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Are you rolling the dice when it comes to driver safety?

Most of the time we can get away following traffic signs and signals and what we see out of our windshield and mirrors. 

The more we get away with it, the less value we see in doing anything more.

The baby’s death at the drive-in theatre on Montreal’s South Shore last month was an extremely low likelihood, tragic event.  But that’s the nature of probabilities.  Low likelihood events do occur.

Readily available statistics from the United States indicate that approximately 18,000 people are injured every year in what they refer to as “backover” collisions, 3,000 of whom suffer incapacitating injuries.  About 300 people are killed (Fatalities and Injuries in Motor Vehicle Backing Crashes, November, 2008).

In the vast majority of circumstances, you can get away with relying only on mirrors to reverse because there’s nothing in the mirror blind spots.  But every time you do, you are rolling the dice.

It feels like a pain in the butt to walk to the back of your vehicle to look in those mirror blind spots.  And even if you have back-up cameras, to look at what might be coming from the sides.

But these are important driver behaviours that will become second nature over time if you work at it.

There are other driver behaviours that must become second nature if you want to stop rolling the dice when you drive.

One is stopping before the sidewalk when coming out of an alley or driveway.

The vast majority of the time you will get away with rolling through, stopping only as necessary to look for vehicle traffic on the street.  But you’re rolling the dice on the unlikely event of a pedestrian, jogger, roller blader, cyclist or yes, a baby stroller, coming out from behind a hedge just as you roll through.

Not that good driving habits require a law, but this driving behaviour is actually mandated in section 176(1) of the Motor Vehicle Act.

If you work at making it a standard, “every time” practice, this important driving behaviour will become second nature as well.

Another important one has to do with turning left at intersections with traffic lights.  You feel anxious to complete the turn as soon as the light turns yellow.  And even more so after it turns red.

But oncoming drivers blow through yellow lights all the time.  And they blow through reds often enough that there are “red light cameras” to catch those extra dangerous drivers.

You are rolling the dice if you don’t wait until you are absolutely certain that vehicles in all lanes of oncoming traffic are going to stop.

Again, not like it matters but this defensive driving behaviour is also mandated.  Section 174 of the Motor Vehicle Act requires a left turning driver to yield to oncoming traffic that is “so close as to constitute an immediate hazard”.  That section isn’t qualified by “unless they should have stopped or should be stopping for a red light”.

If you make this an “every time” practice, you will likely have to suffer through the blaring horns of impatient drivers behind you, but you will avoid falling victim to one of the most common types of very serious crashes I see.

Off the top of my head, here are a few more driving behaviours that must become “every time” behaviour patterns if you want to stop rolling the dice:

  1. Left mirror and shoulder checking before making a left turn other than at an intersection.  You would be surprised how many crashes occur when a passing vehicle crashes into a left turner;
  2. Right mirror and shoulder checking every time you are moving right, something often forgotten when passing through bicycle lanes and non-laned bicycle areas;
  3. Rear mirror checking before hammering the brakes to avoid hitting a small animal; and
  4. Regularly traction testing the roadway in winter road conditions.

How about help me make a more comprehensive list?  Please post or e-mail me with your ideas of safe driving behaviours that you can get away without doing most of the time, but must become second nature “every time” behaviours if we want to stop rolling the dice.

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