Cultivate Safe Driving Habits
SAFE, careful, steady, cautious, overcautious, erratic, reckless, dangerous—these are all descriptions of drivers. Which applies to you? Most drivers may consider themselves safe and careful drivers, but their passengers and other road users may be less complimentary.
One essential to driving safely is a roadworthy vehicle.
Is Your Vehicle Roadworthy?
Some countries check the mechanical condition of vehicles at regular intervals. The results are often surprising. In France, for example, a recent inspection of five-year-old vehicles revealed that 73 percent were in either mediocre, very poor, or even dangerous condition.
To help you check your own vehicle, you will find it useful to follow a routine in much the same way as airline pilots do to ensure that all is ready for the takeoff. The suggested check is shown on page 8.
With a roadworthy vehicle, properly insured and legally acceptable, you need a valid driving permit. To obtain this, you must take a test. Will you pass or fail?
The Driving Test
Most learner drivers view the driving test as a hurdle. It certainly is a major topic of conversation among them. Tests vary from country to country.
In France, as in many other lands, learner drivers take a driving test in two parts, practice and theory. In Germany, training includes first-aid instruction on what to do at the scene of an accident. Additionally, the authorities there impose a legal minimum of one and a half hours’ practice in night driving as well as just over two hours’ driving on a motorway (freeway). If the learner passes the examiner’s test, he receives a probationary license valid for two years. Should this time pass without incident, a permanent license is granted.
Japan insists on from 30 to 60 hours of practical instruction from qualified driving instructors, followed by a three-part test: medical (for vision, color blindness, hearing), driving (for practical skill), and written (on traffic regulations).
According to The Times of London, “the tough British driving test is defeating hundreds of angry Americans [resident there].” With a 51-percent failure rate (compared with 15 percent in the U.S.A.), it is reckoned to be “one of the most stringent in the world.”
The variations extend past the technicalities. Ben Yoshida, who runs a driving school in New York, asserts: “In Tokyo, an inspector tests [drivers] from the point of view of how well they can drive a car technically, but in the United States, he tests to see how safely they can drive.”
Whatever the differences, all drivers need to apply themselves to driving safely. How can they do this?
One English lady, who took her driving test when 50 years of age and passed, found it helpful to prepare by making a thorough study of Britain’s Highway Code.a But as with any skill, she found that more is required than studying a textbook.
Practice is essential. If you are a new driver, learn to drive safely under varying conditions. For example, when the weather changes, so does the condition of the road surface. Though there may be only a light sprinkling of rain, the grip of your vehicle’s tires will not be as effective as on a dry road. Consequently, slower speeds coupled with a greater awareness of road hazards become imperative. Heavy rain brings additional problems, such as when the spray kicked up behind vehicles obstructs your clear view ahead. Yes, become accustomed to different weather conditions and adjust your driving accordingly.
You are probably not a qualified mechanic. In fact, “not one in five motorists knows his car’s tyre pressures or service intervals,” claims London’s Daily Mail, adding: “Not one in three ever reads a handbook and nearly all are baffled by modern engines.” How about you?
Although it is not necessary to know all the intricate mechanical details of today’s vehicles, it does help to know the basics. This will enable you to develop ‘car sympathy.’
Improve Your Technique
Passing your driving test will give you a good feeling, a sense of achievement. But then what? Will you let your standards drop? “Often after passing the test, many drivers get a bit reckless,” comments a driving instructor. He offers this advice: “Know your limitations and the limitations of the vehicle in varying conditions. Until you have found those out, you are likely to have an accident.” One driver conceded: “If I drove the way I did the first few weeks after my test, I would be a safer driver.” Why so? He admits: “I now take more chances.”
On passing your test, you demonstrate that you are basically a safe driver. To become a good driver, you now must continue to work on your driving. You can almost certainly improve your skill with experience and attention to your driving technique.
Become ever more alert to possible dangers. “Lack of anticipation and awareness of what is going on in front, behind and around your car is the main fault of today’s drivers,” claims British police driving examiner, Alex Miller. Try to expect the unexpected. Learning to ‘read the road’ will help.—See box on this page.
Safety Involves Attitude
“Temperament,” according to driving examiner Miller, “is the most important thing.” A driver with 30 years’ experience, in both Africa and Europe, offers this estimate: “Driving is a question of character. A person’s driving manners reflect the way he treats others in everyday life.”
A Canadian driver focuses attention on the value of the right attitude, writing: “When a driver’s license is regarded as a ‘privilege’ rather than a ‘right,’ traffic etiquette will improve our highway safety appreciably.”
“If safety is an attitude of mind,” states a British Department of Transport driving manual, “then humility is one of its main ingredients.” For many, this will mean a change of temperament. Is that possible? Yes. It involves being conscious of others, being unselfish. How well the Biblical golden rule expresses it: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.”—Matthew 7:12.
But how does this work out in practice? “When tempers get frayed on the road, it is really difficult to cultivate good qualities,” observes one driver in England. No doubt you agree. The desire to retaliate is strong. “Nevertheless, I have used music cassettes to help me. The calming effect is amazing.”—See box on page 9.
“Try very hard to control any feelings of irritation,” is the admonition of one experienced Japanese driver. “If you are upset for some reason, hum or sing.”
Do not expect too much of others. Accident statistics clearly warn of the peril from dangerous drivers. Be determined to drive defensively, or as one driver put it: “Drive as though everyone else on the road is a potential hazard.”
Recognize, too, that you can learn from others. Analyze the quality of their driving.—See box on this page.
“There isn’t much magic to becoming a Driving Ace,” asserts Jim Kenzie, writing in The Toronto Star. “All you need is some knowledge, some common sense, [and] some consideration for the other guy.” Whether you are a new driver or an experienced one, remember that the road is not the place for showing off, for impatience, or for selfishness.
By developing ‘car sympathy,’ by ‘reading the road,’ by concentrating and anticipating, as well as by cultivating a humble attitude, you will succeed in driving—safely!
a Updated many times since its first appearance in 1931, this government publication, the “No. 2 best-selling book of all time, second only to the Bible” in Britain, offers clear safety guidelines for all road users.
[Box/Pictures on page 8]
Is Your Vehicle Roadworthy?
Items one should check every trip:
Windshield and windows: Clean? Is windshield washer filled? Wiper blades in good condition?
Lights, brake lights, and turn signals: In working order?
Tires: Any deep cuts or cracks, splits, bulges, or other damage?
Brakes: As soon after start as possible, check if they are in working order.
Periodic check per owner’s manual:
Engine: Is oil level above the “ADD” line? Do not overfill.
Radiator (if any): Is coolant level high enough? Is there adequate freeze protection?
Tires: Correct inflation pressure, depth of tread, and evenness of wear?
Battery: Is fluid level correct in each cell? Do not overfill.
[Box on page 9]
Driven to Distraction
Car radios and cassette recorders offer up-to-date news and music. Do they interfere with the driver’s concentration? Opinions differ. Some drivers claim they concentrate well whatever is broadcast. Others prefer to limit the use of such to background music when driving in heavy traffic. This is in harmony with the warning of the Driving manual: “Serious listening could affect your concentration.” What, then, of the use of car phones? It advises: “Stop before making or receiving a call.”b
b Drivers in Britain have been advised to use only a “handsfree” set when driving and then only when its use would not distract their attention from the road.
[Box on page 10]
Read the Road
In a series of booklets designed to help both learners and qualified drivers, Britain’s RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) first acknowledges the motor industry’s investment in producing vehicles that meet high safety criteria. But it reminds drivers that “a car can only be as safe as the driver at the wheel.” It recommends that all drivers ‘read the road.’ How can this be done? What is involved?
1. Search for early indications of road and traffic situations. Most of the time, a driver should look ahead, searching for information that will alert him to possible hazards. He will, however, be aware of what is happening at the side of the road.
2. Observe the location, weather, time, and other road users. Where you are, in town or in the country, should influence your driving. Wet, icy, or snowbound roads are more hazardous. Patchy fog is especially dangerous. High winds may blow you out of your traffic lane. Glare, either from the sun or from an oncoming car’s headlights, may blind you temporarily or at least drastically reduce your vision. Vacation time brings many inexperienced drivers onto the roads. Watch out for pedestrians and animals. Notice the shadows that warn you of pedestrians crossing the road in front of the bus you overtake.
3. Predict how what you observe will affect your driving. Decide carefully how to cope with this, and drive through the situations safely.
“This technique,” claims RoSPA, “is constantly used by expert drivers. . . . It should improve your standard of driving.” What is more, “it is known to help to reduce the possibility of accidents.”
[Box on page 11]
Tips From the Experts
Take pride in giving your passengers a comfortable, smooth ride.
View driving as a skill to be perfected.
Make sure your vehicle is in tip-top condition.
Look ahead to the far distance and the middle distance, as well as close by.
Check the mirrors for what is happening behind and alongside your vehicle.
Beware of the blind spot in your vision.
Before turning or changing lanes, check mirror and give signal in sufficient time.
If necessary, physically turn to check before changing direction rather than relying on the mirrors alone.
Be patient. Keep calm.
Safe driving means obeying the traffic laws.
[Picture on page 7]
The driving test is to ensure that you will drive safely