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P.A.S.S. System
Driver Safety Training


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Driver Safety
A New and Better Approach

by Thomas Donovan


Article #1 – Introduction & Statistics

From the start of my career fighting fires in Philadelphia to my last assignment as the head of the Philadelphia Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Division, I witnessed a consistent local and national effort to reduce fire deaths.  During those years I did not know there was a much bigger safety issue that got so little attention it was under most people’s radar, including my own.  Only after leaving the PFD did I finally learn the scope of the risk of death and injury from vehicle crashes.  As you will see in this first article in a series on driver safety, those risks are terrifying and unacceptable.  It is the purpose of this and the following articles to reveal the extent of the problem, show the main causes for vehicle crashes today, and offer an approach that every driver can use to greatly reduce their odds of being in a crash.

While annual United States fire deaths are currently under 3,500 victims each year, with less than 18,000 civilian injuries, we kill over 40,000 people each year on our roads (latest 10-year average), with over 2.4 million people receiving serious injury.  These numbers and the human suffering they represent are not only terrifying – they are unacceptable.  Unlike fire safety, little effort, money or interest in the U.S. go into improving our adult driving behavior, despite overwhelming evidence that poor driving behavior is responsible for nearly every collision.  While young drivers typically receive some type of driver education training, once they are fully licensed training ends.  As will be discussed in this series, simple inexperience is the new driver’s biggest challenge.  And while adult drivers have experience, they lack the training that would allow them to fully benefit from that experience. 

I believe adult driving behavior can be changed by education.  I say that because I was once an extremely bad driver who received and benefitted greatly from post-licensing driver education.  My own history is that of a dangerous novice driver who became a safe driver thanks to repeated driver training.  My backround in psychology (B.A., M.S., clinical work, university instructor) has proven helpful for understanding the difficulty in changing habitual behavior, and has lead to my belief in the necessity for a simple memory trigger which summarizes the main requirements for safe driving.  Firefighters are taught early on to take chaotic situations and reduce them to manageable proportions.  Applying that principle to driving safety, I believe that the four proven key elements to safe driving; namely, paying attention, alcohol restraint, proper speed, and having space around your vehicle can be easily recalled and put into practice in what I call the P.A.S.S. system™.

The P.A.S.S. system™ is based on the leading causes of vehicle collisions and provides a simple reminder for the most important thoughts on which drivers need to focus each time they set out on the road.  The foundation for the P.A.S.S. system™ and suggested ways to employ it in one’s own daily driving will be developed in this series of articles.

The safe driving information presented here is organized to educate a person on how to become an informed responsible driver, one aware of the huge risks on our roads and aware of a method to reduce them.  Its goal is to encourage drivers to become fully proactive in pursuing their own safety behind the wheel and that of their family members and passengers.  In this series we will cover:


Do you think you are a good driver?  Better than average?  Studies reveal that most drivers think they are better than average to excellent, but clearly that cannot be the case.  Even if you are a relatively good driver, you still must accommodate your driving to handle all the noticeably bad drivers on the road today.  The truth is that we all need to be better drivers than we currently are.  I will argue in this series that it is worth your time and effort to be a better driver. And these articles will show you how.  The specific actions needed to be a very good driver are simple and easy to reminder.  The hard part (there’s always a hard part, right?) is the application of doing what you know you should do, primarily just by remembering to do it.  “That which I would do, I do not. That I would not do, I do.” - Saint Augustine

Here are the numbers showing how dangerous driving currently is in the U.S.  Unfortunately such data can quickly become meaningless, as most of us are tired of hearing figures regarding the countless hazards we face each day.  Admitting this limitation, I would like you to consider that for vehicle crashes each single number making up these “statistics” represents a flesh and blood person - a mother, a child, a beloved friend, a family’s only wage earner.  Being left an orphan has tragic consequences for a child.  Killing your own child or someone else’s has equally dire consequences.

It is these real people, not abstract numbers, who are bloodied, mangled, crushed, maimed and killed by drivers who are negligent, which means drivers who do not make the effort to drive responsibly.  These are individuals who basically don’t think about their driving.  And to some extent that charge applies to every driver.  None of us give our driving the full attention it warrants.

Death by vehicle is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. after heart disease, cancer, stroke and respiratory disease, all of which are primarily problems of advancing age.  Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in the U.S. for ages two through 34.  As noted, the number of individuals killed in or by vehicles is currently over 40,000 per year (ten-year average), with total annual injuries at about 4.8 million people, the result of over 16 million reported crashes.

What do such numbers mean?  How does one get a proper sense of the enormity?  Here are some comparison figures.  The seriously injured annual total (2.4 million) on our roadways exceeds the total number of U.S. soldiers injured in the U.S. Civil War and W.W. II combined by a factor of two!  The average annual death toll on our highways equals 125% of the total of U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War.  More Americans are killed every 18 months on our roadways than died during the entire Viet Nam War (1957 to 1975).

If you think those wars are ancient history, consider that death on U.S. roads surpasses all the U.S. soldier fatalities in the current campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan every 45 Days.  More die on our roads each year than die of breast cancer.  And while getting breast cancer is largely unavoidable, death on the road is largely avoidable, if people would pay attention to the job of driving.

Everyone remembers 9-11, with its tragic loss of life.  Not even considering serious vehicle injuries every year in the U.S., vehicle crashes account for more fatalities than twelve 9-11’s each year.  In other words, Americans unleash a 9-11 disaster each month on themselves.  Thus we have delivered over one hundred 9-11 death totals (plus 25 million seriously injured) to ourselves since September 11, 2001.  Hells Bells! Isn’t it about time we paid attention to this insanity?

While the U. S. spends billions of dollars and creates multiple restrictions attempting to protect its citizens from terrorists, it does very little to protect itself from the much larger unremitting daily terror suffered on its roadways as the result of unacceptable driving behavior.  Please realize this topic is not about other people; it is about you.  We are each only one moment away from joining these inexcusable numbers

We attempt to absolve drivers, namely ourselves, of responsibility by calling a vehicle crash or collision an accident.  You may not believe that you intended to hit the car in front of you when it slowed or stopped, but your failure to control your vehicle made that collision take place.  The collision is your fault; it was not an “accident.”  When a driver tailgates or reaches for his or her morning coffee and hits another vehicle that is not an accident.  The driver made a choice.  The choice was deliberate and should be considered negligent.  If you think that judgment is too harsh apply it to a member of your family killed by such negligence.

The word accident applied to vehicle crashes is nonsense. I never responded to or heard of a vehicle crash that was not at least one driver’s fault, never.  Drivers are required to be in control of their vehicles at all times, not just when they decide to pay attention, not just when the weather is good, at all times.  That is the responsibility that comes with driving.  If you do not want that responsibility, don’t drive.  Ride a bus, walk, call a cab.  All of those alternatives are preferable to life in a wheel chair, are they not?

The first step to becoming a better driver is accepting responsibility for controlling your vehicle. You must realize it is your job and your duty to keep your vehicle from striking anyone or anything. Once you grasp that principle you will start behaving in ways to protect yourself and those driving with you from your own potentially unsafe acts and the unsafe actions of other drivers. Other people’s bad driving behavior is not going away. You have to make the necessary changes in your driving behavior to make yourself and those in your vehicle safe.

The majority of the technical and statistical information presented in this series is drawn from references in the book, Traffic Safety, by Leonard Evans.  Mr. Evans is an internationally renowned traffic safety expert who has been employed doing vehicle safety research for over 33 years.  He is the author of more than 150 publications dealing with traffic and driver safety.  He holds a Ph.D. in physics from Oxford University.  The statistics used in Traffic Safety are primarily from the Department of Transportation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Safety Council, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, and the National Center for Statistics and Analysis.  I feel deeply indebted to Mr. Evans for his many years of effort to reduce roadway disaster and for his enormous contributions to driver education.  Traffic Safety is available at ScienceServingSociety.com.


Driver Safety
A New and Better Approach
by Thomas Donovan


Article 2 – Causes of Vehicle Crashes

In the previous article we covered the sad statistics documenting death and injury on U. S. roadways.  Why do we have these terrible crash numbers? Exactly what are drivers doing, or not doing, to cause so many deadly and disabling collisions?

The four leading causes of vehicle crashes are:
1) lack of attention
2) alcohol impaired driving
3) speeding, which includes driving over the speed limit and/or too fast for conditions
4) failure to yield the right-of-way, failure to maintain lane position, and following too close – all of which are issues of space

Drivers can greatly reduce their chances of being in a crash if they learn to handle these clearly identifiable causes of collisions.  Let’s look at each in detail.  Later in this series we will cover additional causes.

Lack of Attention
Sometimes defined as distracted driving, the failure to pay attention while driving is one of the biggest factors contributing to current highway carnage.  A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study reported that 78% of vehicle crashes involved some component of distracted driving, while speed, space and/or alcohol issues may also have contributed.  Those results mean that over 3 out of 4 smash-ups are caused or influenced by a driver’s inattention to the task of driving.  Inattention to one’s driving is not only the leading cause of collisions, including big, bloody, fire-filled collisions, it is also something to which every driver is prone.  Below are the major sources of distracted or inattentive driving:

Cell phone use, including hands free phone use (HFPU):  Any type of cell phone use makes a driver as impaired as someone legally intoxicated.  Studies of HFPU while driving demonstrated it to be as distracting as held phones or other in-vehicle distractions.  For example, HFPU added 18 feet to braking distance at 62 mph.  How many drivers always maintain even 18 feet of space in front of their vehicle?  And, yes, cell phone conversations have been proven to be a greater crash risk than conversations with vehicle occupants, though these also can be distracting.  Studies show that drivers tend to better ignore a talking adult passenger than someone with whom they are speaking on a cell phone.  Additionally vehicle passengers have been shown to provide an extra set of eyes that have warned of hazards a driver failed to see.

Neither the fact that your see lots of people using cell phones while driving, nor the fact that you do it regularly and haven’t killed anyone yet makes cell phone use while driving OK.  It marks a driver as irresponsible or not too bright.  There are no excuses anyone can make for this dangerous behavior.  Being deliberately dumb and irresponsible comes with costs eventually.  Do you really want to pay those costs - physical, psychological and financial? 

It is critical to realize that cell phone laws are written, or more often not written, by legislators who receive needed campaign funding from cell phone communication companies.  These companies want users to run up as many billable minutes as possible, and they simply do not care if you are behind the wheel in traffic.  They do not care if you crash.  Their responsibility for the death and injury of millions of Americans is comparable to that of the tobacco industry, as many studies have clearly shown the lethal hazards of any type of cell phone use while driving.  Someday they will be held accountable through litigation.  For the present, cell phone laws in the U.S. remain weak and refuse to address the issue of HFCP use.  You, however, do not have to wait for the laws to change to protect yourself and your passengers.

Hand held computers/text messaging:  If you think you can use these devices and drive, you should turn in your license today and look for other means of transportation; seriously, stop driving immediately and make alternate plans.  For the rest of us, these are the people we need to defend ourselves from.  A 2006 Nationwide Insurance study found 19% of drivers admitted texting.  That figure is certainly higher today and going even higher in the years ahead.  These benighted drivers are on the road and are a danger to those of us wishing to keep our vehicle and body parts intact.  And please do not think that if you are not “texting,” only using your cell phone, you are somehow acting responsibly.

Interaction with passengers:  This issue is most critical with children and infants.  According to AAA, passenger distraction collisions are eight times more frequent with an infant in the car.  That is the probable result of a tendency to pay more attention to children and infants than to adults.  Though this higher collision rate with youngsters might be expected, it is nonetheless unacceptable and will be addressed in a subsequent article.

Handling & fiddling with objects and controls that take your eyes and attention off the roadway in front of you:  This typically involves looking away from the road to some unnecessary distraction such as an entertainment device, a navigation system, personal hygiene, eating, smoking, reading.  Are these really activities you should be doing while driving?  The answer is definitely yes, if you want to CRASH!

Wandering thoughts and eyes:  Unfortunately keeping one’s mind on the road is no easy matter.  You’ll need a strategy, and we will suggest one in this series.

All these mentioned distractions, even in their mildest effects, lead to increased reaction times when a driver must respond to a critical situation.  Small increases in reaction times can produce large increases in collision severity.  Distractions in their major effects are deadly.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, meaning it slows or suppresses the function of neurons in the brain and spinal cord.  Even in small amounts it affects the nervous system in significant ways.  Typically around 40% of vehicle fatalities are alcohol related each year (source Alcohol Alert), which translates to approximately 16,000 dead victims.  Also the more severe a crash, the more severe bodily harm inflicted, the more likely alcohol was involved.  Alcohol works quickly to distort depth perception, and it adversely affects focus and peripheral vision.  But most significantly, drivers do things under the influence of alcohol that they would not do sober.  Thus alcohol influenced driving is more than just the impairment of driving skills.  Drivers with alcohol in their blood make bad decisions, accepting larger risks and greater speeds.

There are roughly equal amounts of alcohol in 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor.  Rule of thumb, one regular beer equals one regular wine equals one shot of liquor.  However many mixed drinks have more than one shot, and some beers and wines have a higher than average alcohol content.  One part alcohol per 1000 parts blood by weight gives a blood alcohol level (B.A.L.) or blood alcohol concentration (B.A.C.) of .1 %.  The approximate rate at which alcohol is metabolized is .015 B.A.L. units per hour.  However that varies widely among individuals and is dependent on many factors.  Therefore the following information is highly generalized and your case may be very different, not necessarily in a good way.

Two drinks can get a 120 lb. female to the DUI .08 B.A.L.  Three beers can get a 140 lb. male to the .08 B.A.L.  Keep in mind that a woman gets drunk faster and sobers up more slowly than a man.  That is because alcohol is metabolized in the liver by dehydrongenase enzymes and women usually have fewer of these enzymes than men.

B.A.L. per drink varies with the weight of a person.  Two standard alcoholic beverages give an average size person a peak B.A.L of .045% with the result that judgment is altered, alertness is lowered, and reaction time is reduced.  That is a dangerous combination for a driver.  The truth is that any measurable B.A.L. will adversely affect driving behavior.

In all U.S. states the B.A.L. defining DUI, “drunk driving,” is .08% for adult, non-commercial drivers.  Realize that drunk is a term with no precise definition.  A state’s use of the .08% B.A.L. to mean legal intoxication is simply an operational definition, the adoption of which is politically and socially charged and subject to great influence by those who can afford it, namely the beer and liquor industry.  The truth is that you are significantly impaired as a driver long before reaching the .08% B.A.L.  You may feel good and be a lot of fun, but don’t drive.

Nearly half of all alcohol related fatalities involve drivers with less than a .08 B.A.L.  A legal limit of .02 B.A.L. would save thousands of lives, hundreds of thousands of people from serious injury and billions of dollars each year.  A .04 B.A.L. is the DUI standard for commercial drivers in many states.  In most jurisdictions a .02 B.A.L. in persons under 21 years of age is legal intoxication.  Those DUI drivers are also under legal drinking age, resulting in two charges against them, suspension of license, and a subsequent enormous increase in their insurance premiums.

Example of state penalties: A driver under 21 years of age with a B.A.L .02 and up gets two days to 6 months in prison, plus fines and court costs.  An adult driver with a B.AL. of .1 and up: first offense, 2 days to 6 months; second offense, 30 days to 6months, plus fines and court costs.  A B.A.L. .16 and up can gets a driver as many as 5 years in prison plus big fines and court costs.

Do you want to fight your DUI charge with a DUI lawyer?  How much money have you got?  But shouldn’t your real concern be that 40% of traffic fatalities are alcohol related?  Shouldn’t your real concern be bearing the responsibility for therest of your life of killing or crippling someone?

I recommend you Google “drunk driving videos” or “car crashes” to see some of the results of alcohol impaired driving.  Share the videos with family, friends and co-workers.  AAA’s online safe driving course, which will earn drivers an insurance discount in many states, has a truly outstanding video segment on drunk driving.

This is a simple, straightforward issue.  When drivers speed, which is driving over the posted limit or too fast for conditions, they significantly increase their chances of being injured or killed, or of injuring or killing someone else.  An overview report of a number of speed related studies found that a one percent rise in speed increased fatality risk in the range of 4 to 12%.  Using the lower (most conservative) 4% figure, a 10% increase in your speed yields a 40% increase in your risk of killing someone, maybe yourself.  Thus going from 60 mph to 66 mph, or 65 to 72 mph – common speeding violations – places a driver and passengers at significantly elevated risk.

Approximately one third of driver fatalities involve speeding.  Your risk of being in a crash with injuries increases steadily as your speed exceeds 40 mph.  According to the National Safety Council, your risk for a collision doubles for each additional 10 mph over 50 mph.  Increased speed is also wasteful of fuel.  A vehicle’s miles per gallon increases up to 55-57 mph, then drops off sharply; for example, 30 mpg at 55 mph drops to 23 mpg at 75 mph.

Crash severity increases by the square of the speed.  Also increased speed lessens your traction and maneuverability.  As you watch your speedometer go up you actually get to watch your chances of being in a crash increase, as well as your chances for an increasingly severe injury.  Thus your speedometer is an excellent measure of danger, and that should be your way of reading it, especially at higher speeds.  More speed equals more danger.

In 1974, U.S. interstate highways broadly reduced speed limits to 55 mph to save energy.  Some may remember there was an energy crisis at the time.  A national drop in traffic fatalities followed from 54,000 dead Americans to 45,000. Serious injury statistics would probably be in the upper hundreds of thousands fewer.  Many of us are alive or uncrippled today because of that speed change.  When the 1970’s energy crisis was quickly forgotten, individual states began increasing their speed limits. Some states managed to kill up to 38 % more people than were killed when the state had a 55 mph limit.  How would you feel if your child was part of that 38% increase?  Would that be acceptable, just the price of contemporary driving?

The failure to yield right-of-way, the failure to maintain lane position, and omnipresent tailgating all make lack of space around a vehicle a leading cause of collisions.  Space around a vehicle gives a driver time to react when others drive badly or do the unexpected.  Space around your vehicle protects you from alcohol impaired and inattentive drivers.  Space also protects you from your own mistakes.  And keep in mind that if you drive an SUV or a pick-up truck you’ll need 10-20% more distance to stop than you would in a passenger car.  Also consider that large trucks, which at times are close behind you, need double the distance to stop at 55 mph when compared with a standard passenger car.


Driver Safety
A New and Better Approach
by Thomas Donovan


Article 3 – Causes of Vehicle Crashes

In the previous article in this series we covered the four leading causes of vehicle collisions, namely lack of attention, lack of safe space around vehicles, improper speed, and alcohol.  In the present article we will cover three additional significant causes of collisions that are essentially subsets of the four main causes covered by the P.A.S.S. system.  We will also begin to consider the best ways to address each of these problem areas.

Aggressive Driving
Research shows that people have a built-in bias towards believing that their personal risk is lower than that of others for a variety of activities and behaviors.  Examples are rock climbing, illegal drug use, signing up with the Marines, or driving an automobile.  Engaged in these activities people do not see themselves as getting injured or killed despite regular news reports to the contrary.  Destruction is what happens to others, not to themWe all seem to have an innate sense of invincibility.  “If you have not lived through something then it is not true.”  [Kabir, 15th century philosopher]

That feeling of being invulnerable coupled with a bad temper or repressed rage can lead to dangerous aggressive driving.  Yet even a brush with death does not alter some people’s irrational urge to drive maniacally.  These deluded people are on the road and you have no choice but to find an effective way to protect yourself and your passengers from their neurotic behavior.  Perhaps you have similar tendencies in your own driving, in which case it is time to consider a change.

For whatever reasons, many drivers consciously or unconsciously believe that death, dismemberment and disfigurement happen to other drivers, but not to them.  They are in control. They are the masters of their fate as they talk on the cell phone, speed, tailgate, or swerve in and out while driving home from the local bar.

The idea that you are in control in your car versus being in an airplane explains why so many people feel safer driving then flying.  Former sports’ announcer John Madden, who would rather drive the highway than get on a plane, is a classic example.  However the facts are that you are 70 times safer, by distance travelled, in a commercial airplane than on our roadways.  When 58 people died in the February, 2009, plane crash outside Buffalo, NY, many people across the country had a reaction to that event.  But no one other than those personally affected had a reaction to the over 100 just as important individuals who died on U.S. roads that same day as a result of over 44,000 collisions.  Nor did the country react that day to the over 7,000 seriously injured traffic victims.  And this horror is repeated each day, over and over, year after year on U. S. roads.

Truly, what is more deserving of attention - the extremely rare death of 58 people who happened to be travelling by air, or the daily death of over 100 people, compounded with thousands of seriously injured victims?  My arithmetic training says to go with the larger numbers.  These are also numbers that can be much more readily reduced, and they indicate that if you truly want to be “in control” of your fate when travelling, then you will need to make some changes and learn to drive with your intelligence and attention, or else board a commercial airplane.

I have not found any good statistics on aggressive driving, and one probable reason is that aggressive driving is not easy to define.  Nevertheless we all know what aggressive driving looks like when we see it.  And we usually don’t like it.  Although we don’t seem to have a problem doing it ourselves when it suits us, because we don’t see ourselves as aggressive.  What we do makes sense.  What the other driver does is often madness, even when it is exactly the same as our behavior.  Here are examples of aggressive driving you should consider:

Death by vehicle crash is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for ages 2-34 years.  We loose more teenagers to traffic crashes each year than the total annual fire fatality count in this country.  Sixteen year old drivers crash 10 times more often than 40-50 year old drivers (same distance travelled).  One out of seven 16 year old drivers crashed in 2005.  Drivers under 25 years of age represent 15 % of U.S. drivers but account for 30% of the fatalities.  The four worse states for young driver deaths are California, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania.

In every country studied, vehicle collisions are disproportionately a problem of young male drivers.  The curve showing male collisions by age is nearly identical to the curve of male arrests by age.  The collision curve is very high for 16-23 year old drivers, then tapers off steeply to age 30.  Young female drivers have a similar pattern to young male drivers; i.e. more fatalities and collisions in the 16 to 23 year old bracket, but at a much lower rate, 1/4 to 1/3.

A detailed study of 2,000 vehicle crashes involving 16-19 year olds found four significant problem areas:

Blatantly risky actions and extreme speed accounted for only a small minority of the studied crashes.  Overall the results lead to the conclusion that experience matters, and that inexperienced drivers need to be particularly careful to overcome their limitations.  The results also make it clear that the rest of us have to be at our best when driving because the roads are filled with young inexperienced drivers.

As a group we are never good drivers at any age, but American drivers are relatively better when 30 to 60 years old.  Senior drivers, 60 to 90 years of age, when measured in equal distance traveled do have more collisions than 45 year old drivers, but senior drivers still have much lower crash rates than 20 year old drivers.


Tired/Drowsy Driving
Tired driving triples a driver’s risk of crashing.  The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates there are approximately 100,000 police reported crashes annually caused by sleeping drivers; not sleepy drivers, but drivers actually asleep at the wheel.  Approximately two thirds of drivers admit driving tired at times, making them prone to “micro sleep”.  Buying a new car that is supposed to alert a driver who is nodding off is not a solution.  In fact, having such an automobile probably encourages drivers to get on the road tired because they feel “protected” by their new gadget.  But that gadget will not protect against tired eyes, which have poor glare recovery.  And if a driver can’t see well, he or she is at risk of running off the road or crashing into an immovable object, both of which tend to have really bad consequences.


Changing Behavior to Reduce Risk:

We have now fully discussed the four major causes of vehicle crashes and their three subset causes.  The crux of the problem is thus staring us in the face.  How does a driver CHANGE these behaviors?

If you were educated at a Catholic school you often heard the warning phrase, avoid the near occasion of sin.  Slightly altered this becomes excellent advice for drivers.  Avoid the near occasion of a collisionIt is critical to keep this concept in mind, as the possibility of a crash surrounds a driver every time he or she gets behind the wheel.  In this and subsequent articles we will talk about how to avoid the occasion and probabilityof being in a vehicle crash.  We will reconsider the major reasons for crashes and see how a driver can minimize or eliminate each one.

Aggressive Driving
You will greatly reduce your vulnerabilityto aggressive drivers by using the safe driving practices promoted in this series of articles, most importantly, by paying attention, being sober, maintaining an area of safe spacearound your vehicle, and not speeding.

To further lower the odds of crashing your vehicle you will need to work to eliminate your own aggressive diving habits, and we all have them to some extent.  We speed, don’t; you’ll save money and you will not lose time.  We tailgate sometimes or all the time, don’t; you’ll save even more money.  We get angry at other drivers; manage it and do not allow other people’s bad driving to influence your driving.  Instead of getting angry at the thoughtless and dangerous driving of others, try to learn from their mistakes and use their bad example to remind yourself not to do the same thing.

When we get frustrated by traffic problems like stopped or slow moving vehicles, we tend to get aggressive.  We also get behind the wheel with personal frustrations that put us on edge.  No one can afford to let such feelings influence their driving, but those feelings will if one does not actively find a way to control them.  A friend of mine’s solution is to sing in her car.  I take deep breaths to cool off.  Whatever method you choose, you must find some approach that allows you to deal with the inevitable frustrations you take with you as you get behind the wheel, or that you will meet on the road.

When driving, identify characteristics in yourself that are aggressive and reckless.  Do you speed up to run yellow lights?  Do you speed when you think you will not get caught?  Do you want to ram a vehicle that cuts you off?  You will be less often forced into situations that tempt you to be an aggressive driver if you plan out your driving moves in advance by paying attention to everything going on around you, maintaining space in front of your vehicle, and by always giving yourself enough time to get where you are going.

There is obviously no cure for being young, but individual state’s use of Graduated Driver’s Licensing programs has been shown to reduce crash rates for young and inexperienced drivers.  Also, all beginning drivers should take a driver education course either at their school or with an accredited private firm giving classroom and on-road instruction.  Parents should make a serious effort to set a good example, and be thorough and diligent in teaching driving skills.  Parent teaching should not end with full licensing.  Every opportunity to give good driving advice, often by simply pointing out the bad habits of other drivers should be seized by a parent or guardian.  And parents who might consider it should avoid the urge to buy their novice driver a fast vehicle.  Remember, vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in the U.S. for young people.

New drivers need to be educated into an awareness that they are at risk when driving, similar to being at risk for a sexually transmitted disease.  They need to take precautions to combat their inexperience. They must practice the major factors in crash prevention:

Use it as your own reminder to PASS the driver survival tests you face each time you get behind the wheel.

Tired/Drowsy Driving
The first issue in correcting this problem is simply being aware that drowsy driving is a problem that needs to be dealt with. How?

Remember, you want to avoid the near occasion of a collision.  Why gamble with fatigue?  You say you have no choice.  That is simply not true.  You always have a choice.  It may not be convenient, it may be difficult, but retooling your life or your routine to avoid tired driving will always be vastly easier than learning to livewithout the use of body parts you had prior to your crash.  And because there are other drivers falling asleep at the wheel, or nearly so, you must be fully alert in order to pay attention to each potentially lethal vehicle in your path of travel.


Driver Safety
A New and Better Approach
by Thomas Donovan


Article #4 – Changing Behavior to Reduce Risk (continued)

Paying Attention
Paying attention while driving is the single most important point for a driver to remember to avoid a collision.  Paying attention to the task of driving lowers every driver’s odds of ending up in a hospital, or worse.  The difficulty in paying attention centers on combating one’s distracted driving habits.  To accomplish that one needs to remember the specific activities that cause distracted driving, and not engage in those activities.  It is that simple; STOP DISTRACTING YOURSELF FROM YOUR DRIVING.  This is not rocket science.  This is common sense.

Let’s review the most common distractions and focus on ways to avoid them:

When a driver’s inattention to the job of controlling his or her vehicle snuffs out another person’s life, it is legally referred to as MANSLAUGHTER.  Getting taken to court to face such a charge means you have a good chance of being convicted, and that certainly is something all drivers can agree they would like to avoid, no matter how little regard they have for the safety of others.  Because all of these distractive behaviors are habits, they are not easily changed.  We will discuss that problem in a following article.

It is in every driver’s interest to keep in mind that any alcoholconsumption increases the risk of being in a vehicle crash.  Even in small amounts alcohol affects the nervous system in significant ways.  When this topic comes up what most drivers seem to worry about is a DUI arrest.  My response is why not worry about the really serious consequences of DUI: paralysis, blindness, death, murder.  No, people tell me, they don’t worry about those things.  They worry about a big legal hassle and the possible loss of their driving privileges.

My point is that as potential DUI drivers we all need to face the truth about what alcohol consumption does.  Unfortunately, once a driver is under the influence his or her mind is not going to give much protection from bad decisions about impaired driving.  One needs to make the correct decisions before being in a position of having to drive with an alcohol influenced brain.

However you handle this issue, it is imperative to have a plan.  There is nothing wrong with moderate alcohol use.  It can even be healthy, but not if it is combined with driving.  You lose all the cardiovascular benefits of alcohol consumption when you dump most of your blood on the floor of your wrecked vehicle.

If you are going to insist on drinking and driving, have just one drink, making sure you are properly hydrated first.  Drink it slowly, savor it, enjoy it, but never have a second one.  If you do have a second drink, someone else has to do the driving.  Even one alcoholic drink has altered your brain function and has made you an inferior driver.  And in this condition a driver must truly concentrate on paying attention, maintaining safe space and driving at the proper speed.

As a former responding firefighter and emergency medical technician I tell you that the only people I ever wanted to kill, and I mean truly kill, right there on the spot, were the inebriated S.O.B.’s who plowed into some perfectly innocent family, and in one immensely stupid criminal moment destroyed their lives forever.  Did you grasp that word?  Forever.  Such negligence cannot be undone and cannot be explained away.

What gives anyone the right to exterminate a young child, a mother, a father, a beloved friend?  Murdering or crippling others is not OK simply because “I didn’t really mean to do it.”  The reality is that an alcohol influenced driver did mean to do it.  We all know we should not drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol; we have heard it many times and we all know what the results can be.  There is no excuse.

We all must think about living with the consequences of an alcohol related driving tragedy the next time a drinking and driving issue arises.  We need to confront the possible life destroying results of this irresponsible behavior and start making the proper choices.  Even sociopaths who don’t have normal feelings of remorse might want to consider how they feel about prison life, or that the legal system now works to tap their bank accounts or paychecks for the rest of their lives if they can’t afford a multi-million dollar cash settlement for the damages resulting from their indifference.

Remember that a small increase in a vehicle’s speed significantly increases the collision/injury/fatality risk.  Vehicle speed directly impacts the amount of time a driver has to react.  The faster one goes the less time one has to respond to a hazardous situation, even when paying attention.  Speed lengthens stopping distance and increases impact consequences; for example greater brain damage, or limb amputation versus limb repair.  The lowered interstate speed limits of the mid 1970’s reduced fatalities by 9,000 individuals; that should tell you all you need to know about speed and driving.

At this point it should be absolutely clear why you should not be speeding, which means surpassing the legal speed limit or the speed prudent for driving conditions.  But how do you eliminate this bad habit?  Clearly we speed when it appears to suit our purpose: “I am late for work.”  “My kid is waiting to be picked up at school.”  “I want to get to the beach as fast as possible.”  However there are studies that show speeding does not accomplish your purpose of an earlier arrival.  And on the odd occasion (long highway trips) when it might, your arrival time is only slightly altered because of all those #@!* people who drivethe speed limit and keep slowing you down.  Better planning will help drivers avoid circumstances that make them feel pressured to drive faster.

Speeding is something most drivers do.  Many are actually proud of it.  Those drivers need to separate their NASCAR fantasies from real driving on real roads.  When you turn on your vehicle’s ignition you need to remember that SPEED kills, cripples and destroys people’s lives. We all need to reconsider our attitudes about it and SLOW DOWN.  But you don’t think anything BAD could happen to you.  Think again.  Have you noticed that old people never seem to drive over the speed limit? That is how they got to be so old!  Remember, more speed equals more danger – real bone crunching danger.

While driving it is your responsibility at all times to not crash into the vehicle in front of you, no matter what thoughtless or unpredictable move that driver makes.  You cannot justify running into another vehicle because you were distracted or didn’t “think” the vehicle would stop or turn.

Tailgating is a habit, like most bad driving behaviors.  It is a reckless dangerous habit that drivers need to eliminate.  Tailgating gains you nothing and will eventually cost you something, maybe an arm and a leg.  We object to being cut in front of, so we believe tailgating is essential.  Being pushed back in a line of traffic is seen as an affront to one’s dignity.  Get over it and start driving with your intelligence, not your emotions.

To more fully understand the need for adequate room in front of your vehicle it is helpful to remember that stopping distance has three components; Perception distance, Reaction distance, and Braking distance, which when added together make stopping your vehicle take longer than you might expect.  Also bigger, heavier vehicles require more time to stop.  Large trucks have twice the braking distance of a passenger car; for example, 275 feet versus 142 feet for a car, at 55 mph.  If you stop quickly with a heavy truck close behind you, guess what happens?

Sometimes other drivers stop suddenly because of something in front of them you cannot see; for example, a pedestrian, an animal, or an object in the roadway.  You need time and distance to react to this unexpected event.  Thus you must have enough space in front of you to avoid striking a vehicle that abruptly stops.  Controlling the space in front of you means you will never have to stop too quickly, and that the big truck on your tail won’t end up crushing you when the traffic up ahead has suddenly come to a halt.

To eliminate your chance of being hit from behind use a gradual deceleration when approaching traffic lights and stopped or slowed vehicles, as opposed to a rapid application of your brakes at the last second.  This is a money saver: brakes, gas, insurance, medical bills, and more.  It is especially important to pay attention to your space on highways where the “slinky” effect frequently occurs.  Here your vehicle is prone to a rear-end collision as you must often stop more quickly than anticipated.  Remember, the only protection you have from a rear-end collision is the space you maintain in front of you at all times.

You will not lose any significant time because other drivers cut ahead of you.  If you pay attention you will find that you usually catch up to those drivers.  But it is best not to worry about what other drivers are doing.  You should be focusing on your driving and your safety.  And your safety requires space.  Leaving the appropriate amount of space in front of a moving vehicle makes driving less stressful.  And fretting over other vehicles pulling in front of you quickly ceases being an issue once you commit to keeping a safe stopping distance ahead of your vehicle.  I know that to be true because I made this change in my own driving.

The National Safety Council and AAA recommend a three second following distance for good road and driving conditions.  Additional hazard factors such as reduced traction, reduced visibility, following a motorcycle or large truck, driving over 50 mph or driving downhill all require added seconds (up to eight) of following distance.  You calculate the correct number of seconds by counting the seconds it takes for your vehicle to reach a marker (e.g., bridge, post, etc.) passed by the vehicle in front of you.  Some states and AARP recommend a baseline four second following distance with additional seconds added for less than ideal conditions.

If you won’t follow the three to eight second rule, at the very least follow the old rule of one car length per 10 mph of speed at all times.  That means at 40 mph you maintain no less than four car lengths in front of you, at 60 mph you maintain no less than six car lengths between you and the vehicle ahead.  This is an absolute minimum for a safe space in front of your vehicle, and gives you less protection than the three second rule found to be more effective in preventing crashes.  I am not recommending the one car length per 10 mph of speed formula.  I recommend three to eight seconds of following distance dependent on speed and conditions.  I only mention the outdated car length rule because I fear few drivers will follow the three to eight second recommendations of safety experts and recognized driver safety courses.  I see very few drivers leaving any degree of needed space in front of their moving vehicles, which is one of the reasons why we have over 16 million collisions each year.

When passing or being passed you need to be fully attentive and alert; you cannot afford to run out of space.  Use your turn signals.  Check all mirrors and swivel your head to pick up vehicles in mirrors’ blind spots.  Change lanes gradually, not quickly, to give other drivers time to react to your move in case you did not see them.

In 2007, 67% of all fatal crashes took place on two lane undivided roads.  Passing using the oncoming traffic lane is very dangerous on these types of roads.  This type of passing is always a bad move and should rarely be considered.  At 60 mph converging vehicles are approaching each other at 120 mph, which equals 176 feet/sec.  In ten seconds that’s one third of a mile.  Driving 60 mph when passing a vehicle going 50 mph takes 20 seconds.  If you can’t do the math, don’t even think about passing.

You must also be positive that there is no side road traffic that could be entering the roadway.  You must have a clear unobstructed view of oncoming traffic as well as of adjacent roads.  Never assume an oncoming driver sees you; he or she may be a distracted driver, punching in a number on a cell phone, texting, etc.  And do not fool yourself into thinking that your previous successful passing is a prediction of future success.

Lastly, regarding adequate space around your vehicle, you should work to maintain a lane position where your vehicle can always be seen by other vehicles in the vicinity, and you should minimize your time driving in blind spot areas:

Your driving will be less of a hassle if you learn to keep space around your car.  Enjoy the comfort of a cushion when you drive, a Space Cushion!



Driver Safety
A New and Better Approach
by Thomas Donovan


Article 5 – Miscellaneous Issues

In addition to the major collisions causing issues covered in this series, there are other important items all drivers need to consider relating to safe driving practices.

Most drivers and vehicle occupants now wear seatbelts: 83% in 2008, up from 60% in 1994.  Seatbelt use is significantly higher in states requiring their use.  Fatalities per mile traveled have dropped proportionately with increased seatbelt use.  All that is good news, though not surprising.

Seatbelts not only keep you from hitting the steering wheel, dashboard, and windshield, they also keep occupants from being ejected from a crashing vehicle. And even though being ejected from a vehicle usually kills the victim, some drivers insist on not wearing a seatbelt because they say they believe that they have better chance of surviving a collision if they are “thrown clear.”  That is pure hooey.  More likely these obstinate people are looking for an excuse to give others for their refusal to buckle up.

Some individuals who refuse to wear a seatbelt insist they knew someone who was killed because that person supposedly could not release the seatbelt after a crash.  Such stories are most likely to be in the category of “urban legends,” untruths passed by word of mouth or email from one susceptible mind to another.  Whatever the case, that example of a single incidence is not data.  A single example cannot prove a general rule.  Studies with lots of numbers, lots of data, have always shown that wearing seatbelts save lives and reduces serious injuries in a big way.  As a career firefighter I responded to a large number of lethal crashes and heard discussions of many more in the firehouse, and what I witnessed is that seatbelts always protected crash victims.  Those not wearing seatbelts were the worse off for it, often fatally so.  No crash victim in my 26 career with the Philadelphia Fire Department was ever “thrown clear,” nor killed by an inability to release a seatbelt.

In short, there is no question that a seatbelt, properly worn, will protect vehicle occupants during a crash.  So why do people grumble and not wear them?  Many people think they are restrictive and uncomfortable.  When worn properly a seatbelt should not be uncomfortable.  Restrictive, on the other hand, is the whole idea; restrict vehicle occupants so that they do not have their skulls and other body parts damaged during a collision.  How restrictive do you think a wheelchair is, or a concrete burial vault?

When you put on your seatbelt take the time to adjust it.  There is no reason for it to be uncomfortable or overly restrictive if you use it correctly.  Do all of the arranging of your stuff before you start the vehicle moving, and then belt-up.  A driver must also understand that vehicle airbags are only useful, and not very useful at that, when used in conjunction with a seatbelt.

Seatbelt laws vary state to state; here are typical requirements (Pennsylvania):

Keep in mind that according to AAA, eight out of ten child safety seats are put in place incorrectly.  So take the time to read the instructions, available online if you have lost them, and check for proper installation.  Some local police and fire departments offer assistance.

Without a seatbelt airbags do more harm than good.  Did you know that?  If not, lock it in memory, because if airbags are installed in the vehicle you are using you had better fasten your seatbelt unless you want even a low speed crash to possibly snap your spine at the neck.  Airbags inflate as the result of the detonation of an explosive charge, and with the U.S. having over 16 million collisions each year, that is a lot of airbags exploding into people’s heads.  Some people believe, or like to believe, that airbags are a substitute for a seat belt.  They’re not.  Airbags are designed to supplement seatbelts, not replace them.

Airbags increase seatbelt effectiveness, but only slightly.  The alarming truth about airbags is that they are only protective for men (11.6% decrease in net harm); they injure and kill more women (9.2% increase in net harm) then they save.  Short women are 15 times more likely to be killed by an airbag than the average size person.  Airbags have a long record of killing vehicle occupants in low severity crashes, primarily women and children.  Overall we get a 5% fatality protection increase for men at the expense of the lives of women and children.

Airbags are now realized to be enough of a danger that state driver’s manuals have warnings regarding them.  The Pennsylvania driver’s manual states: “Driver and front passenger seats should be moved back as far as practical, particularly for short people … [T]o be safe, in case the airbag deploys, you should be at least 10 inches away from the steering wheel.”  AAA’s safe driving course states: “Sitting too close to the steering wheel increases the risk of being seriously injured in a crash or by the airbag.”  Some vehicle models allow airbags to be turned off on the passenger side, but never on the driver’s side.

The total cost to car buyers for all airbags in U.S. vehicles is presently over 100 billion dollars.    Clearly that money, even a portion of it, would be better spent on educating drivers to modify unsafe driving behavior, the cause of nearly all vehicle collisions.  And certainly women should have options regarding airbag installation.

Are they fun?  Sure, I know, I used to ride one when I was young and not too bright.  My father had the good sense to call me his “idiot” son.  Motorcycles have never been safe, but in recent years motorcycle fatalities are on the rise in the U.S.  From 1997 to 2007, motorcycle fatalities rose by more than 100%, going from 2,055 in 1997 to 5,154 in 2007.

Perhaps the major problem with motorcycles is that automobile and commercial vehicle drivers have a tendency to not see them.  There are a variety of reasons for this poor vision for motorcyclists, but one should understand that drivers do not always register a motorcyclist, a bicyclist, or a pedestrian in their brains the way they would a standard motor vehicle.  Drivers are capable of running over motorcyclists, cyclists, and pedestrians without ever have fully perceived their presence on the road.  Forty percent of motorcycle crashes involve another vehicle turning left in front of the motorcycle.  A motorcycle may be in your blind spot when you turn left.  Remember to turn your head for all moves to the left, in addition to using your mirrors.

Also, motorcycles are able to stop much more quickly than cars or trucks, so a driver needs to leave more space in front of his or her vehicle when following one.  The presence of a motorcyclist on the road should raise a giant red flag for all drivers: Danger! Ultimately, paying attention, avoiding distractions, and keeping one’s eyes on the road is a driver’s best approach for not striking a motorcyclist, bicyclist or pedestrian.

State traffic laws typically do not give anyone the right of way at an intersection.  The laws only state who must yield.  If another driver breaks the law and fails to yield the right of way, you are still required to stop as necessary to avoid a collision.

As you probably know, intersections are the scene of a high percentage of serious collisions.  When entering an intersection drivers need to proceed with extra caution and attention.

If you are paying attention to your driving and the traffic lights ahead, you should be noticing the patterns in which the lights change on those routes you travel regularly.  This is good information.  There is no reason to speed from one red light to the next, nose to tail with other vehicles, wasting fuel and wearing down your brakes.  The vehicles that pass you will likely be next to you further down the road.

Turn Signals/Blinkers
Do you use your turn signals when you turn?  Sometimes?  Never?  Your turn signals provide important information to vehicles that might otherwise smash into you.  State laws require turn signal use, typically 100 to 400 feet before an intersection depending on a vehicle’s speed.  When turning off a road into a parking lot or side street, make certain you can fully exit the road you are on.  If you leave your vehicle’s rear in the main road you may get struck, as an inattentive driver behind you will not be expecting you to stop before you complete your turn.  Also remember that just because an oncoming vehicle’s blinker is on does not guarantee that it will turn.

Parking Lots
Parking lots are an area where vehicles seem to want to collide.  Thus driving slowly is critical in any parking area where other vehicles are present.  Expect any vehicle in your path to be about to pull out.   Don’t expect other drivers to see you.  Don’t even expect them to look as they pull out in front of you.  Do expect other drivers in a parking area to be distracted and not paying attention.


Driving Skills
There are a variety of driving practices that will enhance your overall safety in a moving vehicle and lower your risk of crashing.  Practicing these behaviors will make them more automatic.

Anticipate the need to brake: Remove foot from the accelerator and place over the brake in anticipation of stopping.  This move reduces reaction time when braking.  Practice it when traffic is stopped ahead, when approaching a traffic light, or when entering into a curve.  Of course one has to first be paying attention and looking ahead.

Steer with two hands: You cannot react properly with one hand in an emergency.  Not expecting the need for an emergency reaction?  You cannot anticipate an emergency!  Nonetheless you need to be ready for it by keeping both hands on the wheel.  Place your hands at 8 and 4 o’clock.  Yes, it used to be 10 and 2 o’clock but airbags changed that.  Also, if you have both hands on the wheel you won’t be fiddling with non-driving activities.

Backing up: This maneuver absolutely requires extra care and attention.  Hundreds of kids are run over by their own family each year.  Make certain there are no children near your driveway or vehicle when going in reverse.  In a parking lot back up very slowly with repeated turns of your head, as one can never be sure when another driver is pulling out quickly and ignoring everyone else.

Correct tire pressure: It’s important.  It gives a driver better control of a vehicle, it reduces fuel consumption, and it reduces tire wear.  Worn tires increase a vehicle’s odds of crashing.  Check your tires at least once a month with a tire gauge, and check them visually each time you approach your vehicle.

Time Tip: Fatality rates are 3 to 4 times higher at night, particularly late Friday and Saturday nights; i.e., early AM Saturday and Sunday.  During these hours at least one out of ten drivers is D.U.I., meaning a B.A.L. of .08 or higher.  And a large percentage of the other drivers are impaired below the legal limit.  These are good hours to stay off the road.

As mentioned in a previous article, most drivers believe they have better driving skills than the average driver.  The fact that such beliefs are mathematically impossible seems not to matter.  What should matter to everyone is that believing you are a better than average driver will put you at greater risk.  The driver wise enough to realize his or her limitations will usually be more attentive, deliberate and cautious, and will be more creative in finding ways to be safe.  The over confident driver lacks a reasoned caution that will tend to prevent risky driving behaviors.  A study of semi-professional race car drivers found that they had more collisions and more moving violations than the average driver despite car handling skills presumed to be above average.

Safe driving today is all about being intelligently alert.  No one has any reason to feel particularly confident about arriving home safely given the over 16 million collisions each year on our roads (over 44,000 each day).  Do you think you are in control of the hazards around you on the road?  Do you think your quick, catlike reactions are going to protect you?  You are very wrong.  When you finally do get unexpectedly whacked on the road you will see how little control you had over the event.  Google “car crashes” and see how much time to react a driver really has.

Many people seem to view vehicle crashes as just a normal part of life.  They are not.  They are a measure of our lack of training or apathy as drivers, but they are not “natural” or “normal.”  And they can be avoided.  Many drivers have crash free adult driving records.  They practice good driving habits every time they get behind the wheel.  You think they are just lucky?  As professional golfers are often heard to say: “The more I practice the luckier I get.”

When driving, the first and most important rule for crash-free travel is keep your eyes on the road.  But you must also keep your brain fully connected to your eyes; remember the Pay Attention rule.  Driving is primarily a visual activity, which is why states give drivers eye tests.  Anytime you take your eyes off the road you are at immediate risk of a crash.  Can you take them off the road to check rearview mirrors?  Of course, that move only takes a fraction of a second.  Can you take your eyes off the road to root through your CD collection, or lunch bag?  NO!

If you think that much attention given to your driving sounds like too much work, think againFailure to pay full attention can lead to tragic consequences, or at the very least will ultimately lead to a ruined vehicle.  The truth is that none of us give our total attention to our driving; in fact, we are often on autopilot.  Why?  See the next article in this series.


Driver Safety
A New and Better Approach
by Thomas Donovan


Article 6 - Modifying Habitual Behavior and Conclusion

The focus of this series on the practice of safe driving has been to point out a few critical areas where improving one’s driving habits can greatly decrease the odds of death and injury on our roadways.  The major stumbling block to improved driving behavior is changing one’s bad habits.  Habit explains why most of us do not attend well to our driving, and in fact often drive on autopilot.

Each of us has to varying degrees a combination of good and bad habits while driving.  The basic good habits necessary for safe driving are clear, straightforward and easy to remember - P.A.S.S.

The bad habits, on the other hand, need to be eliminated.  Because bad driving habits are ingrained, automatic and persistent, a person has to work consistently to lose them.  I did my Masters thesis in the area of behavior modification therapy, and I believe that some straightforward behaviors, like driving, can be modified by simple strategies.  I invented a strategy for myself to promote better driving habits, and I believe you can do the same to improve yours.

Your current driving situation is likely to be this: you are accustom to driving and not crashing, or at least not being killed or dismembered, and you are used to driving with your mind on a variety of non-driving items; the kids, your spouse, your boyfriend or girlfriend, your job, your finances, your health, etc.  The last thing you are probably thinking about is slamming into a utility pole or being rear-ended by a minivan.

If you hope to become a safer driver you need to move your mental focus away from non-driving concerns and onto what really matters at the moment; i.e., not hitting another vehicle and not allowing another vehicle to hit you.  The crucial question is - how are you actually going to do that?  How are you going to remember P.A.S.S. with so many other issues on your mind?  I believe drivers need a trigger, a concrete visual reminder (like a string tied around a finger) that will repeatedly bring the P.A.S.S. system™ back to attention.  Such a reminder keeps a driver’s focus where it should be, on the road.

My constant reminder is my gas gauge.  It happens that my personal obsession is reducing fuel consumption and saving money.  My gas gauge reminds me to watch my speed and to look ahead for red lights and stopped traffic.  I don’t want to lose speed if I can avoid it.  I don’t want to use my brake pads any more than necessary.  I don’t want to speed on the highway because it will lower my gas mileage.  The more space I have around my car, the more I can control my speed.

So I have learned to relate proper vehicle speed and having space around my vehicle with fuel economy, which has the effect, as I check my gas gauge, of involving me with my driving and reminding me of P.A.S.S.  An obsession with fuel use and costs is my thing, but probably not yours.  You need to decide on an item of great importance to you, and place a reminder of it somewhere prominent in your vehicle where you will see it frequently when driving.  The “frequent” part is vital because all drivers have difficulty maintaining full attention on the job of driving.

So what is important enough to you to get you to modify your driving habits?  You will need to think about this seriously and come up with your own concrete image to motivate yourself to think about P.A.S.S.  For example:

Peace of mind
My changed driving behavior has made me a more stress free driver.  The better I get at following the advice of safety experts, the less stressful I find driving.  I don’t worry about speeding tickets.  I usually have a comfortable space around me giving me plenty of room to stop.  When I drive, life’s problems are at bay because I am involved with the roadway.  Not being involved with the road on which you are travelling is the best way to create more significant life problems than you already have.  Do you really need more problems?  BIG problems, like the loss of your vision, a fractured spine?

So what is your memory trigger going to be?  It needs to be something physical and visible in your vehicle.  When you see it must remind you of P.A.S.S., or any acronym you invent for yourself.  Or you can just use P.A.S.S. permanently installed with plastic letters on your dashboard.  The important point here is that you will need a reminder to change your habits.  Any person would because safe driving is not a habit anyone fully possesses.  Nor is it likely to be the first thing on anyone’s mind because we tend to believe that there are larger issues about which we should be thinking.  However at the moment when death and injury are staring you in the face waiting for you to make just one wrong move, there are no bigger issues.  So at least give yourself a chance to remember what is crucial when you are behind the wheel.  An automobile crash does not have to be in your future, but right now it is. 

Review of Key Points for Safe Driving: (modified AAA list)

We drivers do not have an accurate sense of the risks we face on the road because most of the time we arrive at our destinations unharmed and collision free.  Each of us is lulled into driving safety complacence by a daily reinforced perception that collisions don’t happen to us.  They do in fact happen to us, but not often enough to always get our attention.  Thus we don’t think we need to act to prevent crashes.  We need to root out that false sense of being safe behind the wheel just because we have not had a collision recently.  If you have had one, it should be a wake up call and not an occasion for blaming others or making excuses.

It only takes ONE crash to ruin your life or the life of another person.  To be a first-rate safe driver you need to anticipate the imminent possibility of having a crash.  An attitude or belief that it won’t happen “to me” puts you at higher risk every time you get behind the wheel.  When driving you need to engage your total attention.  Your whole mode of thought needs to shift to maintaining a safe driving outlook for the entire length of your trip.  And don’t forget about the lawyers.  They are out there waiting for you to crash.  I have seen them at emergency scenes passing out their business cards, sometimes before the medics arrive.  They want part of your paycheck for as long as you get one.

The truth is that when you enter your vehicle you are entering an unsafe place.  Your real average probability of being in a crash this year is at least one in six. You are 60 times more likely to be seriously injured in a crash than killed.  You improve or worsen those odds by how you behave as a driver.  To the degree that you attend to the elements of P.A.S.S. you will lower your chances of a suffering a serious collision.  To the degree that you fail to attend to them you will raise those odds.  And remember that the bad driving of others is not going away.  You must protect yourself and your passengers from the always present danger of another driver’s negligence.

Ultimately the question you must ask yourself is this: do I care enough about crippling or killing myself, or someone else, to make the effort needed to become a truly safe driver?  After the terrible fact of a deadly or crippling collision, after you have ruined a life, including your own, it’s too late to come to the conclusion that, “Gee, I guess it would have been worth the effort to work on being a better driver.”

You truly need to consider your future on our roadways NOW, and begin to pay attention to the major causes of collisions.  Select and post your personal memory trigger and begin practicing the major factors in crash prevention:

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”   Pogo