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Monday, 31 March 2014 00:00

Feature Article

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Motorcycles are the safest vehicles on the road right up until the point of impact.

I have been a rider since 1972 and enjoyed riding everything from mini bikes with lawnmower engines to 100 plus horsepower sport and touring bikes.

I love my motorcycles: my BMW 1200RT is called ‘Alice (the missile)’, and ‘Hugo’ is a Kawasaki KLR 650 (you name your vehicles too, right?).  I love riding off-road and touring on the highway and have been as far north as Whitehorse and south to Arizona.

In 1975, I won a trophy for being the first junior in Canada in the National Observed Trials competition (I ask myself sometimes: That was almost 40 years ago, should I still be bragging about it?).

But old or not, in the coming months, I will be heading off to the Grand Canyon via the Oregon Coast and Las Vegas on ‘Alice, the missile’

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I, and thousands of other riders, begin to appear on the highways this time of year. Too many will not see the end of the riding season. Some will crash their bikes due to over-exuberant riding or overconfidence, which is unfortunate; but many more will lose in a collision with anther vehicle.

We riders say that motorcycles are the safest vehicles on the road because they accelerate out of danger, stop quicker and are more maneuverable than pretty much any other vehicle. We like to think that we can ride out of most dangerous situations.

The problem is that, too often, we are just simply not seen and the other driver does something to cause a collision that we can’t avoid. A motorcycle is the safest vehicle on the road, right up until the point of impact.

We are vulnerable road users and when we tangle with a car, the car generally wins.

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When a motorcycle and another vehicle collide, it's most often the other driver's fault. The situation that is most common is the other driver turning left in front of the motorcyclist. The car driver typically doesn't see the motorcycle or actually sees the rider but misjudges the approach speed and thinks there is time to turn, because a motorcycle is small when viewed from the front, and this makes speed estimation problematic.

Motorcycles are tough to see and, if you are not looking for them, very easy to miss. They handle much differently than other vehicles and have some special characteristics. If you don't really understand them, they can be difficult to share the road with.

Some easy guidelines for you to apply a you see motorcycle riders this spring and summer will help keep everyone safer.

  • When you are waiting at intersections to turn left, remember that you may have more than just cars and trucks approaching and look for motorcycles. If you see a rider approaching, make sure that they are coming at a speed that allows you to turn safely in front of them before starting your turn.
  • Remember that a motorcycle can stop in a fraction of the distance that your car or SUV can so leave a good following distance. If the rider brakes suddenly for some reason and you are too close, you will not be able to slow quickly enough to avoid her. Normally, under ideal conditions we suggest a following distance of at least 3 seconds behind a motorcycle. Add more distance if conditions deteriorate.motorbike in mirror
  • When you change lanes, check your mirror and should check to make sure there is no motorcycle in your blind spot. Most of us riders work hard to stay out of blind spots, but if you don't shoulder check before changing lanes, you will never be sure the lane change is safe.
  • When you are stopped behind a motorcycle, leave a good space. It feels very intimidating to have a large vehicle stopped really close behind you.

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This spring, take a moment to think about and practise these tips to help you stay out of conflict with us riders and share the road.

Written by: Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver

(Reprinted as previously published in Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine)

Published in NEWS
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 00:00

karmaI 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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

(Reprinted as previously published in Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine)

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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.

Published in NEWS
Tuesday, 25 November 2014 00:00

music notemusic note"Slip sliding away, slip sliding away.  You know the nearer your destination, the more you slip slide away."

Paul Simon sang it in 1977 (there I go dating myself again) and it's still happening every winter.  But with some simple techniques and a bit of practise you can eliminate that 'slip sliding away'.

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Traction is the main element to consider when driving in winter conditions and when you have lost traction you are slip sliding.  It doesn't matter what the road surface is or what the conditions are; there is a finite amount of grip or traction between the tires of your vehicle and that road.

Once you exceed the available traction and your vehicle is no longer responding to your commands to steer, brake or accelerate, you are no longer in control. Your final destination is now in the hand of Newton-Sir Isaac Newton, that is. Vehicle control is about physics and we learned all that we really need to know about it in high school (grade 9 physics if I recall that far back).

Learning skills to observe these laws can take a bit of practise, but no amount of skill or luck will let you dodge them. Ignore Newton at your peril.

Newton's first law says that an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by another force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by another force. This law is often call 'the law of inertia'.

In driving, if your vehicle is not moving, it doesn't want to move unless acted on by another force. Once your vehicle is moving, it wants to stay moving in the same direction as it is going unless acted upon by other forces.

You exert force to change the speed or direction by altering the speed or path of the tires and as they grip the road, your direction or speed changes; but only if you have maintained traction and they are not skidding.

Abrupt steering, braking or acceleration exerts excessive forces that may exceed the available traction and initiate a skid or spin.  That's why controlling with finesse is critical to winter safety.  Do everything as smoothly and as gently as you can to keep the vehicle balanced and maintain the tires' grip with the road.

Here are some techniques to try:

  • Leave yourself extra space and begin to brake early when you know that you may have to slow or stop.  The longer distance that you use to slow, the less traction that you need to stay in control.
  • Keep your speed lower than usual on corners and avoid sliding sideways.foot on brake
  • Squeeze and ease the brake and accelerator.  Start gently, and gradually increase pressure to minimize the weight shift of the vehicle on braking or acceleration and reduce the chances of traction loss.
  • Avoid abrupt steering and use 'total control steering'.  Keep your hands at the 9 and 3 o'clock position on the steering wheel and 'shuffle' or 'push and pull' the steering wheel to the left or right.  This will help you make directional changes more progressively and maintain your traction.
  • Traction is improved when you have good winter tires and enough weight in the vehicle.  Drivers with empty rear wheel drive pickup trucks could consider adding weight when conditions are slippery.65__320x240_car_in_snow_skidding[1]
  • Look well ahead in slippery conditions to plan when you may need to slow or stop.  Avoid coming to a complete stop when possible and legal, particularly on hills where more traction is needed to get moving than is needed to keep moving.  If you stop on a hill, it's much more difficult to get going.
  • Read the road surface and try to drive where there is better traction and minimal ice.
  • If you do find yourself sliding away and using your anti-lock brakes, use them correctly.  If you feel or hear your anti-lock brakes activating, remember, the right reaction is to push the brake pedal down hard and look and steer where you want to go.  Don't let up on the pedal until you are either back under control or stopped.  The anti-lock brakes are designed to keep your wheels from locking up and allow you to steer out of danger.

Practise these techniques and you may find yourself singing Randy Bachman instead of Paul Simon and instead of 'Slip Sliding Away', you will be safely 'Rollin' Down the Highway'.

Written By: Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver

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(Reprinted as previously published in Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine.)

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.

Published in NEWS
Monday, 06 April 2015 00:00

fleet-safety1Good training is a key element, but only part of the puzzle for vehicle safety!

Employers with vehicle fleet or employees who drive are aware (or should be) that the greatest probability of an injury incident is going to be vehicle or driving related.  Many organizations have, therefore, incorporated driver training into their OHS program.  This is as it should be.

Unfortunately, in many cases, this is where vehicle safety stops.

Training is too often expected to become 'the answer' to vehicle reduction.  A driver involved in an incident, for example, is automatically sent back to re-attend the training program where he/she would almost always pass with flying colours, seemingly without effort.  Lack of skill is clearly not the problem here.

In this situation, is retaining really the answer or are there other forces at play?  Could this be a motivational problem, an attitudinal issue, maybe a medical condition?  Was the vehicle appropriate for the work and equipped correctly?  Training alone can't address all these issues.

A driver training program labouring under the expectation that it should solve all of an organization's driver safety or incident problems is destined to fall short.

Training is undertaken for a variety of reasons:

  • to train and qualify new operators,
  • to provide refresher or upgrade training/education,
  • to reinforce previously learned skills,
  • to re-qualify experienced operators.

But there are many more elements to an effective vehicle safety program.

How does yours stack up?  Compare the features of your vehicle/driver safety program with this list of critical key elements:

1. Senior Management Commitment

Is driver safety seen and acted on by senior management as a critical safety issue?  Frequently we see lip service paid to driver safety, with strong statements of corporate commitment but an absence of meaningful action.  In many cases, senior executives are visibly absent in the training courses associated with the program and have a belief that they are somehow exempt from vehicle safety policies, like pre-trip inspection and circle checks.

Enlightened organizations implement driver safety programs by starting with attendance and qualification on course from executives very early in the process.  These managers lead by example, by committing to the program and adhering to policy (like cell phone prohibition, backing in to park, circle checks).  Workers need to both hear about safety from management and also see management participating and in compliance.

2. Written Policies and Procedures

Vehicle safety policy and practise should be identified and detailed in its own section in your health and safety manual.

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The policy should state the company's expectation of employees who drive, as well as specific policy related to job tasks involving vehicle use or movement - on or off-road.  In addition, the policy should state qualifications for use of various vehicle types or classes and the training testing required to achieve these qualifications.

Consequences for non-compliance (if different from the corporate disciplinary system) should be stated clearly.

3. Driver Abstract / Record Checks

Check the driver records of all prospective employees who will be driving for work purposes. Screen out applicants who have poor driving records since they are most likely to cause problems in the future. The driving record should be reviewed annually to ensure that the employee maintains a good driving record, and action should be taken if the record deteriorates.

Clearly define the number of violations an employee/driver can have before losing the privilege of driving for work, and provide training where needed.

4. Incident Reporting and Investigation

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All vehicle incidents should be reported and investigated.  Acquire the services of an experienced trainer or vehicle operation expert if one is not available in-house.

Root causes should be identified and action items (if applicable) developed to help prevent future incidents.

5. Vehicle Selection, Maintenance and Inspection

Selecting, properly maintaining and routinely inspecting company vehicles is an important part of preventing crashes related losses.  Ensure the vehicle selected for a particular application is suited and properly equipped to permit safe use in that application and environment.

A pre-trip/shift inspection routine should be incorporated into the vehicle safety policy, and vehicles should be inspected daily by the driver.

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Regular maintenance should be done at specific mileage intervals consistent with the manufacturer's recommendations.  A mechanic should do a thorough inspection of each vehicle at least annually.

 

6. Disciplinary System

Develop a strategy to determine the course of action after the occurrence of a moving violation, policy breach, complaint and/or preventable incident.

There are a variety of corrective action programs available; the majority of these are based on a system that assigns points for infraction and/or incidents.  The system should provide for progressive discipline if an employee begins to develop a pattern of repeated problems.

7. Reward / Incentive Program

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Safe driving behaviours contribute directly to the bottom-line and should be recognized as such.  Positive results are realized when driving performance is incorporated into the overall evaluation of job performance.

Reward and incentive programs typically involve recognition, monetary rewards, special privileges or the use of other incentives.

8. Driver Training / Communications

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The training program should be an integral part of the OHS program and be ongoing.

Conduct initial training and qualification for new hires; even those with clean driving records may have never experienced professional training and only passed a basic government driving exam (perhaps many years ago).  To set a baseline for driver performance and to document competence in case of future problems, employees should be trained, evaluated and qualified on the vehicle type(s) they will be assigned to, in the environment they will be operating in.

Regular refresher/requalification should be an integral part of the program.

The best programs incorporate a driver safety related course, seminar or event annually to keep vehicle safety at the forefront of employees' minds and demonstrate the corporate commitment to safety.

Every two to three years, requalification by on-road evaluation should be conducted.

Keeping vehicle incident rated low goes beyond just providing training, it includes a comprehensive system of the key elements discussed in this article.

How does your organization measure up?

Written by: Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver

Published in NEWS

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