Thinking-Driver-Logo
Tuesday, 29 October 2013 00:00

Thank you to everyone who visited the Thinking Driver booth at the recent BC Municipal Occupational Health & Safety Conference, held in Victoria, BC.

Congratulations to our draw winners who will be receiving a copy of Thinking Driver’s ‘Winter Driving Fundamental’ DVD.

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  • Dave Cochran, The City of Calgary
  • Ken Glubish, The City of Edmonton
  • Gail Townsley, City of Richmond
  • Alexander Tishenico, City of Vernon
  • Scott McMillan, City of Prince George
  • Rob Walker, Capital Regional District

If you would like to preview Thinking Driver’s ‘Winter Driving Fundamentals’ DVD or any of the DVDs in our library, please go to www.thinkingdriver.com.

Published in NEWS
Friday, 13 December 2013 00:00

Feature Article

In this month's feature, Spencer McDonald discusses the importance of managing your space in traffic.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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

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BC Safety Authority Records a 60% Incident Rate Reduction Following Thinking Driver Training!

blank-online-video-screen[1]Bryan Lundale of BC Safety Authority (BCSA) tells us how Thinking Driver training has helped reduce incidents at the BCSA.

 

 

 

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'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!Video Image

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)

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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.

If you are not already receiving Tailgate Topics & Tips delivered to your inbox, add your name to the distribution list by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and providing your name, company and email address and you will automatically receive the latest topic.

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.

 

Published in NEWS
Friday, 17 January 2014 00:00

Feature Article

In this month's feature, the 5th of Thinking Driver's Five Fundamentals, Control with Finesse, is discussed.

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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.

race car driver

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.

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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.

total control steering

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.

 

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By Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver (Reprinted as previously published in Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine.)

Published in NEWS
Monday, 03 March 2014 00:00

Feature Article

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The car wasn’t going very fast when it passed us. In fact, it was hardly going any faster than we were which made me wonder why the driver felt the need to go by. As he signalled right and began to move back into our lane, the rear of the car began a graceful, slow motion pirouette to the left and the car rotated a full 180 degrees clockwise as we both continued down the highway. Bill, who was driving our van, braked gently and we stopped just in time to see the car (now facing the wrong way and going backwards in front of us) come to a gentle stop in the snow bank that had been left by the plough. No one was hurt and we helped them get out of the snow bank, turned around and on their way.

We were on British Columbia’s Highway 5 between Hope and Merritt in the middle of winter. This is the stretch of road now made famous by the Discovery Channel program, ‘Highway Through Hell’. We were going skiing. It was snowing, the road was covered in compact snow and the temperature was well below freezing. For this time of year on the Coquihalla: pretty typical conditions.

These kinds of conditions can be challenging to drive in, but by no means must they be particularly dangerous if handled responsibly and with a modicum of skill and caution.

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Approach winter conditions with less than good vehicle handling skills and/or overconfidence and you are in for trouble.

We live in a country where every single city has the potential for and history of, snow. Yes, even Victoria, BC has seen snowy roads! So why are there so many crashes at the first sign of the white stuff?

Too many of us either don’t understand the nature of traction, how to find and maintain traction in winter conditions and the implications of traction loss; or we do understand all of this but overestimate our capabilities. Either way, the results range from simply getting stuck or the harmless spinout described above, to more tragic events like the recent bus crash on a snowy pass in Oregon that killed several passengers.

So, let’s review: There are 6 main driving conditions that may affect your driving during winter months. Being mentally aware of these 6 conditions will assist you in safely negating your way during periods of extreme driving conditions.

The 6 Conditions Are:

1. Weather Conditions

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Weather is the most unpredictable of the 6 conditions of winter driving. Winter can bring snow, sleet, ice, rain, winds and extreme temperatures. These conditions can last minutes or days. They can change without notice, making your journey hazardous. Prior to leaving on a trip, it is important to check the weather and road conditions to better prepare yourself. Knowledge is power. Weather reports are available from various locations such as the radio, television, or the internet. Many jurisdictions have dedicated government phone numbers or a web site where you can obtain the latest weather conditions.

2. Vehicle Condition

This is the one condition that you have some control over. Get your vehicle winter-ready with a maintenance check-up. Don’t wait for winter to check your battery, belts, hoses, radiator, oil, lights, brakes, exhaust system, heater/defroster, wipers and ignition system. A simple winter check-up for your vehicle may alleviate serious problems in the future. Getting stranded on the side of the road, in winter conditions is no picnic. For sure, check that you have good winter tires with the snowflake symbol displayed on the sidewall.

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3. Road Conditions

It is not reasonable, nor prudent, to expect roads to be bare and dry during winter months. Snow, ice, slush and compact snow are road conditions that can be expected anytime in winter. Being prepared to meet the challenges that these conditions bring is critical to the safety of you and your passengers. As with weather conditions, there are also government agencies that provide information about road conditions. A simple call or check will give you a heads up on the road conditions before you drive.

winter traffic

4. Traffic Conditions

Sharing the road with others is something you can’t avoid. They may not be as prepared as you are. They may be running on poor tires and perhaps are driving well beyond their abilities and capabilities. A thinking driver will perform a proper assessment of this risk and choose the appropriate action to deal with the situation. Perhaps just changing lanes will do the trick. If they are following you so close that they become a hazard, it may be safer to have them in front of you. Move over and let them pass. Leaving more room or staying away from other drivers during winter driving is the Thinking Driver way.

5. Lighting Conditions

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During winter months, depending on where you live, daylight can be from a few hours to non-existent. With later sunrises, earlier sunsets, and the sun lower on the horizon, glare can be a big hazard. Glare is intensified by the cover of white snow on the ground or blowing snow. To minimize these effects, maintain the cleanliness of your windshield on both the outside and the inside. Any debris or dirt film will intensify the glare and reduce your visibility. Wearing sunglasses is a good option to reduce glare. Because of the extended hours of darkness, make sure that all your lights are functioning properly and that they are cleaned off periodically. This is an important step to increase your ability to see and be seen by others. Blowing snow will accumulate on the back of the vehicle, covering tail and brake lights, so check them regularly. Ensuring that your tail lights are clean will increase your visibility and reduce the likelihood of being rear ended.

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6. Driver Condition

Winter driving can be stressful and exhausting. With changing conditions, other drivers on the road and wearing cumbersome clothing, winter driving is not the same as summer driving. Vehicle control can be more difficult when you are wearing heavy winter boots along with several layers of clothing. Your winter gear can impede your movements and make vehicle control more difficult than when you are in comfortable shoes and clothing during summer months.

sleepy-driver

Being well rested will increase your mental alertness and assist you in remaining focused on the driving task at hand. It will help you remain calm during stressful situations. When you are well rested, you are less susceptible to physical aches and pains. You will find yourself feeling more comfortable behind the wheel than if you are tired. Being well rested will ensure that you are in good shape for the trip, not only mentally, by physically as well.

Consider these six conditions every time you venture out in winter (or any time for that matter). A Thinking Driver recognizes that these conditions affect the way he/she must drive to stay safe and uses good driving techniques to negotiate them.

(Reprinted as previously published in Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine)

Tailgate Topics & Tips: Safety Meeting Planner & Agenda

Click here to access this month’s free Safety Meeting Planner.

Preview the Installing & Using Tire Chains Correctly video that accompanies this month’s Safety Meeting Planner, click here.

If you are not already receiving Tailgate Topics and Tips delivered to your inbox, add your name to the distribution list by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and providing your name, company and email address and you will automatically receive the latest topic.

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.

 

SSCWere you at the 41st Annual Saskatchewan Safety Council’s Industrial Safety Seminar?

Thinking Driver was there! The Saskatchewan Safety Council’s 41st Annual Industrial Safety Seminar took place February 3 & 4, 2014 in Saskatoon, SK. Thinking Driver was pleased to be in attendance and had a display in the tradeshow component.

Spencer McDonald, President of Thinking Driver and Chief Instructor, Dan Boyer delivered a session on “Challenging Our Culture of Risky Driving”.

To receive a copy of this presentation, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your contact information.

Congratulations to the following people who were our draw box winners of a DVD copy of Thinking Driver’s ‘Winter Driving Fundamentals’.

Les Togunrud – Saskatchewan Ministry of Highways (Regina, SK)

Kylee Lundberg – SaskWater (Moose Jaw, SK)

Albert Hopkins – SaskTel (Saskatoon, SK)

Chris Chuhaniuk – City of Saskatoon (Saskatoon, SK)

Bob Smith – TransGas (Coleville, SK)

Doyle McMorris – The Mosaic Group (Moose Jaw, SK)

Published in NEWS
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
Monday, 02 June 2014 00:00

Feature Article

Art Linkletter

Art Linkletter, the entertainer, said, "If you change your attitude you will change your life."

Wouldn't it be nice if we always got our way with things?  If things were as they SHOULD be?  Unfortunately, the world usually doesn't meet our expectations and we are left disappointed that people and things are not what they SHOULD be.

Did you ever know someone with an attitude of 'nothing ever goes my way'?  You may have a friend or colleague or even a family member with this attitude!  My friend Steve certainly does.

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I like Steve, but I sometimes find him exhausting to be around, especially when he's driving and I'm the passenger.  Don't get me wrong...it's not that he's a bad driver, it's just that he finds fault with everything and everyone around him.  He's quick to verbalize his displeasure too.

You know the type; "that guy should get off my tail and quit tailgating me"; "someone should build more roads and widen the ones we have to reduce this stupid congestion"; "people should learn to drive properly"; "we shouldn't let new immigrants drive without more training and testing"; "that idiot should have signaled before turning".

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It goes on and on.  Steve wouldn't call himself a complainer or even a particularly negative person; he would just say that he knows how things should be.

Some days it seems like nothing is right for Steve.  Everything should be different.  It really bugs him and when things don't go Steve's way, someone else is always to blame.

Steve lives in the world of SHOULD.

In Steve's world of SHOULD, nothing and no one is good enough, right enough or fair enough and should be different (according to Steve).  Steve knows how everyone else SHOULD drive and is disappointed daily when his expectations are not met.

What Steve doesn't realize is that with his attitude of finding fault and 'SHOULDING' at everything and everybody, he's actually giving away his power and turning himself into a negative, critical, judgemental driver who is caught up in everyone else's driving that he upsets himself and gets stressed out as a result.

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This is a concept called 'locus of control'.  What this refers to is where we place the power of control over the events in our lives.  If we place the control and responsibility for our sense of happiness, contentment and safety outside of ourselves we have an EXTERNAL locus of control like Steve.

If we live in the world of SHOULD, and expect that things should change and be different if only SOMEONE would do something, we are in fact placing the control of our happiness or contentment outside of ourselves.

We will be happy when someone fixes everything that bugs us.

But there is no one making these fixes.  Steve has spent his entire life complaining about how things should be different and he is in a perpetual state of disappointment that things are not as they should be.

This isn't to say that things couldn't be a lot better in many areas, but what's the point of complaining if you are either unable or unwilling to take action to make them better.

What about your expectations?  Do you get out of bed each morning hoping that this will FINALLY be that perfect day?  When you never get cut off, traffic lights are cooperative and green, the sun is shining and everyone is moving along at the perfect speed (for you)?  As one student said to me, "you are dreaming, baby!" that's never going to happen.

It is possible to change your world view from the world of SHOULD to the world of IS.  In the world of IS, we accept how things are and take action to deal with them.  Unlike Steve, we then see results.  So you don't like that guy tailgating, simply do something to change the situation.  Move over, let him pass, slow down a bit and increase following distance.  Realize that just because you think that he SHOULD stop tailgating you, that wishing he would not, will not make that so.  If you can't do anything about it at the moment, be aware of him there, but why get caught up in complaining?  It just reinforces a sense of powerlessness.

mindset

A great way to move out of a mindset of negativity is to make a point of noticing when things do go well and being grateful for them.  Take it a step further and make a point of daily noting EVERYTHING that you are grateful for in your life.  This is a powerful tool to change a negative outlook and the express ticket out of the world of SHOULD.

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.

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

Published in NEWS
Friday, 25 July 2014 00:00

Feature Article

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Being an astronaut is probably one of the most dangerous jobs.  Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut who flew on the International Space Station in 2013 for 5 months and was its commander most of that time, says that this dangerous mission was the culmination of his career that began in the Canadian military where he was a fighter pilot, then a test pilot, then finally an astronaut.

Hadfield said in an interview after the mission that he isn't a risk taker by nature and in fact he is risk averse and even afraid of heights.  He tries to reduce the risk in every activity that he does by being aware, education himself about the risk and preventive ways to migrate or reduce that risk, and as he calls it, by practising 'negative thinking'.

He says that here is a lot of popular psychology these days about the power of positive thinking but he relies more on negative thinking.  Thinking that asks, "What could go wrong here?"

Once engineers analyze and identify the risks and dangers in the mission, activity or task, they can plan how to reduce that risk and how to implement a primary plan and a backup plan if the first risk reducing strategy fails.  Only after doing everything reasonable to reduce the risks of an incident or accident, does the mission go forward with confidence that everything that can reasonably be done, has been done.

Does that eliminate risk though?  Absolutely not.

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Space travel is inherently risky, as we have seen from the several tragedies dating back to the Apollo days and through two shuttle missions lost with all crew members, so even after taking every conceivable precaution, something can still go wrong.

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Most of us will never become astronauts, but driving is no different than space travel as an inherently risky activity and an activity where things can also go terribly wrong even after taking every defensive precaution.  The risks involved with driving are even more difficult to identify and the defences more uncertain than ones involving space travel in some ways.  At NASA, everyone is on the same team and working towards the same safe and incident free outcome.  We share the roads with strangers who may or may not take the same care we do.

NASA engineers are controlling risks involving generally predictable equipment and machinery failure.  We have to deal with the uncertainty of unpredictable human behaviour in people that we don't even know.

Car-Accident-Blog

Driving is likely the most dangerous thing that you can do.  Your chances of being killed or injured while driving or riding in a vehicle are greater than any other activity that most people do.  Traveling by automobile is many times more dangerous than any other mode of transportation.

Waiting-in-Airport

It's funny, most of us have sat in a departure terminal waiting to board an airplane and have had at least the passing thought, "I hope this isn't the time that something goes wrong."  Or they have been on the plane when there has been turbulence and the plane started bouncing around and thought, "This is it, now we are all going to die."

But we don't: Except in rare and tragic cases.  And the number of these occurrences and the number of fatalities involved pale in comparison to the numbers that are killed every year on the nation's highways.

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But have you ever thought before climbing behind the wheel, "What I'm about to do is dangerous.  If either myself or any of the hundreds or thousands of people that I will share the road with today, people that I don't know, have never nor will ever meet and know nothing about, screw up, I could end up badly hurt or killed."

We don't think those thoughts, though.  Not most of us.

I saw a t-shirt once that said, "I am a bomb disposal technician.  If you see me running, try to keep up"

Some activities are just so dangerous that most of us don't even consider engaging in them. But not driving.

Yet driving is the leading cause of unintentional death at 10.9 fatalities per population of 100,000 according to the Centers for Disease Control.

If you drive as part of your job, it's the most likely way that you will be injured on the job, too.

So the next time you slip behind the wheel, think about yourself as a fighter pilot or astronaut.  Not the daring and risk taking Buck Rogers, hero of screen and story, but the real thing: A thoughtful and skilled technician and expert at negative thinking, assessing situations and reducing the risk of accident.

Chris Hadfield

That way, like Chris did, we can all come home safely.

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
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
Thursday, 16 October 2014 00:00

I was chatting with a friend and colleague the other day about safety and employees who must drive as part of their duties.  This major retailer operates its own fleet of tractor-trailer delivery vehicles and operates Canada-wide.  We have been providing driver safety products and services to its delivery fleet operation for a decade now.

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We also discussed the other 'non-professional' drivers in their company - employees who drive many kilometres every year to do their job.

When I asked what they were doing to keep these employees safe, the answer shocked me: "We never really thought about that," he said.

This organization is one of the best in terms of customer service, employee morale and relations, and was recognized as one of Canada's Safest Employers.  And yet, for employees who driver personal and company vehicles from time to time in the course of their duties, nothing is being done to ensure their safety on the road - not even checking whether employees are licensed or doing annual checks of their driving records.

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It was just never considered.

This company is not alone.  Too many employees fail to recognize that if they send their employees out on the road, they are driving as part of the job.  While driving may not be the principle part of their job, they are driving as part of their profession and may be woefully unprepared to safely execute this duty in the environment and vehicles required.

But, you may ask, if these workers have current licenses they must be competent.  Not necessarily.

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In order to become licensed, one must pass certain tests, typically a knowledge test followed by at least one driving test (in some jurisdiction, two road test are required).  The road test may have been conducted when the worker was a teenager and upon passing, their driving skills will never be looked at again until they participate in a corporate driver safety program, get flagged in the system for excessive violations or hit their senior years when retesting occurs.

To complicate matters further, road tests are available in even the smallest of communities and may be taken in the smallest of cars, and yet, a passing mark yields a license that permits the holder to drive any size vehicle in that license class in downtown Toronto, Detroit, Montreal, Los Angeles or Vancouver.

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Think about: You take your road test in the tiny interior town of Sparwood, BC, in a Smart Car.  Next thing you know, your new job had you driving a service van or full-size car or pick-up in downtown Edmonton.  How on earth can we think this person has been prepared to meet the challenge?  Yet, if they fail to measure up and have an incident or accident, we may blame them for not taking enough care or not being defensive enough.

What other occupational duty that exposes employees to high risk requires no initial or refresher training or recertification?  Even first aid requires regular re-training and qualification.  Furthermore, driving remains to be the most probable activity to result in an injury incident on the job.

Our conversation really got interesting for me when I mentioned that due diligence would be to at least require an annual driver record check, permitting a maximum number of penalty points and provision for some remedial action if this number was exceeded.

This is where it really hit me. My enlightened safety professional colleague asked how we should distinguish between on-the-job tickets and off-the-job tickets.

My response was:  The same way that you distinguish between criminal activity on or off the job, you require responsible and legal behaviour among your employees on or off the job.

Driving infractions off the job are equally relevant.  Would you hire someone convicted of embezzlement, while off the job, to work in your accounting department?

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Employers can enhance employee safety and demonstrate due diligence with a few simple steps:

  • Check driving records of employees who must drive as part of their duties.  Perform this prior to hiring and regularly after that (annual is recommended).
  • Upon hiring, ensure employees are capable and not simply licensed, by evaluating their driving skills in the vehicle that will be used for work and in the same environment.  Set a baseline and determine if training is required.
  • Do the necessary training, if indicated.
  • Provide regular refresher and/or upgrading as well as specialty training, where indicated (such as winter driving or four-wheel-drive training).

There are some outstanding and progressive companies that are truly showing the way by embracing driver safety issues and addressing them this way in their occupational health and safety programs (you know who you are).

For everyone else, let's make a start today towards reducing the risk in this most risky of work activities.

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
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
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