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Maintaining a safe following distance

I try very hard to maintain at least a two-second following distance when I drive.

This can sometimes be quite a challenge as it often seems that I am the only driver present who thinks this is a worthwhile accomplishment.

In fact, other drivers seem bent on preventing this because they seem quite happy filling up any available space and forcing me to constantly adjust my position.

Beginning at page 72, the Learn to Drive Smart guide devotes some explanation to Space Margins. It explains the Two Second Rule and discusses braking distances. It also sprinkles advice throughout chapter 6, Sharing the Road.

It's a critical concept for new drivers to learn and accomplished drivers to retain and follow.

I've already mentioned maintaining my following distance, but I also have to consider the distance from vehicles following me and minimizing the time that I spend beside other vehicles.

Leaving yourself an "out" in case something happens is a never-ending task. 

Dealing with drivers in front of you is not that difficult. Simply slow slightly to create the necessary gap again and then resume the speed of traffic. Yes, you may find yourself doing this continually, and it is annoying, but better safe than sorry.

The same method works for vehicles beside you. If they are not passing, adjust your position to be ahead or behind them and you have regained the desired space margin.

When someone seems bent on tailgating you, the situation can be more difficult. Some drivers will purposely attempt to bulldoze you out of the way so that they can do it again to the next vehicle in front of them.

On multi-lane road, it is often as simple as slowing slightly and letting the driver behind you decide to pass on their own.

Of course, this assumes that you are in the right-hand lane. If you aren't, you should be. Move over and let the driver by, even if you are doing the speed limit.

This becomes more difficult when there is only one lane of travel for each direction. Slowing down when there is an opportunity for the vehicle behind to pass may work.

If it doesn't, signal, pull over to the right and stop. Driving on the shoulder is illegal. After the vehicle passes, pull back onto the highway and continue on your way.

Turning on your hazard flashers or flashing your brake lights might not be a good idea. The driver behind may not be paying much attention and could decide to ignore the brake lights. This could lead to a collision.

Whatever you do, don't decide to teach the other driver a lesson by stomping on your brakes. One bad behaviour does not justify another.

In either case, it's time for you to leave more space in front because you are now making decisions for two drivers. More space means more time. You can brake more slowly if something happens in front of you, giving the driver behind more time to react as well.

In 2015, 2,400 traffic tickets were written to drivers for following too closely. It appears to me that this behaviour is as common as speeding, yet in comparison, more than 160,000 speed related tickets were issued that year.

It would be interesting to know what portion of the 2,400 tickets were written in response to collisions and how many were the result of preventive enforcement.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/unsafe-driving-practices/maintaining-safe-following-distance


It's still driveable!

I saw many things over the two decades that I spent in full-time, traffic-law enforcement.

Some of those things left me shaking my head wondering why the driver ever chose to leave the driveway. If you don't value the life of other road users, surely you value your own.

During an evening shift, I was met by a car whose driver failed to dim the headlights. A glance in the mirror as I passed also revealed a lack of rear lights. After stopping the driver and examining the vehicle, I determined that the headlights only worked on high beam and none of the rear lights worked at all.

The car had been involved in a rear-end collision and the driver was waiting for ICBC to fix it. It was their only vehicle and the family was returning from a non-essential trip that involved a four-hour drive each way.

At that time of year, there were about eight hours of daylight, so the outing could not have been conducted exclusively during the daylight.

I would often meet the commercial vehicle inspector and we would work together at a brake-check location. An examination of a farm truck determined that only one its air brakes was properly adjusted. The driver was ticketed and ordered to adjust his brakes properly before proceeding.

He stomped away, but soon returned. He did not have the necessary wrench to adjust the brakes with. Would one of the truckers who had stopped to check their brakes loan one to him?

After another 10 minutes or so had passed, the driver was back again. Which way do you turn the brake adjuster was the question this time. The trucker who loaned him the wrench rolled his eyes, took him in hand and showed him how to adjust his brakes too.

Speeding on its own can be bad enough, but throw in willful blindness and the results could be tragic.

One such driver earned a tow truck ride home. When he was producing his documents to me a scan of the vehicle interior revealed that he had covered the brake warning light on his dash with black electrical tape.

The light was too bright when he drove at night he explained.

Checking the tire tread when approaching a vehicle became almost a reflex action for me. The tread wear bars that tires are equipped with these days mean that I don't even have to use a tread depth gauge when winter tires are not required.

If they are showing in two adjacent grooves, the tire is considered to be worn out.

Occasionally, I would discover a vehicle with a wheel alignment problem. The majority of the tire tread looked just fine, but one shoulder of the tire would be worn so badly that the cords were showing through the rubber. That's definitely an out of service condition.

I met a graduate from the Red Green School of Mechanics one day. His windshield wipers had stopped working, so he had tied a thin rope to the driver's wiper, passed it through both vent windows to lay on the dash and then tied the other end to the passenger's wiper. If it ever rained, he just had his passenger pull the rope to operate the wipers.

Do we even want to know what happened when it rained and he was alone?

My preferred method of dealing with drivers like these was the Notice and Order. There were three levels of action that could be chosen, depending on the severity of the defects found.

A No. 3 was the least intrusive. It simply asked that you repair the noted defects and advise the police you had done so.

The No. 2 had more teeth. The driver was required to take the vehicle to a Designated Inspection Facility promptly and pass inspection within 30 days. If the pass was not obtained within that time, the vehicle could no longer be driven or parked on a highway.

No.1 was for the vehicles that were truly dangerous. From the moment it was issued until inspection was passed, the vehicle could not be driven or parked on a highway and had to be moved by tow truck or on a trailer.

Story URL: http://www.drivesmartbc.ca/equipment/its-still-driveable.

Lost art of changing lanes

The sun is shining, the traffic is light and I'm enjoying my drive on the Inland Island Highway, headed to Qualicum Beach.

The only vehicle nearby is a car that is slowly overtaking me on the left. Not a problem as I'm travelling slightly under the 120 km/h speed limit.

Why, oh why, when there are kilometres of unused pavement in sight, does the driver of this vehicle have to make a lane change to the right putting their vehicle within about three vehicle lengths of my front bumper?

Didn't anyone ever teach them that you should see at least the entire front end of the vehicle you have just passed in your center rear view mirror before you move back in front of it?

A driver who is driving a vehicle on a laned roadway must not drive it from one lane to another when a broken line only exists between the lanes, unless the driver has ascertained that movement can be made with safety and will in no way affect the travel of another vehicle,

It seems entirely logical to me that if you allow yourself at least two seconds of following distance behind the vehicle in front of you in order to be safe, you must also leave at least two seconds of following distance behind you when you change lanes.

This driver must have decided that he liked the speed that I was driving at because after he moved over, he matched my speed.

Great, now I have to drop back to maintain safe following distance. At times like this I wonder why he didn't choose to make that lane change behind me?

I was lucky to receive three blinks of the right signal to tell me what the driver had done. One as he started to move, one as they crossed over the line and one when he was in front of me.

A driver who is driving a vehicle on a laned roadway must not drive it from one lane to another without first signalling his or her intention to do so by hand and arm or approved mechanical device in the manner prescribed by sections 171 and 172.

Signals are meant to be a warning. You use them to tell other drivers what you intend to do well before you do it.

That means your action will not occur as a surprise and other drivers will have time to consider and perhaps even help you complete your move safely.

Oddly, there is no qualifier in the Motor Vehicle Act for a lane change signal the way that there is for a signal being made prior to turning:

If a signal of intention to turn right or left is required, a driver must give it continuously for sufficient distance before making the turn to warn traffic.

I can understand that making a lane change is more difficult when traffic is heavy. This is where anticipation and signal lights are the answer, especially if you are already familiar with the area that you are driving in.

Know where you have to start moving over and use your signals to ask other drivers politely for room to move over.

It may mean having to spend a few more seconds in the "slow lane," but it is far safer and less frustrating for everyone if you don't just jam your vehicle in at the last possible second.

Story URL: http://www.drivesmartbc.ca/lanes/lost-art-making-lane-change


I want my car simple again

Today's high-tech cars have centre console mounted displays that allow anyone (including the driver) to play around with while in motion.

It should be against the law.

Some cars even need to have the driver touch a screen to change the radio volume or station; a dangerous practice. Older-car radios you can feel the knobs without taking your eyes off the road.

I think vehicles are going the wrong direction with their gadgetry.

This opinion was delivered to the DriveSmartBC in-box last week along with a wish that I would write about it so that other drivers might learn the risks. Even though in-car systems are legal, they do present a significant risk for distracted driving.

Manufacturers are quite happy to provide the things that we want in our vehicles even when they have not evaluated risk, or worse yet, know the risk, but choose to provide them anyway.

Probably the worst outcome from distracted driving that I was called on to investigate was a fatality where a driver was parked on the side of the highway, well to the right of the single, solid-white line.

I'm guessing that he had stopped to have a bite to eat and enjoy the view from what I discovered inside the passenger compartment. A passing vehicle's front seat passenger had been having difficulty inserting a CD into the stereo, so the driver intervened to help.

The vehicle drifted to the right, which was the direction the driver was looking in, and collided with the parked car.

The driver in the parked car did not survive the collision.

Inserting a CD into a slot in the dash is not a complicated task, but as the e-mail writer observes, using a touch screen or finding the controls on some modern vehicles can tie up your attention for a significant period of time.

At 120 km/h on our freeways, one second translates into just over 33 metres of travel. A lot can happen in a couple of seconds.

As part of its Center for Driving Safety and Technology, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety commissioned the University of Utah to carry out research to address three important questions:

  • Which task is the most demanding to complete while driving: calling/dialing, sending a text message, tuning the radio or programming navigation?
  • What level of demand is associated with completing these tasks using voice commands, touchscreens or other interactive technologies (e.g., buttons, rotary dial, writing pad)?
  • How does demand from these interactions vary across the infotainment systems found in different vehicle makes and models?

The findings are probably not a surprise for you:

  • Overall, navigation was found to be the most demanding task.
  • All tasks were associated with higher levels of cognitive demand.
  • Of 30 vehicles tested, 23 vehicles generated high or very high levels of overall demand on drivers. None of them yielded low overall demand.

The most important piece of information to take away from this is:

  • motorists should remember just because technologies come installed in a vehicle does not mean automaker testing has proven they are safe to use while driving. 

Story URL: http://www.drivesmartbc.ca/distracted-driving/i-want-my-car-simple-again

More Behind the Wheel articles

About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

To comment, please email

To learn more, visit DriveSmartBC

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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