Backing / Reversing with a Trailer? A little bit of fun!

It is a sad fact that many drivers who have not had adequate training struggle to reverse without a trailer, let alone with one.

Indeed, many of the corporations for which we instruct experience an unduly high number of collisions when their personnel are backing or reversing a company vehicle — something we can swiftly rectify for you, while making your drivers safer all around.

Once again, however, technology is also coming to the rescue, and here’s a smile-making advertisement for one automaker’s offering:

Rear Fog Lights for Driving in the USA? What ARE They?

Please note:  All photographs here and in other articles on this website are taken from the passenger seat and with telephoto lenses, from much further away than the resulting images appear to show.  Safety is never compromised to get a photo.

Sadly, in the USA, matched pairs of high-intensity rear fog lights are not permitted. Indeed, if I ask American drivers about this – which I frequently do – they haven’t even got a clue what rear fog lights are.  So let’s get the answer out of the way:  Rear fog lights are red, they are very bright and they must only be used (to protect your ‘six’) in bad visibility.

The car near the center of this photo, which has a matched pair of rear, high-intensity fog lights illuminated — not brake lights — will clearly remain more visible than even cars nearer the camera that have only their regular rear lights to rely upon. Look at the two cars just beyond and to the left of the well-lit car: both of them do have their regular tail lights on yet are fading from view. The difference in safety is very obvious.  Copyright image.

To say that the absence of paired rear fog lights is a pity is an understatement because these things save lives. Admittedly, cars from Europe can be imported to the USA with just one rear fog light fitted – not the two they have when on European roads – but as I will show below, this is inadequate and less safe.

Here, a car in heavy spray and with just one rear fog light makes it obvious that in worse visibility or at a greater distance away, only the one light will remain visible. In those circumstances, it is much harder for a driver following your vehicle to correctly assess how big the gap is, between the vehicles, and that  makes the situation significantly less safe. (Had you spotted the tall truck, visible between the two cars the camera vehicle is following? )  Copyright image.

About 15 years ago, at an event in Manhattan, I asked some top-level, European vehicle engineers about this silly situation and was told that paired rear fog lights are not permitted in America “in case people mistake them for brake lights!” This reason would be hilarious if it weren’t so stupid.  Pairs of these very bright, additional rear red lights have been used in Europe for 3-4 decades, and not once – not even when I was a traffic patrol police officer investigating crashes – have people ever even implied to me that they confused rear fog lights with brake lights.  Once informed, even a child would instantly know the difference between them.

Let’s imagine a scenario: You are driving your sedan or SUV  in the half-light of dawn or dusk in very thick fog but its 20 miles to the next exit so you have no choice but to continue, by driving as slowly as the conditions dictate.  (Stopping on the shoulder in bad visibility can be even more dangerous than continuing, unless you were to cross right over the shoulder and drive on the grass, as far away from the asphalt as possible.)  Coming up behind you, driving too fast for the conditions, let’s say there is a fully loaded 18-wheeler semi-tractor-trailer; the driver is late and he’s in a hurry.  What happens next?  Do you want him to say “Those lights ahead are very bright.  I wonder whether they’re brake lights!<<joke>>  Or instead, do you want him to wonder what he has just rammed from behind because he didn’t see anything until it was too late and he slammed into your car and wrecked it… and perhaps you and your family!

The whole purpose of having rear fog lights (plural) is so that not only can other drivers see your vehicle from behind, from a much greater distance in fog, heavily-falling snow, thick smoke, heavy road spray or even sandstorms, but also – when there are two of the lights and not just one – they permit drivers behind you to gauge the distance between their vehicle and yours quite accurately. A single bright rear light often does not allow the same degree of awareness.

Once again, the more distant car, with its rear fog lights in use, is very obviously the most conspicuous. Copyright image.
A close-up of the distant vehicles in the photo above. Had you spotted the third car? Its near-invisibility could be lethal. Copyright image.

There is an answer to concerns about such bright lights being inappropriately used when there is good visibility and the lights’ brightness becomes a nuisance. It is, of course, called the law – specifically one that prohibits the use of rear fog lights unless atmospheric visibility (as opposed to just night-time darkness) is bad.  A similar law should already be in existence to prevent people having their front fog lights on except in the conditions described, but in most if not all states, no such law yet exists.  The very low mounting height of front fog lights means they create a serious amount of glare on clear nights, even though they don’t actually dazzle, yet in those conditions they serve no good purpose whatsoever.  That, however, is the subject for another article which will be linked here in due course.

So there you have it. High-intensity rear red fog lights have been around for at least one third of a century.  They are used in quite possibly all of the countries that have a much better road safety record than the USA.  Yet still, somebody in some little office took it upon him/herself to decree “not in America!”  That person or committee’s ill-informed decision has very likely cost a lot of Americans their lives or their limbs in thousands of bad-visibility crashes over the years.

How about it, NHTSA?  It is time for a re-think (preferably by reference to overseas best practices).  It would be so easy to use this inexpensive, additional equipment to make bad weather driving significantly safer.

Oh, and please don’t let Detroit force its penny-pinching refusals on you over topics like this. Contrary to their apparent belief, their profits are emphatically not more important than the lives of the people of this great nation.

Eddie Wren, CEO & Chief InstructorAdvanced Drivers of North America

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Misleading Highway Safety Info’ from the NTSB – Part 2

Continued from: Misleading Highway Safety Info’ from the NTSB – Part 1

In a post on April 25, 2016, titled “Your Car is a Public Health Tool” on the NTSB Safety Compass blog, NTSB Vice Chairman Dr. T. Bella Dinh-Zarr wrote about the number of road deaths suffered by the USA.

Excerpts (in their original sequence)

  1. “…[The] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S.’s public health agency, declared Motor Vehicle Safety one of the top ten public health achievements of the 20th Century…”
  2. “In the last few decades of the 20th Century, motor vehicle deaths decreased from 50,000 per year to 30,000 deaths per year.”
  3. “With the vision of a future with no motor vehicle crashes, deaths and injuries, it’s important that we continue to improve crash prevention technologies, while also striving for advances in technologies to improve vehicle crashworthiness, especially as it relates to occupant protection.”

I must address point #2 first because frankly it makes a mockery of point #1, quote: “In the last few decades of the 20th Century, motor vehicle deaths decreased from 50,000 per year to 30,000 deaths per year.”  But no they didn’t — not even remotely!

U.S. road deaths were still at 41,945 in the year 2000 and remained above 40,000 per year until 2008 (n=37,261, which equates to a staggering, 40 percent error).  That is by no means a part of the “last few decades of the 20th Century!”   Then, inline with the recession, the number of deaths per year did start to fall dramatically, as road travel also fell due to the financial situation.  Interestingly, many official bodies in the US road safety arena at this point started claiming that their respective programs had been tremendously successful and were indubitably responsible for the significantly reduced numbers of deaths.  Perhaps nobody had taught these people that recessions cause such reductions in deaths and that when the recession ended the number of deaths could be expected to rise again.  And boy, has it ever!

But there is one other point to be made:  At no point in this period did the annual road deaths fall as low as the “30,000” claimed in point #2, above.  According to ITS/IRTAD, the lowest figure was 32,479 (2011), so this in turn represents an eight percent error. This may seem insignificant but it was a very undesirable exaggeration, it never materialized, and was certainly unscientific!

So now lets go back to the first point above, the CDC claim that “Motor-Vehicle Safety [was] A 20th Century Public Health Achievement,” and the fact that the NTSB has seen fit to promote this claim on its blog. Really, NTSB (and CDC, too)?  Both of your organizations must surely be aware that since at least the 1970s the USA has fallen further and further back, behind the much greater road safety improvements made by virtually every other developed nation in the world — greater rates of improvement and in some cases death rates that are now less than one-quarter of the rate in the USA.

To illustrate America’s poor rate of progress, one can turn to the ITS/OECD/IRTAD database 2009 — Long-term Trends, “Road User fatalities” for 1980, 1990, 2000… and [2007].”  This shows that in 1980, the USA suffered 51,091 road deaths and in 2007 the number was down to 41,059 a reduction of 19.6 percent.  This sounds quite good until one looks at the percentage reductions for the following countries over the same period:

  1. Switzerland . . . . . . . . -68.2%
  2. Germany . . . . . . . . . .. -67.1%
  3. France . . . . . . . . . . . .. -65.8%
  4. Austria . . . . . . . . . . . . -65.5%
  5.  Netherlands . . . . . . .. -64.5%
  6.  Portugal . . . . . . . . . .. -62.2%
  7.  Luxembourg . . . . . . .. -56.1%
  8.  Belgium . . . . . . . . . . . -55.5%
  9.  Australia . . . . . . . . . .. -50.6%
  10.  Great Britain . . . . . . . -50.5%
  11.  Slovenia . . . . . . . . . . . -47.5%
  12.  Canada . . . . . . . . . . . . -47.0%
  13.  Sweden . . . . . . . . . . .. -44.5%
  14.  Italy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . -44.3%
  15.  Japan . . . . . . . . . . . . . -41.7%
  16.  Spain . . . . . . . . . . . . . -41.4%
  17.  Denmark . . . . . . . . . . -41.2%
  18.  Ireland . . . . . . . . . . . . -41.1%
  19.  Iceland . . . . . . . . . . .. -40.0%
  20.  Norway . . . . . . . . . . . -35.6%
  21.  Finland . . . . . . . . . . . -31.0%
  22.  New Zealand . . . . . .. -29.3%
  23.  Hungary . . . . . . . . . . -24.4%
  24.  United States . . . . . . -19.6%
  25.  Poland . . . . . . . . . . . . – 7.0%
  26.  Korea . . . . . . . . . . . . . – 4.4%
  27.  Czech Republic . . . . . – 3.1%
  28.  Greece . . . . . . . . . . . . +14.6%

The countries finishing from 1st to 6th achieved more than three-times the improvement than did the USA, those from 7th to 10th more than 2.5-times more, and those from 11th to 19th did at least twice as well.  Does anybody want to elaborate now about how on earth the comparatively poor performance by the USA is in any way the stated “20th Century public health achievement?”  Such a claim, for such comparatively poor success, could easily be dismissed as mere propaganda.

Finally, there is no fault with the point #3, above, but it is effectively indisputable that the USA has fallen so far behind the rest of the developed world in this crucial field of road safety because the country has been far, far too introspective and has ignored all of the advances made elsewhere and how they have been achieved.  Relying solely on technological advances that may still be a long way off in coming to full fruition is a weak-kneed approach.  Many American lives undoubtedly can be saved  by the USA immediately opening its eyes to other countries’ far greater success and emulating the methods used, without trying to re-invent the wheel and making a mess of it, as it has done — for example — in relation to America’s recent adoption and best-practice use of modern roundabouts (a failing of the FHWA)!

Eddie Wren, CEO & Chief InstructorAdvanced Drivers of North America

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Go back to: Misleading Highway Safety Info’ from the NTSB – Part 1

See: Officials Mislead America About Highway Safety (article from 2003)

American Vehicles made in Europe Commonly are Safer &/or have Better Safety Accessories Available than their USA Versions

When American automakers say they are dedicated to the safety of their customers, you might like to ask why the vehicles they make for the European market are commonly safer than their versions made for the U.S. market or have more safety features available, even though those same enhancements are not even available on their American vehicles!

If pressed on the subject, hey will tell you that it is only to comply with tougher legislation in Europe, and that is partially true, but they are being “economical with the truth” to quote a famous expression I once heard from a mealy-mouthed politician, many years ago.

Fact 1:  Over many years, the standards of the ‘European New Car Assessment Programme’ [Euro-NCAP] have often been more demanding than the American ‘New Car Assessment Program’ [NCAP] because, frankly, Europeans have been given more safety advice over the decades and so not only the public but also the politicians tend to be more knowledgeable and more demanding, and thus the standards are higher.

Fact 2:  Following on from this, European people would appear to be a bit more likely to spend extra money on optional safety enhancements.  I’m not pretending this is vast; Europeans still typically spend more on ‘infotainment’ systems than on additional safety  but the automakers still follow the extra profits that are available and so at least the options are open.

But this still doesn’t answer why Americans who value safety can’t always get the same enhancements to help keep their families as safe as can European families.  Do you think that’s fair?

Self-Driving Cars are Not Imminent!

EW:  The title of the article could have been more appropriate but it is: “The Real Problem With Self-Driving Cars: They Actually Follow Traffic Laws

The driver of the nearest car has accelerated hard past our vehicle, on our right-hand side, to race us for the gap to pass the truck. He has started to change lanes but never gave any signal. If we had been in a self-driving car and we were being badly tail-gated, what would the self-driving system have done, and when? This strikes me as being a potentially complex scenario in which I could not trust a computer to inevitably get it right.  In this case, the driver in question is also taking himself into a bad area, ‘blocked’ alongside the large truck, but that is another issue.   (Copyright photo taken by me from the passenger seat!) Eddie Wren.

One quote I really dislike is this:

Excerpt:  “There’s an endless list of these cases where we as humans know the context, we know when to bend the rules and when to break the rules,” a Carnegie Mellon University professor in charge of autonomous car research told the Associated Press.

EW:  Depending on whether the journalist paraphrased or edited the comment, the professor would appear to be endorsing acceptability and even a need to break driver safety rules, but that inference, whoever caused it, is far from good.

Excerpt:  “It’s hard to program in human stupidity or someone who really tries to game the technology,” a spokesman for Toyota’s autonomous driving unit told the AP.  When we hear about autonomous vehicles crashing with human-piloted vehicles, the cause is usually a human error that the software didn’t account for, like when a Google-programmed car didn’t recognize that a human driver had run a red light.

EW:  Google hasn’t thought through the issue of other drivers running red lights?  Really?

Revealingly, though, the article ends with:  “…[E]xperts think that we have at least a decade and a half before cars can safely drive themselves among humans. It might take even longer to safely operate the vehicles in cities with especially chaotic traffic, like Beijing.”

Read the full article, from The Consumerist, here.

Comments added here by Eddie Wren, CEO & Chief Instructor of ADoNA