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I have previously written about the easy U.S. driving test. A simple driving test does almost nothing to prepare anyone to drive safely. We know more challenging driving tests, like the ones in Europe and Scandinavia, take students years to pass. Due to political, economic and parent/voter pressure in the U.S., the chances of us getting a hard driving test, that may well take years to pass, are virtually zero. This is despite data from other countries showing harder driving tests save thousands of lives a year. I understood this unfortunate reality several years ago. I was determined my traffic safety educational materials would provide solutions to work around these problems today.
I spoke about merging in my last blog. Drivers who lack good merging skills cause needless rush hour backups and crashes all over the U.S. every day. We don’t test a driver’s ability to merge in any U.S. driving exam, which is completely ridiculous but just another unfortunate reality. The simple solution for bad merging skills rests with individual drivers. Concentrate on what you’re doing and get out and practice if you’re not good at merging.
This month I will cover two additional U.S. driving problems causing crashes, injuries and loss of life. They are about as basic as it gets and can easily be fixed by drivers themselves.
Let’s talk about seat belt use. The U.S. first mandated seat belts in vehicles in 1968. Unfortunately, legislation has been needed to enforce their use ever since.
We all know seat belts cut way down on traffic deaths and injuries. Speaking for myself — learning about physics and momentum around age 9 taught me all I needed know. I have never driven a vehicle without one.
These days, most people do wear seat belts in vehicles, but unbelievably, millions of drivers in the U.S. still do not. A tragic note: Data also shows children who grow up seeing parents not wearing seat belts, are much more likely not to wear them when they start driving. The simple solution: Drivers and all passengers should always wear their seat belts.
My next point involves anti-lock brakes (ABS). ABS has been mandatory on all vehicles sold in the U.S. since 2004.
Between 2008 and 2014, Cadillac ran an invitational driving experience program at various race tracks across the U.S. One of the driving experiences set up for participants involved accelerating a Cadillac street car as fast as possible from 0 to 60 mph, followed immediately by full/panic braking back to 0 mph.
My Cadillac race car was always on hand at the events, my job being to hang around the race car and chat to people all day. I spoke to literally thousands of people over the lifetime of the program. I was initially surprised by people’s reaction to the braking capability of the Cadillac they had driven. Many of them felt the brakes were way better than anything they had ever experienced. Ok, the Cadillac has great brakes, certainly as good as many very good sporty cars, but not a substantially better. I thought I might know what was going on, so I confirmed it with the event driving instructors, whose job it was to sit in the passenger seat, during every driving exercise.
The instructors estimated over 80% of participants initially had little understanding how to brake to the cars full potential. They confirmed most participants weren’t even close to ABS activation, even though they were told to stop the vehicle as quickly as possible. Many drivers who did reach ABS activation would release brake pedal pressure as soon as they felt the ABS pulsing under their foot. This is exactly the wrong thing to do, as it increases braking distance. Some of them actually questioned whether something was wrong with the brakes, due to the pulsing. After a little instruction, by their third and final run, they got the braking right. This is where the “best brakes ever” comments came from.
ABS brakes have been around a long time. It was staggering to hear these experienced drivers admit they were amazed how fast a vehicle would stop, as long as they stood on the brake pedal hard enough and applied consistent pressure.
Here’s a braking education exercise for you and your teen (or just you): If your brakes and tires are in good shape and you know you have ABS brakes, take your vehicle to a quiet straight road or deserted parking lot and get up to maybe 25 or 30 mph. Making sure there is no vehicle behind you, quickly press the brake pedal hard enough to feel pulsing under your foot as you come to a complete stop. Feeling the pulsing means you have reached the correct leg pressure needed to stop your vehicle as quickly as possible. Have your teen take note of how much leg pressure it took to feel this pulsing, because this is exactly how much pressure they need to apply the next time they have to panic brake/stop.
Lack of seat belt use and driver inability to attain maximum braking capability are real and deadly problems on our roads. We all have a responsibility to work hard at our driving skills—teens as well as parents—so I hope this helps both of you.
Next week, I will discuss how new semi-autonomous technology in vehicles can certainly help us—but also hurt if drivers do not take the time to familiarize themselves with these features. Be safe out there everyone.
DriveitHOME™ is an initiative of the National Safety Council, designed by and for parents of newly licensed teen drivers. DriveitHOME™ offers free resources parents can use to help their teen build experience to become safer drivers.