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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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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Photo Tip: Don’t Block Crosswalks at Red Lights

Thoughtless, illegal and dangerous….

The driver of this pick-up truck has stopped way past the Stop line at a red light and, in doing so, has completely and unacceptably blocked the crosswalk. (Copyright image.)

This photograph was submitted to us this morning (together with permission to use it), from New York State, and it shows a pick-up that has stopped in a very bad position at a red light.

We all need to remember that apart from it being illegal to stop *after* the Stop line, it can cause particular danger if the crosswalk is obstructed as a result, as is the case here.

If a pedestrian needs to cross and walks behind the pick-up truck, they will be hidden from the view of any driver that is turning in to this leg of the intersection, and the potential disaster becomes obvious.

Always stop before crossing the Stop line!

Unless You Want to Risk Killing People, USE the Parking Brake… Every Time!

Here we go once more — another half-a-million vehicles recalled in the USA because yet again the ‘P’ (Park) setting in automatic gearboxes is failing, and those vehicles that haven’t had the parking brake properly set inevitably will then roll away down any hills or even the gentlest of slopes they happen to be on, and then they build up momentum.  This frequently just results in damage but all too often it maims or kills people…. especially children playing on driveways or in nearby yards!

Photograph of a parking brake foot pedal.
The traditional pedal-style of parking brake (and no it is NOT an “emergency brake”) found on cars in the USA. See article for more information. (Copyright image, 2018.)

Vehicles can even cause harm if left on totally flat ground without a parking brake in use, if they are hit by another vehicle.  Think of billiard balls.  Your car’s “P” setting will be smashed by any hard impact and your car will careen away until it runs out of momentum or it hits something or somebody.

The humble parking brake is one of the most misunderstood and most abused safety controls found in modern vehicles, and this failure to understand and the resultant failure to actually use parking brakes leads to many pointless and preventable crashes, some of which cost lives.

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Driving Issues the USA Teaches Badly: Pulling Straight Off the Shoulder

Do not drive on the shoulder!  It’s a state law in many states but we have yet to encounter any Federal agency or state government in America that actually teaches this subject well… meaning for best safety!

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Dangerous Passing in the Early Morning

As we were driving southwards, at the very start of the morning rush hour, this road sweeper went by in the opposite direction, kicking up a cloud of thick dust.

Photo of a pavement sweeper in a long construction zone.
A slow-moving road sweeper — perhaps doing 15-20mph — triggered some drivers to dangerously overtake it illegally, on double yellow lines.  (Copyright image, 2018.)

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Sometimes Road Signs Speak the Truth – 1 (humor)

Sometimes, permanent traffic signs almost seem to be designed to be ignored (and therefore lose much of their safety value at relevant times).  One classic example of this, in the lower 48 states of the USA, might be the very common signs stating ‘Road Subject to Ice,’ but in a late July heatwave it’s a pretty safe bet they don’t mean ‘right now!’

Photograph of a school bus driving through floodwater.
The permanently positioned sign on the right reads ‘Water Over Roadway’ and it would seem to be telling the truth at this particular moment in time!  Clearly this is a relatively common event at this location.  (Copyright image, 2017.)

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The USA Must Stop Legislating a Mere 3-foot Gap when Passing Bicyclists

June 29, 2018

Despite recent new laws in several American states, which stipulate a three-foot gap as being enough space when passing cyclists, there are multiple circumstances in which passing that closely is both inadequate and dangerous.

Photograph of a car passing a bicycle at a bad location on a mountain curve.
Cyclists are often passed badly by reckless or unthinking drivers, and faster sections of road such as shown here, are definitely a place where passing just three feet from a cyclist, at speed, would be both dangerous and frightening.  (Copyright image, 2012).

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Don’t Hang Stuff from your Rearview Mirror (Unless you want to Cause a Crash!)

It is too easy for so-called experts to claim that only four or five key problems cause the majority of road crashes.  That claim is indeed true — and of course we teach trainees all about those issues — but to act as though these are the only dangers that drivers will ever face is incompetent and is asking for trouble.  There are many seemingly minor problems that collectively still cause hundreds of thousands of crashes and far too many deaths and injuries in the USA every year.  In whatever training time we have available to us, we teach our trainees how to comprehend and deal with many of these additional dangers, too.

Photo of a red tassel hanging from the rearview mirror in a car that is being driven by a person who is also using a hand-held cellphone.
It may *seem* trivial but even small objects like this, hanging from the rearview mirror and swinging around, can trick a driver’s eyes into not noticing a child or a cyclist who just happens to be at that angle to the vehicle (which typically means on a curve or at an intersection). Plenty people have died as a result of this type of seemingly innocent scenario so please take all hanging objects off your rearview mirror. This person is also using a hand-held cellphone while driving, thus making a dangerous incident dramatically more likely.    (Image copyright, 2017.)

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An Accurate Insight into the Danger of Tire Failure

In our fifteen years of operating in the field of safe driving, here in the USA, we have never seen any significant data on the dangers caused by tire failures or blow-outs, and yet there can be no doubt that, every year, many Americans are killed or severely injured by these events.

Photpgraph of the front tire on a pick-up truck.
Once a week — yes, week, not month — check the pressure in your tires against the pressures shown on the driver’s door post of your vehicle or in the handbook, NOT the *maximum* pressures shown on the sidewall of the tire itself.  Check the tread and sidewalls for any punctures or cuts, and of course enough tread depth.   (Is that white dot in the tyre tread on this photo just a bit of gravel, or is it the head of an embedded screw or nail?)   Copyright photo, 2018.

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