Runaway Vehicle Fatalities Such as the Death of Actor Anton Yelchin are Frequently and Easily Avoidable

A law suit was settled last week in death of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin, who was crushed when his own SUV rolled on a slope and pinned him against the mailbox he was checking.

Sadly, however, deaths like this where a vehicle rolls away despite having ostensibly been left in ‘Park’ are all too common and actually have a  lot to do with the endemic incompetence of the majority of people who write state drivers manuals throughout the USA and yet have little-to-zero expertise in the subject of best-practise safe driving.

Photograph of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin
Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin at The Voice Awards, 2011. (Photograph: Wikimedia Commons)

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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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Semi-autonomous Cars — An Advanced Driving Course for Chauffeurs in their Employer’s Tesla

Given that at Advanced Drivers of North America [ADoNA] we teach defensive and advanced driving, the use of assistance features which reduce the tasks and sadly also the concentration of drivers is not a key area for us.  (How new safety technology might actually be making our driving worse.)

That aspect, however, is not the theme of this write-up.  Instead, I will focus on the Tesla being driven normally, with the minimum of automated features and with maximum smoothness for the chauffeur context plus, of course, maximum regard for driving safely

A Tesla S that we used on an ADoNA advanced driving "safety and smoothness" course for chauffeurs, looking good in a color that's close to the famed "British Racing Green."
The Tesla Model S 85 used on an advanced driving “safety and smoothness” course for chauffeurs, looking good in a color that’s close to the famed “British Racing Green”. (Copyright image)

In the photograph above, the door handles are pulled in, flush with the doors, and the exterior mirrors have been swung inwards towards the windows, to minimize any risk of them being damaged while the vehicle is parked.  As you approach the vehicle with the ‘key’ — a lozenge-shaped, plastic covered object — in your pocket or purse, the exterior mirrors and the door handles move outwards to their correct positions, and the vehicle unlocks (see the next photograph).

Photograph showing the The door handles and exterior mirrors out in position, ready for use.
Ready for use. The door handles and exterior mirrors move out automatically as the driver approaches the vehicle. (Copyright image.)

The first thing that is immediately noticeable when getting the car ready to move off is the absolute silence and zero vibration.  Even though the car is ready to go, there is rather obviously no engine noise at all, and the first time this happens you may find yourself looking for a clue — any clue — that anything is happening.   But simply do the usual essential tasks:  adjust the seat, steering position and mirrors, pop your belt on, select forward or reverse on a steering column stalk control, check all around for safety and signal if appropriate, press gently on the accelerator, and in magic-carpet-style silence, away you go.  (Be aware that the parking brake is a completely hidden function.  It automatically switches itself on when you terminate a journey and just as automatically switches itself off again when you press that accelerator pedal to move off.)

Photograph of the Tesla hood insignia.
The Tesla insignia.

With all electrically-powered vehicles the silence aspect, in itself, can be a safety issue because nobody can hear your car approaching.  As a result, there are times when it is very important to be willing to use the horn (and we teach how to do that not only for the best safety outcome but also with the least likelihood of annoying anyone who is too easily upset by such things).

Photograph of the huge central display which contains everything except the most obvious vehicle controls. Here, the reversing camera view occupies just the top half of the screen.
The central display is huge — this is just the top half — and it contains everything except the most obvious vehicle controls. Here, the reversing camera gives an excellent view, but don’t forget the shoulder checks! (Copyright image.)
The central display screen on the Tesla Model S 85 is huge and here is displaying the GPS map, in night mode.
The GPS map — here in night mode — can occupy either the full display screen or just the top half. (Copyright image)

Apart from the obvious controls, such as steering, footbrake, accelerator, turn signals, gear selector (which offers only the options for Drive and Reverse), the wipers, high & low beam, seat and steering position settings, and the horn, virtually every other control can be found in the central display screen, which in turn is huge and very clear to view.

Like all computer operating systems, these days, adjusting the various settings is simply a case of finding the right key words then following a logical sequence of options — but naturally this must only be done when the car is stopped and in a safe location.  In addition, a surprising array of options may also be linked to your cell phone, if you like an even more personalized touch.  As mentioned at the start of this article, though, these facilities are not what this high-level driving course was about.

It is worth remembering that the car we were using was bought for it to be used by chauffeurs, but it is also driven by its owners who undoubtedly enjoy taking it for a run themselves on occasion.  The chauffeur aspect effectively guarantees that it is by no means a small vehicle, and its width is very noticeable when you are getting ready to drive it for the first time.  This applies to a lot of superb cars and only requires that you get used to the dimensions before driving in tight confines.

Photograph of the sleek-looking headlight unit on the Tesla Model S 85.
Sleek headlight units are common nowadays on a lot of cars, and these on the Tesla Model S 85 are no exception. (Copyright image.)

In gasoline-powered cars, the act of easing off the gas triggers something called engine braking, in which the reduced speed of the engine itself helps to slow down the vehicle.  In true advanced driving, the increase or decrease of pressure on the gas pedal is all known as “acceleration sense,” using the word acceleration in more of a physics and engineering context.  Interestingly, in the Tesla, the act of easing off or completely coming off the accelerator altogether, had a significantly greater engine-braking effect than in any other of the thousands of cars I have driven.  But while this may be disconcerting to someone not expecting such an effect and can result in the car slowing down too vigorously or too soon, it can in fact be used to very good effect for immensely smooth speed control.  I liked it a lot!

Photograph of a Tesla Model S 85, beyond one of the company's recharging'pumps."
Our Tesla receiving an astonishing 25 percent battery charge in just ten minutes — more than enough to complete that day’s lengthy training drive. The charging points look sufficiently different to gasoline pumps to prevent any confusion! (Copyright image.)

The Tesla we were using was over four years old but none-the-less could cover a very useful distance before recharging the batteries became necessary.  On one of the driving days, however, we did get to the point where a “top-up” became the wise choice to get us home, so it was simply a case of stopping at a Tesla recharging station, where a 25 percent boost to power can be had in just ten minutes (see the above photo).

Rear three-quarter view of a Tesla Model S 85 sedan.
Good looking from any angle, the Tesla Model S 85, a very enjoyable car to drive. (Copyright image.)

Other than that, overnight charging is the norm with all electrically-powered cars, and the Tesla is no exception.

All I can say is that I greatly enjoyed this vehicle and hope that I get to spend a lot more time in one in the not-to-distant future, and perhaps the opportunity to do a full safety review.

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For more details of our defensive and advanced safe driving courses, click here, and feel free to contact us from that page with any questions.

Good Observations for Safe Driving (with Photographs)

The photographs in this article were taken around a Bronze Advanced Driving course, with Advanced Drivers of North America [ADoNA], in south east Massachusetts.   They each show typical driving scenes but give only a very small insight into the discussions about the standards of the observations that are essential to effective driver training and to all safe driving.

Photograph taken from a vehicle driving through a small Massacusetts town, showing various potentially hazardous scenarios.
A typical driving scenario in beautiful, small-town America, showing many potential hazards that most drivers sadly get away with ignoring, but each of which, when ignored, can at the very least result in damaged vehicles or something much worse.   Copyright image.

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In Winter some Drivers make Extremely Dangerous Overtakes

One of the biggest contributory causes of serious-injury and fatal road crashes in the USA (and the rest of the world) is speed.

Typically, speeds in excess of the posted limit, or that are within the limit but are inappropriate for the circumstances, are factors in around 28-30 percent of collisions where people are ‘Killed or Seriously Injured’ [KSI].  In American terms, this represents about 11,000 people killed and approaching a million people injured each year  as a direct result of those who drive too fast.

A dangerous driver crazily overtaking our car, despite the terrible visibility and the very slippery road surface conditions.
From our passenger seat, I photographed this dangerous driver crazily overtaking our car, despite the terrible visibility and the very slippery road surface conditions. Copyright photo.
Photograph of huge quantities of snow being thrown up from the wheels of a pick-up truck during a potentially deadly passing maneuver.
The driver of this pick-up truck is doing a homicidal overtake, with a very poor view ahead and on a slippery, snow-covered road, and he is now cutting in dangerously close ahead. The snow coming up from his wheels is about to bury our windshield and almost entirely block our view. (See the next two photographs in the sequence for what happens next)! Copyright image.
This is what you, as a driver, need to be ready for, even when it is just rain and heavy water spray, the impact of the snow and your potential temporary loss of your entire view.
This is what you, as a driver, need to be ready for, even when it is just rain and heavy water spray: the impact of the water or snow and your potential temporary loss of your entire view.  Where’s the pick-up?  (Our view was completely lost a moment after this photo was taken.)  Copyright image.
Moments later, after we had cautiously dropped our speed and the idiot in the driver had pulled ahead of us, the two vehicles coming the other way through the severely-limited visibility came into sight. If they had been just three or four seconds earlier, there would have been bodies in hospital and perhaps in the morgue.
Moments later, after we had cautiously dropped our speed and the idiot driver in the pick-up had pulled ahead of us, the two vehicles coming the other way through the severely-limited visibility came into sight. If they had been just a couple of seconds earlier, there would have been bodies in the hospitals and perhaps in the morgue.   Copyright image.

Clearly then, excessive speed, even when below the posted limit, truly is a killer — big time — despite all of the people who emptily argue that this situation is mere propaganda and is untrue.

If excessive speed is dangerous, and it is, there is still an additional aspect that defies any logic or any excuse, and that is speeding in bad weather.  And for our purposes, bad weather extends to include any situation where visibility is reduced, either through simple low-light or darkness, and also airborne view limitations such as mist, fog, dust, smoke or falling rain and snow, together with any cause of slippery road surfaces.

We hope the photographs that accompany this article give you pause for thought.  The driver of the silver pick-up truck in this incident could very easily have caused the deaths of several people.  All it would have taken was for an oncoming vehicle to loom out of the misty murk at the wrong moment and a collision would have been inescapable.  Was he driving at a speed inappropriate for the circumstances?  You betcha!

Even without a vehicle coming the other way, the pick-up driver caused significant risk to ourselves by unnecessarily throwing a large quantity of snow up onto the windscreen of our car as he passed and then pulled directly in front of us with less than a car length between the vehicles (see more on this aspect), and that alone was unforgivable.

Please don’t ever be ‘that’ driver, and equally importantly, be prepared for the day when you will encounter somebody as incompetent and brainless as this particular pick-up driver was.  Naturally, this involves getting your wipers onto maximum speed — in advance if possible — slowing down promptly but safely (there may be another vehicle close behind, and of course the road is slippery).  Then hold a steady course as you do this and don’t allow the situation to panic you.

Last but by no means least, always, yes always, drive with low beam headlights on, day and night, sunshine or rain, and even in preference to Daytime Running Lights.

Finally, please note that these are general comments and do not amount in any way to specific advice.  Please see our Disclaimer in this context.

 

Defensive Driving Course for Chauffeurs in Las Vegas

Advanced Drivers of North America [ADoNA] safe driving courses for chauffeurs are designed not only to maximize the safety of these specialist drivers, for the obvious benefit of  their employers or clients, but also to significantly enhance smoothness and finesse (to an extent that always surprises and delights the chauffeurs concerned).

Photograph of traffic on Interstate 515 near Las Vegas.
There is much that can inevitably be taught about the safest, smoothest driving on busy highways. (Copyright image.)

At ADoNA, we work with corporate drivers and chauffeurs throughout the USA, Canada and related islands.
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Using Headlights in Bad Weather — Listen to the Truck Drivers!

Despite many years of advice and even laws to change the situation, many people apparently still don’t get it that headlights are not just to help them see where they are going!

Photo showing the serious lack of view in a truck's mirrors during rain.
The lack of view in a truck’s mirrors during rain. Photo courtesy of Ryan Douglas Dorius

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Nine Danger Signs Concerning Parked Vehicles — Do You Know Them ALL?

Every time you drive past one or more parked vehicles there are nine common safety indicators that should be monitored so that you never end up being involved in a distressing collision that could easily have been avoided.  The worst of these involve children being run over.

Photograph of a person putting something in the trunk / boot of a car, at the roadside.
To be safe drivers, people certainly need to know all of the nine dangers signs to look for when passing parked vehicles — just one of the many comprehensive safety skills taught by Advanced Drivers of North America, Inc. — 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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Globe & Mail Article Cites Advanced Drivers of North America and We Didn’t Even Know!

At ADoNA, we have had the privilege of being quoted and mentioned in newspapers and on news programs around the world, and it’s always a pleasure.  On this occasion, however, we have found a Canadian article from three years ago (July 2014), in Toronto’s Globe and Mail, which uses our data to open the piece, and we didn’t even know about it until now.

A photo of Advanced Drivers of North America's CEO Eddie Wren at the United Nations in New York City for their General Session on global road safety, April 2012.
Advanced Drivers of North America’s CEO Eddie Wren at the United Nations in New York for their General Session on global road safety, April 2012. (Copyright image.)

Presumably quoting from the earlier version of our now completely re-written website, the article starts:

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