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