Ghost Car

Sometimes life is just stranger than fiction.

This evening while coming home from Minden, we (fellow instructors Traci, Michelle and I) had an interesting and rather scary moment when we met a Ghost Car. Driving in Pea Soup thick fog (Traci was driving, I was in the front passenger seat, with Michelle in the back), when out of nowhere, a dark red car rolled into the street in front of us. Our speed was appropriate for the conditions but this thing just “came out of nowhere”. I think I spotted it first as it came at us from the left of the road and I shouted it out to Traci. But in a fraction of a second, I realized we were going to T-Bone it anyway even though Traci was hard on the brakes. Had we hit that car, it would have been full airbag deployment for us.

I told her to turn more, but it I knew it wasn’t going to be enough. I reached over and yanked hard on the wheel taking some control of the car. Not something I would ever normally do to a fellow instructor but in this case…I had too. We veered around it’s back end and the other car came to a stop in the middle of the road inches away from hitting our front left quarter panel and drivers side door. It just stopped. Nobody was in it. It wasn’t running. No lights at all. Just a Ghost in the night. It was a very close call for us and our combined training and skill prevailed. Had it been a car with average drivers in it, and not the advanced instructors that we are, things would have turned out very differently. The whole event, from start to finish, was only about three seconds.

Fortunately the cars behind us were able to avoid hitting us. After a few seconds of sitting there in shock I told Traci to gun it and get out of here. Knowing how bad the fog was, I figured it was only a matter of time before another car comes along, who would no doubt be driving way too fast for the conditions and I didn’t want us to be part of a multi-vehicle crash. At this point, we had three of us stopped on the road (us partially on the shoulder). The place was well lit up from all our headlights and that served a car coming from the other direction well because he was able to see the Ghost Car blocking the road. Not soon enough though and they T-Boned it lightly.

The driveway that the Ghost Car came from had a steep slope to it and I’m guessing it was a standard transmission car and although the parking brake was on, it was not “in gear” and the slope was too steep for the parking brake alone to hold the car on that hill, but the parking brake being engaged would explain why it didn’t continue rolling into us.

What’s really scary is when you think that it took the combined skills and reflexes of two advanced instructors to avoid this one. An average driver wouldn’t have had a chance and it would have been a nasty, painful, crash.

I say in the classroom over and over…process information, look for the threats. I give LOTS of examples for the “What if?” but this?? I would have never thought of this one, happening in the worst possible conditions, in Pea Soup fog. You just can’t make this stuff up!

Now in the classroom…I’ll be talking about the Ghost Car in the fog!

Crash took my Confidence: How I got it back

Earlier in 2016 I worked with a crash survivor who needed help building confidence after a scary incident. After working with her privately and having her join our CarControlSchool, here’s what she had to say about us along with the story of what led up to her meeting us:

“In June of this year, after 35 years of incident-free driving, I was in a high-speed collision on the 403 when a car – traveling recklessly over the speed limit – careened into our lane as the driver attempted a last-minute lane change in a distracted attempt to exit the highway on a nearby off-ramp. He succeeded, but not as he’d intended. He veered off the highway in front of us into the ditch in a nose-over-tail flip and impacted our car in the process.  As he did, I lost control of my vehicle with my 88 year-old mom in the passenger seat beside me.

I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t know what had hit me and I didn’t know how to react.  Quite simply, I thought it was game over.

Happily, my mom and I survived that collision, as did the driver of the other vehicle.   After having my car repaired, however, I had a new problem: I could no longer comfortably (or even uncomfortably for that matter) drive on the highway.  I felt as if my car was going to be impacted by every passing vehicle and I became incapacitated with anxiety.  Driving home from Muskoka later that same month, I actually needed to exit the highway and drive home on the back roads. Arriving home 7 hours later I decided that I needed some help. I did an online search for “car” and “control” and that’s where Ian Law and Shaun de Jager stepped into the picture.

The IRL Car Control School – led by Chief Instructor Ian Law – specializes in ProActive driver training.  Shortly after my collision, I attended their in-depth daylong program, which lived up to their promise of providing the highest level of defensive driver education in North American.  The program was divided into in-class lessons and in-car sessions. Both the lessons and the practical driving sessions were invaluable.

The in-class lessons were led by Instructor Shaun de Jager  (more on Shaun later) who managed the near-impossible task of making an entire Saturday of learning FUN.  Think of the technical expertise of Lewis Hamilton presented with the deadpan comedic timing of Bob Newhart, combined with the physical hilarity of Rowan Atkinson, all delivered by a professional driving instructor and you’ve got Shaun de Jager.  The in-car lessons were taught by the IRL Car Control’s team of highly skilled and personable instructors through a series of individual one-on- one sessions in the student’s’ own cars. Throughout the daylong program, I learned things I didn’t know; I relearned things I should have known.  And I learned things I never could have known. I finished my day of instruction wondering how any driver should be licensed to drive without this critical level of instruction and knowledge.

To complement my program at the IRL Car Control School, I did two hours of highway instruction in my own vehicle with Shaun de Jager (instructor extraordinaire at the Car Control School).  In addition to being a classroom instructor, Shaun is a road safety specialist and professional driving instructor (oh yes, and an award winning race car driver) who also offers individual driver training for an entire spectrum of driving situations and needs.  Over the two hours of instruction in my car, Shaun focused on vehicle control with all instruction specifically tailored to my situation and needs.  Shaun provided me with a series of invaluable tips and tools to help me feel and be in better control of my vehicle.   These are tools which I now employ daily and which I’ll have for the rest of my driving days.  I now would see a potential collision in the making.  And I now would know how to react.

Thank you IRL Car Control School. Thank you Ian Law.  Thank you Shaun de Jager.  Not only has every student that you’ve ever taught benefited from your instruction, but every other driver on the road that your students have driven with has unknowingly benefited from your instruction too.  You’re making our roads safer, one student at a time.” -Wendy M

ILR Annual Exotic Car Ride Charity Event for the James Fund

ILR Annual Exotic Car Ride Charity Event

In support of

The James Fund

To find a cure for Neuroblastoma

Saturday, June 11th, 2016  at 1pm

Powerade Centre in Brampton

 

This is your chance to ride in the exotic sports car of your dreams!

Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, Cobra, Corvette, Audi R8, Lotus, Nissan GTR and maybe even a McLaren!

(Vehicle participation is not guaranteed)

For your donation to the James Fund (www.jamesfund.ca) you can ride around an exciting autoslalom race course in the exotic car of your choice.

1 ride for $20 donation or 3 rides for $50 donation

(100% of all proceeds go to the James Fund)

NEW THIS YEAR

LIMITED NUMBER OF VIP PASSES a limited number of VIP passes will be sold for $200 each (not transferable) and will give you a full day experience and access to drivers and cars not open to the public. One of those special drivers might be our own “Canadian Stiggy”.

Time:

Drivers & Show Cars 9 am (for set up)

The public is welcome from 1 pm to 5 pm

Plus: Special Draw Tickets in support of the James Fund

GREAT PRIZES

INCLUDING one

1st Prize – Set of Goodyear Tires

2nd Prize – ILR Car Control School (or Winter Driving School)

Tickets  $5 each or 5 for $20 Donation

For more information please contact www.carcontrolschool.com

SPONSORED BY: GOODYEAR TRES, ILR CAR CONTROL SCHOOL INC., POWERADE CENTRE, STONERIDGE SPECIALITY INSURANCE, SICK KIDS FOUNDATION,

Ontario Highway Traffic Act gets updates that will affect all Motorists- June 2015

With the final unanimously passing of Bill 31, Transportation Statute Law Amendment Act on June 2nd, 2015. There are quite a few changes that will essentially affect all types of road users as well as increasing penalties for various infractions. It now only needs to be signed into law. This will certainly kick many drivers in the wallet and maybe some behaviours will change for the better.

Fines for distracted drivers will increase to between $300 to $1,000, plus three demerit points. Finally. Ontario is the last Province to impose demerit points. Heavier fines and demerit points, which can lead to heavier fines if caught again, along with license suspensions and eventually increased insurance rates are the only way to effect change in drivers; by hitting their wallet, but cops will need to actively enforce the rule and pull people over every time they see someone texting or talking on their phone (without a hands-free kit but don’t get me started on that). Police used to have the power to charge people for this even before the hands-free laws came out by charging people with “Careless Driving” but smartass lawyers argued you couldn’t prove it was careless despite all the studies and research from all over the world having proved that it’s dangerous.

Fines for opening a door into the path of a cyclist will increase to the same amounts as for distracted driving. It’s important to note that this rule as it worded means that any driver opening their door into anyone’s path could be charged…not just into a cyclists path. The wording isn’t going to change…just the fines.

HTA 165. No person shall,

(a) open the door of a motor vehicle on a highway without first taking due precautions to ensure that his or her act will not interfere with the movement of or endanger any other person or vehicle;

A new rule will be that motorists must leave a one-metre distance when passing bicycles (where practicable). Also new will be allowing Cyclists to use the paved shoulders on non-400 series provincial highways. The Minister of Transportation always had the power to do that (151. (1) The Minister may by regulation designate any part of the King’s Highway where the paved shoulder may be driven on). Although technically illegal before, unless otherwise posted, I don’t think a police officer would have actually charged cyclists for having done so.

If you’re a cyclist, you should note that for not having lamps, reflectors and reflective material (yes you need a combination of all three [HTA Section 17]), the fine has increased to between $60 and $500.

The bill also requires that drivers now wait until pedestrians completely cross the road at school crossings and at crosswalks with pedestrian-operated crossing lights; not just yield half the roadway which was required under the old law [HTA Section 140, Sub2(a)(b)]. Well that rule change may actually make things worse…waiting for a pedestrian to clear the entire roadway before a motorist can proceed. The primary goal of the HTA is to keep traffic flowing. This rule change will actually impede traffic flow a bit.

The larger concern is for motorcyclists and scooters who now have to sit in the middle of the road waiting for a pedestrian 30ft away to take those final few steps. This sets them up for a wicked hit from behind. Drivers have a hard enough time seeing bikers as it is without forcing them to sit stopped in the middle of the road unnecessarily.
Not enough drivers are going to know about this, so someone like me, on a bike, who tries to obey the laws will stupidly sit in the middle of street and hope I don’t get creamed from behind.
I’ll have to look up what the ticket is worth and then decide how to handle this one IF I’m on a motorcycle. I get why they made this change (to make it safer for pedestrians) but both the pedestrians and I would be safer if I ignored this law, which wasn’t thought through well enough.

For those of you who indulge in drugs and think that it’s ok to drive, you should note the fines for doing so will now match penalties as drivers impaired by alcohol and roadside suspensions of three to 90 days. Your vehicle could also be impounded for seven days and convicted offenders may to install an ignition interlock device to prevent them from driving while impaired in future. The cost of doing so is all on you and those things aren’t cheap, nor is the cost of installing them and later removing them. This is already a criminal offense though. Under the Criminal Code of Canada Section 253(1)(a), where it basically says you can’t be “impaired by alcohol or a drug”. If even a prescription drug affects your ability to drive, it’s a criminal offense.

The new updates also clarifies the mandatory and discretionary requirements by doctors to report unfit drivers. This will be a touchy area and quite often doctors don’t want to impose a medical suspension because they aren’t driving experts (and they know it) and they can’t be exactly sure of how badly their patients condition is affecting their ability to drive. Having read this new section, I can’t see it making much difference to how things are currently being done except to release a doctor from any liability in reporting someone, in good faith, that they deemed as unfit to to drive.

The Dangers Faced by Driving Instructors

Being a driving instructor is a dangerous job no matter how you look at it or what type of instructor you are. There are various types of instructors and the ones we think about most are the instructors who teach beginners how to drive and help clients get their drivers license. As a licensed instructor myself, I know full well that taking a new driver onto public roads is risky and terrifying…not only for me but also for the client. Driving is the one thing we regularly do that could get us killed and rarely does that thought cross ones mind when they leave their driveway. Most instructors who only work in this group aren’t actually very good though and often teach unsafe driving habits and techniques. There are only a handful that I would trust to teach my son.

Then there are Advanced Instructors and although the title is a bit subjective, this is the type of instructing that I specialize in and do the most. My focus is on making drivers safe and not just focusing on the basic maneuvers like how to park. A parking maneuver gone wrong is unlikely to ever kill anyone in the car, although it could kill a pedestrian if the driver isn’t paying attention. What you learn from an advanced instructor is what will save your life (and the lives of others) on public roads.

Then there are Performance Instructors which I am one of also. These are the instructors who teach drivers how to get the most out of their vehicles and themselves and how to improve and how to drive at the limit of both driver and machine…on the edge of the envelope. These are the instructors that are called upon for instructing on racetracks, either teaching someone the art & science of racing or at slower speeds, just teaching drivers how to lap on a race track safely. But to get around a race track safely, people first must learn a hell of a lot of things before they try it and once they do, the instructor is right there beside them, slowly working on the driving skills, their control and their technique so that they can go faster in increments. Let me say that last part again…’in increments’.

When I’m instructing at a race track I always start by telling my client “Don’t try and impress me, because you won’t, and if you try and drive fast, you won’t be and you’ll just get us hurt. Speed is a byproduct of being smooth, being in control and learning the techniques.” Most drivers don’t understand that they have to learn how to be smooth, learn control and learn the techniques FIRST. Once those are learned, speed just…happens.  When organizers of track events, or the instructors, forget those basic fundamentals, things can go horribly wrong. If there is ever a failure in either the driver or in the vehicle, being on a safe track is paramount. Some tracks though have very obvious safety flaws that go ignored. I don’t mean simply unnoticed, I mean the issues are known and flatly ignored.

Once again, there has been a fatality in the ‘performance driving experience’ market.  On Sunday April 12th, 2015, Gary Terry, an instructor (and former race car driver) was killed in Orlando, Florida. He was not only an instructor but also the Operations Manager for the Exotic Driving Experience company (operated by Richard Petty Holdings) on the Disney World race track. The client who was driving was 24 years old and suffered only a few minor injuries. He was released from the hospital that evening. Gary Terry had a wife and young child who now have to make sense of what happened and learn to live without him in their lives.

The company’s website says “Exotic Driving Experience gives YOU the opportunity to get behind the wheel of these supercars and make your dreams a reality. Each experience starts with six laps around the course with a professional driving instructor in the passenger seat providing coaching and feedback.” No mention of any in-class training or recon laps with the instructor driving first. I wonder how many laps they actually completed.

The track itself was originally designed and built as a stock car oval track but was later modified to include an infield section for programs like the Exotic Driving Experience. They used not only the infield course section but also part of the original oval. They they ran in ‘reverse direction’ to how the oval track was designed to be run…this was a lethal mistake. After carefully looking at the track overall and the design features, this track configuration could be lethal no matter which direction it was run in. When tracks are modified to suit a wider range of features and applications, it really has to be totally redesigned and re-engineered. Not just slapped together with the “Ya…that will do” mentality. Sure this new section of track wasn’t intended to be used for official competition and it wasn’t. So maybe they didn’t have to meet the same safety standards that a ‘race track’ would have required. Although when you are providing exotic sports cars like Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches, to anyone with a license who can afford to pay the price, you’re begging for trouble. These caliber of cars are basically street legal race cars and they do require much skill to drive. Especially to drive them fast on the track. Doing so on a track with some serious safety design flaws…no thank you.

The driver obviously lost control of the Lamborghini they were in and crashed passenger side into the unprotected and exposed end of one of the barriers. This could have happened in several other areas of the track also. Not a tire stack or Fitch Barrel to be found anywhere on these exposed ends of the walls.

Working at a facility like this and with a company that obviously ignored some pretty obvious safety issues is a horrible situation to be in as an instructor. You need to work and provide for your family & that was the only real gig in town for instructing, but the safety compromises would have been obvious to Gary who was by all accounts very experienced. Its for reasons like this that a lot of instructors have given up doing in-car instruction on race tracks. Its for similar reasons that I stopped instructing at various lapping events at certain tracks. Sure I still instruct in-car on race tracks but I’m very picky about which organizers & schools I work with and on which tracks.

As performance instructors, part of our job is to keep our clients safe and not let them exceed their skill level. Like I said earlier, speeds go up incrementally. But at a company like this, part of what the client is paying for (and expects) is a thrill ride and with the starting package offered, you’ve only got six laps. Knowing this, the client wants to make his limited number of laps count. I get that the clients want to drive their dream cars and drive them fast but there just isn’t enough time to teach them the required skills and techniques to be fast. There lays the paradox. All it takes is one client who thinks he’s a good driver (and everyone thinks that) to ignore the instructors commands and go hell for leather, for things to go horribly wrong. Now I’m not suggesting that’s what happened in this case but obviously something went wrong and the client was unable to control the car. The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating the accident, and at the time of writing this, the only reason given was “failure to maneuver.” Perhaps “failure to recover from a skid” or “driver far exceeded their skill” might be more accurate.

It’s happened before and it will happen again. Only once the instructors make a stand and start refusing to work for certain companies/organizers or on certain tracks, until they clean up their act and/or improve the safety measures, will any change actually happen. They don’t have a business without the instructors and it’s not the kind of job that can be filled by some Joe Blow with no experience in both teaching and high performance driving.

Personally, I wouldn’t work for a company like this. There is no way I’m going to let someone with only the basic driving knowledge and skill drive me around a race track in a supercar that can reach speeds of older Formula 1 cars. Add to that an unsafe race track? No thanks.

If you want a thrill ride, that’s fine…I’ll do the driving thanks. All you need to do is just hang on. Please folks…leave this kind of driving to the Pros. Trust me, it’s more of a ‘thrill’ when the driver is a Pro anyway.

Side Note: Within a couple days of the tragedy, the Exotic Driving Experience has cancelled all operations at the Disney World track and has updated their website to reflect that the facility has been removed from their list of track venues. Apparently Disney has already slated the track to be demolished and turned into a parking lot anyway.

The Winter Car Control & Driving School – Why we do this

It’s about 4am and it’s cold. Really cold. Last year it was called the “Polar Vortex”. This year it’s being called the “Arctic Express”. I’m sure that next year it will be called something else by the media who, for some reason, feel they must come up with some cutesy new name for “winter”. Most creatures in North America know well enough to stay curled up in their dens and burrows but a small group of people are beginning to stir on a very chilly Saturday morning. Chilly is an understatement of course…it’s not just chilly…its cold…STUPID COLD! They don’t really want to leave the warmth of their cozy beds and may even grumble aloud “Ugg…what am I doing?” Although, in the time it takes to even verbalize such a thought, they know that the satisfaction of what they are about to do, outweighs the discomfort and even pain that they will endure this day. They are part of a team and there is a job to do. Lives depend on it.

At the same time, another group of people is beginning to stir. They too are enjoying the warmth of their beds while evaluating their own range of emotions. Some are excited for the day ahead, while others are downright terrified. This is a diverse group and all strangers to each other. Like the 42 year old housewife who is so nervous that she is shaking like a leaf. The 20 year old kid who thinks a lot of himself. The 53 year old guy who doesn’t want to go but his wife of the same age insisted that he do this with her. The 26 year old guy who just graduated from Police College, the two teenage sisters and their middle aged mom, and so on. Each one of them are trying to mentally visualize what the day will be like and although they have an idea what they will be doing, none of them are exactly sure what to expect.

Soon, these two groups of people will leave their homes from various places across Southern Ontario, drive 2-3 hours and all converge in the small town of Minden. Welcome to the ILR Winter Car Control School.

The first group are the instructors and combined they have over 200 years of experience as instructors and race car drivers. The second group are the students, and combined they have over seven crashes under their belt (three of which were total right-offs). In total there will be 11 students taking this course. Some have never been in a crash and are there to learn how to be as safe as possible in hopes that they never will crash. Others have been in collisions and are there to learn more in hopes of never being in that situation again. Some have crashed more than once and need a lot of help. The instructors are there to help and at the end of the day, the satisfaction of knowing that nearly a dozen people are now safer drivers, well…that’s the real reward for them. Now you can see why lives depend on their skill and knowledge.

As one of the Chief Instructors, my main role is as the talking head at the front of the classroom who engages the students in the material and keeps them thinking. I saturate them with information about proper seating position (just a simple thing that most drivers do wrong), techniques on how to use their hands and feet, setting the mirrors correctly, etc. All simple things really but they have a tremendous impact on how well you can control a car, and most drivers have no idea that they were initially taught wrong. A lot of drivers figure that there’s nothing wrong with their way of doing things. They’ve been doing it like that for 20 plus years and that’s how they were taught. So what do we know right? Until we show them some better ways of doing the same things…simpler ways…safer ways. We really do have to prove it to them though first before they accept it. Humans are strange that way. Most people don’t like change and often reject it, even when the change is for the better. Sometimes it’s very much like telling a guy that he’s been doing something wrong for decades and his dad was wrong for teaching him that. Some people take that news as quite insulting, and that sets the stage for what comes later….”Oh ya?? I’ll show you!”

As I carry on my day as the in-class instructor, I use a lot of real world examples of what the consequences could be (and have been for others) of not doing things right. I also discuss a lot about our human physiology and what our limitations are in how we have evolved. What feels ‘natural’ often sets us up, as drivers, for disaster. Things that nobody really thinks about or even knows about (outside of the scientific community, specific to those fields of study), and I try and bring that knowledge to the average person but they are going to have a serious impact on how you see the world and react to it. Time and time again, I hear from my students “I had no idea our eyes do that”. Now that they do know, they are aware of how to compensate for that and see their world better.

The class is split into two groups, and while half the group stays with me in-class, the other half goes out with the other instructors to do the in-car exercises; Slalom courses, emergency stopping, collision avoidance and skid pad work. Although truth be told, every exercise is a skid pad really. The whole place is covered in ice about one foot thick and it is so slippery that you can barely walk on it. This is our playground and it doesn’t take long before the 20 year old kid realizes that his confidence far exceeds his skills and he spins out on the ice knocking over a bunch of the traffic cones. The 53 year old guy who tried to show us that he was right and that we were wrong…well, he ended up stuck on the snow bank, and everyone else got to learn from their mistakes. The instant your ego surpasses your skills…things go wrong. However, it’s always better to learn from that in a safe and controlled environment, rather than out in the real world where things can get expensive and could also result in injuries.

It’s a pretty hard day on the in-car instructors. They are paying attention to so much more than the students realize. They are looking at every little detail of the student’s driving techniques…holding the wheel properly, where they are looking, what their feet are doing, even how firmly they are holding the steering wheel. It all adds up. It all makes a difference to how well someone can control their car. Like that wasn’t enough to focus on…someone has to stand outside in freezing cold temperatures to run around and reset the cones that the students knock over. That’s the really miserable job and the instructors take turns doing it so that nobody has to suffer the cold for too long and become hypothermic. Yet no matter who does it, or for how long, they eventually lose feeling in their toes and hands, and the pain of their frozen ears never really goes away until the day is over…no matter how well they are suited up for the cold.

Most drivers have said at some point “It’s not me. I’m a great driver. Everyone else is the problem.” It’s at a school like this where they realize that maybe they were part of the problem. Or at least, that they weren’t part of the solution. By the end of the day though, they will be part of the solution. After well over a decade of being a driving coach and advanced driving instructor, I’m still learning. Hell I’m the only person I know who’s actually read the Highway Traffic Act cover-to-cover (more times than I care to admit). Yes I’m that much of a road safety nerd, but if you haven’t read it yourself…then you certainly have more to learn. You can start there. They are after all a set of rules that you are expected to abide by. How can you obey the laws if you don’t know what they are? By the way, ignorance of the law isn’t a valid defense in court (just a warning).

Now while the practical in-car skills are taught and practiced throughout the day, the morning in-class material focuses on the driver part of the equation and we work on one’s driving attitude and knowledge, and how to recognize and avoid dangerous situations. The more danger you look for, the more you will find, and therefore the more you have a chance to avoid. We also dispel many of the things that have been taught to us over the last several decades that were never good ideas to teach to begin with, as well as many things that should be taught differently but aren’t.

In the afternoon, we start to focus on the vehicle part of the driving equation and once again, we dispel many of the myths and misconceptions about what your car can and cannot do (contrary to what we often hear in marketing campaigns or from the sales person). When I first started driving, I was told that all-season tires actually meant “all-season” and that ABS brakes meant I could stop on a dime and get a nickel in change. I was miss-informed. Today, we are all saturated with new technology, much of which is being promoted under the guise of being a ‘safety feature’, but they no more improve one’s safety than a lucky rabbits foot hanging from the rear view mirror.

By the end of the day, the group of students and all the instructors are exhausted. It’s a long, taxing day for everyone. However, everyone walks, errr…drives away, very satisfied. The students have all had their eyes opened, learned how to better avoid dangerous situations and as a result they’ve become safer, more aware drivers. They have also greatly improved their skills behind the wheel.

As for us, the instructors, we walk away from the day knowing that we’ve made another handful of safer drivers on our roads and taught them some valuable life skills.

As an instructor who takes much pride in his work, my goal is to make drivers safer and my mantra is “Tackling our roads…one driver at a time”. Today we helped 11 more and one will soon be a cop (we’ve trained many police officers, both on active duty as well as up-and-coming). I consider that a great day. No matter how good of a driver you are, or think you are, there is always more to learn. So how about taking some interest in improving your driving skills and knowledge, because let’s face it…the better you can make yourself as a driver, the less likely you will ever have to call your insurance company to submit a claim (or worse).

Driving is a life skill and lives depend on it…yours and your family. That should be incentive enough to make damn sure you get the best training available. If I don’t see you in my classroom…there is room for improvement.

Seniors surprised by own bad habits after Driving Evaluation

Even the best of us have developed bad driving habits, so senior drivers should be proactive and make sure they are still up to the task

Lorraine Sommerfeld

By Lorraine Sommerfeld

Jan Thompson, 69, has been driving well over 50 years; instead of taking it for granted, he had a different thought. “I worry I’m getting too set in my ways. I’ve always driven as if everyone else on the road is an idiot. Now I want to make sure I’m not the idiot.”

If Jan was being proactive at 69, Laura Anderson* (*a pseudonym used for medical confidentiality), at 80, was facing more immediate concerns. Though she’d recently passed the new Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) test and was clear to drive, some lingering health issues had her questioning her confidence.

Enter Shaun de Jager. He’s an advanced driving instructor specializing in remedial training with the elderly and drivers suffering from PTSD after a crash. He’s thorough and authoritative, but he’s respectful and kind. He asked in advance about collision history, bumps and scrapes, tickets, warnings, current medications and recent surgeries or health issues.

Click here for full article

Winter Driving and Survival

Stranded in your car:

Winter driving isn’t fun and some drivers have a visceral fear of it. Some people feel safe in their skills as a driver, or in their denial, and think that getting stranded in the snow would never happen to them. It’s a scarey thought so perhaps ignorance is bliss. It doesn’t matter however, how good of a driver you are…you can still easily find yourself stranded in your vehicle for a long period of time.

In January and February of 2014, North America got absolutely hammered by extreme weather events. Heavy snow, freezing rain, extremely cold temperatures…you name it…we saw it. The ice storm that hit my area, just a month before, resulted in me losing power for three days. Even Atlanta, GA got freezing rain and it pretty much crippled the entire State…many States actually. Just to add insult to injury…the South got hammered hard again just a couple of weeks later. They simply aren’t used to driving on wintery roads and in no way whatsoever were they prepared. The result was grid-locked traffic from hell and tens of thousands of cars being abandoned all across the Southern US. Many people found themselves stranded in their vehicles for about 24hrs (a couple cases I heard of involved being stranded for 30hrs). Spending a couple days in your car doesn’t sound too horrible…in the summer. In the winter however, when the temps drop down to -20c (-4F), or much colder, it can be lethal if you’re not prepared for it.

We like to believe that we’re great drivers and never going to crash into a snowbank. Come on…we’ve all said it..”It’s not me…it’s everybody else”. Well lets think about that. Time and time again, drivers have found themselves stranded in their vehicles because of massive pile-ups around them (ahead and behind) thus leaving them stuck on the highway. Other times, the road conditions get so bad that authorities close down the roads while you’re still on it leaving you stuck. Both scenarios happen quite a lot and it’s not something that most drivers think about.

Certainly, drivers in Canada and the northern US are more aware of the possibility of getting stuck on winter roads but many find that they are still not prepared for it. At most, they may have a couple blankets in their car along with a shovel and some salt or sand but they still don’t plan for being stranded in their car for a couple of days.

24hr Winter Car Survival Challenge:

Sometimes the best way to really know what it’s like to be stranded in your car and know what it takes to survive, is to just go ahead and do it. My friend and Automotive Journalist Lesley Wimbush joined me and we challenged ourselves to surviving 24hrs ‘stranded’ in a vehicle. In hindsight…I wouldn’t recommend people do this just for kicks and giggles…especially if they aren’t damn sure that they are prepared for anything that could happen. My background and training has provided me with survival training in various situations and climates but every situation is slightly different.

Lesley and I found a safe spot just off a back country road in Ontario, surrounded by snow in sub-freezing temperatures. We got bored. We got cold. We suffered Hypothermia. We got a touch of frost bite. We recorded it. I edited it down to just over an hour and you can see the progression from being ok, to getting hypothermia (and a serious case of the sillys), and recovering in the morning. The temps dropped to -18c (0F). During the video, we had some great discussions about winter driving and survival. We also discussed some of the mistakes commonly made by people who have gotten stranded in the past. We also demonstrate some basic survival gear and provide some tips to help you stay warm and keep your sanity. Please forgive the quality…as we started having trouble thinking, we forgot to turn on all our lights for the video.

A BIG Thank You to Volvo Canada for providing the XC60 for this experiment!

Prepping your Car:

Winter

Lesley trying to sleep and stay warm

Prepping your car isn’t all that hard and with some basic gear, you can likely get yourself unstuck. If you’re stranded for some other reason, like road closures, some simple equipment can help keep you warm until you’re rescued or the road is re-opened. The items below are just the bare essentials and could help you handle a few hours easily.

  • first aid kit
  • flares, salt/sand, jumper cables
  • shovel & snow brush
  • SOL emergency Bivvy bags for each person in your car
  • sleeping bags for each person in your car (preferably ones rated to -10c) or at least heavy, warm blankets for each person
  • thermal underwear
  • toilet paper – trust me on this one
  • warm winter boots (just leave them in the car. You shouldn’t wear winter boots while driving anyway because it’s dangerous)
  • a GPS unit is handy to have (especially when trying to provide your location to others)

NOTE: I’m not a fan of keeping water in the car during the Winter (other Seasons yes but not Winter). Once it freezes, it’s pretty much useless unless you have a way of melting it. I prefer to put water in the car every time I go for a drive and then remove it when I park. I always have water in my shoulder bag anyway so I always have some water on hand no matter where I go.

Prepping your Gear:

The following items are from my shoulder bag that I carry around with me everywhere (my ‘murse’). As my every day carry bag (EDC), I switch up the contents regularly depending on the season or what I expect to be doing on any given day. Some items I use almost daily, whereas other items are in there ‘just in case’.

  • cell phone and car charger
  • At least 1L of water
  • about 2000 calories worth of energy/meal bars
  • 2 disposable lighters
  • 4 tea candles
  • a decent folding knife
  • emergency survival whistle with a button compass and some NATO matches inside
  • multi-tool (Swiss, Gerber or Leatherman)
  • several hot packs
  • baby wipes
  • a couple flashlights (consider headlamps for hands free use) plus extra batteries –consider a small wind-up light/radio unit as well which you can just leave in your car
  • extra clothes (wool socks, mits or gloves, warm hat, balaclava, a sweater)
  • large heavy duty double zip freezer bags (to pee in and use as hot water bottles)
  • handful of glow sticks
  • chap stick
  • small bottle of hand sanitizer
  • 10-20m (30-65ft) of para-cord braided up so it doesn’t take up much space
  • a sturdy bag to carry it all around in (shoulder bag, backpack or duffel bag)

NOTE: My bag contains other items also but everyone’s bag needs to be packed based on your own needs. Not mine or anyone else. The items listed here are what I would suggest but you may want/need to add or remove certain items.

Survival Tips:

This could easily be a rather long section so I’m just going to focus on some important things and a few simple tips. I’m certainly not going to write a full blown survival handbook. If you’re really interested in one, there are lots to choose from at your local bookstore. Natural and man-made disasters happen quite a lot so there are plenty of books out there on survival.

  • Always travel with a survival kit in your car. Something containing most, if not all, of the items I listed above and be sure to personalize it for your own needs. If you have very young children, remember to pack some diapers. You get the idea.
  • Never let your gas tank go below half way. A simple 30min commute could easily turn into 3hrs and running out of gas is simply not acceptable. If you find yourself stranded for any reason, you will need to warm your car every so often. A general rule of thumb is to run the engine for 10-15min every hour or so to keep warm. Make sure your exhaust pipe is clear of snow and open the window slightly. This will help prevent Carbon Monoxide building up inside the car which can be a lethal mistake.
  • Communicate. Call your family or friends and let them know where you are, what your status is and what supplies you have. If conditions are bad, Emergency services will be busy so don’t waste their time unless you really need too. Now is also a good idea to put some distress signals outside your car. Turn on your hazard lights, put a couple glow sticks in a clear water bottle and put it on your roof which may attract some attention (works like a lantern), put out a road flare, hang something brightly coloured from your window, etc. Be creative and be seen.
  • Don’t piss away your body heat. This sounds strange but hear me out. Your body wastes a tremendous amount of energy to keep a full bladder warm. You’re going to piss that away eventually anyway so it’s better to do it early and not waste energy to keep urine warm. With that in mind though, don’t waste it…it is after all…warm. Urinate into a bottle or large double zip freezer bag and you’ve just made yourself a hot water bottle of sorts. Put it inside your jacket against your body. If you don’t have to pee outside, do it in the car. Every time you open the door, you’re letting out the heat. For the ladies, urinating into a large freezer bag works well. You can also get a ‘SheWee’ so that you can pee in a bottle. Look it up online and you will see what I’m talking about.
  • As soon as you get stranded, layer up. Put on all your extra clothes and slip into your survival bivvy and sleeping bags. Trying to warm up is hard so it’s more important to retain heat…not try and warm up once you’re cold. In winter, heat is another essential of survival and if your body core temp drops by just a few degrees, you will become hypothermic.
  • If you’re in a blizzard…stay with your car! Far too many people have died trying to walk to safety. It’s very easy to get disoriented and lose track not only of where you’re going but also where you came from. You may think it’s only a short walk but I can assure you…it’s always farther away than you think. Walking in a snow storm always takes longer and your footprints will cover fast making it impossible to find your car again. Your car is your shelter and shelter is an essential for survival. If you’re in a heavy blizzard and you have to get out of your car for any reason, use your para-cord to tie yourself to your vehicle. Even just stepping a few metres (10ft) away from your car, and you might not find it again.
  • Don’t chow down. You’re food supply is for when you REALLY start getting hungry, not just for snacking on because you’re bored or a bit peckish. You’re better off going hungry when you’re trying to fight extreme cold. If you fill your belly, your body needs to use a lot of energy to start digesting your food. That energy is better used for keeping you warm. Food is actually the last essential of survival and you can go about three weeks without any depending on the fat stores in your body. If you’re cold…don’t eat. You’re just wasting energy.
  • Save your water. In a survival scenario it’s better to NOT drink any water for the first 24hrs. This puts your body into conservation mode. If you drink too soon, your body will demand more which may use up your supply rather quickly. Once you’ve gone 24hrs without water, you can sip at it but don’t chug it. Water is the second essential of survival and you can go about three days without any. However, once you reach the second day, you start losing your ability to think straight so knowing how to conserve your water supply is essential. So no drinking for the first 24hrs and after that, sip at it slowly and you can last several days with a very small supply if needed.
  • Light some tea candles. Open flames aren’t a good idea in a car but tea candles can be ok if you’re careful. They will slow the rate at which the car cools but won’t restore heat. They are also really good psychologically and help keep your spirits up. Do NOT use a camp stove or any other type of flame based heater in your car to keep warm, melt snow/ice, or warm food. The risk of Carbon Monoxide poisoning is very high, not to mention the risk of setting your car on fire.

Hopefully you’ve found this information useful and if so, please share this with your friends and family (there are some handy buttons below to help you pass this around online). If you know anyone who drives in winter conditions, they should be sure that they are prepared for the worst while hoping for the best. Common sense can go a long way in a survival situation and some specific gear can be the difference between life and death. Don’t panic, stay with your vehicle, stay warm and conserve your supplies.

Click here to read Lesley’s article in Wheels.ca.

Elderly Drivers and driving is a growing concern

Aging is one of those things that we simply can’t avoid (unless we die young). As we age, we are presented with challenges that we never had to deal with before and as drivers, those challenges can seriously affect our ability to drive safely. Poor vision, slower reflexes, slower and poor reasoning skills and dementia.

I do a lot of work with seniors and it’s usually a family member who contacts me to discuss the driving of an elderly person in the family who’s driving is becoming a concern. I will do a driving evaluation with the person and explain to them areas of their driving that requires improvement, and then provide some remedial training. Other times though, I have to recommend that they hang up their keys and I have that discussion with them and their family. I become the ‘bad guy’ and that’s okay because eases the stress within the family.

Join me on The Zoomer as we discuss some of these issues and perhaps how to address them.

Click here for the full show.

 

 

First Impressions of the BMW 1M

Every once in a while a car comes on to the market that just brings a huge smile to your face. The BMW 1M is just such a car. Some may not like the styling but I do. It’s not an overly large car, in fact it’s not a whole lot larger than a MINI but unlike the MINI, it actually has a pretty sizable truck and the rear passenger seats are actually usable also.

The car is about $60,000 and that really is a lot of money for such a small car. However, what you get for that money is one action packed coupe with a 335bhp, 6-cylinder turbo engine with enough acceleration that can take you from 0km/hr to jail in about six seconds. Believe me when I say that this little coupe deserves some serious respect and in nearly every way it out performs it’s bigger brother the M3. It’s also about $13,000 cheaper and has more rear passenger space so it really is worth looking at if you’re in the market for a new sports car.

I recently had the pleasure of driving this little power house on a track where I could really open it up. I must say…What a blast! See the video below.

It’s simple, elegant, functional (even practical) and finally BMW gives us a new car that doesn’t require an engineering degree to figure out how to use it. Just push the button to turn it on and drive away! To liven up the experience, it’s just a matter of pressing a couple buttons to turn off the traction/stability controls and engage M-mode (the ‘M’ may as well stand for ‘Madness’). I must warn you though…if you turn on the M-mode and turn off the traction/stability controls…you better have fast hands and know what you’re doing because this ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ has one hell of a bite. Although it’s a very easy car to drive, you could quickly find yourself in a ditch thinking to yourself “I should have left the traction/stability controls on”.

 

Edit: Turns out the BMW 1M stopped being produced in June of 2012. Considering the limited production of only 6309 units sold worldwide, this could very well be a collector piece.

Lawrence Hacking’s Overland Adventure Rally

This isn’t the type of thing I usually cover but this could quite possibly be  the best adventure event of the year. Lawrence Hacking, a guy who’s been racing off-road motorcycles since he was 16 and was the first Canadian to complete the famous Dakar Rally back in 2001, has created the Overland Adventure Rally. The event is July 12-14, 2013 and is being held in Campbellville, Ontario.

So what right? Off-road rally’s are held all over the world right? Sure…but not like this one. This one has a class for just about everyone…including cars! This is all about just having fun regardless of what you show up with. Got a vintage bike or car? There’s a class for that. Got a bike from India, Taiwan or China? They have a class for that too. There is also a paved route for the cars or bikes that are really not suited to slippy, bumpy roads which is about 200km long. The more challenging off-road route is 230km and is mostly gravel and dirt roads with a few more challenging sections. Obviously the more challenging bits can’t be too rough or the sidecar class wouldn’t be able to get through. I’m banking on that actually because I will be riding a 2009 Russian Ural with a sidecar loaded with a passenger. For my passenger, aka Monkey (as sidecar passengers are known), aka Navi-guesser…ahem, navigator, this will be her first rally like this. Well…truth be told…it will be my first off-road race too but I have done rally style events before. At least I have some previous experience off-roading in both cars/trucks and motorcycles. Now at the time of writing this, Lawrence tells me that there is only one other bike entered in the sidecar class. I guess that means I’m looking at a 2nd place trophy! LOL

Simon Pavey - Overland Adventure Rally

Simon Pavey

What also makes this event interesting is that thanks to BMW Canada, the rather well known Simon Pavey (7-time Dakar finisher and UK-based BMW GS Training instructor) will be one of the guest speakers. You may also remember him from “The Race to Dakar” documentary which covered the challenges surrounding the Dakar Rally as actor & world motorcycle adventurer Charley Boorman attempted to tackle the race for the first time.

Rene Cormier - Overland Adventure Rally

Rene Cormier

Another guest speaker is less well known globally but his accomplishes are vast as another who crossed the world (in nearly every direction) on a motorcycle. Perhaps he will tell about the times he was shot at  while sleeping under his motorcycle in the USA (he woke to the sound of gun shots and gas pouring on him thanks to a bullet piercing his fuel tank) and the time he took gun fire from shady guards at a check point in Africa. Ya…really!

If you’re interested in a copy of the flyer, just click this link.

If you want the full details of the event, click here.

Actually…just register by clicking here.

Safe Driving is No Accident!

Crash

It’s that time of year again folks…more lovely weather and  more crashes on our roads. Cars, trucks, motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians are all seeing a dramatic increase in crashes. Some injuries are quite serious, some are life-threatening…some are fatal.

We are all ‘road users’ regardless of our chosen form of travel and we all have a responsibility to be safe out there. Even if you’re a pedestrian, its your responsibility to make sure that no vehicles are coming before stepping out onto the street. Stop texting while you walk folks…you’re putting yourself at risk of being hit by a car, motorcycle, truck or bicycle. You can control that by paying attention and looking looking around for traffic.

Motorcycle crashes are once again spiking right now and that seems to happen every Spring. However, that doesn’t make it acceptable just because it happens every year. More bikes equals more crashes. Drivers just aren’t used to seeing motorcycles yet. Lets face it, they haven’t seen many during the winter months and every time a driver hits a motorcycle, they always say the same thing…“I didn’t see them”. Did you even look? Sorry drivers, but when a car and a motorcycle collide at intersections, the driver is at fault 90% of the time. Open your eyes and look twice in each direction before entering an intersection or when turning from one road to another. Take a look at the first video below and you will see a car pulling out in front of me while I was riding.

Now before you think I’m placing all the blame for motorcycle crashes on hapless drivers, riders have a huge responsibility for their own lives and to ride safely. Most motorcycle crashes are single vehicle crashes…just them and in those cases, it’s 100% their own fault and mostly from taking corners too quickly. Keep in mind riders, you haven’t been out on your bike for many months and you need to clear the cobwebs out and it’s almost like you have to ‘re-learn’ how to ride again. Your riding skills are rusty and so is your ability to recognize dangerous situations. There is also a lot of sand and salt on the roads left over from winter snow clearing leaving the roads rather slippery.

You’re essentially invisible out there and you need to ride accordingly. Drivers have a hard time seeing motorcyclists (partially because they don’t bother to look twice and partially due to the design of their vehicles) and to make things worse, the human eye has a hard time gauging your closing speed. Please…slow down and ride smart. I know your itching to take your bike for a rip but there are race tracks you can go to, when you really want to ride fast and hard. Public roads are not the place for spirited riding. Of course the same needs to be said to drivers who can finally put their sports cars back on the road. Take it to the track!

Driver & Rider Training Courses or Private Instruction

Regardless of how long you’ve been riding or driving, it’s a good idea to take some refresher courses every now and then. It doesn’t matter how good you are, or think you are, you can learn more and be even better. Over time we forget stuff and become complacent. We forget that driving a car or riding a motorcycle is the one thing we do every day that can get us killed. So take some responsibility and hone your skills every once in a while. For a few hundred dollars, you’re investing in yourself and your own safety. If you’re in Greater Toronto Area in Ontario, touch base with me (www.shaundejager.com). I would be happy to provide some additional driver training and help you become a safer driver. If you’re a rider, please check out LearningCurves.ca and tell them I sent you.


^ Nearly hit by turning car


^ Driver runs red light

 

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Tire Talk – Running Away from Run Flats?

RunFlat - Self Supporting

Self Supporting Run Flat

Run Flat Tires (RFT’s) aren’t exactly new. In fact they’ve been around since the mid 1930’s when Michelin introduced a “semi-bullet proof” tire for the military. Although it performed as advertised, it was far too expensive to be considered for regular consumers. Over the decades, various types of RFT’s have been developed but they didn’t really take off until the last decade or so. Although, their popularity has dropped off somewhat of late, mostly because the perceived benefits are out-weighed by their very real downfalls.

Auxiliary Support Ring

Auxiliary Support Ring

There are two basic types of Run-Flat Tires; self supporting with thicker sidewalls and the auxiliary support setup, which had a special wheel equipped with an inner support ring that took the weight of the car if you got a flat.

The inner support ring took a lot of abuse though and if you got a flat you had to replace everything…the wheel and the tire. Most of these setups have become obsolete mostly because of the insanely high replacement costs. As such, the self supporting run-flat has become the most popular. Now I say “popular” rather loosely because Run Flat Tires only make up 1% of the entire market place.

From a consumer point of view, not having your trunk space wasted by a spare tire was a real bonus (especially since the likelihood of having a flat tire is pretty rare for most drivers). Most automotive manufactures though who adopted run-flats advertised them as a safety feature. Lets face it though, if a car company wants their consumers to adopt a new technology or feature of any kind, the best way to do is to market it as a safety feature. There are a couple ways that you could say it is a safety feature though in that if you get a puncture, and for whatever reason don’t realize it, the tire is less likely to fall apart, which could lead to difficulty controlling your vehicle. It also reduces the chance of you being stuck on the ride of the highway having to either change your tire or wait for your auto club to come get you. Being stuck on the side of the road certainly isn’t safe and regardless of if you change the flat tire yourself or wait for help, you’re going to be there for a while.

The downside though is that if you do lose air pressure in your Run Flat Tire, they have a limited range of about 50miles (or 80km) and must be driven at limited speeds of about 50mph (80km/hr) just like a good ole regular spare tire. Exceeding those limits could result in even more costly damage. This is why vehicles equipped with RFT’s needed to be equipped with air pressure warning sensors or the driver may not be aware that they had a flat (by design, it was rather hard to tell visually if your RFT was actually flat). Low tire pressure is actually pretty dangerous and that’s why all new cars are regulated to have an air pressure warning system equipped by the manufacturer.

This doesn’t sound all that bad though really. The tire will last a while so you can get off the road and to a service centre, you’re less likely to lose control of your car, and you have much more precious trunk space. But there is more to consider…they generally wear out faster and therefore need to be replaced far more often. This was such a problem that Honda and BMW had to settle out some class action lawsuits. They are very expensive to replace (30% or more expensive than regular tires) and they are also more stiff, often more noisy at highway speed, more prone to premature failures (in some cases anyway) and provide less fuel economy (again in some cases).

Ok…to me, this is starting to sound like more of a hassle. Honda seems to think so too and has stopped equipping their cars with Run Flat Tires altogether. Owners of Acura’s RL, and the Honda Odysseys claimed unreasonably low tire life and unexpectedly high tire replacement costs. This is becoming a common complaint especially for BMW and MINI owners because now all their cars come with RFT’s and ONLY RFT’s. They don’t even give you a choice anymore. Well, there is still a choice and that’s to not buy their vehicles unless they start offering the model you want with regular tires.

StrandedNow most people don’t drive too far outside of the city but I do and sometimes I end up much father away from a suitable tire centre than the limited range of a run-flat will allow for me to reach. So now I need an auto club membership. Sure most new cars come with roadside assistance but most of those only allow you to be towed to the nearest dealership. Well that could be hundreds of miles away and would totally destroy my road trip. It’s not like I can just drive to a Ma & Pa garage because they aren’t trained to handle a flat RFT. You can’t just fix them (for about $20 like a normal tire), you have to replace them (for about $500) and odds are, no small town service centre is going to be able to assist. Trip over…end of story.

Lots of consumers are way beyond fed up with the high replacement costs and premature wear of their run-flats and are looking to replace them with regular tires. Sure this can be done but in some cases, like those with BMW’s and MINI’s, the company claims that the suspension has been adjusted to compensate for the stiffer RFT’s and changing them to normal tires will void your warranty. It’s also important to note that if you lease your car which is equipped with run-flats, you are expected to return it with run-flats installed. However, many people who’s warranty has expired, and aren’t leasing, have changed them over to ‘normal’ tires and many have reported improved handling, performance, less road noise and more comfort. Nobody that I’ve heard about has stated that they’ve had any negative effects flipping over to none run-flat tires.

So why the hell is BMW insisting that ONLY run-flats be equipped on all their new cars? Because it’s more convenient for them…not you. Sure they say it’s safer and because you don’t have to carry a spare tire, that you save some weight. Yet they don’t tell you that RFT’s by design are heavier and decrease your fuel economy by 1% to 2%. Not all BMW’s come with only Run Flat Tires though, the exception is the “M” badged performance cars. Why? Simply because regular tires perform better.

As a long time BMW owner, I can’t say I’m happy about the direction that they’ve taken. I guess it will be a while before I buy a new 3-series…or I’ll have to save up so I can afford a new M3 🙂

Click here for more Tire Talk articles and drive safe out there.

Sharing the Road with Trucks

Have you ever heard the saying “If you bought it…a truck brought it”? Well it’s true and like it or not, massive trucks are out there and you’re going to have to learn to share the road with them. Yes YOU! Most drivers have a pretty low opinion of truckers and much of that comes from fear and simply not understanding them. By them I mean not only the truckers but trucks themselves. We’ve all heard the horror stories of wheels flying off, drivers falling asleep thanks to the long hours they drive each day and how they fake their log books. Sure there are some bad apples out there and I can’t blame you for not respecting those ones but they are the exceptions, not the rule. Not every trucker is faking their logbooks, nor do they all fall asleep at the wheel and contrary to what you might think, they are not out to run you off the road. You fear the few. You don’t understand any of them though and it’s not everyday that a trucker puts you in harms way. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

Every day, every trucker out there is put in harms way by someone driving a car and by doing so, the car driver puts themselves in harms way too without even knowing it. Oh just so we’re clear…most truckers don’t like most car drivers. Here’s a simple truth, all truckers drive smaller vehicles too, just like you, but most car drivers have never even sat in a big truck, let alone driven one. How could you possibly know what it’s like to drive a mile in their shoes? Truth is, you can’t but you really do need to know a few things about large trucks and truckers would like you to know them too. Before writing this article, I reached out to an online truckers forum so that I could hear some of their concerns about drivers.

So lets start off with the obvious…they are incredibly massive machines. Unlike your car, which may weigh a few thousand pounds, a fully loaded tractor trailer can weigh over 80,000 pounds. That’s a lot of mass to handle and they can’t maneuver nearly as well as you can. Nor can they stop on a dime. Saying they have the agility of a lethargic hippo wouldn’t be too far from the truth. At 65mph (104km/hr) their stopping distance is about the length of a football field. Something to keep in mind is the air brakes that trucks use. Unlike hydraulic brakes used on passenger vehicles, which engage almost immediately when you stomp on the brake pedal, air brakes have a short lag time. Its about one second. Lets do some basic math – at 65mph, you are traveling at about 95ft per second. Average human reaction time can be anywhere from 0.5-1.5sec. Lets take the lower number but that means when a trucker reacts to a situation and slams on the brakes, he’s already traveled about 142ft before the brakes actually start engaging. Now add on about 455ft for the truck to actually come to a stop and overall it’s a whopping 597ft (182m). The average car can stop in less than half that distance. New braking systems are currently being developed to shorten the stopping distance of large trucks but they will never stop as quickly as a car.

The moral here is that you should never lag around in front of a large truck. Ok ok, nobody likes sitting behind trucks, you can’t see past them and they can’t see you either (more about that later), so you want to pass them. Go for it but once you do, don’t just pull in front of them leaving only a couple car lengths between you and the front of the truck. You’re putting yourself in harms way and for the love of all that you hold dear, do NOT dive in front of a truck and then hit the brakes! You’re just begging to end up as paint on their grill. Oh and just so you know folks, if you dive in front of a truck and slam your brakes, and you get hit as a result, you will probably be charged with Careless Driving for having caused that crash (and it really pisses them off when drivers do that). Now before you think that you will just be able to talk your way out of causing that crash, many truckers now have digital dash-cams mounted on their windshields to capture video evidence of what really happened in a crash.

Now lets talk about blind spots. Once again, they are absolutely massive and odds are, you have no idea just how big they are, where they are, or how to spot them. Unlike the average car, a large truck has four large blind spots. As you can see from the diagram below, any one of these blind spots can hide at least one vehicle in it. In efforts to educate drivers about them, they are being called “No Zones”, places around the truck where you should not be hanging out.

"No Zones"

“No Zones”

Once you enter one of these large blind spots, you no longer exist in the truckers consciousness. As you can see, the most dangerous places to be is either beside of or in front of a large truck. The real sneaky one is the blind spot on the right side. Look closely and you will notice that if you are directly beside the cab or just slightly forward of the front of the truck in the lane to the right, you are invisible. Now some trucks have windows in the passenger side door so they can look down and through it to see if someone is there but that’s a small window and the driver may still not see you. Some trucks also have a blind spot mirror mounted on or near the front fenders to open up that blind area. It’s important to note though that not all trucks have those mirrors or those little windows in the doors. You have to look for them. So keep in mind that if you are behind a  large truck and want to pass them, you are basically going from one blind spot into another, into another.

Another trucker asked me to extend a warning to those of you who like to toddle along in the middle lane directly beside a truck or directly in front of one. The middle lane is a truckers “passing lane” and also used to make a safe space for others who are trying to merge on to the highway. By law all drivers must slow down and change lanes away from emergency vehicles who are on the shoulder. Truckers also do this for any vehicle on the shoulder to make things safer for whomever is stuck there. Cabs and trailers all have turn indicator lights on them and there is no excuse for a driver to not see that a truck needs to change lanes. Unlike many car drivers, truckers don’t change lanes without good reason. There’s no joy in it for them. If their signal is on, they need to move over…sometimes quite urgently. Get out from beside them and do so quickly (either slow down and let them in or speed up and get past them). If you just sit there and that truck is forced to move over, you risk getting side-swiped by the cab or crushed under the trailer or the trailer wheels. For those of you who are trying to merge on the highway, wondering why that massive truck won’t move the hell over and let you in, it’s probably because someone is driving beside them in the other lane and the truck is now pinned in that right lane.

When I realize that a truck needs to change lanes, I  get out of their way, period.  Sure I could just arrogantly sit there and think “This is MY spot” but I risk being the meaty ingredient in a mangled metal sandwich. Additionally, if I’m behind a truck and I see that nobody is letting the trucker change lanes, I will move over to the lane they want to get into, slow down just a little and make a hole for them. Kinda like a blocker, ensuring they can change lanes safely.

Much of this just comes down to being a courteous driver but it also comes down to self preservation. When you drive near large trucks and hang out in their blind spots, you are putting yourself and others at risk. It’s a matter of “right of weight” really, not “right of way” and there is no point being dead right now is there. So please drivers, give these truckers a lot of space. They work damn hard to deliver all the stuff you need or want to buy in life.

If you’re a trucker reading this…remember that most cagers have no idea about any of this stuff. Understand also that despite how it may look at times, car drivers aren’t really suicidal. They just don’t know any better. If you forward this on though, hopefully less drivers will blindly hang out in your blind spots or put you (and themselves) at risk.

Tire Talk – Beware of Your Spare

Time and time again, tow truck drivers are called to change someone’s flat tire.

Now you wouldn’t think this is a big deal and it really isn’t…but some tow truck drivers see some potential safety and liability issues with that, especially when on the side of the highway and when your spare tire is a ‘space saver’ tire or ‘doughnut’ as opposed to a full sized one.

Flat TireNow most vehicles come with a spare tire of some sort, unless you are sporting “run-flats”, which I will talk about in another article. Some vehicles have a full sized spare but most only have a space saver tire, which is really just for emergency use only. There are a few things you should understand about your spare tire, especially the space savers.

1. They aren’t designed for highway use. The space saver tires are only rated for 80 km/h so taking them up to normal highway speeds could result in the tire overheating and failing. If that happened, you would once again be stranded on the side of the highway but this time you wouldn’t have a spare to lean on.

2. Space saver tires have a limited range of 80km to 150km depending on the manufacturer. Trying to drive it longer could result in another tire failure.

3. They have a much lower load capacity. The spare space saver tire should only ever be used on the rear of a vehicle. Most of your vehicle’s weight is in the front and because the spare tire is inflated to +/- 60psi, they can’t handle major impacts from dips in the road or potholes. They also aren’t very good at handling high lateral loads (hard cornering). This could result in the bead failing and a rapid loss of tire pressure.

By using a spare on the front, you could once again be risking a serious blowout and some manufacturers recommend that you NOT use the space saver tire on the front. Ideally, if you have a flat front tire, you should install the spare on the rear and move the good rear tire to the front to replace the flat. Not exactly practical because this would take you an hour or so to do and it would certainly not be safe to do this on the side of a highway.

4. It’s probably expired. Most people don’t realize that tires do in fact have a shelf life, which is about three to five years. This holds true not only for your spare but also your normal tires, too. Each tire has a four digit stamp on it indicating the week and year that the tire was manufactured. For example a stamp reading “0405” would mean that the tire was made in fourth week of 2005. Once a tire passes three years of age (used or not), the rubber begins to harden. Not only does the tread wear out significantly faster but once again, the tire is at risk of suffering tread separation. If the tire is old enough were cracks can be seen on the sidewall, it’s junk and far too old to safely use.

Tread seperation - Tow TruckIt’s for these reasons that I wouldn’t bother to change a flat tire with the spare that their vehicle came with. If I know the spare tire is old, or if it’s a flat front tire requiring replacement, it would be irresponsible and dangerous to put the spare tire on.

Instead, I would just call my auto club and get towed to a local tire replacement/repair centre.

Click here for more Tire Talk articles and drive safe out there.