Category: Safe Driving Habits

Defensive Driving for Winter Weather

Some days, it seems like a lot of the drivers we share the road with are getting more and more, um, “unpredictable”.

From parking on sidewalks and stopping for pedestrians in the pedestrian crosswalk to weaving across lanes in high-speed traffic and any other example you can think of, it seems like we sometimes commute alongside some pretty erratic drivers.

And that’s not even taking the weather into account!

Bring in some cold and snowy weather, and these erratic drivers become even worse. What was an everyday danger on the road now becomes a true hazard. That driver up ahead who drifted into the middle of 2 lanes while looking at his phone? He’s now in an uncontrolled slide across your path, headed straight into the snow bank on your far right. You and every other vehicle near him are at risk of a serious collision.

HOW TO DEFEND YOURSELF WHEN DRIVING ON WINTER ROADS:

  1. Know the road conditions.

These days, you don’t even have to step outside – much less be on a road – to know what the road conditions are. There are 2 very good websites you can check to find out what the current road conditions are:

  • Alberta Transportation[1]
  • AMA[2]

However, if you’re not able to check online then you’ll have to do it the old fashioned way by making a visual assessment of the road and paying close attention to how your car feels and reacts while driving.

Things to pay attention to include how well your car responds to steering adjustments and acceleration/deceleration, whether the vehicles around you are slipping or sliding, and whether your car feels like it has a good grip on the road.

  1. Stay alert and focused.

You might not know it yet, but up ahead there’s someone talking on his Bluetooth, rummaging through a donut box with 1 hand while the other is loosely holding the wheel. When his lousy driving inevitably takes a turn for the worse, it will cause a chain reaction that you’ll have only seconds to avoid. This is one reason why you need to always pay attention!

Staying alert and focused during the whole time you’re driving isn’t easy. There are hundreds of potential micro-distractions that can divert your attention for the precious few seconds it takes for things to go wrong. And when roads are icy, it’s even more likely that even a small lapse of focus can lead to big issues.

  1. Keep a constant eye out for “that guy”

We all know who “that guy” is. He’s the shmuck who weaves through traffic going 163km/h down Deerfoot Tr., or who’s going 48km in an 80km zone, or who’s stopped only half on the shoulder as he texts his buddy. That guy.

He’s out driving way more often than you think, disrupting traffic and endangering everyone with his blatantly irresponsible driving. Obviously don’t be that guy, but don’t ignore him either.

A good defensive driver is one who doesn’t just spot “that guy”, but who also keeps track of where that guy is and stays a good and safe distance away from him.

  1. Keep a safe distance

The rule of thumb is to stay 3 seconds behind the vehicle in front of you, unless it’s a large commercial vehicle. If you’re behind a large semi or other commercial vehicle or snow plow or road sander, stay 4 seconds behind.

Keep in mind that it can take up to 12 times longer to stop your car on slick winter roads, so use your best judgment when driving in snow and ice. But also keep in mind that a 36 second lag time behind the vehicle in front of you is much better than delay you’d have if you got into a collision.

How do you know you’re staying so many seconds behind?

Find a fixed object like a road sign or tree. Start counting in “Mississippis” (“one Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi”) when the rear end of the vehicle in front of you passes this object; stop counting when the front of your vehicle reaches it. Whatever the count comes to is how many seconds behind that vehicle you are.

  1. Make sure you stay readily visible

A lot of collisions happen because drivers couldn’t see the other car. Luckily this is an easy mistake with an easy fix!

Use your exterior lights –– your headlights, signal lights, brake lights, running lights. Make sure all these lights are in good working order and use each and every one of them when you should, each and every time.

Also avoid blindspots, both your own and those of other drivers. Consistently check your blindspots to make sure nobody’s lurking somewhere you can’t easily see. Stay out of other peoples’ blindspots by knowing where your own blindspots are located and using these as a reference for avoiding other drivers’ blindspots.

  1. Keep your cool

It can be really hard to swallow your frustration and anger when another driver does something illegal, offensive, and/or just plain dumb. But allowing your emotions to influence your driving habits is a guaranteed recipe for disaster.

Letting your emotions take the wheel removes your reasoning and objectivity, opening the door for impulsive behaviour and knee-jerk reactions. From there it’s only a matter of time before you’ve driven yourself into a situation you might not be able to get out of very easily (if at all).

It may sound cheesy, but take a couple of big breaths and get your emotions in-check. Taking deep breaths doesn’t just help you relax your muscles; it also makes you more alert and clear-headed by bringing more oxygen into your brain.

  1. Take our Defensive Driving Course!

We offer one of Calgary’s best defensive driving courses, designed to fit into your schedule. We even cover defensive driving in the winter. It’s easy, incredibly informative, one-on-one, and actual students have even said it’s fun! Get in touch to learn more.
These tips are relevant throughout the year, but especially when driving in winter conditions. Practice them every time you drive and soon enough they’ll become a habit that could save you, your loved ones, and your fellow drivers from a heap of liability claims and heartache.

[1] http://511.alberta.ca/

[2] https://roadreports.ama.ab.ca/

A Brief History of Seatbelts

The original seatbelt was invented in 1885 as a way to keep people being raised or lowered off the ground safe.  In 1911, Benjamin Fouilous attached one to his saddle while riding his horse.  If you’re thinking “that seems like it might backfire”, you may be right, but innovation has to start somewhere.  Things really picked up in the 1950s when Dr. Hunter Shelden helped create the retractable seatbelt.  This technology was debuted in cars by the Swedish company Saab.  I know, quite the Saab Story.

Continue reading “A Brief History of Seatbelts”

Seatbelt Use Around the World

seatbeltSeatbelt use is more popular in some countries than others.  It is hard to pin down the exact reasons for this difference.  Some people think the differences might have to do with education. Some people think different attitudes to safety or driving cause the issue. Some people think there is a difference in the number of seatbelts in vehicles that create the difference. A lack of education might be a good bet though.  It seems as though some people have assumptions about wearing seat belts that do not hold up to the facts.
One myth is that it isn’t necessary to wear a seatbelt if you are sitting in the back seat.  This is not true and a dangerous assumption according to the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  In fact, more people are injured who sit in the backseat for the sole reason that they are less likely to wear a seatbelt.  Countries like Japan and Italy see a significant drop off when comparing front seatbelt usage and backseat.  Japan’s drops from 98% to 68%, and Italy drops from 64% to 10%.   Canadians, on the other hand, should be proud! Canada and Germany are the countries who do best with seatbelt compliance.  In Canada, 92% wear their seatbelt in the front seat and 85% in the backseat.  In Germany, 94% of people wear seatbelts in the front seat, and 90% of the time in the backseat.


Maybe an education campaign about backseat seatbelt use would be helpful in the countries that have poor compliance.  Or maybe the law should step in and make it illegal to travel in a vehicle without a seatbelt.

Deal with Rage before it Occurs

Road Rage

Road Rage 3

Most people seldom rage against the actual road. Usually it is other drivers, the police, construction work; and, occasionally, back-seat drivers that make us glower with rage.

Indeed, there are roads that induce rage. A typical example is Calgary’s Blackfoot Trail where it merges with Deerfoot Trail. Where else in the world is it necessary to post signs reading: All Drivers Have Equal Right to the Road; Get Ready to Merge; Leave a Space for Cars to Merge, etc. But these are directed primarily at discourteous drivers refusing to make room for merging traffic, not the road itself. Yes, these trails could have been better designed, but that’s the government’s fault, isn’t it. But, if you let yourself stew over bad government you’ll be in a rage 24/7.

The best thing to do is to deal with rage before it occurs. When you get into your car think for a moment about what could happen as you drive. Someone is likely to cut you off; you may cut someone else off when you almost miss your exit; you could receive a at single finger salute; and, you might be tempted to give one yourself. Decide that you are not going to respond in kind and, more important, that you won’t initiate the action. Be calm, relax and drive accepting whatever happens as part of life on the road.

You will arrive cool and collected perhaps able to have a chuckle over what fools some people are.

Another way to prevent road rage is to go to a driving school and learn how to deal calmly with all driving situations.

Derek Brown’s Academy of Driving is a Calgary Driving School.