Just a Few Miles Over the Speed Limit — Is it Dangerous or Acceptable?

Once a person has been driving for a few years, and maybe had no crashes, it’s okay to go a few miles an hour over the posted speed limit, right?  And the police don’t give out tickets if you’re doing just 35 mph in a 30 limit or 45 in a 40 limit, so it’s got to be safe, yeh?

Many people try to justify a bit of extra speed like this with their opinion that it’s safe and of no consequence, or they are frankly just oblivious to it because “everybody else does the same all the time,” but sadly — in fact tragically — these myths are the opposite of the truth.

A major part of the problem lies in the laws of physics — the only laws, so the old joke goes, that nobody can break — so if you don’t like what follows, blame Einstein and Newton and all of their pals.

A key fact is that the faster an object is moving, the harder it is to stop it.  But this is where those rules of physics come in.  A normal, non-scientific person would assume that if something is going twice as fast now as it was say a minute ago, it will be twice as hard to stop it, right?  But it doesn’t work like that.  At twice the speed, an object is much more than twice as hard to stop and as a rough rule-of-thumb a vehicle takes about four times as far to stop under braking if its speed has been doubled.

The other problem involves a driver’s best reaction time.  Straight away, though, here’s another sad fact:  Most drivers don’t concentrate properly on their driving so very few can use their “best” reactions in an emergency.  So whether a person has good, medium or bad reactions, they will take the same time  as they usually do to react in any risky situation that they were not expecting to occur, and if a vehicle is travelling at twice its previous speed it will obviously cover twice the distance while the driver is in the process of reacting, so a lot of extra ground has been lost and there is now that much less time and distance in which to stop before hitting the thing up ahead that has caused the driver to brake.

Most people can do well on an actual test of reaction time.  Someone says something like “press the button each time the light comes on,” and you do.  But the problem is that you know that the light is going to come on and so you are ready, with your finger on the button and muscles tensed.  But real life, and in particular driving, are not like that.  Drivers are typically far too complacent (e.g. “I’ve been driving for thirty years and never had a crash.” Or “I’ve driven this road a thousand times; I know every bump and twist.”)

And virtually all drivers are distracted, too.  Yes, far too many are crazy enough to talk on cell phones — even hands-free phone conversations significantly increase the risk of a serious crash but it’s not possible to enforce this so no law enforcement agencies have tried to do so — and others even text while driving, which is a form of homicidal or suicidal lunacy.  But these aren’t the only issues:  Anybody driving while thinking about anything other than their driving at any moment is a distracted driver; there’s no getting away from that fact, and we ALL do it.  A key difference between unsafe drivers and safer drivers is that the safer ones think only about their driving for a much larger proportion of the time, and that takes effort.  But nobody is a robot.  Nobody can concentrate at the 100 percent level for 100 percent of the time, especially on longer journeys.

So now, back to the few miles an hour over the posted speed limit:  That’s only a few MPH, right; not double the speed?  But lets see the effect.

Here’s a relatively old video showing exactly what can happen when a driver is doing 35mph in a 30mph limit.  The age of the video is irrelevant because the physics of the matter will never change. Even as better braking technology has trimmed some feet off stopping distances over the years, that still has not prevented the same effect happening; it just takes place at slightly different distances.

The next video shows a very different way of looking at the same problem, but as the speeds used are given in kilometres, here’s a conversion list for American and British readers:

  • 65 km/h = 40.6 mph
  • 60 km/h = 37.5 mph
  • 32 km/h = 20 mph
  • . 5 km/h = . 3 mph

 

So just a tiny three miles per hour difference in the initial speeds made a life-threatening 17mph difference in impact speeds.  If that doesn’t convince you, nothing will!

Finally, if you are thinking about swerving as an alternative to braking to try to avoid a crash, please don’t forget that while swerving is sometimes successful on racetracks, where everyone is ultra-alert and all travelling in one direction (although it can still fail spectacularly, too), and it might be great fun to practice skid recovery or evasive swerving on abandoned runways and empty parking lots,  the fact is that on real roads there are often vehicles coming the other way.  Do you want to hit one and die?  Trees and ditches can easily kill you, too.  And then there can be pedestrians, bicyclists or motorcyclists nearby.  Do you want to kill them (and then pretend to the officer that it was somehow an unavoidable “accident” rather than a dangerous choice of your own speed)?

Take a look at the Golden Rule of Safe Driving.

If this article sounds as though I’m preaching at readers or lecturing you, I apologize, but as a retired traffic patrol police officer who has attended too many fatal and serious-injury crashes, and also had to tell too many devastated loved ones that their husband, wife, daddy, mommy, brother, sister, son or daughter is never coming home again, then — believe me — I really hope that you will take the above facts to heart and make sure that neither your own family nor anyone else’s will ever have to hear that news all because you were doing a few miles an hour over the speed limit.

It happens every day without fail!  About 30 out of the average 100-plus highway deaths every single day in the USA involve someone driving over the posted speed limit or at a speed that was inappropriately too fast for the circumstances, even if that was within the limit.

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Also see: Belief that Speed Doesn’t Cause Crashes is Untrue & Deadly

and:  ADoNA: The Clear Leader in U.S. Driver Safety and Training – a Research Victory

NHTSA Gives Very Poor Advice on Safe Steering for Drivers

On 4 October, 2017, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted a link on Facebook, leading back to a California DMV web page on the subject of supposedly safe steering, which was based on guidelines from NHTSA itself.

Sadly, however, it is fairly clear that America has never had a systemic hierarchy in relation to good, safe driving methodology… something that the nation’s grossly-inadequate and often even inappropriate standard of driving tests illustrates all too well.  Even American law enforcement departments — limited almost entirely to private-track “dynamics” driver training — have too few skills and too little knowledge for safe driving when, in fact, they should be setting the highest-possible example for the task.

Photograph of Eddie Wren using the correct "ten-to-two" position for his hands on the steering wheel, and with thumbs on the wheel's rim.
Eddie Wren, chief instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America, using the safest steering technique — “10 & 2” — with thumbs on the wheel rim. (Copyright image.)

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Do the ‘Dutch Reach’ to Avoid Injuring Bicyclists in ‘Dooring’ Incidents

The attached video shows how to reduce a senseless and completely avoidable type of crash that can badly injure or even kill cyclists, in something known as “dooring.” Do what’s known as “the Dutch reach!”
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Of course, bicyclists can also help themselves by always wearing cycle helmets and remaining alert, undistracted and observant.

Passengers Putting Their Feet on the Dash then Being Injured or Killed by the Airbags

This is something that many people have neither heard of nor even thought about.  When the front airbags are triggered, which can  happen because of a mere bump to the vehicle at speeds as low as 12mph, those airbags emerge and inflate at between 165 and 200mph.  They are most certainly not nice fluffy cushions, and if you have one or both of your feet up on the dashboard at the time, the results will be serious and can even kill you.

Photo of a young woman riding as a passenger with her feet up on the vehicle's dash but even a 12mph bump can trigger the airbags and if they go off, you WILL be badly hurt.
Many people ride as passengers with their feet up on the vehicle’s dash.  Do you?  Sadly, it’s a very common sight on America’s highways, but even just a 12mph bump to the front of your vehicle can trigger the airbags and if they go off,  you WILL be badly hurt or killed.  Copyright image.

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An Insight into the Vital Subject of Good Observations when Driving

The latest “THINK!” advert gives a small but important insight into the proper use of observations when driving.

Far too many drivers simply gaze ahead of their vehicle while driving  without actually noticing everything they should and being alert to all the things that potentially could go wrong.  Worse than that, many drivers literally do just gaze at the back of the vehicle they are following, reliant on the brake lights of that lead vehicle to trigger a response in themselves.  But either way, drivers who do these things are throwing away a lot of safety.

Photograph of an urban road with multiple dangers such as pedestrians, cyclists, static cars with their doors open, etc.
The speed limit sign is not the only thing that needs to be seen when you are driving! This image is from the “THINK!” campaign in Britain but applies in every country.

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What To Do if Your Brakes Fail – Parking Brake Use is Risky!

I’ve been triggered into writing this by an old post on the same topic that I’ve just seen and replied to, on the Allstate Safe Driving Blog.

By no means are all “safe driving” writers always accurate enough!

With no disrespect to Allstate or the writer of the piece, it was clearly written by someone with only a reasonable knowledge of the issue himself, despite having referenced various sources.  I say this because there were a couple of inclusions which are very questionable.

The first of these was about using the “emergency brake” — a highly inappropriate name for the parking brake — to help stop the vehicle, and my response to that point is shown in my reply to Allstate, below.  Having said that, a handbrake is a dramatically safer option that a foot-operated parking brake because, with the button held in, it can be applied much more accurately and released instantaneously without extra risk.

Photo: Some foot-operated parking brakes such as this one lock in the on position when pressed and have to be pressed a second time, and harder, to release them. (Photograph: Nissan)
Some foot-operated parking brakes such as this one (left) lock in the ‘on’ position when pressed and have to be pressed a second time, and harder, to release them. (Photograph: Nissan)

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A chat about: Drivers Stopping *at* Stop Lines!

We saw this earlier today, in Latham (Albany), NY, and the question is “can there be any worse example of thoughtless driving than completely blocking a crosswalk at a red light?”

Photo of a car stopped at a red light but completely blocking a crosswalk.
Bad drivers block crosswalks! (Photo copyright 2017, Eddie Wren)

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Be Safe by the Roads or if Driving During the Solar Eclipse

Important safety advice from the FHWA.  The solar eclipse is on August 21.  Visit their website for more information: https://lnkd.in/dv36xic

Photo: A warning about carelessness during the eclipse, from the FHWA
A warning about carelessness during the eclipse, from the FHWA
ADoNA Comments

If you are driving at the time of the eclipse, then apart from not parking at an unwise location to watch the event yourself, please do be careful not to hit anyone that does stop at a bad place.  Naturally, headlights — not just Daytime Running Lights, because typically they don’t activate your rear lights — should be used throughout the periods of half-light as well as the true darkness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A 10-second Video Clip that Contains Many Important Lessons in Safe Driving

The video clip on this page is now several years old but for our purposes that doesn’t matter at all.  It was taken by a red light camera and if I remember correctly it is from Ohio.  It is noteworthy, though, because it highlights several important points about road & traffic safety, and surprisingly, one the most important of these is how to steer in the safest way possible — a strange claim given that viewers can’t even see the drivers, but all will be revealed! 🙂

Let’s deal with the various topics in the order they occur in the video:

Stop AT the ‘Stop Line’, Not After It

Right from the start of the video clip, the station wagon / estate car that is in the picture is static, presumably at either a red turn arrow or at a complete red light (the status of the lights cannot be seen).  Either way, however, look precisely where it has stopped:  3-4 feet beyond the ‘stop line’.  This really isn’t good for safety reasons, which is why it’s also illegal!

Stopping after the line commonly causes four types of unacceptable  problem:

  1. The car’s position can cause problems for vehicles coming from the right that are making a left turn into the road where the static vehicle is standing.  It is a nuisance to all drivers making the turn but can be a real problem for the drivers of long vehicles such as semi-tractor-trailers or buses.  And that’s why road engineers locate ‘stop lines’ set back from the ‘mouth’ of the intersection.
  2. A vehicle that stops after the stop line in a left-turn lane, especially if it’s a big vehicle, blocks the view for drivers waiting at the same stop line who wish to go straight ahead when the light changes to green.  It stops them from seeing either first-responders’ vehicles or vehicles that illegally are still coming from the left, even though the lights have changed, just like the Chrysler PT Cruiser in this video does to the SUV that gets hit.  Some drivers don’t even bother checking left and right before setting off when a light goes green but we all should because green light or no green light, it’s dangerous not to! Over 8,000 — yes, eight thousand — Americans are killed each year in the USA alone in collisions where a driver doesn’t stop at a red light or stop sign, or doesn’t yield at a yield sign.  That’s over 20 people killed, on average, from just this one cause every single day, so always look before setting off and now that you know this, please don’t block other people’s view by stopping after the stop line, in any lane!
  3. Worst of all, think now about a vehicle that has gone beyond the ‘stop line’ before stopping, and is blocking other drivers’ views, as in the previous point.  But this time imagine that when the straight-ahead lights turn green OR a vehicle in the right-hand lane does a right-turn-on-red illegally by not stopping,  there are pedestrians crossing the crosswalk from the left-hand side.  Now, somebody is pinned underneath a vehicle, either dead or crippled, and it’s all because an unthinking driver stopped after the ‘stop line’ and blocked other drivers’ views!  Please don’t do it — as in really don’t — and that includes all the police officers I’ve seen do it who should be setting a vastly better example (and should also be giving citations to those drivers who stop after the stop line)!
  4. Last but not least, when they stop significantly beyond the ‘stop line’, many drivers actually block the marked or unmarked crosswalks that exist at virtually every intersection that has traffic lights/signals.  How safe or  intelligent is that?
Cars Coming the Other Way Are Stopping In Time

It is easy to see in the video clip that vehicles coming towards the camera have responded correctly by slowing down and stopping for what is clearly a red traffic light.  Assuming that, as is often the case, the lights in both directions (other than turn arrows) went red at the same time, the PT Cruiser that enters the scene from the bottom of the image would appear to have had plenty of time to stop.  However, as mentioned above, that is an assumption.

Running Red Lights

The horrifying statistics about how many people are killed in the USA each year by drivers who fail to stop at red lights or stop signs, or fail to yield where they should have done so, are shown above.  Remember that on average it is over 20 people every single day.

What can we Learn from this About the Safest Way to Steer?

Stopping a car in an emergency involves reaction time — which is inescapably linked to the distance travelled in that time — and naturally it also involves the time and distance it takes to physically stop the vehicle, by means of the brakes…. the braking distance.

This is relevant to steering in a way that most people never think about.  Part of the time taken to react before braking in an emergency involves taking your foot off the gas pedal, transferring it to the brake pedal, and applying pressure. But — this is where it gets relevant — unless the driver is incompetent and is driving with just one or maybe even no hands on the wheel (it happens) when a crisis occurs, the driver already has both hands on the steering wheel.  This means that no time is lost getting the hands into position before proper steering can commence, and this, in turn, means that it in a frightening situation a driver is both likely and able to start swerving away from the crisis scenario before he can start to brake.

Let’s go back now to the video and play it again… a few times!  What I’m asking you to do is start the video rolling then as soon as the PT Cruiser comes into view from the bottom of the screen, start click ‘pause’, then start clicking ‘play, pause’, ‘play’, ‘pause’,  with the shortest gaps you can manage between play and pause, each time, so that the video goes forward in the briefest possible increments.  What you will see is that before the PT Cruiser hits the SUV, which comes from the right-hand side of the screen, the driver of the PT Cruiser starts to steer to the left.  Indeed, if you are quick enough with that ‘play-pause’ routine, you will find that the driver’s door mirror on the PT Cruiser is visible before the SUV even appears on the screen at all — something that could only happen if the Cruiser was turning to the left.  You will probably need to repeat this exercise by replaying the video at least one more time because now I would like you to watch and see when the brake lights of the PT Cruiser come on.  The answer is that they illuminate after the driver has started steering/swerving to the left — a confirmation of the point I made in the previous paragraph about drivers starting to steer or swerve before they can start to brake.

So why is this relevant?  Simple:

“If we teach drivers to hold the wheel at ‘8 & 4’ so that (quote) ‘when the airbag goes off, your face, hands and arms will be less badly hurt,’ it is actually a nonsense if the first thing a person is likely to do — as indeed they are — is try to swerve away from the danger.  Where on the wheel will their hands be if a driver is swerving?  It is infinitely preferable to teach young drivers to hold the wheel more effectively, at ’10 & 2′, NOT ‘8 & 4’, to help them maintain best control and thereby avoid bad situations altogether.  Then teach them to use a steering method which prevents their arms ever being across the middle of the steering wheel — the method is called ‘pull-push’ and needs to be taught properly, not by someone who simply doesn’t know what they are talking about! This is one good thing we can do to make young drivers safer.”  Eddie Wren, Advanced Drivers of North America, 2010.

SUVs & Pick-Up Trucks are Still More Likely to Roll Over!

The number of rollover crashes in America certainly has decreased since the mandatory installation of Electronic Stability Control [ESC] on all new vehicles since 2012.  However, this doesn’t alter the fact that SUVs and pick-up trucks have a higher center of gravity than do sedans, station wagons or even minivans, and under some circumstances they are still much more likely to roll over.  One of these situations is as shown in the above video, when an SUV or pick-up is T-boned by a lower vehicle and gets rolled as a result.  And there is certainly nothing that ESC can do about that.  If you drive a pick-up or SUV, do be aware that you are still more likely to roll and that rollovers are immensely dangerous.

The Pedestrian Should Not Have Been Crossing!

Viewers who have paid attention to the pedestrian before the collisions happened will have realized that he could not have been crossing the street legally.  Clearly, if green lights had allowed the SUV to proceed, the pedestrian lights would have been showing a red man or “Don’t Walk.”  This does not, of course, give anyone the right to harm the pedestrian and yet some drivers’ attitudes towards Vulnerable Road Users [VRUs] is truly despicable.  Let me put this another way:  Let any driver who has never crossed the road as a pedestrian when a Don’t Walk signal was showing but no vehicles seemed to be coming “cast the first stone!”

The Pedestrian Survived, but Not for the Reason Some Claim!

The fact that the pedestrian survived being hit by a rolling SUV is astonishing, but what was just as incredible — as is the case with so many road crashes — was the wild speculation that followed.  Very quickly after this video was first posted, someone came up with the notion that it was the collision dent (made by the PT Cruiser hitting the SUV) that happened to land directly over the pedestrian and that it then acted like a little cave over the top of him.  Even National Geographic, in a television  documentary series about crashes repeated this fallacy and yet one only has to watch the video closely to see that it is simply not the case.

Use the pause & play buttons quickly and repeatedly as the SUV gets close to the pedestrian and you will see that it is, in fact, the underside of the vehicle that hits the pedestrian and knocks him over.  The vehicle then lands on its wheels, over the top of the man, so even though the suspension will momentarily crush down to its lowest possible contraction, it was the gap underneath the floor of the car that left enough space for the pedestrian not to be crushed to death.

It is wild speculation such as this allegation about the dent left by the first collision that fuels wild rumors and legends about road safety, and this makes getting people to believe genuine facts so much more difficult.

During my traffic patrol police career I tended to socialize with my non-police friends more so that I did with fellow officers and on occasions it was incredibly amusing to have a friend tell me the craziest stories about crashes I had actually attended and investigated (perhaps even that same day).  Some of the exaggerated and inevitably third-party tales I was told were completely unrecognizable when compared to the actual facts of the crashes in question.  (The stories always started with something like: “A mate of mine told me that….”)

Sadly, such myths and rumors create ludicrous but harmful beliefs which can make subsequent road safety campaigns less effective.

I hope this ‘breakdown’ of just one crash scene has given you a little insight into how complex and frankly fascinating crash investigations can be (and believe me, my comments above represent only the very tip of the proverbial iceberg).

Eddie Wren, CEO & Chief Instructor — Advanced Drivers of North America

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Please note that all of the text on this page is subject to our Disclaimer and Copyright (as is every relevant item on this website) but clearly in this case the video is not.

It’s “Mirror-Signal,” NOT “Signal-Mirror,” Despite Bad Advice for 100 Years!

Have you ever seen a vehicle ahead of you veer sideways because another vehicle started a lane-change or a turn after giving a signal far too late or no signal at all?

Yes, of course.  Many of us throughout the U.S. see such incidents every day.

Because of this situation, all motorcyclists and many car drivers are very leery, for good reason, when a signal suddenly starts flashing on a nearby vehicle.  They know all too well that the driver may start his lane-change (or a turn) immediately, and bikers in particular may veer away immediately to protect themselves from this danger, but doing so can then endanger the biker!  Part of the reason this situation happens so often is that Americans have been taught a crucial driving technique incorrectly…… To put it bluntly, American drivers have been taught yet another example of dangerous garbage!  (No, we are not trying to be offensive by using comments like that; we are trying to protect American citizens better!)

Research paper: State Drivers’ Manuals Can Kill Your Kids!

All American drivers have invariably been taught to signal then check the mirror, but as the above paragraphs show, this method can, and frequently does, cause at least anger and in many cases danger — whether from collisions or road rage.

If you used “signal — mirror” technique in most other countries you would never even be able to pass the relevant driving test because it is such an inconsiderate and risky practice!

A dramatically safer and more thoughtful method is this:

.                  Yes, okay…. Maneuver! {:-)
  1. MIRROR first!  Check that it is safe to actually give a signal (i.e. without scaring the bejeezus out of a driver or motorcyclist who is coming up alongside your vehicle, or even a bicyclist on your right if traffic is moving slowly!).  This means that the mirror check needs to be done in plenty of time — and more than once, if necessary.
  2. SIGNAL at a suitable distance before the turn or lane-change you wish to make.  This distance varies in relation to your speed so if anyone ever tries to tell you to use a physical distance, such as 100 feet, just ignore them (and anyway, do you think that you could accurately point out 100 feet every time?  Not many people can, at all).  You must not signal for a turn so early that it could cause confusion about you turning into another intersection (etc.) earlier than the one you want.  Wherever possible, your signal should flash at least 4-6 times before a turn and definitely at least that many times before you start to make a lane-change!  If you are worried about others not letting you in, don’t be — someone eventually will, and all you need do to stop this being a problem is to make lane changes in plenty of time so that a few inconsiderate drivers can’t be a serious problem to you; just let them go by.

The full sequence of actions to stay safe when handling any change of direction (at an intersection or obstruction) or a lane-change is based on “Mirror, Signal, Maneuver” (meaning the turn, lane-change, etc.).  There is a second part to this sequence, which breaks down that word “maneuver” into its component actions, but that will follow later in a separate blog post.

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