We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Take some tips from driving professionals

Long-haul truckers, like many professional drivers, employ a variety of tricks to make for safer driving, from using four-way flashers on long uphills to using engine braking on downhills. Photograph by: Darren Stone, Times Colonist

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, October 26th, 2012

Professional drivers do all sorts of things that are mysterious to other drivers. Each time I do an assessment or enhanced driving session with professional drivers, I learn something that affects my daily commute. Here are some examples.

One driver from the oil-patch showed me why he always lines his right knee up with the middle of the oil-darkened area in the travelled lane on the highway. It gives him a natural right-side offset. This simple action creates more room between a driver and oncoming traffic. It makes it easier to escape to the shoulder when threatened with a head-on crash, the most frequently fatal of all crashes.

My tire professional told me to always have the tires with the better tread mounted on the back wheels of a front-wheel-drive vehicle when you’re expecting to drive in the rain. The front tires have the benefit of the engine weight over the front wheels. If the vehicle loses contact with the road surface due to hydroplaning, it will be the back tires that break loose first.

No professional driver would be without convex mirrors. They reduce blind spots around trucks of all sizes. Since I put them on our driving-school vehicles, we seldom check the regular side-view mirrors. Many companies in the private sector and public agencies make such mirrors standard equipment on every vehicle in the fleet.

The best trucker I have ever had the privilege to accompany on a long-haul drive showed me how to be much safer on the road by not using my brakes. When climbing a hill, he always remembered the gear he was in at the top of the hill. Upon the return trip, he would crest the hill in the same gear prior to the descent. The engine compression held the vehicle back and braking was much less dramatic or unnecessary. The same trucker could do a two-hour highway trip and never use his brakes, except to stop. It forced him to look further down the road and be better prepared for hazardous situations.

The pros will often use their four-way flashers when climbing a hill. This action draws attention to their slow-moving trucks and reduces the risk of a rear-end collision. Many drive with their headlights in the on position. This action activates the taillights. It also reduces the likelihood of a rear-end collision and is an easy way to identify the pros when they drive their own passenger vehicles. I often see truckers travelling behind these lit-up vehicles in an unofficial convoy.

Most professional drivers of pickup trucks equip them with deer whistles. These very inexpensive whistles emit a sound that alerts deer to approaching vehicles. The deer usually move away from the roadway or freeze in their tracks. The whistles do not function at speeds lower than 60 km/h, but given the number of deer around most of our cities, I would highly recommend them.

Professional drivers will often keep track of the number of vehicles they pass on a trip, as well as the number that pass them. That way, they can tell if their average speed is too slow or fast for the commute. The ratio should not be more than two-to-one either way. If it is, the vehicle becomes a focal point and a crash is much more likely. If a driver is travelling too slowly or too fast compared to other traffic, the hazard potential increases.

Take these tips from the pros and incorporate them into your daily commute or next vacation road trip, and see if they make a difference. Practice does make perfect.

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 vice-president. of the Driving School Association of the Americas and a certified B.C. teacher.






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