Look Out Behind You!

By Wayne Smolda, CEO and Founder

Reduce your risks when backing up

Ask any driver what’s the riskiest highway maneuver, and you’re bound to get a whole host of answers: passing on a hill, driving fast on a dark road, running a red light, cutting through tight traffic to take a fast-approaching exit ramp.

But ask someone from the automotive insurance industry the same question, and here’s your answer: backing up. According to the National Non-Profit Risk Management Center, the most common business auto claim is generated by backing into something.

While rarely fatal, backing collisions are costly and needless, the latter because they’re almost always preventable. Have these “happened” to you? Backing out of a driveway into a parked car? Backing out in a parking lot and striking a boundary pole? Swiping the car beside you as you turn while backing from a parking space?

Driving in reverse is never easy. It’s uncomfortable to crane your neck from side to side and twist around to see out of the rear window. For the “vertically challenged,” headrests – even of the “open” variety – can be hard to see around. Tall vehicles, like minivans and SUVs, create deeper blind sports than shorter sedans, making it hard to see bicycles or little children.

So how can you reduce your risks when backing your vehicle?

Survey Your Situation. Before you get into your vehicle, look all around it to assess how much space you have to maneuver, where pedestrian or automotive traffic may come from, and for any obstacles you might fail to see once you’re in the car.

Keep Your Windows Clear. Beware of clothes on courtesy hangers limiting your side view or items on your rear deck, either blocking your line of sight or reflecting blinding light on your rear window.

Back Up Slowly. Controlling a car in reverse is inherently more difficult than going forward. Keep your speed under 3 mph.

Always Turn Around and Look Directly Back. Don’t just rely on your mirrors – even when they’re aimed properly so as to avoid blind spots, they offer a less than the 180-degree rear view you need when backing up.

Turn Only After Clearing Obstacles. Don’t start turning your wheel until you’re sure you will clear any surrounding objects, like other vehicles, signs or light poles.

On Braking: What a One-Second Advantage Can Mean to You

By Wayne Smolda, CEO and Founder

Everybody wants the gift of more time, but how valuable could just one measly, crummy second be to you? When it comes to using your brakes on the highway, it could mean – well, a whole lot more than you might imagine.

Studies show that it takes the average driver from one-half to three-quarters of a second to perceive a need to hit the brakes, and another three-quarters of a second to move your foot from the gas to the brake pedal. Everybody’s reaction times are different, but that’s up to a full one-and-a-half seconds between when you first start to realize you’re in trouble and before you even start to slow down.

This is fundamental – there’s no changing human physiology. But let’s look how that affects your ability to stop your car.

The table below shows the distances it takes an average car to come to a stop on dry pavement from different speeds, including the distance traveled for just one second of perception and reaction time.

Speed Perception/Reaction Distance Braking Distance Overall Stopping Distance Equal to Approx. Number of Car Lengths (@ 15 feet)
30 mph 44 feet 45 feet 89 feet 6
40 mph 59 feet 80 feet 139 feet 9
50 mph 73 feet 125 feet 198 feet 14
60 mph 88 feet 180 feet 268 feet 18
70 mph 103 feet 245 feet 348 feet 23
80 mph 117 feet 320 feet 439 feet 29

Sources: edmunds.com, hintsandthings.co.uk and CEI

Notice that when you double your speed – say, from 30 mph to 60, or 40 to 80 – your total stopping distance more than doubles: it triples!

When it comes to braking, always follow these three key defensive driving principles:

  • Keep your speed down. The slower you drive, the shorter your stopping distance.
  • Look far ahead to increase your warning time. By always looking as far down the road as you can, you’ll see emerging hazards and the brake lights of cars ahead of you sooner.
  • Move your foot early. By taking your foot off the gas and pressing on the brake pedal lightly at the first sign that you need to slow down, you get a jump on your reaction time, and you protect your backside by giving drivers behind you an earlier warning sign.

A classic study conducted in the 1980s found that 90 percent of all accidents could have been avoided if the driver had reacted just one second earlier. Using these tips for safe braking might just give you the one-second advantage you need.

Summertime … and the Drivin’ Ain’t Easy

Traffic increases in the summer with an increase of 44 million miles

By Wayne Smolda, CEO and Founder

The mere thought of winter can send shivers down a driver’s spine. When there’s ice and snow, or potholes and flooding from snowmelt all over the roads, we’re all more conscious of the dangers of heading out onto the highway. But come summer, with all the sunshine and warm temperatures, we’re home free, right? Wrong. In fact, dead wrong.

Year in and year out, July and August register the highest numbers of traffic fatalities, while the winter months have the fewest. As the chart below indicates, July and August witness almost 25 percent more highway deaths than the winter months.

What’s the reason? Consider these warm-weather driving hazards:

The roads are more crowded. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that motor vehicle travel peaks in July and August, just as people are taking to the road for vacations and weekend holiday attractions, like the beach, the mountains, parks and amusement centers. From 1999 through 2008, Americans drove an average of 258 billion miles a month in July and August, compared to 214 billion miles in the winter months of January and February.

Teen driving peaks in the summer. Teenagers have the highest accident rate of any age group, and teenagers do more driving in the summer when school is out, than at any other time of the year. In addition, there are more teens per car in summer, and studies show that teens who drive with more than one other teen in their vehicles are five times more likely than a lone teen driver to be involved in a fatal collision.

More people are driving tired. In summer, daylight hours are longer, and trips are longer, so there are more opportunities for more drivers to be tired at the wheel. Add to that the fact that twilight hours – when it’s particularly tricky to see hazards sharply – are later in the day than the rest of the year, and you have a formula for more driver errors.

Rain. People are more fearful of driving on ice and snow than they are through the rain. The problem is that road surfaces are nearly as treacherous as icy roads in the first few minutes of rainfall because water mixes with the oil that drops from the underside of vehicles every day to make for extra-slick conditions. Overlooking this hazard, plowing ahead in a blinding downpour, or not taking the right steps when your vehicle hydroplanes in shallow-pooled water can make warm-weather driving just as dangerous as winter conditions.

It’s never a good idea to take your driving safety for granted. But letting what might look like ideal driving conditions lull you into a false sense of security is a big mistake. It’s always a good idea to keep your guard up every time you get behind the wheel, but it pays to use an extra measure of caution in summer.

Feeling Drowz-z-z-z-y? Know When You’re Too Tired To Drive

By Wayne Smolda, CEO and Founder

It’s 1:30 pm. You’re on the interstate, on a three-hour drive back to the office after an early-morning meeting and a good business lunch. You didn’t drink any alcohol, the sun is shining and you’ve got the air conditioning on.

Question: Should you be concerned about getting drowsy?

If your answer is “No,” then you need to check out these facts about drowsiness and driving:

  • Early afternoon is one of the human body’s two most favorite times for nodding off.
  • Driving drowsy can be just as dangerous as driving drunk.
  • The tedium of long-distance interstate driving – even in the middle of a bright, sunny day – is enough to make even healthy, well-rested drivers fall asleep at the wheel.

As bad as driving drunk
Nobody knows exactly why, but physiologists have long known that the human body slows down between the hours of 1 and 3 p.m. Next to the hours between midnight and 6 a.m., it’s when your body most wants to sleep. What’s more, when you’re drowsy, the battle isn’t won just because you manage to stay awake.

Physiologists have found that drowsiness has the same effects on your driving ability as having a blood alcohol level of .08% – legally drunk. The consequences: slower reaction time, impaired vision, and diminished judgment – a great prescription for an accident.

100,000 crashes per year
And it happens. The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates that drowsiness, dozing off, entering the early stages of sleep or drifting off for “micro-sleeps” that last more than one second, are involved in up to 40 percent of all serious crashes. That’s more than the 32 percent of all serious crashes AAA ascribes to drinking and driving.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that about 100,000 vehicle crashes happen every year as the result of driver fatigue or drowsiness. They result in 1,500 fatalities, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in losses.

The tricky thing about drowsiness is that it’s difficult for drivers to recognize that it’s gaining on them. “Driver fatigue is difficult for drivers to notice because it builds slowly over an hour or so,” says Dr. Richard Grace, a pioneer in the field of driver fatigue research.

Symptoms and what you must do
So what are the warning signs that you might be too tired to keep driving?

  • Difficulty focusing your eyes
  • Frequently blinking or rubbing your eyes
  • Daydreaming
  • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven
  • Missing turns, exits or traffic signs
  • Repeated yawning
  • Trouble keeping your head up
  • Drifting from your lane
  • Feeling restless and irritable

What’s the best thing to do when you experience these symptoms? The only real solution, studies repeatedly confirm, is to pull off the road and take a 20-minute nap. If you can, drink a caffeinated beverage just before the nap: when you wake up, the caffeine will start to take effect. Then, drive to a place where you can safely sleep longer.

Coping with rain-reduced driving vision

By Wayne Smolda, CEO and Founder

Rain poses a whole host of problems for drivers, but chief among them is reduced visibility. Pooled water, flooding, hydroplaning, reduced braking power – these are all rain-induced challenges too, but without clear vision these hazards are even more dangerous. So what’s the deal with rain, and what can you do to improve and/or cope with wet weather vision?

Rain scatters light
Raindrops scatter light as it passes through them, making everything appear darker than normal. That’s on top of the fact that when it rains, the sky actually is darker, so everything is that much harder to see. The reduced light also diminishes a driver’s ability to see the contrast between different-colored objects, like the roadway and a car or a pedestrian.

Dim light also affects how the brain judges distance. Light from objects far away scatters as it passes through air molecules, making the objects appear hazy. When objects that are close-up are obscured because of the rain, they seem further away than they really are because your mind associates hazy images with long distances.

Then there’s the dreaded Mandelbaum Effect, a feature of the way the brain processes visual inputs. When visibility is poor, scientists say, people naturally focus on objects within three feet of them. That includes things like your dashboard and rear-view mirror, but, sadly, not what’s on the road. The reduction in longer-range awareness also affects your peripheral vision, which is critical to detecting objects – vehicles, pedestrians – that may be coming at you from the side.

A silver lining in the clouds
When the roadway is wet, you can see the reflection of brake lights two cars ahead of you from under the car you’re directly behind. Watching for this will give you a few extra seconds to react to people stopping up ahead. And, if you can’t see that reflection you’re too close to the car in front of you.

Other than that, there’s not much in your favor if you’re caught in the rain, but here are some ways to make your drive a little easier:

Keep it clean
Your windshield, that is, both inside and out. Fewer smudges mean less light scattering before it reaches your eyes. Also, replace your windshield wipers if they’re getting old or leaving heavy streaks. The fewer things obscuring your windshield, the better.

Shed some light on the subject…
Dedicated daytime running lights only illuminate what’s right in front of the vehicle, so you need to use your headlights to see as far ahead as possible. What’s more, in an increasing number of places the law requires drivers to turn on their headlights any time the windshield wipers are in use.

… but don’t overdo it
High beams are counter-productive in rain. Instead of helping you see farther ahead, rain will reflect more high-beam light back into your eyes, making it harder to see anything. Don’t use your four-way, or hazard lights to let people know you’re driving slowly. Use them only if you’re stalled or stopped on the side of the road. Other drivers won’t see your brake lights as easily, and if they think there’s a disabled vehicle ahead they may swerve or stop short, potentially causing a wreck.

Take it slow
Despite how the guy behind you may feel about it, the best thing in the rain is to reduce your speed. Going a little slower lets you to pay more attention to your surroundings and give you more time to stop instead of having to brake hard, risking a skid or hydroplaning. And in a downpour – when the rain is falling faster than your windshield wipers can clear it – your best bet is to pull off the road to a safe place and wait it out.