This is a post about driving safely. I’m a well trained driver but I still drive badly sometimes so, if you read this, prepare for a bumpy ride!
“Put your seat belt on, I want to try something. I’ve seen it in a cartoon, I think I can do it!”
A few months ago I was driving down a dual carriageway when I came across a car sitting in the overtaking lane. There were no other cars nearby so I flashed my lights for them to move over but they ignored me. For the next mile or so, the road was quite windy as it went down a steep hill so I thought I’d wait till we got past this area before pressurising them to pull over. Once we got to the bottom of the hill and we got to a three lane section of the road, they still didn’t move over. I started to consider undertaking when the car finally moved out of the way. I kicked down my accelerator, partly to get around them quickly and partly to let them know I was annoyed. As I did so, I noticed a police speed check van on the bridge about 400 metres away, I checked my speedometer which read about 87 mph so I hammered the brakes to get me down to around 77 mph. As I sailed closer, I looked up at the policeman who continued aiming his radar camera towards where I’d come from.
Sure enough, a week or so later, a letter from the police arrived saying my car had been recorded doing 83 mph in as 70 mph zone and they wanted to know who the driver was. I wrote back saying it was me and, after a few days passed, another brown envelope arrived offering me an option to take part in a driver safety course rather than get points on my licence. I decided to take up the invitation. I went on the course today so I thought some people might find it interesting to hear about some of what happened on it.
I probably sped a bit to get to the course; not much, just a little but, a few days ago, I’d been in a situation where I’d pulled off from a set of traffic lights and the driver in the lane to my left started to race me. I was sure my car was faster so, rather than just let it go, I raced him. Ahead of us was a car parked in my lane so I checked my mirror. I could see I was ahead of him so I pulled into his lane. I knew he wouldn’t like it but I thought “tough luck mate; you wanted to race and you lost”. As I pulled into his lane, the car that had been previously parked in my lane pulled into the left lane too, revealing another car parked ahead of him, so that both lanes of the road ahead were blocked. I had to slam down hard on my brakes; I felt my anti-lock system kick in and the car’s automatic braking system took over, bringing me to a very harsh stop. The car behind sounded his horn and drove close up behind me. As we passed the parked car, I pulled back into the right hand lane to continue on my route. Of course, the driver who’d raced me, passed me so I slowed down ready to confront him. He gestured at me and I stared at him; he looked around at me but, as he did so, the car in front of him came to a stop, which meant he only just managed to avoid going into the back of them.
* * *
“How do we learn?” David, the Driving Safety Instructor asked us. “We learn from bad experiences. However, sometimes bad experiences can kill you.” These words resonated with me as I remembered the “racing” incident.
A few minutes beforehand, I’d arrived at the council buildings where the course was to take place. About 30 people were sitting in silence in the foyer. I signed myself in, made a joke to one of my co-attendees which made us “course buddies”, and then we were directed to a room full of tables at angles to each other.
As the course progressed, I wondered if what we were touching on could get to the root of what makes people speed. This is some of what we covered.
There is a problem, we all know it, even if, thankfully, most of us haven’t experienced it, and it’s this. Every 6 seconds, someone is killed in the world in a road traffic accident and around 60 people are seriously injured. ( www.makeroadsafe.org ). Speed is logically a major factor in accidents that cause serious injury and death. I mean, if someone is hit in a modern car at 20 mph, they’re likely to survive without getting seriously injured. Most occupants of vehicles are well protected in modern cars so it’s not surprising to find out that a large proportion of those who die or get injured in accidents are bikers or pedestrians who get hit by cars. It was at this point that we homed in on the issue of community; that, by speeding, we are putting at risk people who we may care about.
Something happens when we get in a car; it’s almost as if we inhabit a slightly make-believe world. We feel like we can take risks, we become knights of the road, where we challenge others, become abusive to others and generally take our feet off of the ground and lose contact with reality. There weren’t any graphic photos or videos from real life crashes but we were shown a few. Here’s one that touched on the sense of community.
As you can see, when a crash happens, it affects many people, especially those we love. Maybe we become stigmatised, or lose our job and, consequently, our family home or, worse still, our family. Maybe we find the reality of damaging someone else’s life, or even killing them, kills a part of us that we’ll find unbearable to live with.
There are many consequences of crashing at speed, however, even though many of us are aware of the risks, we still do it. We listed the reasons and of, course, none of them tended to be justifiable. Even those “noble reasons”, such as taking someone to hospital in an emergency, were deemed unlikely to save that much time. So, in my mind, I was thinking that many of us speed because we kind of like it and think we’re going to get away with it.
Over the next 10 years, the world will focus on making it much harder to get away with speeding, with the introduction of satellite spy cams, cats eye cameras, digital speed cameras and many other detection devices. Many people believe that speed detection is about raising revenue for the government. However, whether that’s true or not, the reduction in deaths on the roads has been close to 30% (from around 3000 to 1800) over the last 10 years and much of that has been attributed to slowing people’s driving down. I’m not sure if that’s true but that’s what we were told.
A great deal of emphasis of the course was put on reducing speeds in urban areas; the obvious reason being that there are more pedestrians at risk here. Many of the course members felt it was OK to speed slightly at night time, however, but we were informed that a great proportion of accidents occurred between 11pm and 7 am as, of course, the chances of people either drink driving or drunk people falling into roads was far more likely during these hours.
Another factor that was focused on was the difference that driving at 40 mph would have compared to 30 mph in terms of stopping distances and damage to a human. In many incidents, the impact occurs before any braking takes place. This means that the chances of someone surviving being hit at 40 mph are almost zero whereas, at 30 mph, it is much higher. “The thing is, 30 mph seems so slow” cried the group (well it was more of a swelling murmur). I pointed out that, generally, most police forces allowed a 10% plus 2mph leeway and, given speedometers have to legally show higher speeds than are actually being driven at, that most of us could really drive at 35 mph on the clock (and not get prosecuted) which actually doesn’t feel too slow.
At higher speeds, the effect of speeding becomes more dramatic. Let’s say you’re going 70 mph and have to do an emergency stop. The distance you need to do that in, we’ll say is around 315 ft. (96 m). Well, if you were to try stopping from the same point at 80 mph, you’d hit the same spot where the 70mph vehicle would have stopped at 38 mph and, had you been doing 100 mph, you’d hit the same spot at 71 mph.
So if you want to curb your speed what can you do?
The first trick is to use cruise control, if you have it, the second thing to do is use a lower gear, e.g in town, use 3rd gear (it’ll have a negligible effect on fuel but it will make you keep your revs and speed down.) Another thing to do is drive with your window down so you can get a sense of your speed from the outside noise.
There were quite a few things that came up on this course that I didn’t know. Here are a few of them:
- A dual carriage way is not defined by having two lanes on a road but by the fact that there are two roads separated by either a barrier or a verge. So, if you’re driving on a two lane road in a car at 70 mph, you can be done for speeding because the national speed limit may actually be 60 mph there as, technically, it’s a single carriageway.
- That, if you drive for your job, your employer must provide you with a policy in terms of your driving, possibly some training and most, likely, a contract relating to your driving for them, otherwise they may also be liable to prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter Act.
- Want to save on fuel? Then drive smoothly, only fill your tank halfway, keep your tyres at the correct level and you will probably do 10-20% more miles per gallon (annually saving someone who drives 12000 miles per year between £250-£500)
- Most of us know to keep a gap of around 2 seconds between our vehicle and the one in front but, “when there’s wet on the floor, make it 4”.
- Look properly when pulling out onto a main road. Recent experiments have shown that the third look we do (especially to our right in the UK) is done so fast, and not far enough to the right, that we don’t really see any fast approaching threats, especially small object such as cyclists, motorbikes and drunk skateboarders.
So you think you’re good at paying attention? Well check out this video.
Finally, this wasn’t mentioned on the course, but many of us are really tempted to deal with our mobile phones as we drive. I’m not talking about taking a call on a hands-free device but dealing with a text or looking up a number. I’m not sure why we can’t wait but we often feel compulsed not to. However we are 23 times more likely to crash when texting. One option for those of you with smart phones, is to get an app that will read out your texts to you and let you dictate a reply (sadly that bit often doesn’t work very well) but if you don’t have an app that works and you get that urge to deal with a text etc… then try to force yourself to wait until you can pull up somewhere as so many people are swerving when they do this and many accidents are occurring due to this kind of distraction. Really, the phone makers and car companies should be working together to make communication in cars much more integrated, given the seriousness of this problem
I had spent a year after passing my test practicing driving, including being taken out for lessons by a police driver and, at the end of the year, I passed my advanced driving test. Even so, I know there’s a lot I don’t know about driving and this course reminded me of that. At the beginning of the course, one of the instructors asked us what we hoped to get out of it and I had facetiously said: “I’d like to get out of here!” but actually, by the end of it, I wanted more and felt sad it was over. For those of you in the UK who’d like to do further driving training, here are a couple of useful links.
I hope you found this interesting.
Be careful out there!
This video was also shown on the course
This one is very graphic but a warning for those who think the risks of texting while driving are low