I'm a liar. There, I said it. I lie.
I lie sometimes when I'm in a social situation and my line of work is questioned. If I know I'll never see these folks again, I might just tell them that I'm a painter. "I paint houses" I might say.
Now, I have been in the driver safety/training business for almost 3 decades, I hold pretty much every vehicle related training license available, I have been hired as a consultant to 2 different governments to develop licensing programs including road testing, I have trained hundreds of emergency vehicle operators including police pursuit training and authored numerous training courses, manuals and articles. But, sometimes, when asked what I do, I claim to be a house painter. Not that I think painting houses is a more worthy line of work than mine or that I'm ashamed of my profession, it's just that few people have strong opinions about house painting; how it should be done or not done or wants to start a debate to prove that the YOU paint isn't really right. If I say "I'm a house painter", my conversational partner will reply in a rather disinterested tone with eyes glazed over "oh, how interesting" and look desperately for someone whom they judge to actually BE interesting.
I lie because if I say I'm a driver safety training professional and have to explain just what that is, the next question or comment directed at me is usually about the accident that someone was in or ticket that someone got that 'clearly' was not their fault. They want to tell me the whole story of how the weather that day was particularly nasty, how the road has that strange dip, how the car in front "just stopped" for no reason making them run into the back of him. They want to tell me why the policeman who wrote them a ticket was wrong to do so. I have listened while otherwise seemingly intelligent people argue that they should not have received that speeding ticket because everyone else was speeding too!
What they really want is for me to agree with them.
I have learned to engage in these conversations at my peril. You see, as soon as I offer even the slightest of professional opinion about the apparent circumstances of the crash that they were in, mention the concept of preventability or point out that indeed, if they were speeding, the fact that everyone else was too isn't a very good excuse. (Mom always asked me if everyone else jumped off the bridge would I jump too?)
As soon as I disagree at all with the rightness of their position, or offer a different perspective, any credibility that I may have had with them initially, is gone. I become, in their eyes, an idiot. And I wish that I had said, "I'm a painter".
Funny thing about driving, EVERYONE thinks that they are an expert when in fact most people are woefully uninformed about some of the most basic of rules and regulations, defensive driving principles and tactics. Moreover, most people have an overinflated opinion of their own driving ability. A dangerous combination, I believe.
This condition, I think, points to one of the most fundamental reasons why we continue to have so many crashes. If we all believe that there is nothing wrong with our driving, that we know all that there is to know about driving, that we are all superbly skilled, expert drivers and everyone else is the problem, then we are unlikely to expend any energy to make improvements or to even learn from our mistakes.
So next time when you climb behind the wheel, ask yourself, "How's my driving?". Really analyse how you are doing instead of noting everyone else's mistakes and complaining about how bad everyone else is. Ask yourself if there are any bad habits that have crept in over the years that you could work on. Just don't assume that you couldn't possibility get any better. When life sends you feedback on your driving by way of a close call or a ticket, don't be so fast to blame someone else, there may be a valuable lesson that you are missing?
Who knows, you may just prevent that next ticket or incident.
Me? I'm still banking on never meeting someone who actually needs a house painter at one of those gatherings! So far so good.....
- Written by Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver, Surrey, BC
Thinking Driver will be at the following events!
Association of School Transportation Services BC (ASTSBC) Conference - July 8 - 11, 2013 at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel, Richmond, BC (more information)
Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE) Professional Development Conference - September 15 - 18, 2013 at the Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Montreal, QC (more information)
Spencer McDonald, President of Thinking Driver - Upcoming Speaking Engagements
Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE) Professional Development Conference - '8 Critical Elements of a Successful Driver Safety Program' - Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 2:30 pm - Fairmount the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Montreal, QC (more information)
In this month's feature, Spencer McDonald discusses the importance of managing your space in traffic.
We used to play a video game called Space Invaders where you had to destroy little spaceships as they appeared on the screen. While it pales in comparison to today's games, it was pretty hi-tech for its time.
Space invaders can be a problem when we are driving too!
While space may be the final frontier, it's also one of the most important elements of safe driving.
The 3rd of Thinking Driver's Five Fundamentals is:
KEEP YOUR OPTIONS OPEN.
Keeping your options open means to keep as much space around you as you can when you drive. Space in front, to the sides and to the rear. I try to adjust my speed and position in traffic so that I'm all by myself.
SPACE GIVES YOU TIME.
Time to see, think and do what is necessary to avoid conflict with other vehicles.
This Fundamental dovetails with the first 2 that we have already discussed: 'Think and Look Ahead' and 'Anticipate Hazards'. By planning your position in traffic to provide space, you have the time to use your eyes effectively to look ahead and all around you so that you can anticipate the hazards that you may face.
Space then gives you the time and the room to deal with these challenges before they become an emergency. Your driving becomes PRO-active instead of RE-active. Besides being safer, this style is more relaxing because you don't have to feel on edge in case some dummy makes a move without seeing or considering YOUR position. How do you create space? It's easier than you think and if you practise it for a while, you will soon be doing it without even thinking. It will become habitual.
The first and most obvious technique is to maintain a safe following distance. At least 2 seconds behind the car in front and more if the conditions are anything but ideal.
If traffic is heavy and slow, this is even more important because sudden changes in speed, several cars in front of you, can ripple back quickly. When traffic is heavy, and slower, than you prefer, it's easy to creep up and get too close to the vehicle in front, as you hope things will start moving faster. Instead, trying driving the speed of traffic (which you are forced to do anyways) but do it with a good following distance. Running traffic speed but back out of the 'pack' will get you there just as quickly, but save you from having to deal with the drama of driving in a mass of cars and trucks jockeying for position.
"But someone may move into the space in front of me!" you may say.
But I say, "So what!"
Back off and open up the space again. What's one car in front of you..or 10 cars in front of you for that matter? Who cares? It's only a couple of seconds and those guys who weave through traffic and try to get ahead will pull out and go around the guy in front of you too.
SPACE TO THE SIDES IS ALSO IMPORTANT!
That space allows you to make lane changes or lateral movements on short notice if something changes up front that necessitates a lane change like congestion or vehicles waiting to turn. Keep track of the other vehicles in the adjacent lanes and try to adjust your speed so that you are not driving right besides them.
SPACE TO THE REAR IS TOUGHER, BUT STILL POSSIBLE TO MANAGE.
If you are being tailgated, the best strategy is to get that vehicle off your tail by adding the following distance that he is NOT leaving, to the following distance between you and the car in front. If you are leaving 3 seconds, and the car behind is only leaving 1, where he should be leaving 3, add the extra 2 and make your following distance 5 seconds. He's likely in a hurry and will find that big space in front of you irresistible and pass you. Problem solved.
In the old Space Invaders game, we just blasted the little alien pests right out of the sky. As much as we may want to do the same to those 'driving' space invaders, the safer and more responsible choice is to change the game and just play 'keep away'!
(Reprinted as previously published in Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine)
Spencer McDonald is Recognized by Canadian Society of Safety Engineering.
Congratulations to Thinking Driver President, Spencer McDonald, as the recipient of the 2013 CSSE BC Yukon Region Outstanding Achievement Award.
Mr. McDonald was recognized for his 30+ years of fleet and driver safety. CSSE awards were presented at the Awards Luncheon held at Newlands Golf Club in Langley, BC on October 24, 2013.
Other Notable Recipients:
CSSE National Awards Program
NAOSH Week - Most Innovative - Agropur Division Natrel
Outstanding Service - BC/Yukon - Norm Ralph (BCRTC)
NAOSH Week - BC Special Awards
Most Innovative - Agropur Division Natrel
BC Safety Authority Records a 60% Incident Rate Reduction Following Thinking Driver Training!
'Thinking Driver's President - Flagrant Safety Violation' Contest!
Congratulations to the Winners of the 'Flagrant Safety Violation!' Contest!
Thank you to everyone, from across North America who entered our 'Thinking Driver's President - Flagrant Safety Violation' contest. The contest is now over and while we had hundreds of entries, unfortunately on the first 11 are winners!
In September, in the Tailgate Topics & Tips #26 - Back to School video, Thinking Driver President, Spencer McDonald, discussed driver safety during back to school time and during the filming, after several 'takes' of one segment, forgot to put on his seatbelt before rolling the vehicle 10 feet or so out of the frame. Everyone who reviewed the video missed this error..until it was released and brought to our attention by Glenn Robertson of City of Penticton, BC, who was the first person to see the mistake and while not on the winner's list deserves special mention for being the first to see it! Nice catch Glenn!
If you would like to see the video again and check for yourself, it's still available for a short time only. Click on the video icon to have one last look and laugh.
Congratulations to all of our winners and thanks to everyone else who entered.
Christine Plomb - Allteck Line Contractors Inc. (Saskatoon, SK)
Ben Bunce (Kennesaw, GA)
Rich Hildebrand - Saskatchewan Government (Prince Albert, SK)
William C. Young - Willco Transportation Ltd. (Calgary, AB)
Spenser MacPherson - HSE Atlantic (Charlottetown, PE)
Jan Smith - Wolf's Bus Lines (York Springs, PA)
Janet Pool - Metro Vancouver (Burnaby, BC)
Dan Tucker - Northern Industrial Training (Palmer, AK)
Lynn Edwards - Franklin Co. Comm School Corp (Brookeville, IN)
Don Simmons - ACSA (Calgary, AB)
Tailgate Topics & Tips: Safety Meeting Planner & Agenda
Click here to access November's free Safety Meeting Planner.
Preview the Antilock Brakes video that accompanies this November's Safety Meeting Planner, click here.
Click here to access December's free Safety Meeting Planner.
Preview the Avoid Intersection Incidents video that accompanies December's Safety Meeting Planner, click here.
Upgrade your Tailgate Topics & Tips subscription to PROFESSIONAL and receive the Safety Meeting Planner & Video. Click here to find out more and to sign up.
In this month's feature, the 5th of Thinking Driver's Five Fundamentals, Control with Finesse, is discussed.
There is only one fundamental goal in vehicle control for performance and racing, fuel economy and reduced wear and tear or enhanced safety. That goal is: drive with smoothness and finesse.
I was paid what I think is the highest compliment the other day by a friend who was describing my driving to a colleague. He said, "When Spencer is driving, nothing seems to be happening; no excitement, no surprises, nothing abrupt, just smooth flow through traffic." It wasn't always that way though. When I was a young man, I thought that I knew what good driving was; you stomped the gas and cranked the steering wheel. I thought good drivers had the skill and guts to drive close to other vehicles, zip past and fly down the road.
Boy was I wrong!
That style of driving cost me huge fines for speeding. Eventually my license was suspended for 3 months within the first 24 months of getting it. My style of aggressive, sloppy driving cost me multiple brake jobs because I wore out brakes like you can't imagine, and I had 3 crashes in 3 years all before I was 20 years old. The reality is that I was one of the WORST drivers on the road. Even after all those tickets and crashes, I still figured that I was a great driver. I was indeed a legend in my own mind!
I thought that because race car drivers went fast, if I went fast too, I would be like a race car driver and that's good driving right? It wasn't until years later that I understood just why race car drivers are able to go fast and stay in control; Smoothness.
Yes, the best race drivers are the smoothest...they have the most finesse with brakes, accelerators and steering and they apply the principles of good vision, anticipation, space management and risk reduction to ensure that they never have to do anything abruptly and upset the balance of the vehicle.
When it comes down to it, traction, or the grip that your tires have with the road, is dependent on multiple factors, but the one that is most changeable moment to moment and controllable by the driver is the vehicle's balance and loading on each wheel/tire. It's an easy concept: if you have vehicle weight distributed over all tires (balanced), you are pushing the tires into the road with the vehicle weight and creating traction or friction. This is critical even if you are not a race car driver or driving at race car speeds.
What kind of driver are you? You almost certainly believe that you are a great driver, but are you, like I was, a legend in your own mind?
If you strive for smoothness in your daily driving, you will save fuel, reduce the wear and tear on your vehicle (especially brakes) and enhance safety by reducing risk. Practising smoothness also makes smooth control second nature which is critical if a sudden crisis does develop. Smooth balanced control helps ensure that you maintain traction and reduces the likelihood of a skid.
It's not difficult to cultivate a smooth driving style. You start by sitting correctly in your vehicle with you back close to upright and pressed back into the seat. Your left foot braced on the dead pedal and the heel of your right foot on the floor prepares you to control the accelerator and brake precisely by squeezing and easing on the pedal to manage the vehicle weight shift from front to back.
Your arms should be bent slightly at the elbows when you hold the steering wheel at 9 and 3 (yes 9 and 3!), then use the total control or push/pull method to turn the steering wheel.This will smooth out your cornering and manage the lateral weight shift when you turn.
Smooth driving is the hallmark of racing champions but also of professionals like police and other emergency vehicle operators.
Here is the litmus test of smooth and professional driving: are your passengers comfortable? Do they remark on how relaxed your driving makes them feel or are you hearing comments (or jokes) about your driving or gasps and sharp intakes of breath? Perhaps you should cultivate smoothness and become an excellent driver in reality instead of a legend in your own mind.
By Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver (Reprinted as previously published in Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine.)
I recently exited a parking lot in my area into a lane that immediately ended and required me to merge left into the through lane. You know the situation, where people charge up the right side and squeeze in? I signalled and settled in to wait a while as the line of traffic was steady as far back as I could see and I'm not the 'force my way in' type of guy (anymore).
To my surprise and delight, the first car that had the opportunity, braked and waved me in and I joined the line. After completing my lane change, I waved back with my right hand from inside ("Thanks") and the generous driver, who let me in, flashed his lights back ("No problem, you're welcome"). I smiled. Good karma indeed!
Such an easy moment, a light touch on the brakes, a casual gesture and I'm in line without drama or frustration. I'm happy to have been let in and he appreciated my thanks. It got me thinking: I see countless acts of courtesy every day when I drive but I listen to endless diatribes from others about how discourteous everyone is these days on the road. What's going on here?
I believe in karma - You get what you give... you attract to you, events and experiences that are consistent with the behaviour that you practise and your beliefs and expectations. If you expect others to be jerks about their driving, you watch for it and naturally notice it. As a consequence, you may feel justified in driving like a jerk yourself and attract even more jerks and discourteous drivers into your experience as they react to your driving style.
Now, you could choose to drive aggressively and defend your actions by arguing that this is the only way to deal with all the idiots on the road, but this attitude betrays an underlying belief that defensive driving means that the best defense is a strong offense. You may or may not be religious or spiritual, go to church or pray, meditate or practice a faith at all, but fundamentally we all know right from wrong and retaliation or aggression isn't the answer.
Every spiritual leader ever, professed peace and the importance of tolerance, forgiveness and the inherent goodness in all others regardless of their behaviour in the moment. You and I have both behaved badly at some point but has that doomed us to purgatory and forever tarnished us as a bad person?
We recently lost Nelson Mandela who was an inspiration to the entire world and he said that 'resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies'.
In fact, we are all imperfect people struggling to find our way through life, some more skilled in some ways and less in others. Compassion and forgiveness is an appropriate response to poor driving skills seen in others or even intentional aggressive driving.
Karma is Karma. You get what you give. Whatever you believe about driving and other drivers, it's going to be true... for you. And treating others poorly will just come back to you someday.
But what if you chose a different reality? What if you could choose to think differently and try out different driving behaviour. You will certainly get what you give in this case also. Will you stop seeing or experiencing discourteous drivers? Likely not, but you will begin to attract and notice the good guys out there that don't tailgate, and do let you in, that don't block the fast lane, that signal and wait for a gap instead of forcing the issue. You will continue to get what you give, but it will all be different because you will be giving differently.
The reality that we live in is mostly of our own creation. Living in a world where we focus our judgement outward critically and self-righteously assessing everyone else might make us feel superior, but at the expense of our own happiness and joy.
You may have a GPS in your vehicle that guides you to your destination, but each of us has another compass; an internal moral compass that if we listen to before acting or reacting impulsively will guide us to the best outcome for all.
So when you next drive, refer to your internal compass about right and wrong and apply it to yourself first before judging others. Try giving a bit and patiently watching for it to come around as it certainly will, if you just look for it. It's just driving karma.
Written by Spencer McDonald, President , Thinking Driver
About the Author - Spencer McDonald is a respected authority on driver behaviour, psychology and training, and is the founder of Thinking Driver. To learn more about Mr. McDonald, please visit www.thinkingdriver.com.