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Parking Lot Safety: What New Drivers Need to Know

crowded parking lotDriving in a parking lot doesn’t seem like it should be that hard. After all, cars go slowly, the lanes are clearly marked, and there aren’t a lot of driving rules or traffic controls to worry about. But in fact, parking lot crashes account for 14% of all insurance claims, and some research suggests that as many as one in five crashes occurs in a parking lot! So unless you’re someone who spends more than 20% of your driving time in lots, you’re statistically more likely to get into a collision there than pretty much anywhere else on the road.

Ironically, it may be the very fact that drivers think parking lots are safe places that makes them so dangerous in the first place! For instance, in parking lots, drivers are more likely to ignore lane markings and traffic signs because they think they don’t have the same force of law. It’s important to remember, however, that the main reason to obey traffic signs isn’t because you can get a ticket if you don’t—it’s because those signs were put there to help drivers proceed safely, and when you ignore them, you’re more likely to cause a crash.

Another factor to keep in mind is the fact that parking lots are some of the only places where drivers and pedestrians share the same area of the roadway. A pedestrian who emerges suddenly from between a pair of cars can cause an unprepared driver to react in a panic and crash—an outcome that can be particularly dangerous for the pedestrian. Indeed, studies suggest that over 20% of vehicle-pedestrian collisions occur in parking lots, and that approximately 20% of these collisions result in an incapacitating injury. Occasionally, pedestrians are even killed in parking lot crashes, with children and people at work being the most at risk.

It’s true that, because of drivers’ low speeds, parking lot crashes are rarely so serious. Nevertheless, these statistics demonstrate that this is a problem you have to take seriously. Even when no one is hurt, parking lot crashes can be inconvenient and costly, especially if your insurance rates go up as a result. That’s why some states are starting to require that drivers ed classes include greater coverage of parking lot safety, and why we’ve put together this brief guide to help you get in and out of parking lots as safely as possible.

 

How to Drive Safely in Parking Lots

Although parking in a lot is typically less complicated than it is on the street because the spaces are designed to be easy to enter and exit, parking lots present their own unique risks to drivers. For instance, because the driving lanes are narrow and the driving area is shared by pedestrians, you must go slow, be alert, and always signal your intentions when you’re parking in a lot.

In parking lots, drivers tend to focus their attention on looking for a parking spot, rather than on driving safely. A driver who’s craning his head looking for an open space may fail to notice a pedestrian in front of him or a vehicle approaching from the other side. Moreover, someone parked between two cars may have a hard time seeing if another vehicle is approaching when they back up, which can be especially dangerous if that other driver cares more about finding a spot than driving safely.

By paying attention, driving defensively, and following the law, you’re much less likely to get into a crash. In order to protect yourself and others in a parking lot, you should:

  • backing into parking spaceEnter your space by backing up whenever possible so that you’ll have an easier time when you leave the space.
  • Drive in the center of your lane and park in the center of your space to make it easier for other people to see you and navigate the lot.
  • Only park in a space if you’re sure you have enough room. Then pull your vehicle into the space as far as possible so that it will be easier for drivers and pedestrians to move through the lot.
  • Be careful opening your door as you exit your car to avoid denting the side of the car next to you.
  • Be aware of location of the lot’s entrances and exits and any no parking zones in the lot. Try to avoid parking near the entrance of the lot, as these areas are often more congested and you’ll have more drivers and pedestrians to deal with as you leave the space.
  • Watch out for signs indicating special rules that govern driving or parking in the lot. Stop signs are often posted in parking lots at the end of every lane. At uncontrolled intersections in the lot, follow the standard right-of-way rules. Stop and proceed only when it is safe.
  • empty parking lot with markingsMake sure you’re not going the wrong way by watching for arrows on the pavement indicating the designated direction for each lane. Many parking lot lanes are narrow and restricted to a single direction of traffic.
  • Stay out of spaces where the wheelchair logo is displayed on a sign or pavement marking, as well the striped areas next to them. Only drivers with a disabled parking placard or license plate may park in a designated handicapped space.
  • Check the front of the space before you park to see if any other restrictions are indicated. Some parking spots may be designated as “Narrow,” “Reserved,” etc.

 

Parking Lot Safety Is About More Than Driving Well

parking lot at nightPerhaps there’s no area of the road where common courtesy is more important than in parking lots. When drivers are parking, tempers can run high, especially as the lot fills up and there are more people to interact with and fewer places to park. As you drive through the lot, remember that parking can be stressful for everyone. Use your turn signals in a timely manner and yield to drivers backing out of a space who may not be able to see the roadway.

If you can’t find a spot immediately, be patient. Do not stalk people walking back to their cars. Unless they’re already preparing to back up, you shouldn’t wait for a driver to leave in order to seize their space: you could block traffic and frustrate other drivers. And no matter how annoyed you get, don’t take out your frustrations on another driver by confronting or honking at them.

Also remember that parking lots are frequently the sites of theft: in fact, about 1 in 9 property crimes occur in a parking lot. Choose a spot that’s in a well lit area and not isolated. Finally, no matter where you park, remember to take your keys from the ignition, close your windows and lock your doors, and hide any valuable items under a seat or in the trunk before you leave your car.

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Drivers Ed Meets Pop Music: The History of Teen Crash Songs

side collisionIf there’s one thing that everyone who’s ever taken a drivers ed course is familiar with, it’s those movies. You know the ones. A crash survivor remembers the friend who wasn’t so lucky. A grieving parent mourns the child they’ll never see again. A critically-injured driver recalls the bad decision that left them disabled for life. It’s a genre made most famous by a series of films titled Red Asphalt, and which has inspired a number of similar videos on specific dangerous driving habits, including drunk driving, distracted driving, and road rage.

What makes these movies so memorable is that they’re concerned less with explaining the facts about why these behaviors are so dangerous than with revealing the emotional reality that actual people have to deal with as a result of them. After all, it’s not hard to understand why certain actions are unsafe when you’re on the road—but when you’re on the road, it can be easy to be thinking about something else, or to believe that a disastrous outcome could never happen to you personally. The words of a high school student who lost their first love in a crash can be hard to forget, however, and the faces of parents, choked up and hardly able to hold back their tears, can be haunting.

And because of this emotional impact, these kinds of stories aren’t limited to drivers ed classes. In fact, there’s a whole genre of popular music, often referred to as teen crash songs, devoted to tales of the same type. Like those drivers ed videos, in these songs the stories of young lives tragically cut short in collisions are recounted by survivors or loved ones; in this case, though, it’s a catchy tune that tugs on our heartstrings. Though these songs had their biggest successes in the 1960s, the enduring relevance of the theme continues to inspire musicians even today.

 

Teen Crash Songs: Some Highlights

Through the years, countless songs have been made about the unique danger that driving presents to young people. And because driving remains the number one killer of teens in the United States, these tracks remain as relevant as ever. Here are a few of the best.

The Beach Boys – A Young Man is Gone (1963)

In 1955, James Dean, one of the most popular young actors of the day, was killed when he crashed his car into another vehicle as its driver was attempting to leave an intersection. Dean’s death had a huge impact on teens around the country, and while a few songs about wrecks were released before it, the teen crash song genre really seems to have emerged out of this event. One of the earliest songs of this type, this Beach Boys tune asks a question that’s often heard when a young person is killed in a crash: “How could they let him die?”

J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers – Last Kiss (1964)

Possibly the most iconic of all teen crash songs, Last Kiss was originally released by Wayne Cochran in 1961 but achieved enduring popularity only after it was recorded by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers in 1964. Because of its visceral description of the crash (“The screamin’ tires, the busting glass, the painful scream that I heard last”) and the powerful emotional impact on the survivor whose girlfriend it killed (“I held her close, I kissed her our last kiss, I found the love that I knew I had missed”), this song made the consequences of a collision real for millions of listeners.

Jimmy Cross – I Want My Baby Back (1965)

Approximately 30 teen crash songs were recorded during the 1960’s, with eight released during 1964 alone. Why so many that year? One factor was likely the assassination of President Kennedy at the end of 1963; while it didn’t involve a collision, it did occur in a car, and more importantly, it marked the moment when a generation’s symbols of hope and possibility came to represent fear and death instead. Nevertheless, by 1965, the genre had become so familiar that it was ripe for parodies like I Want My Baby Back by Jimmy Cross. In that it features a survivor recounting the series of road disasters that led to a fatal crash, this song follows the same formula as those that it spoofs—but it’s the deranged way he tries to undo his girlfriend’s death that gives this tune its unique twist.

Reparata – Your Life Is Gone (1972)

While neither the singer nor the song is as well known as some of the others on this list, and though the basic plot doesn’t diverge very far from that of Last Kiss and many others, Reparata’s Your Life Is Gone is nevertheless a noteworthy addition to the teen crash song genre. Here, the singer focuses less on the collision that killed her boyfriend and more on the way his death continues to haunt her in the months that follow. It’s a mournful, melancholy portrait of how hard it can be for crash survivors to cope with the sudden, senseless loss of their loved one.

The Ramones – 7-11 (1981)

By the mid-60’s, teen crash songs had begun to lose some of their appeal, though the genre never went away entirely. In the early 1980’s, however, a growing concern with the problem of drunk driving combined with a revived interest in 50’s and 60’s pop music to inspire a new wave of such music. With 7-11, the Ramones took the classic crash song plot, interpreted it through their distinct punk rock sensibility, and threw in some contemporary references like “Space Invaders” and “Holiday Inn” to create a tune that is at the same time both incredibly catchy and heartbreakingly sad.

Bruce Springsteen – Wreck on the Highway (1985)

In 1937, what is likely the first crash song of all time, Wreck on the Highway, was recorded by a singer named Dorsey Dixon. Marked by distinctively religious overtones, this song recounts the experience of a man who, after coming across the scene of a drunk driving crash, finds himself unable to escape the memory of what he saw—”a picture was stamped on my heart,” he sings. In 1985, this song was reinterpreted by Bruce Springsteen; while the story remains the same, here the haunting reflections the event inspires are more intimate, as the singer imagines the personal grief that must follow when a young man dies on the highway.

Sugarland – Joey (2009)

In the last 30 years, the issue of driver safety has evolved considerably. The adoption of DUI laws, the invention of  driving technologies that reduce risk, and the introduction of numerous other safety measures have caused a significant reduction in crash deaths in the United States. Nevertheless, because many of these initiatives, including Graduated Licensing Programs and Public Service Announcements, involve an increased emphasis on driver education, the American public has never been so conscious of the dangers associated with driving. These factors have influenced how more contemporary musicians have approached the teen crash song genre. For instance, in the song Joey by Sugarland, the singer reflects on the personal responsibility she feels because she failed to stop her boyfriend from driving drunk, going so far as to wonder, “What’d if I’d took the keys?”

 

But Wait, There’s More…

If you’ve enjoyed these tracks, please check out our Teen Crash Songs playlist. Here you’ll find over 70 examples of the genre, spanning pretty much every style of popular music that’s been produced over the last six decades. As it turns out, teen crash songs have been recorded by some of the biggest pop musicians of all time, including KISS, Tom Waits, Twisted Sister, Ice-T, Radiohead, and far more than we can list here.

In a sense, the entire history and evolution of pop music in the United States can be seen reflected in this category of songs. But though their styles and perspectives may vary widely, these songs will ultimately leave you with one abiding impression: there’s no getting over the consequences of a car crash. Even as you enjoy them, let these songs serve as a reminder: always drive safely!

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Cars and Pedestrians: A Conflict Where Both Sides Lose

car stopped at pedestrian crosswalkIf we’re in a hurry, it can be easy to get frustrated with pedestrians who dawdle in the crosswalk or start crossing in the middle of the street without even looking first. When we’re on foot, however, suddenly it’s the people behind the wheel who seem aggressive, inconsiderate, or entitled—backing up without checking, stopping in the crosswalk, or creeping around the corner before we’ve had a chance to clear the intersection. But while the relationship between drivers and pedestrians can sometimes be contentious, there’s one thing that both groups can agree upon: crashes suck!

For pedestrians, the dangers that vehicles present are obvious: because pedestrians are infinitely more vulnerable to cars than cars are to pedestrians, the threat of getting hit carries serious consequences. Even at low speeds, a car that strikes a pedestrian is likely to cause injury, and this type of collision is particularly likely to be fatal. In fact, 4,735 pedestrians were killed in collisions in 2013. Moreover, in the same year:

  • Pedestrians were involved in only 1.2% of all crashes, but represented 5% of all crash fatalities
  • Pedestrians were 13 times more likely to be killed if they were involved in a collision than the average for all road users
  • While less than 30% of all collisions reported to the police resulted in injury or death, someone was injured or killed in over 95% of those collisions with a pedestrian involved.

On the other hand, while drivers are rarely injured seriously in collisions with pedestrians, they have plenty of other reasons to avoid them. For one thing, if you end up hitting a pedestrian because you were in a rush, you’re going to end up running much later than if you’d driven more carefully. In addition, you’re going to have to deal with the cost of vehicle repairs, increased insurance rates, and potential legal consequences including fines, imprisonment, and the loss of your license. And of course, if you’re a decent person, you’re also certain to feel terrible about any injuries you caused because you weren’t a little more attentive to that person crossing the street.

With that in mind, we’ve put together this list of the situations where drivers are most likely to run into a pedestrian. By understanding why vehicle-pedestrian collisions occur, you can be better prepared to avoid an unwanted outcome—whether you’re on foot or behind the wheel.

 

How Crashes Between Cars and Pedestrians Happen

The first rule for dealing with pedestrians is one all drivers should be familiar with: you must yield the right-of-way to avoid a collision. Sure, some pedestrians break the law, crossing in the middle of the street or when a traffic signal tells them not to. Nevertheless, when we’re on the road, it’s not our job to teach lawbreakers a lesson; rather, our responsibility is to do all that we can to help everyone get where they’re going safely. Besides, pedestrians are often more ignorant about traffic laws than drivers are, so it’s common courtesy to be patient with them when they make mistakes.

The truth is that it’s not hard to predict when collisions between cars and pedestrians will occur. They typically happen when the driver can’t see the pedestrian or the pedestrian enters the roadway suddenly. By paying extra attention and being especially cautious in such situations, we can more effectively fulfill our duty to share the road safely.

  • jaywalking male pedestrianThe “Dart Out”: In 2013, nearly 70% of pedestrian fatalities happened when the pedestrian entered the roadway somewhere other than an intersection. Often, these crashes occur because the pedestrian remains hidden behind a car or other obstacle until the last minute, making it impossible for the driver to stop in time. To avoid these crashes, always proceed carefully whenever you see pedestrians on the sidewalk, and especially when driving in areas where children playing may suddenly run into the roadway.
  • The “Dash”: Even pedestrians crossing at intersections can cause problems. Impatient or inattentive pedestrians may try to rush through the crosswalk when a “Don’t Walk” signal is displayed, giving drivers a limited amount of time to respond. On a green light, always wait for the intersection to clear before you proceed; otherwise, you may hit a pedestrian or trap them in the middle of the street with no safe way to get out of danger.
  • The “Grid Locker”: Drivers can also make it unsafe for pedestrians crossing the street if they stop their car within the crosswalk, forcing people on foot to walk around them and potentially into the path of another driver. Never stop in a crosswalk or try to enter an intersection if there isn’t enough space on the other side for you to clear it completely. You can be ticketed for endangering pedestrians and other drivers in this way.
  • city traffic pedestrians crosswalksThe “Bus Rider”: Collisions between cars and pedestrians often take place near bus stops or stopped school buses. For instance, riders may get off the bus and immediately cross in front of it, concealing them from drivers approaching along the bus’s left side. This is also a problem around food trucks, ice cream trucks, and other vendors parked on the side of the road. Always pass these vehicles with caution and remember—it’s illegal to pass a stopped school bus with its lights flashing (unless the driver signals that you may proceed).
  • The “Impatient Pass”: If you see a car stopped at a crosswalk or intersection or in the middle of the road and can’t figure out why, slow down and look around: the other driver may be stopped to let someone cross the street. Drivers who pass without first making sure the road ahead is clear may end up running into a pedestrian.
  • The “Careless Turn”: Drivers can be especially lax about checking the crosswalk before turning right, as this maneuver can generally be made without having to interact with any cross traffic. But pedestrians often begin to cross at the same time drivers begin to turn, setting up a potentially deadly conflict. Before turning, drivers must carefully search the entire driving environment and be prepared to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.
  • child playing behind carThe “Hasty Reverse”: If you need to back up to leave a driveway or parking space, always check behind your car before you get in and look over your shoulder as you make the maneuver. If you’re not paying attention, and there’s a pedestrian walking behind your car that isn’t paying attention either, a crash may be the result. Because of their small size, dozens of children are killed every year in this type of collision.
  • The “Curb Hugger”: Sometimes a pedestrian will walk or jog along the side of the road because there’s no sidewalk or they’re on a lightly-traveled roadway. Frequently, such pedestrians will be out close to dawn or dusk, making it harder to see them, and they may also be wearing headphones and listening to music, obscuring the sounds of oncoming cars. As a result, the pedestrian and driver may not notice each other until it’s too late.
  • The “Texter”: When you’re driving, the only thing you should be paying attention to is the road. Whether they’re behind the wheel or on foot, a distracted road user is a threat to everyone else on the road. By ignoring your cell phone and other potential distractions, you’re less likely to run into someone who wasn’t so conscientious!

 

A Driver’s Responsibility to Pedestrians

As a driver, your first priority must always be reducing the risk of injury and death—both to yourself and to others. When it comes to interacting with pedestrians, this means always being more attentive in areas where you may encounter them (such as intersections, parking lots, and school zones) and being prepared to yield even when you believe you have the right-of-way.

We’re all pedestrians sometimes, so whenever you drive, remember to treat walkers with the same consideration you expect when it’s you who’s on foot. No matter where you’re going or how you’re getting there, a courteous, attentive attitude is sure to make your trip that much easier!

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DriversEd.com’s Bike Challenge Results

Raúl's view on the San Francisco Bay Trail.

Raúl’s view from the San Francisco Bay Trail.

DriversEd.com Bay Area Bike Challenge resultsMay was National Bike Month, and DriversEd.com celebrated by participating in the 2015 Bay Area Company Bike Challenge. With just three team members, we biked a total of 426.4 miles—just 73.6 miles short of our goal of 500!

Out of all small companies in Alameda County, DriversEd.com took 14th place. Not too shabby for a 3-person team, even if a few factors held us back from logging five centuries:

  • Weather: Temperatures in May were lower than average. Though the chilly conditions were perfect for me, it was too cold for Raúl, who prefers to take bicycle trips in hotter weather.
  • Travel: Flink took a trip down to the eDriving office in Carlsbad for a couple of days and wasn’t able to ride a bike during that time.
  • Injury: I had an embarrassing fall and injured my hand, which kept me from taking any long trips during the last weekend of the competition.
  • Forgetfulness: A certain member of the team didn’t get the memo that every trip had to be logged within 7 days, so we lost a couple of miles here and there. Oops!

Maybe next year, with a little more planning, we’ll be able to recruit more colleagues to join the challenge and bike more miles. (Or maybe I’ll just set an easier goal for us!)

Highlights from Bike Month

Flink riding to Crockett.

We got away from our computers and went outside. Bike Month was a great excuse to get out and ride. Raúl made several trips along the scenic San Francisco Bay Trail. Flink went for a long ride through his favorite environment with lots of green trees.

We got tons of exercise. Altogether the three of us burned a total of 18,336 calories from bicycling during the month of May. That’s about the amount of calories in seven large cheese pizzas. I even managed to meet my personal goal of biking 200 miles.

We biked more than we normally would have. Tracking our bike trips for the Bike Challenge and comparing our total miles with each other inspired us to ride more. “I definitely changed my weekend plans to include some extra rides, and some extra-long rides,” said Flink. “So I guess it really did get me on the roads and in the saddle a little bit more than I would have been otherwise!”

We had fun! The Bike Challenge sparked a bit of friendly competition among the three of us (which I totally won!). We also participated in Bike to Work Day and bonded over beers at the Bike Happy Hour. Most important of all, a great time was had by all!

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Ten Driving Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making

We all know it’s illegal—and unsafe—to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. As a matter of fact, impaired driving resulted in 1.2 million arrests and over 10,000 crash fatalities in the United States in 2013 alone. But when you look at the larger picture of traffic safety, you can see that a far greater proportion of traffic tickets and crashes every year are the result of common driving mistakes drivers make every day, often without even realizing how dangerous they really are.

On the road, most drivers just want to get where they’re going as comfortably and as efficiently as possible—after all, nothing can ruin your day quite like getting a speeding ticket or causing a crash. So how can you minimize these dangerous and costly disruptions? Well, beyond the obvious, like remembering to stop at STOP signs and yield to emergency vehicles, the best way to avoid costly driving errors is to pay more attention to how you’re driving.

freeway focus

Some Data from the Lone Star State

To try and figure out what behaviors it’s most important to avoid, let’s take a look at some statistics from the state with the most fatal crashes in the United States last year—Texas. The following table shows the factors that contributed to the highest numbers of crashes in that state in 2014.

Texas crash factors

The Most Common Crash Contributing Factors

Most people already know that it’s a mistake to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or to disregard a STOP sign. But the fact that other factors on this list contribute to so many collisions may be more surprising, particularly for drivers who haven’t taken one of our excellent courses in drivers education! The factors listed below are ranked in order of total crashes. Do you know when you’re making these driving mistakes?

1. Failure to control speed
This all-encompassing error includes everything from driving too fast down a hill or through a curve to going too fast in the rain or fog—even if your speed happens to be below the speed limit! Driving at a speed that’s unsafe for current road, weather, and lighting conditions can make it impossible for you to stop safely or steer clear of a hazard. You may even completely lose control of your car!

2. Driver inattention
There are three things you absolutely need when you drive: your hands on the wheel, your eyes on the road, and your mind on the drive. An inattentive driver lacks some or all of these essentials. You may think it’s safe to divide your attention between the driving task and other activities, but you’re wrong. Emergencies can and do happen without warning, and when they do, you need to be ready to respond immediately, thoughtfully, and precisely. You can’t do that if you’re reading a text or holding a cheeseburger in one hand.

3. Failure to drive in a single lane
Drifting out of your lane is a surefire way to get honked at or, if you’re not lucky, cause a collision. Whether it’s due to inattention to their car’s position, confusion about road markings, or unskilled maneuvering while turning or changing lanes, many drivers accidentally and unexpectedly cross into an adjacent lane. Except when safely executing a lane change, always strive to stay entirely within your own lane.

4. Unsafe lane change
A safe lane change involves several critically important steps: activating the appropriate turn signal, checking your mirrors and blind spots for other vehicles, finding an acceptable gap in traffic, adjusting your speed, and smoothly steering into the lane. Always remember to look carefully for motorcycles, as they can easily be hidden in your blind spots and their riders are especially vulnerable in a collision.

5. Following too closely
Many people follow other vehicles too closely—a behavior known as tailgating—without knowing it. At 30 mph, a safe following distance is about 5 car lengths (80 ft), and at 60 mph, you should maintain at least 17 car lengths (275 ft) in front of you. The best way to establish a safe following distance is to wait until the car you’re following passes a fixed point on the road ahead, then start counting to three; if you pass the same point before you reach three, you’re following too closely! Remember to increase your following distance in bad weather, at night, or when driving behind a motorcycle or large truck.

6. Driving at an unsafe speed (below the speed limit)
It’s not an obvious fact, but even driving too slow can be dangerous and illegal. When you drive below the speed limit and slower than the traffic around you, you force other drivers to either slow down or pass you, and the more often cars pass each other, the more likely they are to collide. Don’t disrupt the flow of traffic—it just isn’t safe.

7. Faulty evasive action
This driving mistake highlights the importance of being attentive at all times. A large object falls off of a truck and into your path—what are you going to do? Are both your hands on the steering wheel? Did you see the hazard with enough time to evade properly? Do you know where there’s an open space that you can escape to? When the time comes to evade a hazard, you need to be prepared.

8. Driving while fatigued
It can be difficult to get enough sleep on a regular basis, but that’s no excuse for driving while fatigued. When you’re in control of a motor vehicle, just keeping your eyes open isn’t good enough. You need to be alert, attentive, able to think clearly, and able to exercise fine control over your muscles at all times. Fatigue deprives you of these skills.

9. Driving at an unsafe speed (above the speed limit)
Speed limits are designed to keep drivers safe, and even in perfect conditions, it’s dangerous to exceed them. Speeding disrupts traffic flow, creates more opportunities for collisions with vehicles being passed, and results in exponentially more severe impacts in the event of a crash. Moreover, when you speed, you’ll have less control over your vehicle and less time to react. Never drive over the speed limit.

10. Cyclist failure to yield to motor vehicle
On the road, you must always yield to avoid a collision, no matter what form of transportation you’re using. Remember that bicyclists have all the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle operators. Bicyclists are particularly vulnerable in collisions with motor vehicles, so whether you’re on a bike or in a car, make sure to follow the rules of right-of-way at all times.

 

Learning from Our Driving Mistakes

Did any of these crash contributing factors remind you of your own driving behavior? Remember that the best time to break a bad habit is right now! You’ll save money on fines and tickets, avoid enraging other drivers, and most importantly, keep yourself and other road users safe. There are a lot of nuances to safe and responsible driving, but fortunately, it’s not that difficult! Just stay alert and focus on the drive. And if you do end up getting a ticket… there’s always online traffic school!

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There’s No One at the Wheel! Can We Trust Self-Driving Cars?

car driving on freeway side viewIn recent years, vehicle engineers and manufacturers have introduced a number of technologies designed to make driving safer and easier, and perhaps none has generated as much interest as Google’s Self-Driving Car Project. While other new technologies can reduce the risk of certain dangerous mistakes, such as drifting from your lane, tailgating, and backing up unsafely, it’s hoped that self-driving cars will eventually eliminate the risk of driver error entirely. And since 94% of crashes can be attributed to driver error, this technology has the potential to fundamentally change how we think about road safety—that is, if it works.

Now, after several years of testing the technology on public roads, Google and the California DMV are beginning to shed some light on how well driverless cars are performing and whether or not they’re making the roads safer for everyone else. For the most part, the early reports look promising: after logging over 1 million miles of autonomous driving, Google reports that, when in self-driving mode, its cars have been involved in only 7 impacts with other vehicles.¹

It’s also encouraging to note that every one of these collisions was minor, and in no incident was anyone—in either Google’s vehicle or the other car—injured. Indeed, more than half of these incidents were low-speed, rear-end collisions. And perhaps more significantly, in none of these collisions was Google’s vehicle at fault; it was always another driver’s error that led to the crash.

 

Self-Driving Cars Are Designed for Safety

busy intersections with cars and pedestriansGoogle’s self-driving cars aren’t just designed to obey the rules of the road; like human drivers, they know to look out for potential hazards and choose responses that will minimize risk. Several sophisticated computer systems are used to guide these vehicles:

  • The cars are programmed with detailed maps that let them know how to get from one place to another. In addition to the mapping data available publicly through Google Maps, the cars also have information on other factors affecting traffic flow, such as road curvature, lane width, and the presence of traffic control devices.
  • Sophisticated sensors help the car understand its environment. These sensors include lasers that track the positions of objects all around the car, cameras that detect shapes, colors, and other important information, and radar that indicates how fast everyone else on the road is moving.
  • The vehicle’s internal processors then try to predict what will happen next and determine how to respond. Like many of Google’s technologies, these rely on complex algorithms that continue to be adjusted as the company learns from its cars’ experiences on the road.

These technologies have proven remarkably effective at keeping Google’s cars out of dangerous situations, and the more they’re tested, the safer they become. Recently, for example, Google’s been teaching its cars driving skills like stopping for emergency vehicles and recognizing the difference between left turns and U-turns.

Of course, it also helps that current prototypes are programmed to be especially cautious; for instance, the models being tested now can’t go faster than 25 mph, automatically avoid other cars’ blind spots, and wait 1.5 seconds for the intersection to clear when a traffic light turns green. Because of this approach, Google’s cars have so far been able to avoid any serious problems.

 

Some Reservations About Self-Driving Cars

No one can doubt that Google is taking a careful and conscientious approach to developing its driverless car technology. Certainly, the fact that these cars have been in only 7 collisions in over a million miles of autonomous driving is impressive. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that, based on official collision reports, U.S. drivers of passenger cars got into fewer than 3 non-injury crashes per million miles traveled in 2013.

Google is quick to point out, however, that more than half of all property-damage collisions are never reported to the police and thus are not reflected in these statistics. And it’s true that most of the impacts that Google’s cars experienced were so minor that they likely never would have been reported in normal circumstances. That said, the company could inspire more confidence by publicly addressing the problems it has found rather than minimizing the significance of unflattering statistics.

female driverConsider the fact that, in two of the most serious incidents involving self-driving cars, the safety driver testing the vehicle felt compelled to shift to manual control at the last minute. For instance, when another vehicle veered into the side of one of Google’s cars while both were traveling at highway speeds, Google’s test driver took control of the wheel just as the car was being struck. This is especially worrisome given that the company doesn’t even plan to include a manual driving option on the cars it sells to consumers.

Moreover, one of the reasons these cars have avoided serious collisions so far is that they’ve primarily been tested in situations where serious collisions aren’t all that likely. In fact, much of the testing so far has been at relatively low speeds and at private facilities rather than on public roads. Right now, we don’t know how Google’s cars will react to emergencies at high speeds, drunk drivers on the road, or adverse weather conditions like rain and snow.

The more Google’s self-driving cars are tested and refined, the better they’ll become at predicting and responding to typical traffic patterns and common driving errors, and their safety is sure to improve. But one of the reasons we at DriversEd.com stress the importance of defensive driving is because many of the biggest risks we face as drivers come from situations we can’t anticipate. Behind the wheel, human beings can make split-second decisions in ways that Google’s computers can’t, and when we do, we can protect ourselves and others from situations that could have otherwise ended in disaster.

Every day, many potentially fatal collisions are avoided because a smart driver paid attention, stayed calm, and reflexively made the right decision. While Google certainly deserves praise for developing self-driving cars that have so far avoided serious collisions, it’s too soon to tell whether they’ll be better than people at dealing with these kind of emergencies. For now, the most important safety technology remains the same as it’s ever been: the alert, attentive brain of an informed and conscientious driver.

And Google, if you’re really serious about teaching your cars how to drive defensively, we have one piece of advice: Sign up for drivers ed today!

 

¹ Google’s test cars are designed so that they can work autonomously (without driver input) or be operated manually. The company’s findings indicate that, in manual and autonomous modes combined, its cars have traveled 1.8 million miles and been involved in 12 collisions. Autonomous driving accounted for approximately 1 million of these miles, and 7 of the 12 crashes occurred or began while the car was in autonomous mode.

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Recall Alert! Are Your Air Bags Safe?

air bag expandingThis week, millions of Americans have been asking themselves “are my air bags safe?” after the Department of Transportation announced the largest motor vehicle recall in the nation’s history. This recall is meant to address severe defects in several types of air bags manufactured by Takata, the fourth largest air bag maker in the world. Already, these faulty frontal air bags have been tied to at least six deaths and over 100 injuries globally.

There’s a good chance that your car will be recalled too, as the recall applies to 33.8 million cars and trucks in the United States alone—that’s one in every seven vehicles in the country! While you’re most likely to be affected if you drive a Honda model from 2001 to 2008, drivers of BMW, Chrysler, Ford, GM, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota vehicles built between 2001 and 2011 all face a potential recall.

If you feel like this isn’t the first time you’re hearing about an air-bag-related recall, you’re not mistaken. Just last year, in fact, over 16 million cars were recalled for defective Takata air bags. For years, various groups have called the safety of Takata’s air bags into question, but until now, the company has refused to fully accept responsibility for the problem.

In fact, Takata continued to use the same defective technology to replace some of the faulty air bags covered by earlier recalls. This means that even if your car was affected by a previous recall and you’ve already had your air bags replaced, you may need to get them fixed again!

The Reason for the Recall

When a vehicle gets into a collision, a sophisticated system of sensors and computers sends a signal to an inflator in each air bag. This ignites a propellant in the inflator, generating nitrogen gas and causing the air bag to expand and deflate in a fraction of a second. Altogether, the whole process takes about half as long as it takes you to blink.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. In the recalled Takata air bags, the propellant is based on ammonia nitrate, a common compound used in fertilizer. Over time, this propellant can degrade, especially if it’s exposed to moisture or fluctuating temperatures. (Indeed, the problem seems to be worst in places with high humidity.)

As the propellant degrades, the chances grow that it will ignite too rapidly in a collision, rupturing the inflator and shooting metal shrapnel through the fabric of the bag as rapidly as it expands. This CNN segment from last year shows what happens when the inflator explodes:

When you consider that air bags inflate at a rate of up to 200 mph, it’s easy to see why this situation can be so frightening—and so dangerous. Can you imagine getting into a minor crash only to lose an eye, or worse, crashing because the air bag exploded in your face? It’s already happened to dozens of drivers, and if your car is recalled and you ignore it, it could happen to you, too.

How to Make Your Air Bags Safe Again

mechanic fixing carIf your car has been recalled due to an air bag defect (or for any other reason!), you should receive notice from the manufacturer that will let you know what to do. However, if you’ve moved, bought your car used, or just want to be safe, you can also use your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to find out if your car has been recalled. (Your car’s VIN number can be found on your registration documents and on the dashboard near the windshield wipers.)

Given the number of vehicles affected by the recall, it may take several weeks for manufacturers to notify all owners and for all vehicles to be added to the recall database, so be patient and remember to recheck your VIN number in a few weeks if you think you might be affected. You can also check the manufacturer’s website or call your dealer (or another dealership that sells your model) to get the latest information about the recall status of your car.

So, if your car is recalled, what does that mean for you? Are you going to have to replace your car? Fortunately, it’s a lot easier than that. In general, all you’ll have to do is bring your car into a dealership and they’ll replace the defective air bag parts—for free—even if your car is no longer under warranty. Some manufacturers are even giving drivers a car to borrow while theirs is under repair.

The bad news is that you may need to wait a while before you can get your air bags replaced. After all, to fix 34 million defective air bags, you need to have 34 million replacements, and it’s going to take time to make them all. And though Takata is boosting production on replacement parts, it’s still likely to be a couple of years before every recalled vehicle can be fixed. Priority is likely to be given to more affected vehicle models and drivers in humid regions, so be sure to check with your dealer first to find out when you can bring your car in for repairs.

A Reminder: Air Bags Save Lives

With such a large recall, some people may be wondering if they can have the air bags in their car turned off, or even if air bags are worth the risks in the first place. So it’s important to remember that air bags play a crucial role in protecting you in a crash.

As tragic and pointless as it is to lose any lives to a manufacturing flaw, air bags are nevertheless estimated to save over 2,000 people every year and to have saved over 40,000 lives since 1975. Even in recalled cars, you’re still more likely to be saved than to be injured by an air bag if you get into a crash.

So if your car is recalled, you probably don’t need to stop driving it until you can get the air bags replaced. That said, there are always certain things you should do to minimize the risk of an air bag injury—whether they’re defective or not:

  • air bags safe distance from wheelMaintain at least ten inches between your chest and the steering wheel
  • Grip the lower half of the wheel with your knuckles on the outside
  • If you have tilt steering, direct the steering wheel at your chest, not your face
  • Always wear your seat belt

Keep in mind that the closer you are to the steering wheel, the more likely you are to be injured. For that reason, shorter drivers who need to sit close to the dashboard to reach the control pedals are more at risk. These drivers should contact the manufacturer if their car’s been recalled to see if their repairs can be prioritized.

If you’re still worried about driving a recalled car, you may also consider using another form of transportation, such as a bus, bike, rental car, or carpool, so you can minimize your driving until your vehicle can be fixed. And of course, the best thing to do is drive safely! If you don’t get into a collision, you won’t really need to worry about whether your air bags are safe in the first place.

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You’re Talking—and DriversEd.com Is Listening!

If you’ve taken one of our courses, you know that there’s no shortage of ways to get in touch with us. We love your feedback, so we try to make it easy for you to give it to us: we have live chat and phone operators standing by 24/7, we read every email we get, we take feedback from inside our course player, and when a student completes our course, we ask them how it went, and we ask them to rate us from 1 to 5 stars.

The vast majority of comments we receive are positive, which is actually very helpful. When we see which lessons and teaching strategies get the most positive feedback, we learn about what’s most interesting and understandable to our students. When students are engaged with material that makes sense to them, real learning happens! That means more safe drivers—something we’re truly committed to at DriversEd.com.

On the other side of the coin, we do receive some negative feedback. Case in point: two of our employees recently noticed that our Texas 32-Hour Drivers Ed course was receiving a significant number of 1-star reviews, so we decided to look into it. After deep-diving into feedback from inside the course player and from the end-of-course survey, reading over 10,000 comments along the way, we were able to pin down the primary sources of the problem: course length and test question difficulty.

Word cloud for Texas 32-Hour Drivers Ed user feedback

 

When it comes to the length of our Texas Teen Drivers Ed course, unfortunately, our hands are tied. State regulations require our online course to be no less than 32 hours long—and that’s still a far cry from the 56 hours required if you take the course in a classroom!.

A snail on a plant stem

However, after carrying out a thorough review of the test questions used in the course, and in particular the course’s movie quiz questions, we came to agree with our students: some of our movie quiz questions were too challenging! Many students commented that, after paying close attention to the safe driving tips in a movie, they were baffled when the movie quiz asked something like: “Which of the characters in the video was wearing sunglasses?”

Although state regulations require us to ask questions the student would not be able to answer without watching the movie, we found that we could work within the rules to bring our test questions closer into alignment with our students’ expectations. So we wrote more than 50 new questions for over 20 movies used in the course, obtained the required regulatory approval for the changes, and today, we rolled them out in an update to our course!

Time—and copious amounts of helpful user feedback—will tell whether we’ve found the right solution to our Texas 32-Hour Teen Drivers Ed students’ movie quiz question woes. We’ll keep our ears to the ground to see how our students respond to these changes in the coming months. Rest assured, at DriversEd.com, we don’t just listen to your comments—we act on them!

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Beat the Heat: Dehydrated Driving is Dangerous Driving

dry desert roadYou know those movies where someone’s lost in the desert, desperate for anything that could slake their thirst? It’s a situation that always seems to reduce people to the same desperate condition: staggering, clumsy, unable to think clearly, even seeing things that aren’t there. Now, instead of alone on some sandy dune, picture this same parched person behind the wheel. If you were on the road, would you want to be anywhere near them?

Even though, like all movies, these scenes are exaggerated, they’re not as far from reality as you might think. In fact, even typical levels of dehydration can impair your mental clarity, focus and concentration, and reaction time. Being dehydrated can also give you headaches, impair your muscle function, make it harder to think, and put you in a bad mood.

If these symptoms sound familiar, they should: after all, they’re many of the same harmful effects of alcohol that make it so dangerous to drive drunk. So it should come as no surprise that dehydrated driving can be dangerous, too. In fact, new research has revealed that dehydration can impair a driver’s performance as much as having a BAC of 0.08%—the legal limit for drinking and driving.

The Facts About Dehydrated Driving

To determine the effects of dehydration on drivers, researchers at Loughborough University in Britain used a driving test that simulated two hours of monotonous driving with bends, hard shoulders, rumble strips, and slow-moving vehicles that the driver needed to pass. Participants in the study were tested twice. On the first day, the drivers were provided with about a cup of water every hour, while on the second they were given only a few sips per hour.

wrong turn driver errorWhat the researchers found was that, when properly hydrated, the test group collectively committed 47 driving errors (such as drifting, late braking, and crossing the rumble strip or lane line). But in the dehydrated driving test, these same drivers committed 101 errors—more than twice as many as they did before! According to Professor Ron Maughan, who led the study, these results suggest that “drivers who are not properly hydrated make the same number of errors as people who are over the [legal BAC] limit.

Keep in mind that these numbers only reflect the effects of mild dehydration, as participants did get a small amount of water to drink during the second test. Going a long time without drinking anything at all is likely to compromise your driving much more severely.

Give Yourself a Break

Before you leave on a long drive, do you use the bathroom and try to avoid drinking much water so you won’t have to stop on the way? While this might save you a little time, the truth is that you’ll have a safer and more pleasant trip if you take a break every hour or so. Taking a short break occasionally can help you:

  • teen girl drinkingAvoid dehydrated driving: If you know you’ll be taking regular breaks, you’ll have no reason not to drink enough water before you go. And a break is a perfect opportunity to rehydrate yourself so you feel rejuvenated when you get back on the road.
  • Avoid drowsy driving: The monotony of long trips can lull drivers into a drowsy trance. By giving yourself a chance to stretch, walk around, and rest your eyes every once in a while, you can stay more physically and mentally alert.
  • Avoid distracted driving: While it’s a good idea to keep your energy up with water and snacks when you’re on a long trip, you should already know that eating and drinking are dangerous distractions when you’re behind the wheel. Instead, find a rest stop or gas station where you can stop and take it easy for a few minutes. After all, your car may be in need of refueling, too!

Summer Safety

juice for altitude sicknessWith summer approaching, it’s especially important to stay hydrated. On a 70 degree day, the inside temperature of a parked car can reach over 100 degrees in half an hour. Extreme heat can intensify dehydration and cause discomfort, light-headedness, and even heat stroke. On hot days, be especially sure you drink plenty of water or other hydrating liquids.

Keep in mind that not all beverages are equally effective at preventing dehydrated driving. Water, juice, and sports drinks are all good hydrators, while coffee, soft drinks, and other caffeinated beverages are more likely to dry you out. And of course alcohol will dehydrate you and amplify the effects of dehydration, severely impairing your driving ability!

This summer, make sure every drive is a safe and pleasant drive. Eat healthy, get plenty of sleep, and always drink enough water before you get behind the wheel.

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DriversEd.com is joining the Bay Area Bike Challenge!

Bay Area Bike Challenge logoThe 2015 Bay Area Bike Challenge officially starts today, and DriversEd.com is excited to throw our helmets in the ring!

Why We’re Participating

Even though our specialty is driving, we’re not just drivers—we’re bicyclists too! We’re participating in the Bay Area Bike Challenge this year to recognize and celebrate another wonderful way to travel.

As a drivers education company, we’re committed to making the road a safer place for everyone, including bicyclists and pedestrians. A lot of us here at DriversEd.com commute to work by bicycle, motorcycle, public transit, or foot.

Why We Like to Ride

Bicycles are awesome, and the benefits to riding are endless. Here are just a few reasons we sometimes choose two wheels over four, and why we’re excited about the Bay Area Bike Challenge.

  1. Exercise
    Biking is a fun and easy way to exercise. An average American weighing 195.5 pounds will burn 177 calories for every 30 minutes of easy bicycling. Other health benefits include decreased stress, improved fitness and coordination, and much more.
  1. Fun
    Even babies on tricycles know that pedaling around is fun. There’s nothing quite like rolling down the road on a bike, powered only by your own two legs, and feeling the wind in your face.
  1. Reducing greenhouse gases
    An average car produces 7 to 10 tons of greenhouse gases every year. In comparison, a bicycle only requires fossil fuels for the manufacturing of parts and the bicycle itself.
  1. Jumpstarting the day
    Biking helps us start the day with more energy—both physically and mentally. We’re always awake, energetic, and ready to work after a brisk bicycle commute
  1. Being better drivers
    Every good driver knows how to share the road. Our experiences as pedestrians and bicyclists teach us to be more aware and careful of other road users when we get behind the wheel.

Our Bay Area Bike Challenge Goals

DriversEd.com's unofficial Bay Area Bike Challenge stats from our practice run

DriversEd.com’s unofficial stats from our practice run

How many miles can we ride in 31 days? So far, three of us have signed up. During our practice run, we biked over 30 miles and burned 1,400 calories! Whew! But practice is only practice. Now that the Bike Challenge has officially started, the competition is getting serious.

Not counting Memorial Day, there are 20 workdays in May. If we all ride our bikes to work every day, we’ll cover 232 miles during just our daily commutes!

Here’s the math:

  • Raúl’s daily round-trip commute is 2.6 miles.
  • Flink’s daily round-trip commute is 4 miles.
  • Angela’s daily round-trip commute is 5 miles.
  • Our combined daily commute is 11.6 miles.
  • Estimated total commute in May: 11.6 miles x 20 days = 232 miles

Now, let’s say we each bike an extra 10 miles during the week for running errands, meeting up with friends, or just plain fun. There are 4 full weeks in May, so that adds up to another 120 miles on weekdays. And with the excellent weather and Memorial Day holiday, I bet we’ll each cover about 10 miles over 5 weekends for an extra 150 miles.

Add everything up, and that’s a grand total of about 500 miles for DriversEd.com in the Bay Area Bike Challenge!

But if we literally go the extra mile, and if we can convince more colleagues join the challenge, maybe we can make our stretch goal of 600 miles. That means my personal goal is to bike at least 200 miles this month!

Think we can do it? Place your bets in the comments, and check back in June to find out!

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