Driving instruction is a two-way street
TIMES COLONIST APRIL 26, 2013
I learn something each time I do a series of refresher-upgrade driving sessions with professionals. It truly is a two-way street.
While doing a driving-assessment workshop with a resource company in the Peace River area, I noticed most of the company’s drivers used the offset lane position.
They leaned right in the travelled lane for several reasons, including avoiding the oil slick down the middle of the lane. Long, hot summers allowed for a significant accumulation of oil and grease from industrial-use vehicles. During the first few minutes of rainfall, the oily surface has a tendency to become very slippery and treacherous. The offset-right position allows for a quicker escape to the shoulder of the road, while maintaining a lane position that avoids the accumulated oily road surface.
An old pro aligned his right knee and gas pedal with the darkened centre portion of the road in order to establish the desired offset position.
Teaching driving techniques on Vancouver Island’s infamous Malahat Drive was another learning experience for me. The professional driver I was with that day insisted on driving the entire stretch without using the brakes. It forced him to look farther ahead and be prepared for speed variances and other obstacles on the highway. He used his four-way flashers whenever gearing down to ascend a steep hill. He saved gas, rubber and brakes throughout the drive. He also seemed to be able to time all the traffic lights before and after the Malahat section of roadway — absolute proof of his forward-thinking driving pattern.
A driver for a pulp mill in the Athabasca region of Alberta demonstrated the futility of speed while on a daily commute. She travelled the same road at two different speeds, in both directions. The first 45-minute trip was done at 90 km/h. The second was at 100 km/h. The drives were completed at mid-day on a weekday. The increased speed netted a grand total of a minute and a half in time saved. She showed me how the necessary stops for traffic lights, construction and other unscheduled interruptions negated any significant time savings on the trip to and from work.
A delivery-vehicle driver, meanwhile, demonstrated an effective use of hand signals. The trips were in short-haul stop-and-go traffic. This driver would extend his entire arm and torso out the left side of the delivery van each time he wished to enter traffic from a parked position at the side of the road. The gestures personalized his presence: Other drivers saw him as a person, not an object, and were much more sympathetic to his plight. They often allowed space for him to merge where no such courtesy would have been extended with an electric signal. He drove in the right lane and used a stop hand signal at all occupied crosswalks to warn other traffic of pedestrians wishing to cross the street.
Last week, I did a driving assessment for a seasoned veteran of the highway. He chose to “quarterback” the highway traffic. He travelled well back of the pack and observed other drivers’ behaviour. When he identified a good driver, he simply followed that driver, in an unofficial convoy style. How did he choose which drivers to follow? He looked for drivers with their taillights in the on position.
Pros can easily be identified on the highway. They light up at all times.
Assessment drives are a good idea, for candidates and assessors alike.
Steve Wallace is the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is the former Western Canadian vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas.