During a recent deluge of such intensity and duration that I started counting down from 40 days and 40 nights I was amazed at how many drivers failed to turn their headlights on. I was carefully proceeding at nearly the posted speed -- faster than that would have been foolish. The rain was so heavy it created a nearly “white-out” condition yet drivers in virtually invisible white or gray cars, without headlights, insisted in pushing the envelope by passing repeatedly and with seeming disregard for any semblance of safe following distance. After passing me they disappeared into the evanescent unknown never to be seen again.
Yet, if a car they were passing moved into their lane because they didn't see the unlighted car, a major crash could have occurred. The same would have happened if the car they caught up to and persistently tail-gated would have braked suddenly for an animal or other unexpected obstruction.
The news of such a crash would have been covered by the local media and talked about as “an accident” on route 30 or wherever. After the initial spectacularity of the event in the news little more would be heard about it. Either the news people are not approaching the police agencies afterwards to learn about the post-crash findings or the police are reluctant to share with the media such information.
For years, crashes have been referred to by almost everyone as “accidents” when, in fact, almost all such crashes could be avoided by a combination of common sense, defensive driving and patience -- emphasis on patience. If you have to arrive five minutes earlier, begin your trip ten minutes sooner. Don’t drive 80 miles an hour ten feet behind another car in the pouring down rain! You’ll only get there five minutes earlier -- if you get there. And turn your lights on.
There’s nothing accidental about most crashes. Referring to crashes as accidents as though some Divine Puppeteer was pulling strings from above can lead one to believe in the inevitability of such occurrences. When people accept that they’re going to have an accident sometime, they probably will. They fail to realize that they DON’T have to have an accident; that their behavior can forestall such a tragedy.
If post-crash follow-up information was publicized as thoroughly as the details about the occurrence, people might be able to learn how to avoid being involved in crashes. If you refuse to learn from what you see, you will become a victim.
A company specializing in driver safety training doing business as the Smith System
touts five key points to assist in crash free safe driving:
1) Aim High in Steering -Look at least 15 seconds ahead of you.
2) Get the Big Picture - 360 degree panoramic awareness
3) Keep Your Eyes Moving - Scan your mirrors every 5 to 8 seconds
4) Leave Yourself an Out - Control the Space around Your Vehicle
5) Make Sure They See You - When All See Each Other Conflicts are Avoided
If you drive with the Smith System Key Points, you will actually be driving rather being a mere helpless passenger behind your own steering wheel.
A note about following distance. The old guideline of one car length for every ten miles per hour is seriously out-dated. Better now to judge your following distance by the number of seconds you are behind another vehicle.
If a car is 15 feet long, a following distance of 6 car-lengths at 60 mph would be 90 feet. At 60 mph you are covering 88 feet in one second. Do you really want to have only one second to see, to think, to react, to brake and to slow before crashing into the poor guy in front of you because he didn’t want to hit the dog that just ran out in front of him? I think not.
If, however, you allowed a three second (minimum) following distance, you’d have a cushion of 264 feet. Even at slower speeds say 50 mph the old method would give you 75 feet of cushion, 73 of which you would cover in one second. Three seconds would give you 220 feet of cushion.
It’s easy. Just watch the car in front of you. When it passes a mark in the road or a sign alongside the road or goes under an overpass start counting, “one-thousand one, one-thousand two, one-thousand three” and so on. If you reach the same spot, mark, shadow before you reach one-thousand three, you’re too close. In bad weather, five seconds is better.
Of course, if texting or talking on the phone are more important to you than safe driving, you won’t have the time to follow any of these suggestions. Have a nice day.