Driving Dangers on Big Bridges

On sunny days, or at dawn & sunset, big road bridges can often look very attractive, but when the weather takes a turn for the worse, they can create significant dangers for the unwary driver.

News has just been published today that a truck driver has been killed after high winds apparently pushed his vehicle through the safety fence on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.  Tragically the driver lost his life.

This is particularly saddening for me as I went over that bridge, in mildly bad but contrarily beautiful weather, just a few weeks ago while instructing on an advanced driving course in Maryland and Delaware.

Thin fog as we drove eastwards across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
The relatively thin morning fog that we met when driving eastwards over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was misleading. It had been much thicker and potentially more dangerous only a few minutes earlier. (Copyright image.)

In our case, the bad weather was fog which appeared to have largely burned off before we got there, however, only the top layer had gone from it and the fog down below, between us and the water, was still thick, and showed just how quickly it could have rolled across the bridge and seriously blocked all of the drivers’ views of the roadway.

The superstructure of several moored ships, sticking up through the fog bank.
The superstructure of several ships, moored to the south of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, was eerily visible above the thicker part of the fog bank. (Copyright image.)

The key thing is that tall, exposed bridges can be subject to very serious and very rapid changes of weather, including fog, ice, unconstrained blizzard conditions, driving rain, and the one that killed the unfortunate truck driver mentioned above, high winds.

'Mandatory Headlights Use' signs should serve as fair warning about the possibility of bad weather.
Heading westwards over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge later that day. The ‘Mandatory Headlights Use’ signs and a 50mph speed limit should serve as fair warning about some of the bad conditions. If you find yourself up there in very high winds, slowing down significantly can help greatly, and for big trucks many trucking experts recommend going over tall bridges side-by-side. (Copyright image.)

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A Truly Dirty Trick by Too Many Drivers, When Overtaking!

Does any driver enjoy getting a large amount of snow,  dirty water, or — worst of all — salt-filled winter slush thrown up onto their windscreen, temporarily making it hard to see and needing large amounts of windshield washer fluid to clean it away?  It’s a silly question, isn’t it?  It’s obvious that none of us likes that experience, especially as it can at least briefly make things unsafe, through the loss of view, the distraction of rectifying the lost view, and last but by no means least, the fact that the overtaken driver has now been forced into a tailgating scenario (see more about this, below).

Photograph in torrential rain on an interstate, in which the driver ahead of ours had suddenly pulled into our lane, too close ahead and without signalling, but then braked firmly as well. His spray and proximity badly harmed our already poor view and his braking was dangerous.
The driver directly in front of us in this photo dived into our lane, without signalling and far too close for safety, which also drowned our windscreen in his spray. Then, however, he riskily braked quite firmly and forced us to do likewise. Obviously, that is not something a sensible person wishes to do in such terrible traffic conditions. Copyright image.

Continue reading “A Truly Dirty Trick by Too Many Drivers, When Overtaking!”

Official Advice About When to Use Headlights is Nonsense!

In many states in the USA and in certain countries around the world, dreadfully unsafe guidelines still exist which say that headlights need not be switched on until half an hour after sunset and can be turned off again half an hour before sunrise.  This so-called advice is — and always has been — dangerous garbage.

Photo of two pedestrians dangerously standing half way across a road in very low light.
Two darkly-clothed pedestrians dangerously standing in the middle of the road (in the center, left-turn-only lane) in dawn light. Technically — because it was after dawn on this very gloomy winter morning and it wasn’t raining, vehicle drivers were not obliged by law to be using headlights, so imagine these cold, wind-blown pedestrians trying to get to work and not noticing an approaching vehicle with no lights. Not using headlights in low light is insanity but many drivers do it, and even more stupidly, the law allows it (in this case, in New York State)! Copyright image

It is also at least partially to blame for the fact that many drivers wrongly believe that as long as they can see where they are going, in low-light conditions, that is all that matters, but again this is dangerous.  A crucial part of the purpose of headlights is to more easily let other road users see you approaching.

Photograph of the speedometer and other dashboard dials, lit up at night.
If you are accidentally driving on your Daytime Running Lights [DRLs] your dashboard instrument lights will *probably* not be lit (to give you a clue) but check your own vehicle to find out if that is the case for you. Copyright image.
And it’s not just dawn and dusk that matter, either.  Some very important research, from various countries, has shown that driving with low beam headlights on at all times, reduces your chances of being in collision with a vehicle or person who — because they didn’t see you coming — drives or walks out in front of you, by between 14% and 28% (depending on the exact research criteria).  Does it need to be said that reducing the risk of T-boning another vehicle, or perhaps of you killing a pedestrian or bicyclist, by such a significant percentage is a really good thing?

Photograph of a pick-up trucke waiting to turn out of a side road, and in which the driver might be dazzled by sunshine when he looks to see if it is safe to proceed.
When the waiting driver checks to his left, towards our approaching vehicle, he may well be dazzled by the low sun, behind us, so this is just one example of times when headlights help your conspicuity greatly, even in bright sunshine. Copyright image.

So when should you use your headlights?

In terms of safety, Sweden was a long way ahead of the rest of the world on this subject — something which will not surprise true road safety experts around the world, because Sweden has long been one of the two best performing countries worldwide (along with Britain).

Back in 1977, it was made law in Sweden that all drivers must use headlights all the time, 24 hours a day, no matter what the weather… Period! Relevantly, this safety function is known as varselljus (“perception light” or “notice light”).  [My thanks to Barry Kenward for this useful insight.]

Photograph of a car in the foreground with no lights on, compared to vehicles in the distance which do have headlights on.
The vehicles in the distance are more conspicuous then the nearer vehicle because they have their headlights on but it doesn’t. Remember, conspicuity is at least as important even at a significant distance because it can persuade an oncoming driver not to commence a risky passing maneuver. Copyright image.

Eventually — meaning in the last 20-or-so years — some other countries belatedly started to realize the safety benefits of keeping headlights on, even on bright sunny days.  However, as it is a fact that vehicles do consume extra fuel — even though it is only a tiny fraction more — whenever additional electrical demands are placed on the vehicles, such as air conditioning or headlights, some conservation-minded people protested that using headlights at all times would increase the production of greenhouse gases and add to the pollution problem.

Photograph of a moving car's headlight beam at night, from the side.
The beam from Daytime Running Lights [DRLs] is typically not as powerful as that from your low beam headlights — one of the two safety reasons never to drive in poor light with only the DRLs. Copyright image.
As a result, Daytime Running Lights [DRL] were invented, and these used a bit less power on the headlights, to help reduce emissions.  So far, so good.  But some countries and automakers then very stupidly made a bad decision, which was that DRLs did not need to operate the rear lights as well, just the headlights on lower-than-usual power, because omitting the rear lights would save even more electrical power and the resultant but tiny amount of additional emissions.  The ongoing result of this is that drivers in such vehicles are commonly seen, driving around at night with no back lights at all and with DRL front lights which are not as bright as proper, low-beam headlights, so there is extra risk up front and significant danger from behind, especially in poor weather conditions.

I would stress at this point that I have always been a keen naturalist and now an enthusiastic conservationist, and I am by no means averse to cutting harmful emissions.  However, given the direct and undeniable risk to people which occurs when vehicles are driven without adequate lights and are therefore not seen until too late, which issue has to take priority?

Tongue-in-cheek, you should note that no automakers have decided to devote less power to their in-vehicle air conditioning — something that certainly would save more power and therefore more emissions.  In other words, the hypocrisy from automakers is that they will reduce the safety of road users but they will not consider reducing the comfort of their customers, even though environmentally it would do more good.  Putting comfort (and, of course, profits) before safety!

Photo of a road sign requiring "headlights on at all times for safety.
Even though signs like this are typically only used on certain roads and in only a few of the states, this sign actually says it all: Headlights on at ALL times for safety! Copyright image.

So what IS the best advice, in terms of greatest safety?

Here’s a list:

  1. Do NOT rely on Daytime Running Lights [DRL].  We are all human and if something else is on your mind it is all too easy to forget that in low light or poor weather you have no back lights to protect the rear of your vehicle.  Many people undoubtedly have been killed or seriously hurt as a result;
  2. Do NOT rely on automatic headlamps that switch themselves on when a light sensor tells them to.  As with many automatic things, circumstances can sometimes create the wrong outcome and you wont have lights when they really are needed;
  3. IGNORE any rules or guidelines that mention sunrise and sunset.  Even the bright, low sunshine and contrasty shadows that occur before some sunsets and after some sunrises can create situations where vehicles are hard to see;
  4. The common rule about “Wipers On, Lights On” is also INADEQUATE — written, as is so often the case, by somebody with inadequate knowledge who merely thought it was a good idea.  The fact is that many weather conditions such as heavy cloud, mist or lightly falling snow can easily take the light down below the sensible threshold at which lights definitely should be used, even if wipers are not needed! (See the photographs.)
  5. NEVER drive with just the front sidelights (a.k.a. position or parking lights) illuminated, even where there is good street-  or road-lighting.  Sidelights are not adequate for your conspicuity.
  6. What do we do at Advanced Drivers of North America?  That’s easy to answer.  We use at least low-beam headlights, and therefore rear lights too, 24/7.  Does that increase our vehicle emissions?  Yes, undeniably, but by a miniscule amount.  And is the safeguarding of human lives more important?  We think the last question answers itself.

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Do You REALLY Want to Pass the Snow Plow?

It is easy to identify a person driving safely from someone who is a bad driver by their attitude about whether to pass a snow plough on winter roads.

View of traffic at sunset on Interstate I-87 in New York State.
Traffic on a wintery I-87, with the Catskill Mountains in the background.   Copyright image.

Is that whiteness you can see on the road just a sprinkling of light snow or could there be ice in among it.
Continue reading “Do You REALLY Want to Pass the Snow Plow?”

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.)

Continue reading “NHTSA Gives Very Poor Advice on Safe Steering for Drivers”

Advanced Driving Courses in Washington State

Over the past 12 years, Advanced Drivers of North America has carried out driver safety training throughout the Pacific North West, including six cities (each for different corporate clients) in Washington, from the Tri-Cities in the south-east of the state to Bellingham in the north-west, and of course Seattle.

An aerial view of Seattle
A wonderful view of the city of Seattle, as I flew in on August 12, 2017, and like all cities, the sort of place we can use interesting challenges and instill a much better understanding of safe driving, especially on Advanced Drivers of North America’s “Silver” and “Gold” courses.   Copyright image.

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Two Critical USDOT / NHTSA Statistics Identify a Very Bad Situation in American Highway Safety

Perhaps 6-8 years ago, the US DOT and NHTSA published a statistic online that identified a thoroughly horrifying situation.  Put simply, it said that the chances for every young person in the USA being involved in a serious-injury or fatal road crash at some point in their life is an astonishingly-high “fifty-fifty.”  At that time, I looked at my four American step-daughters and wondered which two — statistically speaking — it might be.  That statistic, however, very swiftly disappeared off the Internet.

Now, however, I also have six American grandchildren, and just today — August 11, 2017 — another statistic has been published on Facebook by NHTSA which very effectively renews my concerns.  It said exactly this:

NHTSA 1 hrThe chance of being in an alcohol-impaired crash is one in three over the course of a lifetime. #BuzzedDriving 
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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.

No More Excuses for Hand-held Cell Phones in Washington State

As of tomorrow –July 23, 2017 — it will be against the law for Washington State drivers to use hand-held cell phones while they are driving. This applies to all electronic devices, including tablets, laptops and video games. Tickets for driving while using hand-held electronics will go on a driver’s record and be reported to their insurance provider:

Even if you’re stopped at a light;

Or your kid is texting you;

Or you just need to check the score;

Or tell someone you’re running late.

Photo of an attractive bridge in the scenically beautiful Washington State.
Washington State, in the north west corner of the USA is wonderful for scenic drives and is also very actively fighting road deaths. Copyright image.

For further information on the new law, see:

Eddie Wren, CEO & Chief InstructorAdvanced Drivers of North America

Many cell phone drivers say they would not quit calling even if they caused a crash

Forty percent of drivers say that even if they caused a collision, it would not stop them using cell phones while driving, according to new research.

Photo of driver usings a hand-held cell phone at the wheel.
Not only using a hand-held cell phone while driving but also at an intersection and with an arm across the driver’s airbag due to one-handed steering. So a collision is more likely, as are greater injuries because of the bad steering. (The drivers face is deliberately blurred.)  Copyright image.

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