Category: Safe Driving Habits

Cars driving on a snowy highway.

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 “unpredictable”.

From parking on sidewalks and stopping for pedestrians in the pedestrian crosswalk to weaving all over the road in high-speed traffic (and any other example you can think of), it seems like we sometimes commute alongside some fairly 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 veritable 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 vehicle driving to your far right. You and every other vehicle nearby are at risk of a serious collision.

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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.

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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.

How to Parallel Park

A photo of a long row of cars parallel parked.
Parallel parking is a skill that can come in handy.

Parallel parking was once the prime fear of every driving test victim. Not any more. What with power steering, automatic transmission, rearview cameras, ever greater efficiency of car design, and a greater number of parking lots, it is more easily accomplished and less often used by today’s drivers. Nonetheless it remains a skill well worth acquiring.

It seems counter intuitive but the easiest, most efficient and safest method is to begin by backing into the selected space. Nosing in requires a lot more backing and filling accompanied by head twisting, shifting and, usually, a lot of cussing. Remember people are watching and laughing.

So, here it is. Pull up exactly parallel to the car parked in front of your selected space; shift into reverse; place your right arm along the top of the seatback (no rear view mirrors!); look directly back through the rear window and ease your car back into the space making sure you don’t hit the curb or the car parked behind you. Next, shift into drive, crank the steering wheel toward the curb and ease forward remembering to keep an an eye out in both directions. There you are, easy and done. Remember speeds greatest enemy is haste. Take it slow and you’ll finish faster and safer.

Okay, so nobody has been injured or killed parallel parking. (At least it’s rare enough to be ignored here.) However a dinked bumper can cost more than $1,000 and you are responsible for all cars damaged. That can result in a heart attack or stroke and not a little embarrassment.

Want to improve your parallel parking or other driving skills? Derek Brown’s Driving Academy can help. Take a course or in-vehicle lesson.

How to Drive in Snow Video

Here’s a short video on how to drive in snow.  The main points are this:

1. If roads are really icy or snow-covered don’t go out unless you really have to.

2. Slow down.

3. Don’t tailgate.

4. Don’t brake on curves.

Now watch it yourself.

If you would like to learn how to drive on snow or practice driving on snow with an expert, visit our driving school.

Turn Signals

An important part of safe driving, turn signals.
An important part of safe driving, turn signals.

Essential for safety, turn signals have practical uses as well. They tell other drivers and pedestrians what you intend to do. On the highway your life may depend on them. On city streets their blinking helps keep traffic moving efficiently while preventing accidents. In parking lots it alerts people you are backing out of a space or going in perhaps preventing fender benders and loud embarrassing arguments.

That’s right, parking lots. When was the last time you used your turn signals in a parking lot? Never? Well, think about it. Wouldn’t you appreciate knowing what other cars are going to do while creeping along looking for an open space? When you spot a blinking signal up the line you a space is gone or one is opening up. It’s time for a sigh of relief or or a mild curse.

Most important, remember to put those turn signals blinking when changing lanes while speeding along a freeway or busy through street. The number one cause of road rage is cutting someone off by failing to signal a lane change. More to the point it is the number one cause of accidents and at 110 kph or 80 kph on a city through-way it is an excellent way to die.

Safe driving means staying safe, staying alive, not having accident.  Derek Brown’s Driving Academy can help you stay safe.

Stop Fast


The best way to avoid an accident is to stop fast. Stop before you hit someone or before someone hits you. The best way to stop fast is to be aware of your surroundings. That means pay close attention to the road and everything on it and near it, especially signs. No cell phones – even the ones attached to your ear – no maps spread on the next seat, no shaving, no applying makeup.

Research has shown that just talking on the phone while driving is more dangerous than three beers, even if you don’t hold it in your hand. It’s different than listening to the radio or chatting with other people in the car, researchers found. It requires more intense concentration at the expense of your attention to the road. Fractions of a second count on the road. Talking on the phone, like alcohol, adds considerably to your reaction time, according to the study.

There are other more obvious things to remember. Keeping your bakes in good repair, for one. Obeying the speed limit is another. Most important, maintain enough space between your car and the one in front to ensure you can stop in time. This last point is almost universally ignored, particularly on city through-ways where tailgating is now common practice. Be the exception to this dangerous new rule.

Finally, remember to stop twice when leaving a parking lot. First stop at the sidewalk crossing the lot exit, look for pedestrians, then stop again at the road and look for cars. You may save a life and avoid a lawsuit.

If you want to learn to drive safely or the new driver in your family, check out our driving school Derek Brown’s Driving Academy.