Don’t Hang Stuff from your Rearview Mirror (Unless you want to Cause a Crash!)

It is too easy for so-called experts to claim that only four or five key problems cause the majority of road crashes.  That claim is indeed true — and of course we teach trainees all about those issues — but to act as though these are the only dangers that drivers will ever face is incompetent and is asking for trouble.  There are many seemingly minor problems that collectively still cause hundreds of thousands of crashes and far too many deaths and injuries in the USA every year.  In whatever training time we have available to us, we teach our trainees how to comprehend and deal with many of these additional dangers, too.

Photo of a red tassel hanging from the rearview mirror in a car that is being driven by a person who is also using a hand-held cellphone.
It may *seem* trivial but even small objects like this, hanging from the rearview mirror and swinging around, can trick a driver’s eyes into not noticing a child or a cyclist who just happens to be at that angle to the vehicle (which typically means on a curve or at an intersection). Plenty people have died as a result of this type of seemingly innocent scenario so please take all hanging objects off your rearview mirror. This person is also using a hand-held cellphone while driving, thus making a dangerous incident dramatically more likely.    (Image copyright, 2017.)

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Here in the USA, it’s Workzone Awareness Week. Does that Make You Think ‘So What?’

This morning, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (a.k.a. NHTSA but pronounce it as “NiTSA“) publicized the fact that it is Workzone Awareness Week.

Photograph of a highway construction zone.
A Highway Construction Zone. (Copyright image.)

There can be no doubt that this is an important issue because, for example, in 2014 (the most-recent, detailed figures available), no fewer than 669 people were killed in construction zone  incidents.

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Here’s Why Self-Driving Vehicles Will Forever Change the Traffic Safety Paradigm

Flaura Koplin Winston, MD, PhD.  March 21, 2018

Self-driving vehicles, also known as highly automated vehicles (HAVs), were once in the realm of science fiction. But HAVs are here and about to transform the automotive industry and the U.S. transportation system, with retail models possibly being available as early as this year. HAVs could become a common sight on the road by 2055.

It’s no longer a question of “if” but “when.”…

Photograph of a Uber self driving car prototype testing in San Francisco, October 2016.
Uber self driving car prototype testing in San Francisco, October 2016. Wikimedia Commons.

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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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Ultra-Smooth and Ultra-Safe Driver Training for Chauffeurs

Advanced Drivers of North America [ADoNA] has trained chauffeurs for maximum safety and maximum smoothness in their driving, from Las Vegas to Canada.

Photograph of a Mercedes 550S sedan, in use for chauffeur training by Advanced Drivers of North America for chauffeur driver-safety training
A Mercedes 550S in use for Advanced Drivers of North America’s chauffeur safety and smooth driver training. (Copyright image.)

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Crash & Bull Bars on Vehicles Cause Far More Danger than they Prevent


Often bought in the name of safety, it is a fact that crash bars or bull bars can actually create greater danger not only for pedestrians, bicyclists and other vulnerable road users who get hit, but also for people traveling in the vehicles to which the bars are fitted.

Photo of a former police Ford Crown Victoria now being used as a taxi, but with crash bars still fitted.
Because of the dangers created by crash bars (a.k.a. bull bars) it is wrong that former U.S. law enforcement vehicles can be sold to the public with the bars still fitted. This should be banned. (Copyright image)

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The USDOT will Apply Only Voluntary Rules For Self-Driving Cars… Astounding!

Excerpt:  “U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Tuesday defended her department’s decision to use voluntary guidelines instead of enforceable rules to regulate self-driving cars, saying a flexible approach was best for an emerging technology. Chao also said the Trump administration would give preference in its forthcoming infrastructure plan to projects that promise technology innovation that could improve safety or advance the deployment of autonomous vehicles…

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For Bicyclists, Wearing a Yellow Reflective Jacket Cuts Injuries by up to 55%

Bicycles are involved in many crashes, injuries and deaths, and there should be a focus on preventing these events from happening.

With support from the Danish foundation TrygFonden, the Traffic Research Group at Aalborg University has completed the first randomised controlled trial (RCT) of the safety effect of high-visibility bicycle clothing.

Photo of a cyclist standing out from the crowd, in a bright yellow safety jacket.
Cyclist’s Yellow Safety Jacket. Photo used here by permission of Harry Lahrmann, Associate Professor at Aalborg University.  Photographer: Tor Asbjørn Thirslund

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Grand Rapids, MI, starts a multi-year pedestrian-safety program but does it beg a question?

Kent County, MI, reported 790 crashes involving pedestrians between 2012 and 2015, and more than half of these occurred in Grand Rapids.

Photo of pedestrians crossing the road in very contrasty lighting conditions.
Pedestrians crossing. Copyright image.

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Emergency Roadside Extraction, Treatment and Evacuation of Crash Casualties

Years ago, in professional circles, we used to talk about “The Three E’s” of road (or highway) safety, and these were:

  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Enforcement

The belief was if one taught people adequate and accurate information — including high-quality driving lessons — about staying safe on the roads, and the engineers designed and built safer roads and vehicles, and the police enforced the laws to make people drive to better standards, then safety would be maximized.

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. The tragic purpose of the yellow sheet on the ground is self-evident.  Copyright image.

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