By Chuck Mai, AAA
In the past, I have written about drivers such as Left-Lane Louie, who for whatever reason like to camp out in the left lane of a divided highway, seemingly unaware of the congestion forming behind him.
Now meet three more types of drivers to keep an eye out for.
Frank the Follower – These “follow the leaders” are a phenomenon most closely associated with drunk and/or texting drivers who due to their distracted state, find it easier to pay no attention to traffic and simply follow the vehicle in front of them. The downside is that tailgating is often the inadvertent result, leaving the offending motorist precious little time to react to a change in the driving scenario if, for example, the car they’re following suddenly slams on its brakes.
Flow-Choking Christy – This driver fails to fully appreciate how she fits into the efficient movement of traffic. They’re the ones who inexplicably stop well behind the vehicle in front of them – maybe up to a car’s length – when halted at a stop light. This poses no problem if there are blocks and blocks of lane space behind the traffic signal but what about on an overpass where there are traffic lights at both ends and room for only a handful of cars on the bridge itself. More cars than the span can accommodate often attempt to cram themselves onto the bridge, sometimes blocking cross traffic at the near end in the process.
The Undecideds – You’re approaching the beginnings of a right turn-or left turn-only lane and the driver of the car in front of you decides to go straight. Or at least you think he does. He may really be oblivious or distracted or from out of state and hasn’t quite realized the “turn only” lane option is there. I give these folks a wide berth just in case they make a last-minute decision to jump over to the turn lane, especially if I am already in that lane.
Safe drivers realize that more and more of their fellow motorists are driving with any number of distractions vying for their attention: eating, drinking, smoking, texting, GPS-fiddling, iPods, cell phones, navigational systems – the list grows daily. Bottom line – drive defensively, stay alert, don’t assume anything and expect the unexpected.
By Chuck Mai, AAA
With more than 125 million vehicles on the roadway and Americans relying on their cars for nearly every part of their life, one of the most stressful things a motorist can encounter is a sudden breakdown. In 2012, AAA received more than 28 million roadside assistance calls. While 58 percent of those breakdowns could be resolved at the roadside by AAA technicians, nearly 12 million vehicles needed to be towed to a local repair shop for further help.
What to Do When Your Vehicle Breaks Down on a Roadway
If the car is clearly experiencing a problem but can still be driven a short distance, drive to a safe location such as a parking lot. If the vehicle stops running but still has coasting momentum, guide it to the far right shoulder as far off the road as possible while remaining on level ground. Turn on the emergency flashers to alert other motorists.
If the car cannot get completely off the roadway, switch on the safety/emergency flashers and consider leaving the vehicle and moving to a safer location. Occupants should not remain in a vehicle if there is a possibility it may be struck by other traffic. For the same reason, it is generally not a good idea to attempt to push a disabled car off the road.
Drivers and passengers should exit a broken down car on the side away from traffic if at all possible. Use extreme caution and watch for oncoming vehicles, especially at night or in bad weather when visibility is limited. While waiting for help, never stand directly behind or in front of the disabled vehicle.
In addition to turning on a vehicle’s emergency flashers, drivers can signal other motorists that they have a problem by raising the car hood, tying a brightly colored handkerchief or scarf to the antenna or door handle, or setting out flares, warning triangles or emergency beacons. These signals can help other drivers recognize there is a problem and hopefully prompt them to slow down, move over to allow more room and proceed with caution as they pass.
Once the driver and passengers are in a safe location, request assistance from a roadside assistance provider. Make note of surroundings, landmarks, buildings or road signs to help relay your location. This is why as you are traveling Interstates, always keep track of where you are by paying attention to mile marker numbers.
So, you think you’re up on the risks of distracted driving? Take this quiz from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
1. Which of the following is NOT a distraction risk when driving?
a. Texting or reading email
b. Eating a hamburger
c. Programming a GPS device
d. Checking rear-view mirrors
2. Distracted driving is a factor in what percentage of fatal crashes annually?
3. Using a cell phone (handheld or hands-free) increases your crash risk by how much?
4. During the four seconds it takes to read a text message, how far will a car travel at 55 mph?
a. 50 feet
b. 10 miles
c. Four car lengths
d. Just over the length of a football field
5. What is the best way to manage your distracted driving risk?
a. Practice multi-tasking more
b. Roll down the window and play the radio loud
c. Buy a cell phone with more features
d. Put the devices away and zero-in on driving
Did you answer “D” for all the questions above? If so, you’re paying attention! Driving is a complex task that requires undivided attention and focus.
And if you really want to reduce your risk on the road, contact your state legislator and ask him or her to support legislation banning texting while driving in Oklahoma. House Bill 1503 by Rep. Curtis McDaniel will do just that, if it makes it through the legislature this session. Your help is needed right now. Thank you.
By Chuck Mai, AAA
Steering column mounted gear shifters disappeared a long time ago, except on some pickups, and now front bench seats in passenger cars are about to also pass into automotive oblivion. Yes, they’re getting kicked by the bucket.
The 2014 Chevy Impala carries the distinction of being the last production car since the days of the horseless carriage to offer a front bench seat. Until recently, bench seats were also standard equipment on the Ford Crown Victoria and the Lincoln Town Car until those vehicles were both discontinued in 2011.
Will we miss the bench? Apparently not. During 2011/2012, only one in 10 Impala buyers chose the $195 option on the LS and LT models. General Motors says they expect the preference for front bucket seats to continue.
“A lot of people prefer bucket seats because they’re sporty, even in models that aren’t sports cars,” said Clay Dean, GM’s director of design. “Our customers also appreciate having the center console as a convenient place to store their phone and other personal use items.” Plus, it appears we’ve become used to those center console cup holders.
The first Chevrolet ever manufactured, the Series C Classic Six of 1911, featured a front seat bench and for decades, American cars were typically equipped with benches. In the days of larger families and one car families, they made sense because they allowed three passengers to sit comfortably albeit cozily in the front seat.
Bucket seats first came into vogue after World War II on small European imports. Not only did they do a better job of keeping passengers in place when making sharp or quick turns, they were necessary to accommodate floor-mounted shifters and parking brake levers in small cars.
By 1962, more than one million U.S.-built cars were factory equipped with bucket seats. Buckets really took off with the “pony cars” of the mid-sixties, cars such as the Ford Mustang and the Chevy Camaro.
Today, the need for six-passenger sedans is largely being met by SUVs or crossovers, which offer seating for up to eight. Chevy, for one, will continue to offer bench seats on pickup trucks and sport utilities.
But who knows? There’s a certain nostalgia for bench seats. Hard to snuggle up with your sweetie at the drive-in movie while sitting in bucket seats. Some experts say we may see bench seats re-emerge someday, possibly in very small cars like the EN-V urban mobility concept vehicle, in which the feeling of open space may be very desirable.
By Chuck Mai, AAA
As car-makers add more and more electronic distractions to new cars (giving traffic safety folks fits), they are also, thankfully, making cars safer.
Cameras and Sensors
John Paul, AAA’s Car Doctor, reports Subaru has introduced something they call the EyeSight system that uses a 3-D camera mounted at the top of the windshield, giving drivers a panoramic view of the road.
Honda has a device that gives the driver a view of the right side blind spot of the vehicle when the right turn signal is activated.
Mercedes-Benz has a new system called Collision Prevention Assist, available on M-Class SUVs, that uses radar sensors which monitor the distance from the SUV to a vehicle in front of it as well as to stationary roadway objects. If CPA detects an imminent collision, it sounds a warning and flashes a light.
Volvo has taken this idea a step further by autonomously hitting the brakes if it detects a low-speed crash is about to occur.
And don’t think it’s just the luxury cars offering these exciting new technologies. The latest Chevy Malibu has a forward collision alert and lane departure warning system.
About a quarter of a million people fall asleep at the wheel every day in the U.S. Good thing car-makers have systems in development that can watch us. Most use in-car cameras that keep track of what your eye lids are doing as well as absence of steering wheel movements. If they note something wrong, it sounds an alarm, vibrates the seat or tugs on the seat belt to alert the driver.
Here’s an idea from the past – from the 1948 Tucker Torpedo to be exact: headlights that move in the direction the car is turning. A growing number of vehicles have what they’re calling adaptive headlights. Good for illuminating dark curves.
Some car-makers are adding light amplification and infrared cameras that not only allow drivers to see more at night, they also identify and warn drivers of pedestrians and critters by the side of the road.
One of the most exciting new technologies is vehicle-to-vehicle communication. The idea that cars can talk to each other, while monitoring the roadway and overall driving environment, will make driving safer and less stressful. Car doc John Paul says these systems could warn drivers of slow-moving traffic, roadwork, traffic lights, school zones and weather conditions.
And by now, you’ve probably heard about Google’s driver-less cars that have received the go-ahead in several states. But wait – maybe a Massachusetts company is on the right track … or maybe the right altitude. They have created a flying car.
By Chuck Mai, AAA
Anybody who follows Oklahoma’s motor vehicle crash reports with any regularity knows that rural roads are more dangerous than urban ones.
I have a distinct desire to be around this old earth long enough to see the Chicago Cubs win the pennant, so traffic risks are things I pay particular attention to. It’s all about surviving driving, which is no mean trick. Traffic crashes are still the leading cause of death for those 25 and under in our state. Numero uno. In fact, far ahead of whatever’s in second, third and fourth places.
So, when Fred Storer of Bartlesville sent me a study he had done of Oklahoma roadway collisions, I was all ears. Using information from NHTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Fred’s contention is that “Oklahoma’s county roads and state number highways are three times as dangerous as the balance of the state roads combined.”
He examined the 3,006 highway fatalities in Oklahoma for the five years 2007 through 2011. The results? Twenty-eight percent of them occurred on urban roads and 72 percent on rural roads. See Fred’s website, www.saferight-of-ways.org.
You have to ask yourself, “Why?” Why are so many more of us dying in collisions on rural roadways than on urban ones? The answers are many: narrower roadbeds, limited shoulders, lack of medians, inadequate lighting, speed, tight curves, older bridges, and as Fred says, too many hazards placed too near the roads, hazards such as mailboxes.
But what’s happening inside the vehicle to cause these things to be final factors, that one last element that causes the fatal crash? Alcohol, certainly, plays a role in many of these wrecks, as does fatigue. But probably the number one facilitator of fatal crashes is distractions: other passengers in the car or pickup, reaching for something in the glove compartment, fiddling with an iPod, eating, drinking, smoking – and using a cell phone to either talk or text.
We have it within our power and abilities to save our own lives and those of others on the highway, whether rural or urban. You know how, it’s just common sense – limit distractions, pay attention to the road, drive refreshed, avoid alcohol and buckle up. And encourage your loved ones to do likewise.
There are lessons to be learned. No matter how much you try to school them, regardless the advance warning, despite all the “when I was your age” comments, young people have to learn for themselves.
And when the time comes during their teen years that they have to make decisions that can cost them money, they learn just how costly those decisions can be.
A family I know well enough to be related to (and am) is about to get a double dose of the money game. Two teenage daughters, with two months difference in their ages (they’re stepsisters) are entering into the world of higher learning.
It can be a great time, it can be a tough time. It all depends upon the decisions you have to make and how you do so.
Their dad has set them up to learn, with a little room to fail. They get an allowance, a decent one. OK, very decent. Each receives 40 times what I got at the best level I ever had. I won’t deny that times were much different and items much cheaper. It’s all relative.
Now comes the adjustment.
Until now, others have made many of their purchases for them. Food on the run, cosmetics, trinkets, or whatever usually has been more of a “gift” from others. They’ve been told that now that those expenses will be their responsibility. But the biggest change will be in transportation.
Now, they will both have a driver’s license. Their dad bought them a car to share, fixed it up with some nice added features and got them both a set of keys.
But he told them they would be responsible for handling the cost of fuel with their allowances. I suspect there will be a steady decline of some other purchases, beginning pretty soon.
So what comes next? A little exercise in budgeting, he says. They’re going to have to learn how to budget their money, because he added a stipulation when he set up their allowances: don’t ask anyone for money; you have your own, until it runs out.
I also suspect there will be some employment considerations, along with a push for an additional vehicle.
The lessons are just beginning.
Check the resources in KNOWIT.NEWSOK.COM/MONEY-OKLAHOMA to help you with your personal finances. There’s some pretty sound advice there, no matter your age.
By Chuck Mai, AAA
When AAA roadside assistance technician Tim Griffin came to the aid of a stranded family on I-75 in Atlanta late one night, he assumed it would be a routine call. But, in fact, Griffin’s road service vehicle ended up being the life-saving barrier between a speeding car and the family of six he was assisting.
With his truck’s safety lights flashing and safety cones in place, Griffin was helping the family with their disabled mini-van when a passing car slammed into his vehicle. “If I hadn’t positioned my truck behind the family’s van to protect it and its occupants, that car would have struck it. And as fast as it was going, I know it would have injured those kids sitting in the back,” said Griffin.
Unfortunately, incidents like this occur all too frequently. Stranded motorists as well as roadside first-responders are faced with the danger of passing vehicles swerving into them each day.
You can take some key steps to protect yourself along the roadside.
• Pull off the road. Try to exit onto the far right shoulder as far off the road as possible while remaining on level ground. On an interstate or multilane highway with medians, you may consider the left shoulder, again pulling as far away from the traffic as possible.
If you cannot pull off the road, switch on emergency flashers, and do not risk danger to yourself by attempting to push your vehicle to a safe location. If you think your vehicle might be struck from behind, do not remain in it. You should proceed carefully and watch for oncoming traffic while exiting the vehicle; never stand behind or directly in front of it because other drivers may not see you.
• Alert other motorists. Make sure your vehicle is visible to other motorists by turning on your emergency flashers. If your vehicle is along the roadside, raise your hood and tie a brightly colored handkerchief or scarf to the antenna or door handle. Flares or warning triangles can also be placed behind your vehicle to alert other motorists.
• Communicate your situation. Once you and your passengers are in a safe location, call for assistance. If you have a cell phone, call for help from inside your vehicle if you are safely out of traffic. Otherwise, call from a safe distance from the vehicle and roadway.
• Remain with your vehicle. Under most circumstances, if you have a cell phone, it’s best to remain with your vehicle until assistance arrives. If there’s no telephone available within a safe walking distance, try to get the attention of other drivers and seek out law enforcement if possible.
If you choose to leave your vehicle, exit through the side of the vehicle facing away from the road. If you remain inside, keep the windows almost closed and the doors locked.
• If you just have a flat tire, go ahead and drive slowly on it to a place of safety away from traffic lanes.
By Chuck Mai, AAA
All the world may be a stage, but Shakespeare never had to share the road with the jesters and clowns you and I encounter every day.
Maybe we should give awards to these characters: “Worst Performance by a Driver on an Urban Highway,” “Most Blatant Display of Distracted Driving,” “Dubious Achievement in Visually Terrifying Effects” – that sort of thing.
My list of actors and actresses is a who’s who of road-worthless evil-doers:
• Lane-jumping Johnny. This is the guy who is determined to get there seven seconds before you do. To him, driving is a game to be won at all costs. Or, to be fair, maybe he’s a doctor rushing to an emergency at the hospital. At any rate, give Johnny a wide berth.
• Tail-gating Terry. What’s scary is that sometimes Terry’s not even aware he’s doing it. He just wants to get there so bad, he gobbles up every available square foot of real estate between you and him and constantly wants more. Pull over, let him have it.
• Left-lane Louie. This guy lays claim to the left lane (the “passing lane”) of a divided highway, whether he’s passing anybody or not. Sometimes I think Louie’s just asleep.
• Blind Spot Doggers. Here’s an interesting personality. There’s tons of unoccupied divided roadway in front of this joker yet he persists in driving a car length behind me, one lane over, right in my blind spot. I figure he has a fear of passing (doesn’t want to appear to be speeding) or perhaps driving in synchronicity with me affords him a certain degree of security. Or maybe, like Left-lane Louie, he’s just asleep.
• Cruise Control Connie. This driver seems loathe to switch off her cruise control on the highway, so it takes her seven minutes to overtake a vehicle going in the same direction. It’s like she has found that perfect cruise control setting – within the speed limit – and she’ll be darned if a lawbreaking speeder is going to make her have to reset it.
• Cell Phone Charlie. It’s as if Mr. Multi-tasker is so important, he has to yak on the phone while driving. Many women do this, too. And the teenagers who text-message while driving? Well, I am at a loss. Where are the parents? Who’s coaching these kids on the dangers of risky driving? Text-messaging requires that you look at the phone a lot. Glance up at traffic for a second, look down at your phone for three seconds. Glance up at traffic for a second, look down at your phone for three seconds. Glance up at traffic for a second, look down at your ph . . . crash! No wonder teens pay more than anybody else for car insurance.
A recently released analysis found a 1.9 percent decrease in total fatalities since 2010, officials of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.
Any decrease is good new. Any drop is progress.
But the same analysis found some bad news. There was an 8.7 percent increase in cyclist fatalities and a 3 percent rise in pedestrian deaths in 2011. That is substantial.
“We are still concerned about the numbers of cyclists and pedestrians at risk on our roadways,” said Paul Oberhauser, Traffic Safety Coalition co-chairman. “As the holiday season approaches, we must obey basic traffic safety laws to ensure the safety of those inside and outside of a vehicle.”
The issue is personal to Oberhauser. His daughter, Sarah, was killed in 2002 when a driver ran a red light and crashed into her car.
The numbers in the report show a need for increased education relating to the shift in the types of transportation the public is now using, highway safety officials said. They say it is important to continue to keep overall traffic fatalities down and educate the public on driver distraction, red light running and speed in our intersections.
“The latest numbers show how the tireless work of our safety agencies and partners, coupled with significant advances in technology and continued public education, can really make a difference on our roadways,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a release from NHTSA.
“As we look to the future, it will be more important than ever to build on this progress by continuing to tackle head-on issues like seat belt use, drunk driving, and driver distraction.”
So, to keep roads safer for those traveling this season, the Traffic Safety Coalition is encouraging drivers to take its holiday pledge (http://www.trafficsafetycoalition.com/holidaypledge) to commit to safe driving behavior. The pledge reads:
“During this holiday season and every day throughout the year,
• I pledge to buckle up when driving and as a passenger.
• I pledge to obey traffic signals and always stop on red.
• I pledge to obey the speed limit.
• I pledge to never text and drive.
• I pledge to never drink and drive.”
The TSC works with more than 250 partners nationwide, including local chapters of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Safe Kids USA and other local community organizations throughout the country.
It’s an effort we all can join.