We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Big rental trucks signal trouble on road

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, May 4, 2012

There are all sorts of drivers on the road I try to avoid.

Rental vehicles, particularly the large cube vans that are used for moving household goods, are first on my list.

These kinds of vehicles are usually rented by someone with a minimal experience or no experience at all in controlling a large truck. The largest vehicle many of them have driven is a subcompact car. There is no prerequisite driving orientation to drive a 24,000 gross vehicle weight truck. There is no rear-view mirror. This alone will disorient many rookie drivers and most veteran drivers who are not familiar with such trucks. Blind spots are huge, and there are no side windows on these rental cube-style vans and trucks. The mirrors extend well beyond the comfort zone of the average driver. Many drivers who rent the vans have never been instructed about the proper positioning of the convex mirrors, let alone the regular side-view mirrors.

Stopping and steering to avoid a hazard is difficult enough for a rookie renter in an unfamiliar vehicle, but it is near-impossible when fully loaded. Backing a large truck is not only an acquired skill but a practiced art.

Does the average driver who rents this kind of truck know to sound the horn before backing, or will the same driver be unnerved by the loud beeping noise when the reverse gear is engaged?

Will the renter of the truck even consider a spotter when backing or just wing it?

Heaven forbid that the driver has a trailer attached to the rental truck. Any rookie who has not practised backing could be dangerous at worst and entertaining at least. The potential to jackknife a cube van trailer, while towing, is exponentially more likely with an inexperienced driver in an unfamiliar vehicle with a first-time towing package.

The mechanical condition of a rental truck should always be checked prior to leaving the lot. The inspection report should be reviewed before driving away. A recent investigative report on a large truck rental company was very critical of the roadworthiness of the majority of the fleet vehicles being rented.

Regular rental cars are also to be given greater attention. I am never confident when driving in close quarters with a rented vehicle.

Most drivers who rent cars take the opportunity to drive a model with which they are not familiar. It is a chance to try something more expensive or completely different from their daily ride.

When renting a car, the smart thing to do is choose a vehicle which is most like your own. This familiarity will bode well for the driver in any quick response to a crash-avoidance situation.

Rental drivers are very often unaware of the car’s most elementary functions, such as the location of the gas cap.

The headlights, horn, wipers, flashers, hood and truck release and a host of other comfort controls such as seat and temperature levels are often foreign to rental drivers.

Night driving is always a difficult task for a disoriented, unorganized and confused driver.

It is usually easy to spot a rental vehicle. Bumper stickers and special licence plates are simple identifiers. There are some jurisdictions that do not allow for the identification of rental cars and trucks. The State of Florida has a big problem with theft of and from rental vehicles. In order to protect tourists, no rental cars are obviously identified.

I know of only one car rental company that will provide a vehicle orientation to each driver who intends to rent the car.

In fact, they will even pick you up at home, the office or any convenient location. This is a great policy, and much appreciated by all of us who are sharing the road with rentals.

Steve Wallace is the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School, operating on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is a former Western Canadian vice-president of the Driving School Association of the Americas and a certified B.C. teacher.


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