Tuesday 22 Aug 2017
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Loose two points for failing to signal
You loose two points for failing to signal. Make sure signal lights are working and use them every time you change lanes or direction.

Are you a good driver?

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Suddenly a wall of fog rose up out of nowhere causing a random display of brake lights to appear over the two-lane highway. Too late; the early morning tranquillity was shattered by the horrendous sound of crunching metal and crashing glass.

Sporadic explosions as heard by helpless drivers trapped in their crushed vehicles were interrupted by desperate screams. Eight people died and countless others, physically injured would suffer nightmares for many following months.

Labour day weekend, September 3rd 1999. More than 80 vehicles were involved in one of Ontario's worst vehicular disasters in history. It happened on what has been called the most notorious stretch of the 401 between the Windsor to Chatham corridor.

If these drivers were questioned earlier most would have been on record saying "yes" they were good drivers. The blame was laid squarely on the design of this freeway; police absolved these drivers of any responsibility due to the weather conditions. Implying we must expect tragedy when faced with these types of conditions.

Many of us are quite blasé about driving especially when we have been driving for twenty or thirty years without incident. Alarming statistics provided by the Road Safety Annual Report, show that more drivers are killed or injured where no charges are laid. The Ministry of Transportation collects this information from all of the Police reports throughout the province every year. These statistics force us to ask the question " What is a good driver?"

In 1984 I responded to an ad, which asked, " Are you a good driver, would you like to teach others?" I felt extremely confident about entering into the field of driver education. This was a logical career move because I had enjoyed teaching in other areas. I had been driving since I was sixteen and now I was just touching my forties. My knowledge of driving up to this point was from family and friends, with some personal experience thrown in for good measure. A clean driving record and knowledge of manual and automatic transmissions resounded the words "yes" I was definitely a good driver! I had even scoffed when encountering vehicles on the road with a driving school sign. My thoughts were, this person must be "pitiful" if they needed to go to a school to learn to drive. After all, I managed, and it wasn't that hard.

I was in for a rude awakening! To this day I wonder how I survived driving all those years with my lack of knowledge. All those years, driving my children in vehicles that had very few, if any safety devices compared with cars today. What a combination!

Back in June of 1985 I enrolled with the Ontario Safety League to become a licensed driving instructor. I embarked with attitude in hand, doubting that they would be teaching me, after all, I was experienced. Not only had I driven for many years, I had driven all across Canada and the United States, with a few other countries thrown in.

The highway traffic act took on new meaning for me, as we had to study, decipher, and memorize every portion of it. Speakers and teachers in diverse specialized fields came and explained various theories and statistics, astounding us with statements that stand out in my mind, like this horrifying fact: Since the invention of the automobile in 1886, it has caused more vehicular deaths world- wide than any other cause. This includes natural catastrophes, health hazards, and world wars combined! How incredible, but most of all, why? The explanation given is psychological. Each driver feels capable and in control when behind the wheel. Combined with the immortal attitude of "it won't happen to me, I've handled most problems, I am a good driver."

We were encouraged to do our own research and tackle libraries, newspaper articles, and archives. This new venture was changing my attitude, and my mind and heart were enveloping everything I learned. Each day I attended this course with a hunger to learn more.

The components of defensive driving were demonstrated in videos and classroom instruction. Instruction in winter driving skills combined with collision avoidance was stressed. The damning revelation was, that over 90% of all collisions are avoidable! Knowledge combined with an investment in specialized training would keep drivers collision free. A light bulb went on as a clear understanding began to form in my brain. Why don't drivers know and appreciate that there is so much more to this task of operating an automobile?

The time came for us to be paired off with an in-car instructor. He specialized in the finer points of teaching us how to instruct "would be" students in our future vocation. Looking back I realize how little I knew, also the many bad habits I had, and the many times I broke the law in ignorance. Finally, we advanced to skid school. We learned and experienced front and rear wheel skids and how to prevent them and control the vehicle in these conditions. Six techniques of braking and the conditions that would warrant using them were demonstrated, before it was our turn to experiment. Learning the limits and performance of each vehicle guaranteed that each future instructor enhanced his or her own personal skills enabling them to pass this onto others.

Yes, I was your typical good driver, uninformed, but blessed with sheer good luck! So far nothing serious had happened in all those years of driving, but I do recall a few close calls. Near the end of the course we were reminded several times that there is no such thing as a perfect driver, and understandably so. We are all human beings, and humans make mistakes. We have good days and bad days. So what is a good driver? A good driver is a person who has invested time and interest to update their knowledge of the many changes to the rules of the road and the many advancements vehicles have today, and has also learned the skills necessary to use them to their greatest advantage.

Vehicle crashes are downright outrageous. If these lives were stolen in any other manner we would have a righteous battle to stop it. We cannot blame weather, road conditions, or design of highways, because after all it is the driver! It is always the driver!

We have glorified the automobile in countless ways. Car chases and smash ups in movies, racetracks, high performance engines, style and colour. Many safety features and modifications have been installed over the years. Yet we the consumer are willing to spend money to enhance our golf game, play an instrument, or invest in several types of recreation. These past times are not life threatening.

What is it worth to you and your family to improve your performance behind the wheel?

Ask a driver who survived that horrific Labour Day crash if it would be worth learning how to avoid another such catastrophe. There are eight people you can't ask. What would you say to their grieving families? Are you a good driver?