When we survey drivers during our training courses, wer regularly have over 90% of participants rating themselves as better than average drivers. You probably fall into this group too. It's almost certainly true; most of the time at least.
I have conducted thousands of driving evaluations over 25 years and I have run across very few really bad drivers. This raises the question of why we continue to have so many accidents on our roads and perhaps in your organization.
It can't be just a few bad drivers causing all the problems, so it must be something else. Could it be that all of us "good" drivers are the problem?
In fact, even good drivers will sometimes take chances and make mistakes in judgement that can end up in a crash.
What could cause a good driver to become involved in an at fault accident or property damage incident?
Good driving is a combination of Skills, Knowledge and Attitudes.
We need skills to safely and competently operate a motor vehicle; knowledge of the rules and regulations, and a positive attitude.
For decades, driver safety programs have identified these elements as the key to accident reduction and done a good job of refreshing knowledge in a classroom or on-line course and polished skills with behind the wheel training. Having a good attitude is also stressed. But what is a good attitude? What are attitudes in the first place?
We know a bad attitude when we see one, but to successfully make meaningful changes to driver behaviour, we need to help drivers understand, recognize and change their attitudes.
Attitudes are a mixture of belief systems and values that determine how we both respond to things in our lives like driving. It is our attitude that determines how we will use our skills and knowledge when confronted with a driving challenge.
Pre-conceived notions about other drivers based on age, gender or ethnicity and expectations about their behaviour, can create attitudes of intolerance and frustration where cooperation and patience may yield more positive results.
Failure to accept our powerlessness in situations where traffic is slow or tied up can encourage aggressive driving behaviour in an attempt to get there quicker.
Our attitudes are the prime determinant of how much risk we take on the road; our risk tolerance.
Risk tolerance is the amount of risk that we normally accept when performing a risky task like driving. What is crucial to understand, is that our tolerance for risk can change in a moment based on our internal state and the events around us.
Our emotional state is one of the personal factors that can cause changes in our willingness to risk. Stress, anger, overconfidence and fatigue are a few of these factors.
Our expectations play a huge role in the process. If we live in a world of SHOULD, we drive with the expectation that others should drive properly or safely, respect our space and follow the rules, and we are setting ourselves up for a stressful trip. When another driver doesn't meet our expectations and doesn't do what they SHOULD do, we may respond in anger and find that our willingness to take an unsafe risk escalates.
Anger at other driver's behaviour and frustration with traffic can cause us to take chances. So can minor problems like running late.
If you honestly ask yourself if you have ever done something downright dangerous while driving under the influence of stress or frustration, you will likely say yes.
You see, most people ARE good drivers, except during moments when they become angry, frustrated or otherwise influenced by factors that elevate risk tolerance.
Changing expectations is just one stress reduction technique that can make a major difference in driver attitudes and behaviour but most driving course fail to consider it and instead bore drivers with review of rules that most already know and for the most part, follow.
When we live in a world of IS instead of SHOULD, we drive with the expectation that there will be discourteous or rude drivers and that there will be traffic tie-ups and delays. We are armed now, however, with the knowledge and tools to safely and responsibly manage ourselves in these stressful situations. This goes a long way towards reducing risk taking behaviour behind the wheel of the company truck or our personal vehicles.
To make changes in fleet safety, simple driver training is only part of the solution. Defensive driving courses or refresher training that focuses only on driving rules and techniques, misses the critical issue of personal factors and attitudes that change risk tolerance. To be effective, driver safety training and education must focus on driver attitudes about risk and stress and provide more meaningful and workable tools that employees can use to self-manage these states. "HE CUT ME OFF" just doesn't cut it as an excuse for retaliatory behaviour that results in and incident.
Spencer McDonald - President of Thinking Driver, Surrey, BC
(reprinted as previously printed in Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine)
The Saskatchewan Safety Council's 40th Annual Industrial Safety Seminar took place February 4-6, 2013 in Regina, SK. Thinking Driver was pleased to be in attendance and had a display booth in the tradeshow component.
Training Coordinator, Pam Peterson, spoke with attendees and visitors to the booth about the Thinking Driver courses and products available in Saskatchewan and throughout North America.
Thinking Driver's Chief Instructor and Regina resident, Dan Boyer, was on hand to meet clients and other Saskatchewan based company reps to answer their driver training questions.
Spencer McDonald, President of Thinking Driver and recognized authority on driver behaviour, psychology and training, delivered a session on "8 Critical Fleet Safety Elements".
Thinking Driver, a leading corporate driver improvement training and consulting firm based in British Columbia and Safety Services Nova Scotia, a not for profit safety services provider recently signed an agreement granting Safety Services Nova Scotia distribution rights to Thinking Driver products and services in Nova Scotia including Thinking Driver training courses, training support materials, eLearning products, DVDs and other Canadian content safety products.
Thinking Driver courses and services are in use by government and industry across western and northern Canada and into the U.S. serving a diverse spectrum of industrial and government sectors from oil and gas, transportation, engineering and environmental as well as heavy industry and construction.
Thinking Driver President, Spencer McDonald says: "We are delighted to have Safety Services Nova Scotia join our distribution network. We have points of service across Western Canada with instructors as far as Saskatchewan and a U.S. distributor serving numerous states, but have been seeking a professional organization to represent Thinking Driver in Eastern Canada."
To read more of this press release from Safety Services Nova Scotia, click here.
One driving attitude that can get us into trouble and stress out is an obsession with getting around the guy in front of us.
Do you need to be at the front of the line?
Common sense tells us that there really is no front of the line to reach, so to try and get there by weaving through traffic and passing anyone in front of us is a losing proposition. We are reminded of this every time that slow guy, that we just passed, catches us at the next light!
(Don't you hate when that happens?)
Rushing through traffic in an attempt to get to the front of the line or to make up time when you are late just doesn't make sense. It's high risk driving, uses more fuel, it's stressful and leads to violations or worse. It just doesn't work.
We conducted a study a few years ago, using 3 of our instructors, who all came in from the same suburb of Vancouver, to see how much quicker hurrying through traffic would be. We assigned 2 different alternating driving styles for each driver to use on alternating days: one style was to get to the office as fast as possible and the other was to relax, choose a lane, stay in it and go with the flow. The rules for "getting there as fast as possible" were: no red light running, but push the yellows to the legal limit, no excessive speeding, change lanes to get ahead whenever you get past another car. The rules for "go with the flow": relax, leave a safe following distance, drive as perfectly, safely and defensively as possible.
What were the results after a month of gathering times? Depending on traffic, the commute took between 45 and 60 minutes daily but the most interesting result was that regardless of how heavy or difficult the traffic was, the get there "fast" group only saved an average of 3 minutes over the "defensive" group on any given day. A 3 minute saving at the cost of up to an hour of concerted aggressive driving! Not much of a pay off.
A better attitude to adopt is one where you choose a lane that works for you, stay in it, go with the flow and leave a comfortable space in front of you. Let someone else rush around you then smile and wave when you catch them all stressed out at the next light and you just cruise up relaxed and stress free.
When we expect traffic to be heavy and slow and choose an attitude of acceptance, we can relax and drive safely and defensively in the knowledge that it really doesn't take that much longer. Arrive calm, and ready for the day instead of frazzled and burned out before we even start work.
Seasoned professional drivers know this. They will tell you that the best strategy is acceptance of traffic conditions and a go with the flow attitude. Back in the day, a crusty old trucker, named Dick, taught me to drive trucks and said, "slow down and make time". Dick said that he loved it when he missed the light and caught a yellow. He said, "there's nothing like being front of the line and first off on the green!". Maybe there is a front of the line after all.
- Spencer McDonald, President,
Thinking Driver is pleased to be in attendance at the following Safety Conferences across Canada:
- March 20 - 21 - Safety Services Nova Scotia: 31st Annual Health, Safety & Environment Conference, Halifax, NS (more information)
- April 5 - BC Trucking AGM, Northview Golf Club, Surrey, BC
- April 22 - 23 - Western Safety Conference, Vancouver, BC (more information)
- April 30 - May 1 - Partners In Prevention, Mississauga, ON (more information)
Spencer McDonald, President of Thinking Driver will be delivering a presentation on 'When Fleet Driver Training Isn't Enough'.
What happens when your corporate drivers get tickets or have accidents? Are they automatically sent back to re-attend a driver training program where they pass with flying colours, seemingly without effort? Lack of skill is clearly not the problem, so what is happening? Is retraining (again and again) really the answer or are other forces at play? Come hear the 8 critical elements that successful organizations use in their corporate driver safety programs.
Western Safety Conference - April 22 & 23, 2013 - Hyatt Regency Hotel, Vancouver, BC
Thinking Driver delivers Winter Driving Skills Training to Government of Northwest Territories, Department of Transportation Employees.
When I was asked if I would like to go to the Northwest Territories (NWT) for three weeks to deliver 'Winter Driving: Skid Control and Recovery', I thought what a great opportunity to see the North and at the same time, be in the very best part of Canada to facilitate winter driving courses.
My first stop was Yellowknife, where I was warmly greeted by the NWT employees. They had a large field near the airport that had been snow plowed for this course - which was great - but then they added water. Needless to say, this was an excellent simulation of roads turned to ice and/or their famous 'ice roads'.
We begin training with a classroom theory session in Winter Driving Fundamentals. We cover such things as the 6 conditions of winter driving, fundamentals of traction and control, 3 principal types of skid and how to recover from them. There were a lot of good questions in the class which made for an excellent discussion time prior to going out in the vehicles and putting it all into practical application.
Getting into the vehicles and out onto the icy surface to put the theory into practice really raises the enthusiasm and excitement of the group. It's about the most fun you can have in winter driving conditions: A safe, closed course, free of obstruction or other traffic, perfect for skidding.
When I took off to the Great White North, I cam prepared and was certainly grateful to have packed well once the temperature hit -40 degrees. The extra hat I picked up was very useful.
Despite the chillier temperatures, each morning I awoke to the beauty of a northern sunrise in all its glory. Breathtaking to behold and what a way to start my day!
After a week in Yellowknife, it was time to head to Hay River for a week. This leg of the journey began with a 45 minute flight over "Great Slave Lake" in a DC-3 with Buffalo Air. Not a large plane, but cozy, friendly, and we arrived safe and sound.
Again I was warmly greeted and welcomed by the NWT staff. Their track was created on an open field with a large snow island in the middle. The track was a combination of packed snow, ice, with some gravel sticking out to create a good example of what is found on local roads. The practical training was challenging, but we only had to shovel snow once to free a truck from the snow piled island. Another winter skill learned - how to get your vehicle unstuck!
My third week in the North started with another flight aboard Buffalo Air in that DC-3 to Yellowknife, followed by a 1.5 hour flight in a Boeing 737 to Inuvik with a brief stop over at Norman Wells. Inuvik was the smaller of the three locations and again filled with extremely friendly people. Once again the NWT staff greeted me like a Rock Star.
The practical training location was a large square area on the Mackenzie River, plowed for this course. For safety reasons, there was a wide snow bank separating out training area from an ice road that leads to Tukoyaktuk. This area proved to be challenging and a good simulation of what these NWT employees drive on a daily basis.
At the beginning of these three weeks, I felt a bit intimidated with the thought of attempting to teach winter driving skills to people who live their entire lives in the North and grew up in this driving environment. What could I teach that they didn't already know? As it turned out, the Thinking Driver program had many things to offer: How to drive in winter with new vehicle technology such as ABS brakes or electronic stabilizers; One of the main things that I was able to pass on to these students, is how to handle an 'under-steer' situation. Most were experts when their vehicle went into 'over-steer', but were unfamiliar with how to get out of an 'under-steer'. 90% of those who attended indicated they learned new things as well as having obtained an excellent review and reminder in other areas that could be improved upon.
I believe that if I can pass on even one good tip to enhance a driver's skill and competence and make driving a safer part of their day, then I've done my job and can go home happy and with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. After three weeks in the Northwest Territories, I am a happy man indeed.
– Michael Glas, Chief Instructor, Thinking Driver, March 2013
Crossroads of Life and Death
I never made a conscious decision to take up this line of work. In fact, it all happened by chance and coincidence as so many of life's bigger decisions do; you reach a crossroad, a path opens up and you think; why not?
I was working in a motorcycle shop and had been laid off. It was my last day at work, and an hour or so before I walked out for the last time, Ted walked in. Ted was a customer and a friend. We had attended the same high school (Terry Fox in Port Coquitlam, BC) but he was several years older than me and I didn't really get to know him until he started to buy motorcycles from the shop for his riding school.
Ted was an exceptional driving and motorcycle riding instructor. He had spent years at the BC Safety Council as a chief instructor in the heavy truck and the motorcycle training program, and had run his own driving school before moving on to working as a senior driver trainer at Canada Post. He was the first person in BC to hold instructor licenses for all classes of licence. Ted was a family man; a devoted husband to Dorothy and a great father to his three youngsters. Everybody liked Ted.
He suggested, that since I had no prospects at that point, that I check out the riding school at the Safety Council as they were always on the lookout for prospective new instructors. I went there the next day, got hires and the rest is, as they say, history. Without Ted's suggestion my life would have gone in a completely different direction. It was 1984.
My career in road safety started with teaching people to ride motorcycles, part-time, thanks to Ted. But this story isn't about me, it's about him.
Early one morning in 1989, the rang and I got the news.
Ted had been killed in a car crash the night before. Also killed were two of his kids; Jason and Jennifer. His wife, Dorothy was in intensive care and Ben, his youngest son was in hospital too. Later that day, Dorothy died. Eight year old Ben was the only one left and he went home from the hospital with his aunt and uncle to live with them.
The four-way stop intersection where it all happened is in South Surrey, BC, where a drunk driver ran the side street stop sign. Speed estimate from the police was she was going 110 km/h at the moment of impact. Ted took the full hit right in the driver door.
They didn't stand a chance.
Good drivers always check intersections before entering; looking left and right and back left again because that's where the first danger will come from. Ted was not only an expert driver, he was an instructor trainer; the guy who trained the teachers! If anyone would check intersections, he would.
So what happened? Your eyes are your first line of defence. Did Ted screw up? Did he forget to check and clear that intersection? Were the sight lines just really bad and he couldn't see? We will never know.
What is certain is that if he had seen her coming, he would have sat still, foot on the brake and watched her blast through that intersection. He would have arrived home safe that night with his family and an exciting story to tell about a crazy driver running a stop sign.
But he didn't see her.
The funeral was surreal: there were friends, family, business associates; more people than the church would possibly hold. And four caskets. Two of them very small.
The young lady that hit them had no previous serious traffic violations and certainly no previous history of impaired driving. She intended no harm. She was only 19 and had had a fight with her boyfriend at a party. She was angry and upset and had left the party drunk and high. Her friends let her drive. She made a fatefully stupid decision, while impaired and angry. She walked away from the crash, but will live with the memory and consequences forever.
Ben is grown now with a family of his own and his dad's BMW motorcycle now in his garage.
Without a doubt, the crash was the girl's fault and yet, 22 years later I keep asking myself; why didn't Ted see her?
Here's my question to you: do you always check left, right and back to left before taking your foot off the brake at an intersection, like Ted would have taught you?
My guess is that Ted always did...always, except maybe once?
- Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver (reprinted as previously published in Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine)
When I was 7 years old we came home one day from the grocery store and unloaded everything into the house while the car sate in the driveway. I stayed in the house with Mom and my sister while Dad put the car away. It was a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport sedan. Back then it was just a nice car; a couple more decades would pass before it became a classic.
So Dad backed the car into the garage and in the process tore off the back door that I had left open in my rush to get in the house. Clearly my fault - at least according to Dad.
Now in 1965, what do you think happened to children that left car doors open to be torn off by garages? Today it would draw attention from child services but back then I was just being taught a lesson.
But I digress. Whose fault was this really? Or is fault even worth discussing? Whose fault was it when Mom backed over my sister's bicycle with the Rambler?
Things just seemed to go wrong in our family when vehicles backed up. Or perhaps I'm a backing up jinx?
As a teenager, I cut the front end of my 1970 Dodge Super Bee into a power pole backing out of a service station and once even backed up in a left turn lane (don't ask) with Dad's pick up truck right into the grille of the compact car hiding behind the tailgate. I was real close when my buddy, Terry, backed his Toyota into a stump at Long Beach (he spent quite a while convincing us that it had been his wife's fault...somehow) and I was home when my former wife Rhonda backed her Acura out of the garage (or tried to) with the door still closed and another co-worker once connected with a tree while backing up in a company truck.
Is it just me or does this backing up stuff seem to be just a little more complicated than we all think?
In most vehicle fleets, backing incidents account for over 40% of all reportable vehicle incidents even though we drive in reverse only a fraction of the distances that we go forward. Backing incidents are a big deal. They absorb huge dollars in property damage and not infrequently result in serious injury.
Not surprisingly, backing incidents are almost always PREVENTABLE. In our courses, we highlight 7 fundamental ideas to prevent backing incidents. Maybe they will help you avoid some problems that I have seen (and on occasion caused).
1. Avoid Backing! - Let's face it, if you don't back up, you won't have a backing up incident. It's easier than you might think. Before you park your vehicle or get into any tight area, think about how you will get out. Can this be done without backing up? Most of us already scope out the spots, in the mall parking lots, that let us drive though an unoccupied spot to the next one, leaving us facing out for a quick getaway. That's thinking! Now apply that same logic at work. If you have to go somewhere to park or for other reasons, back up first, when you can see that the area is clear, and make your first move forward when you leave.
2. Circle Check - If you are moving your vehicle from a place where it has been parked or has not moved for a long enough that things may have changed, walk around and make sure that it's safe before you move it.
3. Look Back - In a pick up or utility vehicle, set up your mirrors properly and use them! If you can't see what's back there, stop and get out to look! In a passenger car, look out the centre of the rear window, over the back seat. (If you twist around and hike yourself up on your right butt cheek, it's easier). Looking out the driver window, over your left should doesn't tell you much and creates a huge blind spot everywhere except the narrow view down the driver's side.
4. Use a Guide - If someone else is around to help of if you have a passenger, have them get out and direct you.
5. Back Slowly - Your vehicle handles differently in reverse and can get difficult to control with too much speed. A walking pace is all the speed you will likely ever need.
6. Avoid Distractions- Don't try to multitask and use your cell phone or other hand-held device. If you are distracted by strong emotions or in a conversation, stop for a second before you back up and focus on your driving.
7. Practise - We back up so little that most of us never really get very good at it. So get out and practise backing up into parking spots in a deserted parking lot. Take a couple of traffic cones, if you have them, or small cardboard boxes and make up a little course for yourself. As you get better, your confidence will increase and you will soon be backing up safely, like a pro.
All of the backing incidents that I described above were off the job, and this is where I want to take extra care. Every year hundreds (yes hundreds) of young children are injured or killed when one of their parents, relatives or friends backs over them in the driveway at home. The 7 principles that you just read can save the life of a child. Go back now and read them again.
How can you apply them at home and at work?
Maybe as a kid, my family was pretty lucky after all. We only lost a bicycle or two - and that stupid Chevy door.
- Written by Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver, Surrey, BC
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