These driving hacks will keep you, your passengers and those around you safe when you’re on the road
Seeing how some people drive, you have to wonder if they remember that a) driving is a privilege and b) a two ton vehicle is basically a weapon, when placed in the wrong hands.
I’ve seen too many lives thrown into complete chaos due to injuries that could have been avoided with a little more care behind the wheel. We’ve all been hearing ‘don’t text and drive’, ‘don’t drink and drive’… but what about some other ways you can keep yourself, and everyone else, safe and sound on the road?
1. Use The Dutch Reach To Avoid Hitting Cyclists
Now that Hamilton has bike lanes, this is a big one…
In the Netherlands, for years now, the ‘dutch reach’ has been a part of driver education and testing. It reduces the chance of ‘door prizes’, as they are termed, when a driver opens a door and hits a cyclist.
So how does it work? When you’re sitting in your car and you’re about to open your door with your left hand, STOP. Instead, reach over your lap and open the door with your right hand.
This shift forces you to turn your body and to look back quite naturally, giving you the chance to a see a cyclist before they taking a head over handlebars tumble. Even if you miss seeing the cyclist, you can’t open the door that wide so you may be able to reduce the impact of a collision, or eliminate it all together if the cyclist has time – and now space – to swerve.
Check out this video that explains how the Dutch Reach can save lives…
It’s a question of habit, but once you get into it, you’ll be doing like the dutch and keeping cyclists safer.
2. If You Blow A Tire, DON’T Brake
You’re driving along a side road at 80 km/hr when your tire blows. Instinct would dictate that you hit the brakes hard, while perhaps swearing blue murder, but in fact, you need to fight your instincts on this one.
If you hit the brakes, you’re going to fishtail and possibly lose control of your car, which could see you crashing into the ditch, into another car or off a cliffside. Don’t do that.
What should you do instead is hit the accelerator.
Yes, you read that right. Hit the gas, not like a getaway driver after a bank heist, but just enough to regain control of your car and steer straight. A few seconds should do the trick.
A blown tire will catch on the road if you hit the brakes from 80 km/hr to zero. You need to get control, then release the accelerator gently, steering the car to the side that has the blow out and slowly come to a stop as safely as you can.
3. Speed Up If You Skid
Luckily this is one they teach at driver’s ed, but it’s still easier said than done…
Like the blown tire above, a skid due to bad weather or slippery conditions is something that can quickly get out of control if you stand on your brakes, hoping to arrest the movement. You won’t. If anything, you will aggravate the skid.
Instead, if you start skidding, take your foot off the gas and steer into the skid until you regain control. Then gently accelerate into the skid. As your car straightens out, you add some gas to gain traction and control. Now you can brake (gently) if you need to. Otherwise, you can focus on slowing your heart rate and be on your way.
4. Pay Attention To Traffic, Not Just Signage
I’ve seen so many accident victims proclaim: “But he had a red light!” Okay, yes… He had a red light. But he didn’t see it or wasn’t paying attention, went right through said red light and hit your car, smashing in the driver’s side. It doesn’t make you feel better to be in the right if you have to rebuild your life due to a traumatic injury.
Even when you have a green light, you should be checking that cars are actually stopping. Never assume! Same for stop signs, and any other place where one vehicle is in some way yielding to another.
And by the way, this is doubly important for pedestrians. Just because there is a stop sign doesn’t mean that driver is stopping, so while signs matter, actions matter more.
5. Always use your headlights
Even in full sun, it’s a good idea to put on your whole headlight package, not just the running lights.
Ultimately, anything that increases your visibility is a good thing. After all, you don’t know if the other drivers are tired or distracted, or worse.
Having your lights on makes you that much more visible, regardless of the conditions or time of day.
6. Accessing A Lane, Zipper Style
You’re driving down a main road, and there is suddenly a closure of the right lane so everyone must merge left.
We’ve all been there: It’s called ‘summer time’ in Canadian cities, and we’ve all seen the different reactions people have to this kind of situation.
Drivers either change lanes as soon as possible, thinking they are doing a good thing and being polite. Then there are those that charge up the right lane and dash into the left, at the last minute, aggressively ‘budding’ in line.
Well, it turns out that these pseudo road bullies are doing it right. Okay, perhaps not the charging down the right side at full speed part, but what everyone should do is remain in their lanes and enter the new lane by taking turns, like the pieces of a zipper at the natural merge point.
This method is safer and – believe it not – actually faster than if everyone tries to politely change lanes in advance because traffic in both lanes is continues a more consistent speed.
7. If You Can See Your Car In Your Mirrors, Fix Them!
Blind spots are a leading cause of accidents during lane changes, as is checking blind spots and then swerving when someone else suddenly moves in front of you.
Newer model vehicles have mechanisms that can help warn you of a vehicle in your blind spot but it turns out, there is a simple, low tech way to achieve the same effect.
Position your side mirrors correctly. I bet you think you already know how to do this, but the reality is that the majority of drivers adjust their mirrors the wrong way.
Most of us adjust our mirrors so we can just see the edge of our car. This is wrong! Believe it or not, when a mirror is properly adjusted, you don’t see the side of your car, unless you are leaning all the way to the right, or all the way to the left.
Left side: Lean all the way to the left till you’re just about touching the glass of your window, and adjust your mirror till you see the edge of your car. When you sit normally, you shouldn’t see any part of your car in the mirror.
Left side: Now lean all the way so you’re basically in the centre of your care, then adjust your right mirror till you see the edge of your car. When you sit properly, now you can’t see the side of your car.
Rear view: This should be pointing right back, and most people already do this correctly.
When you implement these settings, you achieve a panoramic view of traffic around you. It takes a bit to get used to, but it works. Remember that no mirror setup should replace a quick over the shoulder glance.
Here’s a helpful video thanks to the Society of Automotive Engineers about how you’re probably adjusting your reviews mirrors and the proper way…
8. Don’t Ignore Your Parking Brake
This is one of those parts of the car that follows the adage: “use it or lose it”. If you don’t use a parking brake on a regular basis, it will stop working properly.
Parking—or emergency brakes—work on a system of steel cables. Unlike the hydraulic system of your regular brakes, these cables can, if not used regularly, become rusty or corroded. This makes them weaker and they could snap when you need them the most: during an emergency brake situation.
So use them regularly and keep them in good shape!
9. Keep Your Hands In The Right Place
If you went to driving school a few decades ago, you probably learned to place your hands at 10 and 2. It was the hand positioning that was recommended for drivers to use: imagining the steering wheel as a clock, you were supposed to place your hands where the 10 and the 2 would be.
Not so, anymore.
Studies have shown that the 2 and 7 position is more effective, particularly for long drives. It’s more naturally comfortable, and reduces the chances of your lobbing the wheel (over-correcting) in a dangerous situation. Having your hands in the exact same position as your wheels empowers a more fine-tuned control of the steering, particularly at high speeds.
10. Speeding Won’t Get You There Faster
You can argue with me; you can argue with the judge when you get hauled over for a speeding ticket; but you can’t argue with math.
Speeding even 10 km/hr over the limit doesn’t dramatically improve arrival times, particularly in high density / traffic areas.
It does, however, spectacularly increase your chance of having an accident.
A driver who is going on a 15 km trip in a 50 km / hr zone will not gain significant time by going 60 km/hr – at most 5 minutes is saved.
In the interim, you’ve opened yourself up to a traffic infraction, to say nothing of an accident because of your constant slowing down and speeding up. A nice, safe, consistent speed, as the turtle would do, will get you there in one piece.
And if you don’t believe me, I’ll tell you a story. I have a friend, Thomas (real name), who is one of those easy-going guys.
One day he drove me to the airport. I was already cutting it close to departure and was anxious to get there on time. If I had been driving, I admit, I’d probably have been speeding. Thomas, on the other hand, insisted on driving in the slow lane. “It’s faster,” he said, “and less stressful.”
I was ready to spontaneously combust.
On the way, we were passed by a Tesla in the fast lane. How I envied that Tesla. “If he were driving,” I thought to myself, “I’d get there on time.”
As coincidence would have it, ten minutes later, that very same Tesla pulled into the departures lane right in front of us. Despite driving in the ‘slow lane’ we arrived simultaneously, and my driver’s mood was as laid back as when we’d begun.
I took this lesson to heart and have since become a much less stressed driver, and always arrive on time.
Keeping yourself and others safe, while behind the wheel of a 2 ton vehicle, is and must always be a priority. But no matter what you do, accidents will happen so know your rights and what you’re entitled to by making a lawyer your next call after your doctor. It might make all the difference…
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