Sunday, June 17, 2007

Take Time To Do Things Correctly

Here are examples of some of the verbal exchanges I have with my students almost daily:

Exchange #1

“You forgot to buckle your seat belt.”

“Sorry, my bad!”

Exchange # 2

“Did you check your blind spot before making that lane change?”

“Oops! Forgot!”

“Good thing I was checking.”

Exchange #3

“You really ought to shift to park before attempting to exit the car.”

“Oh, Oh!

I see kids neglect small, easily performed tasks ever day. Sometimes they forget to adjust the mirrors. Sometimes they forget to signal a turn. It’s always something.

When I call them on these errors some laugh and say I’m being too picky. They think their omissions are piddling and forgivable. When I make them practice the same maneuvers over and over again some complain it’s boring.

Yeah, the little things we’re supposed to do to ensure our safety are quick, easy, and boring. That does not mean they are unimportant. Repetition is the mother of learning. Repeated practice of the correct procedures ensures that the kids do the right things automatically without taking too much time to think them over.

Sometimes there’s no time to think. Sometimes you can get more time if you take time to think. If you don’t believe me, ask the Foreman family.

Friday, May 25, 2007

More Restrictions On Teen Drivers

Three states are currently enacting laws to restrict teen drivers and save them from themselves.

The Illinois House unanimously approved a bill Wednesday that puts new restrictions on teen drivers, including: A longer learner's permit stage (up to nine months from three); increased curfews for night-time driving (with some exceptions); harsher penalties for having too many passengers (who aren't family members); six hours of on-road driving instruction in schools (instead of just on simulators); harsher penalties for street racing. The new rules would take effect Jan. 1. The bill has already passed the state Senate and awaits the governor's approval.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano signed a law this week that pretty much parallels what Illinois is doing: It creates a tougher curfew period for teen drivers (with exceptions) and limits the number of passengers to one for teen drivers (again, excluding immediate family members). Those who break the law would be hit with big fines and possibly jail time.

In Maine, the legislature is preparing to vote on a bill that would ban anyone under 18 from using a cell phone — even with a hands-free device — while driving. Teens convicted of a first offense will pay a $50 fine. Repeat offenders will be hit with stiffer penalties - up to $250.

While teens in all three states may complain about these restrictions, studies have shown they are more at risk than older drivers.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Volvo Jr Driving school @Legoland

That's right. Get them started early. It's never too soon to learn the rules of the road.

Three years ago this month, Lego and Volvo partnered to offer children the opportunity to drive electric-powered vehicles made to look like LEGO bricks with Volvo vehicle cues within the controlled environment of the drive course. The rules of the road are emphasized, as well as good safety habits such as buckling up seatbelts. LEGOLAND®’s popular Driving School (ages 6 to 13) and its Jr. Driving School (ages 3 to 5) were reintroduced to carry Volvo's name and reputation for safety.

Some may complain that we should allow kids to play without constraining them with rules. To that I answer - playing is learning. Exposing these little ones to the right way of doing things won't hurt them in the least. Heaven knows they're subjected to examples of poor driving technique everyday.

"Through LEGOLAND, we are going to bring driving safety to children and parents alike," said Vic Doolan, president and chief executive officer of Volvo cars of North America at the opening. "By encouraging safety as a learned behavior at an early age, we will all benefit in the years ahead. It’s never too early to learn the rules of the road."

Who knows. These kids may even shame their folks out of their sloppy driving habits.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Backing Up Is Hard To Do!

Listen to the Oldies stations and you'll hear Neil Sedaka complain about this all the time. Oh, I'm sorry. He sings about breaking up. Well they're both difficult, but once you get the hang of backing up, you can scratch that off your worry list.

Actually, reversing is not tough, however reversing in a straight line often frustrates most beginners and their parents.

Why? Well maybe because the correct backing stance is uncomfortable, or the view out the back window seems weird, maybe the car is moving too fast, or perhaps someone believes that one has to steer in the opposite direction of where one really wants the car to go. The latter misconception thwarts most new drivers.

Follow these steps to ease the burden of backing:

1. Find a nice quiet intersection where the streets join at a 90 degree angle. Have your teen pull into the curb (about a foot or two away from the vertical portion). Make sure your vehicle is parallel to this curb as it's much easier to back up in a straight line if you're already set up for it by driving straight forward. You're going to have her back straight along the curb and stop just before the cross walk.

2. Have your teen pivot her upper body to the her right so she can look over her right shoulder and out the back window. The rear view mirror should not be used for this maneuver. She should grip the steering wheel at the 12 o'clock position with her left hand. Make sure she doesn't succumb to the natural tendency to tilt the steering wheel to the left while in this stance. Initially she'll have to take extra care to separate left-hand movement from movement of her right shoulder and her head.

3. Reverses should be executed slowly. Speed should be controlled with the brake almost exclusively. Your teen should rarely have to use the accelerator for this. Her right foot should always be covering the brake.

4. Tell her to steer in the direction she wants the back end of the car to go. Make this even easier by eliminating all references to right or left. Instead she will now steer towards either the curb or the middle of the street. Steering corrections should be minuscule. The bigger the corrections, the harder it is to maintain steady course.

Just remember - have her keep her eye on the course, move slow and steer straight. She'll pass this event on the road test with flying colors.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Instructor's Brake

I hate using my instructor's brake.

I hate it because when I was 15 years old my driving instructor absolutely loved to use his. He used his brake the same way a dog-handler uses a choke chain. I'd be driving along and out of the blue the car wouldn't respond to me anymore. When that happened I'd think I was not pressing on the gas pedal correctly, so I'd press harder and rev the engine a bit more than Mr. Nuccio liked. Then he'd get upset. Then I would get even more upset.

Thus I use my instructor brake only to keep my students from hitting things when it appears that they are on a collision course. I use it quite a bit, but never as gratuitously as my instructor did back in 1971.

Yesterday afternoon was rather warm - over 80 degrees. You know how you get kind of sluggish and dopey when the temperatures jump, especially when you're acclimated to 65 degrees.

The higher temps just put Devlyn, my first student, into a torpor. Well not exactly a torpor, but she wasn't really at her best. She was slow in spotting a few dangerous situations and slow to react once she recognized them.

I ended up using my brake about 4 times in 90 minutes with her behind the wheel. That's not something I usually do even with the worst of my drivers. With Devlyn this was even more extraordinary because up until yesterday she was always on the ball.

"What's wrong with you today kiddo? I'm helping you out a bit too much."

"I'm sorry. I'm just so tired. This heat is killing me."

"That makes sense. Did you know when you're tired you tend to look down and to the right? You need to force yourself to look through the upper half of that windshield. Pick up on those cars stopped up ahead so you can slow down softly and I don't have to do your braking for you."

"OK. I'm sorry."

"Don't sweat it. Now you know why "Aim High In Steering" is so important. And you know how it feels to drive when your tired. Now you know what you have to do to compensate. You've learned some important lessons today."

Really a good session. I'm glad I could point these things out while she was training with a safety net.

Yep, a safety net beats a choke chain any day.

Friday, May 11, 2007

What do You Do When...Road Debris is in Your Path

Houston's ABC 13 Eyewitness News reported yesterday on the death of a motorcyclist:

"A piece of debris on the East Loop played a role in a fatal accident Wednesday night. A motorcyclist drove over a large wooden board, sending his bike into the air and causing the rider to hit the guard-rail. He died at the scene. "

Wherever you drive you will find debris on the road posing a hazard to you and other drivers. Objects lying in the road can cause serious crashes, injuries, and deaths. Road debris comes from a variety of sources. Equipment can break loose from vehicles, objects being transported may fall out of truck beds or off the roofs of cars, and tire treads may separate, placing debris on the roads.

Objects ranging from blown tires and tire treads to drive shafts, bumpers, hoods, leaf springs, brake parts, and dislodged cargo have all contributed to serious crashes. One report mentions that even off beat items such as ladders are commonly found in the roadway.

At highway speeds even a relatively small object such as a hand tool, spare tire, tarpaulin, or tie-down strap can be deadly.

Every state and major city has some version of a "debris patrol". In the Houston area six Texas Department of Transportation drivers patrol every day. Their main job is looking for debris. But even then, they say the problem doesn't go away.

Texas DOT's John Zientek explained, "It's a daily battle. I'm pretty sure that when I get back out there, there will probably be another good amount to pick up just on the same area I just went through."

What actions can you take to avoid junk on the road that may hurt you or damage your vehicle?

1. Brake if traffic permits.

2. If braking is not an option you can elect to swerve around the debris, strike it a glancing blow, or drive over it.

3. If confronted with something slippery such as an oil spill or a truckload of smashed pumpkins maintain your speed and roll right through the mess. Don't brake. Don't accelerate. Don't try to get fancy and swerve around it. An abrupt change in speed on a slippery surface will probably send you into a skid. Just keep on going, even if there are crates in your way.

4. If you come upon something of considerable mass like a freezer unit, a chest of drawers or a stuffed elephant you have a major challenge. You definitely don't want to hit such things squarely, but if you brake suddenly you risk a rear end collision. A sudden swerve to avoid may put you in conflict with traffic that is on your flanks.

You will have to make a quick mirror and blind spot check and go around if possible. If you're skillful enough (and lucky as well) you may just come out of the situation unscathed.

5. If you can't execute the swerve, hit the junk off center. The glancing blow might move the object out of your way causing only bumper or fender damage.

6. When faced with mystery debris like a paper bag or a cardboard box you may gamble on straddling them if they appear to be small enough. If you win, no harm done. If you lose the debris may rip through your oil pan, put your car in the shop, and you in the hospital.

I once sent twenty-four Pepsi cans rolling all over Quentein Road in Palatine while playing this game.

Be careful out there.