 lanes of traffic.  When the road is wet, traction is reduced, and too much speed can lead to these tragic results.  California’s Basic Speed Law says you can’t drive faster “than it is safe for the conditions” no matter what the posted speed limit is.  Slow down.  Inspect your tires to make sure they have a safe amount of tread to channel water underneath. And consider taking an advanced driver safety course (like www.streetsurvival.org) to really learn how to handle your car.   

October

     Look WAY ahead on the road!

Too many drivers only look as far ahead of them as the bumper of the car they're following.  That is not near enough information to drive safely and anticipate changes.  In addition to keeping a 3-second gap to the car ahead, look at least 10-15 seconds ahead on the road.  Basically, look as far ahead as you can see.  There are lots of advantages to looking WAY ahead: 1) You have much more information to make decisions about what to do and where to go, 2) You have more time to make essential decisions, 3) You have more choices in your decisions (notice the slow truck earlier, you can change lanes sooner and not get stuck), 4) You can lift off the gas to gently slow the car instead of jamming on the brakes when you're surprised by slowing traffic that you didn't notice soon enough.

This not only is safer and smooths out traffic flow, it can become a matter of life and death.  Last Saturday, an SUV driver didn't notice suddenly slowing traffic on I-5 and didn't leave enough time to slow down.  Instead, he swerved off the right shoulder, hit an embankment, and his SUV rolled over several times.  Three passengers had moderate injuries, and a 26-year old woman, who was not wearing her seat belt, was ejected and later died from her injuries.  The driver survived, but he will never be able to forget that his driving mistake took the life of a friend.

June

     Texting is OMG, not LOL

We all know that texting while driving is very dangerous.  It’s also very illegal, in California and almost all other states.  Texting is a serious distraction from driving, making a driver 23 times more likely to crash compared to being fully alert to conditions.  Texting causes all 3 types of distractions: visual (eyes off the road), manual (hands off the steering wheel), and cognitive (mind on the message).  And now, for the first time, a teenager has been convicted of murder caused by texting while driving.

A jury in Massachusetts convicted an 18 year-old of vehicular homicide after he crossed the center line and crashed into another car, killing the other driver and seriously injuring their passenger. Telephone records showed he was texting at that moment.  He was sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison, and will have his driver’s license suspended and unable to drive for 15 years. He will get out of prison some day, but he will never be able to bring back the life he took when he was texting instead of paying attention to his driving. Turn your phone off or put it in the glove compartment when you drive.  Your friends will understand when you reply only after you’re safely at your destination.

April

Don’t become a statistic
It’s sad but true:  car crashes are the #1 killer of teenagers.  More than disease, more than drugs, over 5,000 teenagers are killed nationwide every year in car crashes.  A recent tragedy affecting East County teenagers illustrates the dangers.  Coming home from a Spring Break bonfire at the beach, 5 teenagers in a car began racing friends in another car on Highway 52.  At over 100 mph, their car flipped and rolled several times.  A student from Santana High School and another from El Capitan were thrown out of the car and killed instantly.  Another student was declared brain-dead, and two more had severe injuries.  A candlelight vigil was held at Santana to remember the lives of those who lost their lives and reflect on how this senseless tragedy could have been avoided.  According to the California Highway Patrol, highway fatalities can nearly always be traced to one of three causes:  Excessive speed, not wearing a seatbelt, or Driving Under the Influence.  In this case, all three were a factor: the car was going over 100 mph, two of the rear-seat passengers weren’t wearing their seatbelt, and the driver was high on marijuana.  ALL THREE OF THESE FATAL FACTORS ARE PREVENTABLE.  How to avoid becoming a fatal statistic is not a mystery.  You CAN drive the speed limit.  You CAN always wear your seatbelt.  You CAN make sure you (or the driver of the car you’re in) are sober behind the wheel.  Make sure you do.  Our company slogan is also our commitment:  we teach Good Habits for Life.

February

     Get a Grip

The way you hold the steering wheel can make a real difference for your personal safety and when you need driving precision the most.  A generation ago, everyone was taught to hold the steering wheel at the 10 and 2 hand position (viewing like the face of a clock).  Now the best advice is to hold the steering wheel at the 9 and 3 position.  There are three good reasons for this important change.  First, a generation ago, steering wheels didn’t have airbags.  To save thousands of lives every year, airbags are designed to deploy in a serious frontal collision.  Sensors trigger an explosive charge and the nylon bag expands to instantly fill the space between the driver and steering wheel.  How fast you ask?  The speed of an airbag deployment is about 170 mph!  If your hands are in the upper part of the steering wheel, your wrists will be shoved into your face, risking a broken nose or knocked-out teeth.  You’ll survive the crash, but you might look a little different.  At 9 and 3, your hands will harmlessly go to the side and the airbag can do its job.  Another reason is that you have more accident avoidance control.  Try this: at 10 and 2, you can quickly turn a steering wheel 90 degrees without taking your hands off.  At 9 and 3, you can turn the wheel a full 180 degrees in an emergency, doubling your range of motion.  Race car drivers use this technique for maximum precision when they’re driving at the limit.  Finally, notice where the turn signal lever is.  At the 9 position, you can flip on the blinker while your hand is still on the wheel; at 10 you have to take one hand off the wheel.  It’s almost like the car designers planned it that way… 

January

     Look! Look! Look!

Driving safely is a visual exercise.  You must actively look around  to know what’s going on in front of you, behind, and on both sides and keep a safe distance from other cars.  Defensive driving means you’re always aware of other drivers and you keep an escape path in case another driver does something wrong.  Because they will.  You have to do some of their looking and thinking for them, because most drivers don’t look around enough themselves.  And you don’t want to get caught up in “their” accident.  We teach drivers to use a vision pattern that makes sure they’re always aware of their surroundings.  Adapted from fighter pilots, with this technique you don’t miss anything.  Here’s how it works:  First, scan through the windshield from side to side, noticing any movement (other vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, animals, read all road signs).  Keep your eyes moving; don’t fix on one spot (after all, it’s not polite to stare…).  Occasionally, you have to check a mirror and the speedometer.  But anything other than scanning through the windshield needs to be a quick glance, then immediately return to scanning ahead.  This is the defensive visual pattern:  SCAN, check a mirror, SCAN, check a different mirror, SCAN, check the third mirror, SCAN, check the speedometer, SCAN, repeat.  Your eyes are moving every 2-4 seconds, and the pattern repeats every 15-20 seconds.  After all, driving on busy streets may seem like a you’re in a dogfight.

December

Seatbelts Save Lives
You’ve heard this over and over, but it’s really true. Whenever you get in a car, as a driver or passenger, put on your seatbelt. Make a habit of putting it on before you start the car. Sadly, not everyone does. Recently, a popular student at an East County high school lost his life when riding with his mom on the way to school. A tire blew out on the freeway, she lost control of their pickup and they rolled down an embankment. He wasn’t wearing his seatbelt and was thrown from the truck, and in an instant, he was gone. A very sad campus held a candlelight vigil and dedicated a football game to him. But the best tribute to him is the vow for all of his classmates to always wear their seatbelt. His mom was wearing her seatbelt, and after two days in the hospital, she was home and has fully recovered from her injuries. But she will never recover from the loss of her son. Most Californians have gotten this message, and we hope you are already in the habit of always wearing your seatbelt. Here is a revealing statistic: 97% of Californians wear their seatbelt, but 50% of highway fatalities happen to people who do not wear their seatbelt. That means that only 3% of unbelted people equate to 50% of fatalities. Those are terrible odds; make sure you AND YOUR PASSENGERS always wear seatbelts.

November

Follow This Closely…
We almost never have the road to ourselves. While driving with other people all around us, we have to remember to share the road, to be predictable to other drivers, and above all to keep it safe. You may know that the law gives drivers extra responsibilities when they follow someone else. If there’s a rear-end collision, THE DRIVER BEHIND IS CONSIDERED RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CRASH. That’s right, if the person ahead of you brakes suddenly, even if it seems like it’s for no reason, YOU are responsible if you rear-end them. How do you make sure you don’t hit the car ahead? Well first, always keep your eyes scanning the road far ahead to be aware of what’s happening. How far behind should you follow? When your parents learned to drive, they were probably taught to keep 1 car-length for every 10 mph. That is no longer used, because most of us aren’t good at measuring distance, and are we talking about the length of crew-cab pickups or Smart cars? The ideal following distance is 3 seconds behind the car ahead. When the driver ahead passes a fixed object (sign, pole, tree, line across the road, shadow across the road), count “one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three” before you pass the same spot. This works at ANY speed, from residential areas to the freeway. It might seem like more space than you need, and it would be IF YOU ALWAYS KNEW EXACTLY WHEN THE CAR AHEAD WAS STOPPING. But, since we can’t read the mind of the driver ahead and predict the future, we need time to SEE, ANALYZE, and REACT to a hazard ahead. According to studies, that takes 1.0-1.5 seconds. So now your braking time is cut in half by the time you notice what’s happening and when you hit the brake pedal. You have still left enough space to stop your car. The safe following distance is as easy as 1-2-3.

October

The Heat is ON!
Most of us associate hot weather with Summertime, but in San Diego, we have some of our highest temperatures in October when Santa Ana winds blow desert air in from the Northeast. It’s a good time to think about the effects on you and your car. In warm weather, try to drink plenty of liquids (water hydrates better than soda). If you have something cold in the cupholder, don’t take your eyes off the road or your hands off the steering wheel for too long when taking a drink. How about sipping while waiting at a red light, or when the freeway is straight and clear? Also, it is technically illegal to drive while barefoot. Why? If you do have a collision and your door is jammed, you can break the side window glass by putting a shoe over your hand, but that only works if you HAVE a shoe. And if your door opens easily, walking barefoot on pavement that is hot or covered with broken glass doesn’t sound like a good idea. When you drive, always be prepared for the unexpected… Your car may also be affected by hot weather. Now is a good time to get used to keeping an eye on the temperature gauge. Engine coolant can heat up when the car is stopped (red lights or traffic) or when the engine is working harder (up a long hill). Overheating is bad for your engine, and it can lead to a cooling system failure (white steam and water vapor coming from under the hood). If the temperature gauge climbs, first turn off the air conditioning (less work for the engine). If that doesn’t help enough, turn on the heater (opens up more volume for the cooling system). It may be uncomfortable for you, but it can save your engine from a meltdown until you can fix your cooling system. One more tip: most modern cars actually use LESS gas on the freeway with the air conditioning on and the windows closed. There is less wind resistance without buffeting from open windows, and modern air conditioning is very efficient. Enjoy the warm weather!

September

Back to School!
Yes, Summer is over. We hope you had a fun one. But when school is back in session, drivers have an extra responsibility when they’re near a school. You’ve seen the speed limit signs for School Zones: SCHOOL SPEED LIMIT 25 mph. But does that mean you always have to slow down when you’re in a School Zone? Many drivers are confused by this; some slow down all the time, and some never slow down. If you continue reading to the bottom of the sign, it says: “When Children are Present.” Aha! But what does that mean? What if there’s a flashing yellow light above the Speed Limit sign? What if there’s a digital readout of YOUR speed flashed below the Speed Limit sign, telling everyone how fast you are going? Exactly WHEN does the School Zone Speed Limit apply? Here’s what it really means: “When Children are Present” means that there are literally school children on the sidewalk at that moment. If school is in session but kids are inside the buildings, the 25 mph Speed Limit does NOT apply (even if there is a digital speed readout showing you’re going over 25 mph). If school kids are outside BUT in a playground separated by a fence from the sidewalk, the 25 mph Speed Limit does NOT apply. In those cases, the Speed Limit is whatever the last posted Speed Limit was before you got to the School Zone. If children ARE present, slow down to 25 mph until you get to the “End of School Zone” sign. Now you know.

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