We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Two things every driver should know

By Steve Wallace, Victoria Times Colonist, February 4, 2011

Many drivers are unaware their traffic flow at high-volume intersections is controlled by sensor pads in the pavement.

Surprisingly, there are far too many drivers who do not know that most high-traffic-volume intersections are regulated by electronic devices.

These devices are cut into the pavement, and can be easily identified by the black tar marks in the form of a diamond, circle or rectangle. These telltale signs will be located on the approaching vehicle side of the white crosswalk lines. When a vehicle tire drives onto these pavement pads, it sends a signal to the traffic-signal assembly. The lights at the intersection then change according to the traffic demand.

This system operates in a similar fashion to the pedestrian-crossing demand lights, which are triggered by a push of a finger. There are certain intersections that have a very high number of vehicles travelling east to west but very few travelling north to south. In this situation, the north-south streetlight will never change except when tripped by the stopped vehicle on the weight-sensitive pad. This system allows for the uninterrupted travel of the high density east-west travel.

Drivers who are unaware of this system have a tendency to stop too soon at an intersection. When the pad is not triggered, traffic in that direction is paralyzed. Motorists behind such commuters have been known to go to extreme measures in order to communicate with the driver who is unaware of his or her duty to pull onto the activation pad. (I have seen drivers actually get out of their vehicles and approach the offending driver, tap on the window, and explain to them that they must pull forward to avoid being stuck there forever.) There has been many a “horn symphony” behind drivers who hold back traffic through their ignorance of the latest technology meant to ease traffic congestion. The left-turn lane of a busy intersection is often governed by the weight pads. If no driver occupies the left turn lane, the left turn flashing green arrow will skip a cycle and will not unnecessarily hold back oncoming through traffic.

It is a driver’s responsibility to be aware of these changes to the traffic-flow system. It is also the proper authorities’ responsibility to inform drivers of these kinds of changes. Sadly, the governing authorities in most jurisdictions do a very poor job of communicating to the driving public in advance of changes to the traffic system and an even poorer job of educating drivers beyond the initial issuance of a driver’s licence.

The use of the overdrive gear is another technological advance that is designed to enhance the mileage rating. Many drivers are unaware of the function and use of the overdrive gear. Some do not even know it exists in their vehicle. Most late model automatic transmissions will have a top gear for cruising. It is called the overdrive gear. Sometimes it is identified by a circle around the D, designating the upper drive gear. In most vehicles with a floor automatic shifter, there will be a button below the shift button that will control the on-off function of the overdrive gear. There will always be a light on the display panel that indicates when the overdrive gear is not engaged. Most vehicles produced after 2000, will automatically defer to overdrive once started. Many drivers who are unfamiliar with a new vehicle do not ever see the “O/D OFF” warning light for this reason.

Most overdrive gears should be used at speeds over 60-70 kilometres per hour. The savings in gas consumption at lower speeds is negligible. Never use overdrive during a driver’s test. The vehicle will have a tendency to speed up more quickly on downhill grades, resulting in a potential failure to qualify for, or retain, a driver’s licence.

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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