Of all the different levels of driver training we provide at Advanced Drivers of America [AD0NA], “Gold” courses are often the most gratifying because we can guide and watch people achieving the highest levels of safety — far above the standards that other drivers are even aware of.
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).
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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!
- 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)!
- 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).
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.