In Massachusetts You are Meant to Wave to Drivers at Crosswalks!

We presume the instruction for pedestrians to ‘wave’ before going over crosswalks in Great Barrington, MA, means they should make eye-contact with the drivers of approaching vehicles.  But will it work?

On each end of the crosswalks in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, is the instruction for pedestrians to 'Stop, Look, and Wave!!
‘Stop, Look & Wave’ is the instruction on crosswalks in Gt Barrington, MA. (Copyright image, 2018.)

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A Day of Driver Training at the New York State Police Driving Academy

Fellowship is a very appropriate word for the friendship and allegiance between serving and retired police officers, in most parts of the world.

Since I officially moved to the USA, just over 15 years ago, I have had the great good fortune to acquire some excellent friends in American law enforcement.

Some years ago, through one by the name of Steve Kring, I spent a wonderful day on the police shooting range, in Boston, MA, where those who did not previously know it were taken aback to learn that the vast majority of British police officers at that time, like myself, were never armed at all, and that before that particular day I had never even held a handgun in my life.  Such are the differences (and each approach was, of course, correct for its own country).

Signs for the New York State Police Driver Training Academy
New York State Police Driver Training Academy.  (Copyright image.)

Another massive difference in the job between the two countries lies in the type and duration of police driver training, the latter part of which — specifically defensive and advanced driver training for corporations — is now my professional field.  So it was with great delight that I accompanied my good friend, retired T/Sergeant and EVOC instructor Tom Winterstein, to spend an October day at the New York State Police driver training facility, located on a former airfield.

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Jerry Darby, T/Sgt. & Division Safety Officer Matt Daley, Eddie Wren [ADoNA] and Tom Winterstein.  (Copyright image)
With Tom and I that day were retired Captain and former Division Safety Officer Jerry Darby, who originally introduced the current Emergency Vehicle Operators’ Course standards to the New York State Police, and Michael Flynn, retired BCI Investigator and former EVOC Instructor.

The chief instructor was Matt Daley who was an excellent host and was kind enough to take me on two demonstration laps of the full course — dramatic stuff.  When we got back to my companions, they were quick to ask whether he’d managed to scare me but his answer was ‘no’ and that I’d been too busy videoing the drive.  Apparently, the honour of my own UK police driver training had been upheld! 🙂

Photograph of the next car in line for the slalom part of the training course at New York State Police Driver Training Academy.
Waiting for the off!  The next car in line for the slalom part of the training course. New York State Police Driver Training Academy.  (Copyright image.)

New York State Police are at the top end of driver training for law enforcement officers in the USA, with each officer getting up to two weeks of training.

A New York State Police SUV ready to commence the slalom traing run after the one in the distance has cleared the course.
Ready to commence the run in an SUV after the one in the distance has cleared the course. New York State Police Driving Academy.  (Copyright image.)

For NYSP cadets, the driver training involves learning the various sections of the course and then putting it all together into a fast and accurate drive which is against the clock.

A New York State Police SUV on the slalom section of their training course.
A New York State Police SUV on the slalom section of the course at their driver training academy. (Copyright image.)

A saddening part of the day occurred during of our visit to the building used for all indoor aspects of the courses.  On one wall were the photographs of seventeen NYSP troopers who had been killed while driving on duty since the year 2000.

As a surprise “gift” from Tom on a previous occasion, I have also been lucky enough to get a full tour of the main NYSP training academy in Albany, NY, and I have therefore seen the overall hall of honor, where photographs of all troopers killed on duty since the formation of the NYSP are displayed.  Both were very sobering experiences.

As for the actual driver training, the big difference — apart from duration — between police training in the USA compared to my native Britain is that for whatever political reason, none of it can take place on public roads here in America.  That’s a great pity because it dramatically limits what can be taught in relation to maximizing safety, but that aside, what I experienced with the NYSP was extremely professional, the camaraderie was superb, and the whole thing made for an immensely enjoyable day.

My sincere thanks to everyone concerned.

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It is ‘Move Over OR Slow Down’ for Static Emergency Vehicles

On October 22, 2018, New York State Department of Transportation [#NYSDOT],  in a Facebook post, became yet another major body to publish a description of the ‘Move Over Law’ that can be seen as being too confusing.

Photo of a driver failing to move over, away from workers, even though it would have been easy to do so
A driver failing to move over, away from workers, even though it would have been easy to do so.  (Copyright photograph.)

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USA Commercial Trucking & SUV Fatalities Up Significantly

Despite the fact that data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Oct. 3 indicates highway fatalities declined overall in 2017 after two consecutive years of large increases, the agency added that highway fatalities in 2017 jumped significantly in the sport utility vehicle or SUV category and commercial trucking sector. Fatalities among SUV occupants climbed 3 percent, and deaths in crashes involving tractor-trailers jumped 5.8 percent.

Photo looking down on a fast-moving semi-tractor-trailer.
Semi-tractor-trailer.  Copyright image.

Clearly, the reduction in overall deaths is very much to be welcomed, however it still needs to be viewed relative to the USA, in the long-term, still being the poorest-performing of 30 developed nations.

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See the AASHTO article about the NHTSA figures.

Advanced Drivers of North America has joined the Road to Zero Coalition

Advanced Drivers of North America is pleased to have become a member of the Road to Zero Coalition [RTZ].

The Road to Zero Coalition logoAmong the many worthy goals of RTZ are those shown below on which we at Advanced Drivers of North America [ADoNA] place particular focus and in most instances we are in a position to promote or advise upon.

Photograph of the scene of a fatal road crash in the USA.
A fatal road traffic crash (not “accident”) which I came across by chance on my travels in the USA. Copyright image.

Any bold, italicized text has merely been highlighted by ADoNA for particular importance, whereas anything in [square parentheses] is a comment that has been added by us:

  • Reaching zero deaths will require policies that reverse course on the trend in many states to roll back safety laws, such as the trend toward higher and higher speed limits. 
  • We don’t need to wait for the promised future safety benefits of autonomous vehicles [Indeed, the time scale may be much longer than some of the promoters or optimists would have us believe].   We can save more lives now if we double down on policies already proven to reduce crashes. Research has already validated many effective strategies such as strong safety belt laws, photo enforcement, roundabouts, and programs to reduce alcohol-impaired driving, yet not all communities have adopted them.
Photograph of two roadside memorials, on opposite sides of a rural road, and from two separate crashes.
Not one but two memorials, for two separate crashes on either side of this road at this one location in Illinois. Photo: Copyright 2012.
  • States and communities should be increasing their investments in the comprehensive approach required to get to zero fatalities, including but not limited to well-designed and well-operated infrastructure, strong and well-enforced safety laws, extensive public education and outreach, and more effective emergency response capability….
  • Infrastructure improvements, reduced speed limit and better laws, providing better protection for vulnerable populations and changing driver behavior have all helped Vision Zero NYC get closer to zero.
  • It is only when all stakeholders come together that road safety projects, policies and technologies can [achieve maximum efficacy and] be sustainable—ultimately saving lives….
Photo of a motorcycle traffic police officer in Buffalo, NY.
A motorcycle traffic cop in Buffalo, NY. (Copyright image, 2017.)
  • High visibility traffic enforcement coupled with public awareness campaigns help raise driver awareness and reduce unsafe behaviors….
  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of workplace fatalities. Employers can adopt and enhance road safety policies for employee drivers and fleets. They can also use health and safety promotion programs to get road safety information to all employees and their families. 
  • In large truck crashes where one or more deaths result from the crash, 88 percent of the time it is attributable to driver error by either the car or truck driver. Maintaining a safe speed and driving distance are critical, particularly when operating around commercial motor vehicles, which take longer to stop than a personal vehicle. 
  • Research and experience show that enacting and enforcing strong laws addressing driver behavior reduces crashes and save lives.
Photograph of a car that has just been in a collision. The airbags have inflated but are now in the process of deflating, and the car's two occupants are still in their seats, stunned.
This photo was taken no more than 2 seconds after the collision that triggered the airbags, which are now in the process of deflating. The driver and his passenger are still in the car, stunned. Possibly through distraction, the car driver had just collided with the back of a stationary truck — not an “accident,” an act of negligence; a collision. Copyright image.
  • Laws for occupant protection, child passenger restraints, teen driver safety, impairment and distraction work and states should take action now.  [In addition, at ADoNA — as part of the ‘extensive public education’ mentioned in the third bullet point, above — we strongly promote the need for vastly improved state drivers manuals, to match global best practices in this field, together with significantly improved student-driver training and testing. Until the eventual point in time when fully-autonomous, self-driving vehicles are the only mode, this will remain extremely important.]
Burning vehicle on the shoulder.  (Copyright image, 2012.)
  • Each day on average 100 people are killed and 6,500 more are injured in the USA in motor vehicle crashes. Combining strong safety laws with proven advanced vehicle technologies will be key to bringing down this preventable carnage on our roads.

It is time we all got together to help the USA move from being the long-term, least-safe of 30 developed nations, in terms of road deaths, to becoming one of the safest, and then on to the crucial goal of zero!

Visit the Road To Zero web page.

Will the USA Get Safer Road Signs? — The FHWA is updating the MUTCD!

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has announced this month (October 2018) that it is pursuing an update to the “Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways” — the MUTCD — in preparation for the future of automated vehicles and to afford states and local communities with more opportunities to utilize innovation.

Photograph of a "Bump" sign but the p is covered by snow.
Who knew that snow has a sense of humor? (Copyright image, 2013)

Continue reading “Will the USA Get Safer Road Signs? — The FHWA is updating the MUTCD!”

Autonomous Vehicles: Current Driver Assistance Features Assessed

While many people are eagerly anticipating the inevitable additional safety of autonomous vehicles, and others are wildly exaggerating how quickly this will all be available, it is apparent that none of it is truly imminent.

Rear three-quarter view of a Tesla Model S 85 sedan.
Good looking from any angle, a Tesla Model S 85;  a very enjoyable car to drive. (Copyright image.)

Indeed, as the first steps in just semi-autonomy, adaptive cruise control and active lane-keeping are only now getting detailed appraisal, yet these features are only the tip of the autonomy iceberg.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety [IIHS] has tested five cars that are available with these two systems.

A major issue was addressed by David Zuby, IIHS chief research officer, who said:  “Designers are struggling with trade-offs inherent in automated assistance.  If they limit functionality to keep drivers engaged, they risk a backlash that the systems are too rudimentary. If the systems seem too capable, then drivers may not give them the attention required to use them safely.”

This comment alone must give us all pause for thought about the extent to which drivers are going to overestimate the capabilities of various features which will increasingly be added to future cars.  Such overestimation is inevitably going to result in unnecessary deaths — seemingly a ‘Catch 22’ scenario.

U.S. Roundabouts can Create Risks and Confusion

On September 18, 2018, Maine DOT published the following wording and roundabout design on their Facebook page, but unfortunately the layout is unsatisfactory:

“It’s National Roundabout Week! Roundabouts have proven to be far safer than traditional intersections, but some people are still unsure of how to navigate them…” 

The problem is that, like most other states, Maine is apparently following the Federal Highways Administration [FHWA] ethos on roundabout construction but such guidelines deliberately ignore global best practices that have been developed over the fifty years in which the USA failed to build what are properly called “modern roundabouts.”  Sadly, the result is roundabouts that can have multiple potential safety flaws, just like the one in this illustration, as posted by Maine DOT.

The full layout of a new roundabout, as published by Maine DOT on September 18, 2018.

Continue reading “U.S. Roundabouts can Create Risks and Confusion”

Defensive and Advanced Driving Courses in Montreal, Canada

Whether it is due perhaps to long-term rigorous traffic enforcement, to the mandatory driver training for all young drivers, or to a good safety culture in general, drivers in Montreal certainly appear to have a better-than-average attitude towards Vulnerable Road Users [VRU], and in turn, this makes the city a pleasant place for training (or learning) defensive and advanced driving.

Cars in Montreal typically stop well before the stop line at crosswalks, creating greater safety for pedestrians.
As is common in Montreal, the cars in this photograph have stopped well before the crosswalk ‘stop’ line (rather than on it or even after it) which makes things much safer for pedestrians.  (Copyright image, 2018.)

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Tailgating Doesn’t Apply to ME Because I’m a Good Driver!

Many drivers tailgate in an extreme way and the vast majority of them believe that they are a “good driver” and they have got “good reactions” so they can handle it if things go wrong, but sadly this is simply not true.  This article is the “here’s why!

Heavy traffic on I-90 at Chicago.
Some serious tailgating in the right hand lane of I-90 at Chicago. It only needs two vehicles to bump and the traffic tailback that can result while the driving lanes are cleared, especially if someone is hurt, will delay thousands of people for a significant time. (Copyright image, 2012.)

Around the developed world, crashes due to tailgating comprise a significant proportion of all collisions.  For example, according to Highways England, one in eight of all crashes involve at least one vehicle running into the back of another, and this figure is likely to be similar in all developed nations.

The Reaction Time Myth

The first problem with published “average reaction times” was that up until very recently they were wrong — typically by a factor of two.

For example, in Britain — one of the world’s top two road safety countries over a period of decades — the estimated reaction time for all drivers is still embarrassingly being published as two-thirds of a second, and yet this 0.67 seconds idea has long since been shown to be only around half of the true figure, which is now typically said to be between 1.33 and 1.5 seconds.  One crucial necessity in establishing the recent, more accurate figures was that testing had to take place in a manner which didn’t pre-warn the people concerned that they were going to have their reactions tested.  The alternative gets them ready for the test and quite clearly invalidates the result.

Photograph of Eddie Wren in the WSO's seat of an RAF Hawk Jet, prior to a ten-plane full military exercise over northern England and central Scotland; 2003.
The writer of this article, Eddie Wren, in the Weapons Systems Operator’s seat of an RAF Hawk Jet, prior to a ten-plane full combat exercise — a display of the pilot’s “vehicle” control and concentration second to none. (Copyright image, 2003.)

Some people will point out that racing drivers and fighter pilots have vastly better reaction times than the 1.33 seconds mentioned above and this is entirely true, but that is because it is an essential element of their work.  It is also highly relevant to the fact that people in both of these categories are tired after relatively short races or flights, primarily because concentrating solidly, at that level, undeniably is hard work.

Away from the racetrack, however, it has been shown that racing drivers not only get more speeding tickets than regular drivers but also, crucially, that they have more crashes.[Source: IIHS]   At the very least, this indicates a big change of attitude between their race driving and their public road driving.

Even the squadron of pilots with whom I had the immense and intense privilege of doing what American people would refer to as a “Top Gun” flight — see the above photograph — readily admitted that the biggest cause of injuries they suffered while on the ground came from car crashes.  But how can that be?  How can men and women who regularly do extensive low-flying exercises just 250 feet above the ground while travelling at approximately 800 feet per second then go and get into a car and have a crash, somewhere between 30 and 70mph?  How does that make sense?

It’s because we don’t concentrate properly in a car. We know that’s what it is,”  I was told.

And interestingly I have had exactly the same “confession” when I have had conversations with various airline pilots, too, and a critical problem when drivers don’t concentrate enough is that reaction times get significantly longer than those of which a very alert, well-trained person is capable.  And this is why driving too close to the vehicle ahead can be very dangerous.

So — and here is a key point — if even fighter pilots and airline pilots don’t concentrate enough to stay safe when driving on public roads, what chance do we mere mortals have?

Interestingly, there is an answer.

Photograph of one pick-up truck following another at what might seem like a sensible distance, but because of a very wet road and heavy spray, the situation amounts to tailgating (meaning an indequate fiollowing distance).
Many drivers don’t even recognize this sort of situation as tailgating but for two combined reasons it is.  In addition, it is never safe to say “the vehicle ahead has to brake to a stop so I can brake at the same time,” because under some circumstances the vehicle ahead of you may collide with a static object such as a previous crash, a load that has fallen from a truck, or a broken down vehicle in the traffic lane, and so come to a violently sudden stop.  The driver of the following vehicle also has a dramatically reduced view beyond the vehicle being followed, in this case specifically because of the bad weather so there may be no advanced warning.  See the article text.  (Copyright image, 2018.)

What both of the above sets of pilots didn’t mention, although their words implied it, was that ultimately their real error while driving was – dare I say – even more important than concentration.  For the answer to what this is, see  The Golden Rule of Safe Driving.

Photograph of a moving block / platoon of heavy traffic moving at 35-40mph.
Another situation where many drivers inaccurately don’t consider themselves to be ‘tailgating’ but this three-lane ‘platoon’ was travelling around 35-40mph so the average reaction time of 1.33-1.5 seconds would require a minimum of a 90-foot gap PLUS the necessary braking distance, so around 160 feet (or just over half an American football field). Collisions in these moderate-speed conditions are relatively frequent but less likely to cause serious injuries. The drivers at fault will inevitably seek to blame other people, not themselves. (Copyright image, 2018.)

By far the most comprehensive and research-proven driver training in the world, in relation to public roads, is correctly known as the System of Car Control, more recently also known by the acronym of IPSGA.  It has been developed since 1935 and is reviewed and upgraded by UK police advanced driving instructors as necessary, on an annual basis.

Obtaining advanced qualifications for the typical police scenario both for cars and motorcycles requires a minimum of ten weeks (400 hours) of full-time training, and this, in turn is anywhere from 2-10 times longer than it takes to obtain a Private Pilot’s Licence [PPL] and 5-10 times longer than the driver training for most U.S. highway patrol officers and state troopers, so it is easy to see that this is no small undertaking.

At the police end of such training is the need to be able to drive at extreme speeds on public roads, far in excess of the speed limits, in absolute safety, and this explains the need for such a lengthy regime.  However, “the System,” as it is often referred to, was adapted and made available for civilian drivers over 60 years ago, in 1955, and — uniquely in the USA – this is what we teach on our courses at Advanced Drivers of North America [ADoNA], obviously at much shorter durations starting at one-day courses.  The key point here is that your corporate or governmental personnel are taught up to 120+ important aspects of safe driving (not including the aforementioned high speed aspects!), depending upon the duration of the selected courses.  And if you’ve ever been told that only five or six key items need to be taught/learned to make a driver safe, you may wish to urgently reconsider that seriously inadequate claim.

So — briefly but importantly going back to the avoidance of tailgating — hopefully, by now, everyone will already be aware that what used to be referred to as the two-second rule has effectively been dead and buried for the last few years.  Because of the research on the reaction times of typical adult drivers, a full one-second needs to be added to those previous and now out-of-date guidelines.

Photograph of a pick-up truck tailgating a car.
Just a few feet behind at over 70mph — this really is tailgating at its least intelligent and most dangerous.  With a gap of no more than 20 feet at this speed, the ridiculously inadequate *time* gap between the vehicles is less than one-fifth of a second.  (Copyright image, 2011.)

Driving as so many drivers do, just a few feet behind the vehicle ahead is simply a crash waiting to happen, and drivers in the second and subsequent vehicles are the ones who unquestionably will be to blame.

Oh, and if anyone has ever talked to you about how many “car lengths” to leave as a gap when following another vehicle, please throw that information straight into the garbage.  It has always been ludicrously inadequate and dangerous.

At ADoNA, we therefore teach a three-second* minimum following distance, and how to get it right easily and simply every time.  Importantly, however, and for reasons mentioned above, we also teach safe variations for all weather conditions and for poor visibility.

*Note: Some organizations recommend a minimum of four seconds but that’s alright.  Although the fourth second is not actually necessary for a normal driver, there is nothing wrong with extra safety margin.

A small 'platoon' of cars, all tailgating each other.
Several drivers in the cars shown here have put themselves into an aggressively unforgiving situation, only one aspect of which is the fact that they are all tailgating. (Copyright image, 2011.)

The final photograph with this article, above, brings additional dangers into the tailgating equation, and naturally these, too, are covered during the training.

CEO Eddie Wren’s driver training and traffic safety résumé

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As always, please be aware that this website is registered with the United States Copyright Office and that punitive legal action for damages may be taken against anyone who breaches our copyright. This, however, does not stop you from posting links to any of our pages, and you are welcome to do so.