School is in Session Again!

After a long Summer, High School students are reluctantly heading back to campus. Some are walking, some are cycling, and some are exercising their newly-minted Instruction Permits or Drivers Licenses. Many of them are not paying enough attention, distracted by classmates and back-to-school stress. We motorists have to pay extra attention when we're driving near schools. Crosswalks are full, there's a lot of jaywalking without looking, and we know how invincible teenagers think they are. Pay extra attention when driving near schools. Distracted high schoolers can be just as unpredictable as young kids. The School Zone speed limit is 25 mph when children are present. If there aren't any school kids on the sidewalk at the time, the previous posted speed limit applies. (WHEN CHILDREN ARE PRESENT is taken literally).

Teenagers driving near campus are a particular hazard. The most driving experience any of them have is two years. Many are brand new drivers, still figuring out where the corners of the car are and which pedal is which. All of them feel the eyes of their friends and classmates upon them as they drive. And a few can't resist the urge to show off a bit. "Maybe I can get Tiffany's attention if I do THIS!" High School parking lots are the site of many fender-benders, and streets near a school can be quite hazardous.  Add to that the confusion of traffic jams as parents pick up their kids, and kids dashing in between parked (or moving) cars, and we have to be extra-careful now that school is back in session.


     Be nice to your car!        

I recently heard a young driver at a high school put her carís 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 doesnít 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 driverís 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.


     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.  


     Be careful on wet roads

Since we donít get a lot of rain in Southern California, even during the Winter, drivers arenít used to the reduced traction on slick roads.  In snow country, drivers have more experience when itís 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.  Californiaís Basic Speed Law says you canít drive faster ďthan it is safe for the conditionsĒ 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 to really learn how to handle your car.   


     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.


     Texting is OMG, not LOL

We all know that texting while driving is very dangerous.  Itís 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 Ĺ years in prison, and will have his driverís 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 youíre safely at your destination.


Donít become a statistic
Itís 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 werenít 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 youíre in) are sober behind the wheel.  Make sure you do.  Our company slogan is also our commitment:  we teach Good Habits for Life.


     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 didnít 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.  Youíll 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 theyíre 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.  Itís almost like the car designers planned it that wayÖ 


     Look! Look! Look!

Driving safely is a visual exercise.  You must actively look around  to know whatís going on in front of you, behind, and on both sides and keep a safe distance from other cars.  Defensive driving means youíre 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 donít look around enough themselves.  And you donít want to get caught up in ďtheirĒ accident.  We teach drivers to use a vision pattern that makes sure theyíre always aware of their surroundings.  Adapted from fighter pilots, with this technique you donít miss anything.  Hereís 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; donít fix on one spot (after all, itís not polite to stareÖ).  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 youíre in a dogfight.


Seatbelts Save Lives
Youíve heard this over and over, but itís 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 wasnít 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.


Follow This CloselyÖ
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 thereís a rear-end collision, THE DRIVER BEHIND IS CONSIDERED RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CRASH. Thatís right, if the person ahead of you brakes suddenly, even if it seems like itís for no reason, YOU are responsible if you rear-end them. How do you make sure you donít hit the car ahead? Well first, always keep your eyes scanning the road far ahead to be aware of whatís 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 arenít 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 ďone thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand threeĒ 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 canít read the