#44 Driving Revisited

S.afety O.n S.ummits
By: Rick Hartman

#44 Driving Revisited

I’ve been drivin’ all night, my hand’s wet on the wheel, there’s a voice in my head that drives my heel.
Radar Love” by: Golden Earring, 1973

In the United States traffic collisions have remained the number one cause of all “accidental” deaths. Driving was first addressed in S.O.S. #3 (Issue #62, 3/2003). Safe driving requires courtesy, personal responsibility, judgment, good reflexes, experience, and common sense, just like our hobby! Nonetheless, whether by the alignment of the planets, destiny, the odds, or the probabilities, anyone of us is at risk for an automobile wreck. If you want to play those odds, most bad collisions happen on paved roads (rather than dirt) and the fatalities are on interstate highways and in the cities.

In just the Club’s membership over the past year (2015), Terry and myself survived a head-on collision outside of the Grand Canyon that totaled our 4-Runner, while in Alaska Fred Lobdell survived a “ran-off-roadway” incident (see side-bar), Greg Griffith tragically perished in an icy skid-off-roadway crash in Idaho and there may have been others. In these examples, single vehicle crashes seemingly are the majority, however in 2014; Arizona solo crashes were a mere 17% of the total, yet resulted in 37% of the fatalities.

A.B.C. (“Always Be Careful”) applies to our daily lives, our climbing hobby and certainly equally to driving! Why needlessly place ourselves at-risk for injury? The continual causes of fatal accidents are known: impairment, speeding, and unsafe lane changes; all compounded by a failure to use seatbelts. In just Arizona, of the total 774 fatal crashes in 2014, one third (34%) of those killed were not using safety devices (seat belts/helmets). Front seat occupants by using seat belts, can lower the risk of fatal injury by 45%. The failure to “buckle-up” increases the likelihood of being ejected by 30-times, resulting in a 75% chance of being killed. Finally, over the past 30 years, 42% of the police officers killed in traffic accidents were not wearing their seatbelts! Do consider Google’ing the series of “Arrive Alive” videos. They address impaired driving, excessive speed, distractions, and seal belt use. Please save a life: buckle up and slow down.

Air bags are explosive devices! Front seat occupants should have at least ten inches from their chest to the air bag cover. Side-impact air bags place children at risk for serious or fatal injury. Do not allow children to lean against any air bag devices, rather have them in a properly installed and an appropriate for age, child restraint system.

“Distracted driving” has become the catch word of late, the result of a new national menace; so much that April is the awareness month. Keeping one’s full attention on driving is not simple. Cruise control, playing favorite tunes and a ribbon of black top in front of you makes it tough to pay attention to what really matters. Simply adding in the handing of an electronic device makes us three times more likely to crash. This more complex activity, results in a twenty-three percent likelihood for a crash. While in the driver’s seat: texting, talking on hand-held cell-phones, C.B. radios, eating dinner or working your G.P.S. are basic set-ups for disaster. As of 2016, 48 states outlaw texting-while-driving in some manner. Just sending a text can take your eyes off the road for at least 5 seconds (you will travel 100 yards at just 55 mph). Use a hands-free device, if you must multi-task. But consider there are four other types of distracted driving: taking your eyes off the road, taking your hands off the steering wheel, allowing your mind to wander to something other than driving, and having an unrestrained pet in the car.

Tires (see: S.O.S. #21 “Tires”) are really where the rubber meets the road. Shreds of tires from extremely dangerous blow outs and tread separations are recognized as the most common roadside debris. The danger is significantly reduced by maintaining properly inflated tires. Plus exposed steel rims on pavement will create sparks (-as do dragging trailer safety chains-) and a wildfire can result!

The four D’s: Don’t Do Drowsy Driving. We all have done it and Fred Lobdell was lucky to have survived his experience! Pull over and stop at a safe location, allowing yourself to sleep. The potential for death or serious injury to yourself and others makes this concept non-debatable.

The failure of others to use a vehicle’s turn signals is a personal peeve of this columnist. Of all the wheels, pedals, buttons and levers available within a vehicle, one would assume the use of the turn signal lever requires the least effort. The only explanation that can be is that owners’ must believe the devices are too expensive and they chose to not purchase the option from the factory.

Big rigs could be an entire article in-of-themselves. Never linger anywhere around a semi-truck and trailer on the highway. The “No Zone” is a blind spot unique to these rigs and it has a dubious statistic: 35% of fatalities involving trucks occur there. Know there is the left side for passing and then there is the suicide. Only after you can see the entire truck in your mirror is it safe to move back into the lane ahead of it. Do take clues from the actions of big rig drivers, they are up higher and can see farther ahead.

Catch terms for speeding are “speed kills” and “speed kills bears” (consider here even deer or pedestrians). Time to be saved by speeding: go 80 mph for 16 miles: it takes 12 minutes, at 65 mph it will take 15 minutes, and at 50 mph it will take 19 minutes; just seven minutes difference. Here it is another way: 25 mph covers 37 feet per second (fps) with a documented 85 feet to come to a stop, 30 mph covers 44 fps with 113 feet needed to stop. Now at 80 mph it requires 481 feet to stop (at 85 mph: 543 feet!), 65 mph 353 feet, and at 50 mph 236 feet to stop. If you are adding speed to save time, at the least: anticipate the need for greater stopping distance. Please do not drive too fast for the road conditions present. Roadways with any pedestrians or bicyclists or with surfaces that are wet, icy, rough or narrow and environmental issues such as: fog, wind, rain, dusty or snow should all be a clue to slow down.

Regarding the passing other cars: one former Route 66 “Burma Shave” roadside advertisement sign said it best: “When you cannot see, it may get you a glimpse of eternity.”

Highway workers are a certainty, during our summer peak bagging trips. When present they are “protected” by a double fine construction zone. Consider Michigan has a 15 year sentence and 75-K fine for any driver who injures or kills a highway worker and New York will suspend a driver’s license, after two “work zone” speed violations. Always slow down and, as “distance is time”, move over for: any stopped temporary worker, fire department, law enforcement traffic stop or any vehicle with flashing lights that is on the median ahead of you. This especially includes tow-truck drivers.

Night-time driving is serious stuff. It is easy to “over-drive” the distance lighted by the headlights and run into “something ahead” before you can completely stop. Anticipate that pedestrians, bicyclists and animals are very difficult to see in the dark. Do dim your high-beams when approaching cars come into view. Be aware that in some states, flashing your high beams at another car is a traffic violation. If the other driver does not dim their lights, look to right edge of your lane; most states now have a solid white “outside” line to assist drivers in this situation. Failing to dim your lights to “get back at the other guy” results in both of you being blinded at the same time.

The greatest hazard we face is while driving is winter weather. Under such conditions, vehicle dynamics are completely different. The ABS brakes cannot be relied upon to prevent sliding wheels and steering input will not alter the vehicle’s momentum direction. Suggestions for winter driving are: have the correct number of snow chains/cables and be willing to put them on your drive wheels before needed, slow down, be patient and plan extra time to get to your destination. If snow plows are on the road stay back at least four car lengths and never pass a plow that is snow and ice off the road. Be conscious to brake slowly, avoid jerking the steering wheel and increase the distance between your vehicle and those ahead. Suggestions for winter driving survival are: wear warm clothing, make sure you gas tank is at least ¾’s full, and do notify someone of your destination, route and arrival time When driving in rain turn on your windshield wipers, defroster, and low beam headlights (see and be seen). Anticipate roadway pavement will the most slippery at the beginning of rain, as oil and dust has not yet been washed away. In heavy rain you may not be able to see more than 100 feet ahead and at speeds above 50 mph, tires can hydroplane. Any slight change in direction, a gust of wind or application of the brakes: can result in a skid and then you have just become a passenger! Slow down! On wet roads: travel 5 to 10 mph slower, on packed snow: reduce speed by half and on icy roads: slow to a crawl. Shaded areas will freeze first and dry out last. Bridges and overpasses will freeze before the rest of the road does. High or gusty winds are an unpredictable hazard. This is not just for big rigs which become a hazard to all vehicles around them; so do give them a wide-birth. In high winds, do not use cruise control. Maintain a firm grip on your vehicle’s steering wheel, watch for blowing debris on the road, as it can reveal conditions ahead allowing you can anticipate and avoid it.

Collisions with wildlife are way-too-common. Wildlife are “creatures of habit”, ask any hunter! In 2011 over a million vehicle-vs.-animal collisions were documented by insurance carriers. Consider that many had minor damage and were not reported due to high deductibles or a lack of collision coverage. States with the most documented auto/deer collisions are: Michigan, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Iowa. Running over the little ones are emotional events, but hit an elk, horse or steer (800 pounds-plus) and by height alone, any are likely coming over the hood and through the windshield. None of the four-legged creatures sport reflectors, so at night certainly consider slowing down. All of these creatures are drawn out of the thick woods to the roadsides, where plentiful sunshine and run-off makes for healthy green forage. Four months documented to have the greatest number of deer collisions, they are: October/November (the rut!) and June/July (the new fawns demand nursing does to find nourishment). Do not be apathetic and ignore any yellow posted roadside signs warning of elk/deer activity. Be alert, slow down and scan both sides of the road ahead. Especially be wary at sunset and early dawn, this is when animals are most active. Do not assume any animal to act rational to: on-coming headlights, a honk of the horn or to avoid your car by running away in the correct direction. Add to this there is no evidence that the little plastic deer whistles have any effect in avoiding collisions. Lastly, employing the swerving tactic only invites a head-on or side-swiping collision with the “other guy” or a run-off the roadway into an unacceptable barrage of off-road hazards.

Also, we should pre-set “AM #1” on our vehicle radios to: 1610; this is a nationwide channel dedicated to “travel advisories”.

All of us should have seasonally-based emergency kit in our vehicle and a fully charged cell phone. In every kit: some form of long term food (an MRE or two), medications (OTC and prescriptions), a flashlight, extra clothes, a shovel, and hazard reflectors. In summer it should have extra water. The winter kit should have blankets, an ice scraper, and some sand for getting traction.

Parking on a hill: facing downhill, turn the front wheels into the curb; facing uphill, front wheel should be turned away from the curb. Allow the car to gently roll into the curb and then set your parking brake. If there is no curb, turn the front wheels turn the wheels in anticipation that the vehicle will roll away from the roadway.

Keep in mind all newer vehicles have detachable headrests that can be used to break open the side windows from the inside, in case of a fire and or an emergency.

So in conclusion, if you care for yourself and others: please remain safe by driving the speed limit, not allowing yourself to be distracted by “devices”, and wear your seat belt.

My gratitude to Andy Martin, Fred Lobdell, and Bill Jacobs; their inspiration and assistance in the completion of this article was critical. Please remain safely seat belted in during your travels.