We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Explaining the inexplicable crash

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist March 25, 2011

At the last driving school convention, I got together with a few of my long time contacts in the industry.

We were trying to figure out how younger drivers, with no alcohol in their system, wearing their seatbelts and driving in a responsible manner, were involved in so many single-vehicle, single occupant fatal car crashes.

After considerable discussion, we all came to the same conclusion.

The crashes we were talking about all seemed to be suspiciously similar. A relatively young, inexperienced driver was killed when the vehicle hit a tree, pole or other immovable object, in a side-impact or driver-door crash. The drivers were not impaired by any drug. The vehicles were equipped with the latest in airbag technology. In most instances, the resulting fatal crash was called unpredictable by family and friends alike.

The young drivers involved were all too often the top students at their schools, whether in academic, athletic or artistic pursuits. They were most often alone at the time of the fatal crash. The majority of the crashes took place at night, in poor weather conditions.

Here is a theory that might explain the inexplicable.

Judging the speed of a vehicle, after a prolonged high-speed drive, is always difficult. Younger, less experienced drivers think they are going slower than they really are. Most drivers, after a long highway drive, find it difficult to slow to the posted speed, upon entering a city limit. If a driver attempts a right turn without correcting the higher speed, a right turn, driver door-type crash is very likely.

Weather conditions are a contributing factor in many crashes. The right turn, on a slippery road surface, will put a driver door on a direct collision course with an oncoming vehicle or a formidable immovable object. Drivers in snow and ice conditions are all too aware of the disastrous consequences of “losing it” on a sharp right turn.

The left turn, in bad weather conditions, most often puts the driver in the ditch. The left turn has a much wider arc than the right turn, and gives the driver more time to compensate in a skid situation.

Most young drivers suffer from what is commonly referred to as “teenage myopia.” In other words, they do not see well at night.

Their night vision does not get better until their eyes mature when they are in their early 20s. Some vision researchers with whom I have had a chance to talk informally at conventions, maintain that teenagers see as well as, or as poorly as, a 70-year-old man at night. This is a scary prospect, since many seniors choose, for safety reasons, to refrain from driving at night.

The combination of occurrences results in horrendous grief for families throughout North America. When considered individually, they do not seem to pose a huge threat. When combined, they are deadly.
For these reasons, every novice driver should have some lessons at night. High velocity driving should be experienced by every learner. Inclement weather should not be an excuse to cancel a driving lesson. It should be seen as a learning opportunity.

Learning to drive should involve much more than passing an elementary government test.
There you have it, the inexplicable, explained.

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Interior of B.C.

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