We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Malahat inspires safety techniques

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, February 24, 2012

Driving with your headlights on greatly increases your visibility to other drivers.

One of my friends asked me to write this column about my frequent drives on the Malahat. As a professional driver, my observations are different from those of the average driver.

I make sure my headlights and tail lights are turned to the on position. This draws attention to my vehicle and gets me noticed by other drivers.

It has been proven that the brighter the headlights, the closer approaching drivers think you are. They will think twice about making a dangerous oncoming passing manoeuvre.

Vehicular and pedestrian traffic will do the same when estimating the time needed to cross in front of a moving car. People who think they can make it across the intersection when an unlit vehicle approaches will not attempt the crossing when they see an approaching vehicle with its headlights shining.

Tail lights do not illuminate on most vehicles, unless actively turned on.

I always pay special attention to vehicles produced before 1990, as their headlights do not activate upon ignition of the engine.

As drivers, we pay more attention to light sources approaching us or following us on the highway. Drivers tend to attach less importance to unlit vehicles, or, even worse, fail to notice them at all.

Since most vehicles on the road today were manufactured after 1990, unlit vehicles make up about 10 per cent of the vehicles on the Malahat. In the 1970s and 1980s, drivers who travelled with their headlights and tail lights on were in the minority, but they had considerably fewer crashes than those who did not have their lights on. Today, drivers with unlit vehicles are in the minority, and are believed to have a considerably higher crash rate.

I also pay special attention to drivers who wish to pass me, and those that I pass. On a recent trip, I was passed by others about twice as often as I performed passes. If the ratio is too high, it is a good indication that you are either going too slow or fast for the traffic flow.

There is a common principle called the “magnet effect”: a driver’s tendency to speed up when being passed. It is called the magnet effect because drivers who are being passed tend to get drawn to the passing vehicle.

I always try to keep a consistent speed when being passed on the highway, and expect other nonprofessional drivers to fall prey to the magnet effect when I attempt to pass them.

I drive “spaces” instead of “speed.” My lane choice and vehicle position in the lane is meant to accommodate an escape from hazardous situations rather than a “slam on your brakes” philosophy of crash avoidance. The average driver has no idea how far it takes to stop.

Braking distance increases exponentially. Double your speed, and it takes four times the distance to brake to a stop, not two times. Triple the speed, and it takes nine times the distance.

The most common crash on the highway is being hit from behind. The two most deadly crashes are the head-on collision and the T-bone intersection crash.

I use the following technique to guard against mishaps: Look ahead, check the rear view mirror, look ahead, check the speedometer, look ahead, check the sides of the road. I do this before and after every hill, curve, intersection and other road features.

Try these tips on your next highway drive and see whether they work for you.

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


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