Thursday, December 6, 2012

Texting While Driving Turns Sneaky

I've been thinking a lot about prohibitions since my fellow Washingtonians voted to legalize marijuana. Effective today State law allows anyone 21 or over to have up to an ounce on them...but they can't smoke in public.

While smoking pot may have its own implications on driving safety, it's not what keeps running through my mind right now. Decades ago, making cannabis illegal led to an incredible black market for it. Just like it did with alcohol during Prohibition. Back then, it was how fortunes were made. Al Capone and his mob ruled. And in more modern times, the war on drugs has made for some powerful cartels and corruption in governments around the world.

As well meaning as it may be, prohibition doesn't seem to work very well. Prohibition of alcohol. Prohibition of cannabis. Prohibition of just about anything . . . I'm pretty sure it's because people are rebellious by nature and if you tell them what to do then they may just do the opposite. But they don't stop there, they also give demand for a black market trade to develop. There are a couple parts to human nature that transcend political, cultural, religious and ethnic boundaries. First, people are rebellious. And second, they're notorious for their creativity in finding ways to get around laws.

So what about the prohibition of holding a cell phone to your ear or texting while driving? Have the number of fatalities on our roads decreased since we made our anti-cell phone laws? Do the laws actually save lives? It'd be great if the answer was yes. But it's not. It's "we don't know."

In 2010 the way distracted driving statistics were collected changed so that cell phone use as a distraction factor is now counted by itself  instead of being grouped with the others. The 2011 numbers haven't been released to the public yet so we can't even do a two year comparison. NHSTA calculates that in 2010 there were 3,092 crash deaths due to texting and cell phone use while driving. That's a lot. But it's not the 10,228 that alcohol had.

I see drivers on cell phones every day. It still amazes me because they don't make any effort to hide what they are doing. When I'm at stop lights or on the freeway I frequently see drivers texting. These drivers are a lot sneakier than the phone users. Texters used to have their phones up high on the steering wheel ... so even though what they were doing was risky, at least they had some peripheral vision or general idea about traffic conditions.

Now that it's illegal, hand-held devices have been lowered below the window line.Yikes! Reading a message in your lap cuts out any peripheral vision a driver would have had if the phone were higher. It's like driving blind.

So what's the solution? The fact is that most drivers are able to manage their daily distractions without being involved in a collision. They don't crash every day. Or every year for that matter.

Should law enforcement focus on dangerous driving maneuvers that were actually committed (like drifting out of their lane, speeding, tailgating, etc.) or continue to micro-manage distractions that may or may not result in a collision? Is the ban on cell phones enough? Should we also ban eating, looking at a map or GPS or adjusting the audio system? How about talking to passengers or driving children around?

What if anti-cell phone laws were put in place like drunk driving laws? So a person had to be over 21 (or have a driver's license for at least 5 years) to use their phone or engage in other distractions.

Maybe we should make our driving test more difficult. As is, it takes less than 15 minutes and tests our ability to not crash. Why not test a driver's ability to drive well? And throw in a distracted driving element, too. Why not be true to real life and test how well someone drives with a baby crying in the back seat, adjusting the radio at least once and changing the air flow from the dash to the floor? And the examiner should come equipped with questions for the test taker to answer just to prove that they can talk and drive safely at the same time. The test should definitely include the freeway and busy city driving. And looking for an address in an unknown city. Not all of these suggestions are practical, but oooh imaging the possibilities is so fun!

What do you think? Does the cell phone ban work? Is there a better way than our current system to approach traffic safety? What will it take to get traffic fatalities down to zero?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Avoid DOL Wait Times With 5 Simple Steps

Washington's recent changes to the process of getting your driver's license can be a little tricky to navigate at first but they should also save you time by not waiting weeks on end for a road test appointment. For most applicants, the testing facility will be closer to home, which gives an added convenience.  

In order to address lengthy Department of Licensing wait times, the State Legislature approved a bill which allows approved driving schools the ability to act as third-party testers. Defensive Driving School now offers drive test appointments, many within a few days.

The DOL created a new online database (License Express), which gives the public not only an ability to manage their driver's license or ID card, vehicles and addresses online but also a way to avoid a physical trip into their office. Driving school employees also access the system to insert test scores for driver license applicants. 

So what do you need to do to use our testing services and minimize trips to the DOL? 

If you already have a learner's permit:
  1. Register for License Express on the DOL's website. At the end of the process, you will be given a PIC # (Personal Identification Code) which is a combination of letters and numbers. Write this number down as it will be required to enroll in both Knowledge or Skills test.
  2. Study the Washington Driver Guide to prepare for the Knowledge Test.  Take our practice test here with your smart phone.
  3. Pass the Knowledge Test. Register for the test on our secure website. We accept Visa and MasterCard payments. When we receive your order, our office will call you to set up a testing appointment for you. (If you do not already have a learner's permit, you can go to the DOL the day after you take the knowledge test with us and get one.)
  4. Practice driving every day. Drive so often that your confidence and skill will overcome any test anxiety that may hit you. 
  5. Pass the on-road Skills Test. Register for your on-road Skills Test and our office staff will help you schedule a convenient test time at the location of your choice. If you need an appointment as soon as possible, we often have weekday openings between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm in our Bellevue location.

The final step in getting your driver's license, which cannot be totally eliminated is:

Go to the DOL office nearest you to complete the Licensing application process.  This includes paying an application fee, having your picture taken and receiving your license.  Some documents you will need to bring include:

    1. Proof of Identity,
    2. Traffic Safety Course Certificate (if applicant is 16 or 17 years old)
    3. Social Security Number (actual card not necessary),
    4. Proof of Residency.

If you do not already have a learner's permit and are enrolled in driver's education, we will provide you with a test waiver (handed out on the first day of class) for you to take to the DOL. You will need to show the waiver, along with your identification, birth certificate, proof of residency and parental permission to get a permit.

Additional Training
If you would like to take advantage of our training services, please visit our website for a list of our locations and class information.

Best wishes as you prepare for a lifetime of ticket and collision-free driving. 
Defensive Driving Is NO Accident!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

When can you talk on the phone while driving?

We all know that driving while talking with a phone to your ear is illegal in Washington. But, did you know that there are exceptions to this rule?
  1. The law doesn't apply to authorized emergency vehicles. RCW 46.61.667 states that a person operating a motor vehicle while holding a wireless communications device to his or her ear is guilty of a traffic infraction. However, the law doesn't apply to authorized emergency vehicles or tow trucks responding to disabled vehicles. Don't be alarmed if you see a police man chatting away with his phone to his ear.
  2. You can talk on your phone if it's in hands-free mode. RCW 46.61.667 does not apply to a person using a communications device in hands-free mode. Set your phone to speaker mode and you're good to go.
  3. The law doesn't apply to you in certain emergency situations. RCW 46.61.667 states that the law does not apply to people who are using their phones to:
  • Report illegal activity
  • Summon medical or other emergency help
  • Prevent injury to a person or property
  • Relay information that is time sensitive between a transit or for-hire operator and that operator's dispatcher, in which the device is permanently affixed to a vehicle

Friday, October 26, 2012

Shared Space: Road Signs Are For Idiot Drivers

A few months ago, I had no idea there was a movement going to get rid of road signs. And pavement markings. And traffic lights. It sounded counter-intuitive at first ... like collisions and congestion would increase. It's called Shared Space and in the real world, cities that removed their traffic control devices have shown us that it can be done with positive results. The more I learn, the more I like it.

The very idea that we hide behind signs or justify our driving behavior because of them intrigues me. Do I alter my behavior because of a sign? Unfortunately, I believe the answer is yes. If the light is green , I usually go through it without a second thought. What I should be doing is scanning the intersection for safety.

A similar case can be made for red light and school zone cameras. Instead of focusing on where the children are in a school zone, I go through ours looking on my speedometer and making sure I'm going under 20 mph. If I was a mile or two above then I check the rear view mirror to make sure the camera's flash didn't go off. After all, I don't want a ticket. Have I lost sight of what's most important? Yes, noticing unpredictable young children going to school is more important than not getting a ticket.

In the UK, they have integrated a Shared Space concept for traffic control. Segregation vs integration. Watch this 2 minute video for a short introduction on it. Notice how they use road surface materials and the camber of the road to affect the driver behavior and alert the senses.

Perspectives of Germans in Bohmte where traffic control devices were removed. I like that motorists think for themselves and communicate more with others.  

When I was in Belgium last month, we sought out the town Oostende, which has a Shared Space area. We found it, but it was early on a Sunday morning and we didn't see much traffic, nor need for traffic control. A man with his dog walked by and we asked him about the project. He'd never heard of it. Hmmmm, I think we would have better observed Shared Space in Bohmte. We did observe some signs and roadway markings, but the intersections in this neighborhood were uncontrolled.

And we saw some fantastic road users and great advertisements. 

I would love a follow up on how Shared Space is working now. Google can only find articles from 2008. There ought to be more information now that it's 2012. So if you are from Bristol, Bohmte, Oostende or another Shared Space city, please update us in the comments! 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Do You Have A Counterfeit Airbag?

This sounds ridiculous, but if you have had your airbag replaced in the last three years, you may need to verify that you have a real airbag.
According to the Associated Press, the Obama administration is preparing to warn us that counterfeit bags may have been installed in your cars.
A public announcement will be made on Wednesday, October 10, 2012. NHTSA will ask car owners to check a government website,, or call their manufacturer or local dealership to learn if their car model is among the number of models in which counterfeit airbags have been installed.
The counterfeit airbags are made to look like airbags made by automakers and usually include a manufacturer's logo. They were marketed to auto dealers as the real thing. However, they are far from the real thing. In at least one case, instead of deploying properly, the bag fired shards of plastic on impact. Yikes. That does not sound good.
*Update 10/10/12
NHTSA's counterfeit air bags press release including makes and models of vehicles which may be affected. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pump, Crank, Reverse: Rocking Out In The Desert

Last month, I accompanied my husband on a business trip to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

As part of a team building exercise with his colleagues from other countries, we went on a desert safari. Let me tell you that riding around in the desert made me a little bit nauseous. We drove straight up dunes and slid down the back side sideways. Several times the sand flew over the top of the vehicle and I was profoundly grateful for roll bars but also perplexed as to why the vehicles weren't rolling down the dunes.

I thought I knew how gravity worked. Apparently not, because the rules in sand seemed to operate completely different than what I expected. Just look at the sand spray in the photo above. That's what sliding down sideways looks like. Now look at the lead vehicle in the rear view mirror shot. How does it not flip? What do these drivers know that I don't???

A couple of days later, I got to find out. While my husband attended his business meetings, I headed to Dubai to attend a desert driving class with Emirates Driving Institute.

Wow. This class was the highlight of my trip and I'm so happy that they accommodated my request for a class since the only day I could do it was a week before their official desert driving season began. (It's too hot to do a class in the desert in the summer heat.) I was the only student that day, which was perfect. I could ask all the questions I wanted to and got a few hours of actual driving time in the desert. And the weather was...well hot...over 100 and we immediately started sweating if we got out of the vehicle.

The first thing my instructor Rafiq did for me was drive straight into the side of a dune and get stuck. As in wheels spinning. No traction. Then we traded places and he told me to get our vehicle out. Nice. Notice the sand on the windshield. And half the front wheels disappeared into the sand. I've never worked so hard behind the wheel in my life. I pumped that clutch and cranked that wheel from side to side until the sand lost its hold on me and I could reverse out of there.

Properly trained drivers get unstuck through driving techniques. Inside the car. With air conditioning. Rafiq told me that those who teach themselves through trial and error often find themselves outside of the vehicle trying to dig themselves out when they get stuck. Although sometimes I like to figure out new skills for myself, I'm grateful I didn't in this circumstance. I would have died without Rafiq's expertise coaching me.
Rafiq and his trainer, the driver of the second vehicle (a safety net).
How Gravity Really Works
Vehicles can drive across slopes, even though it seems like gravity would pull them down. They are being pulled toward the earth. I understood gravity better through this experience...especially since the concept was hard for my mind to wrap around. But like electricity, I don't have to understand how it works exactly to use it. The digest version is this: If a desert driver slides down a dune and turns the wheels to the top then the vehicle will roll. But if the driver goes with the natural downward flow of the land then the sliding doesn't actually defy gravity. Nice.

I got us stuck several other times during the course of my training and my back was fairly sore at the end of the day from working so hard but I am confident that I can get out of most sticky situations. This photo shows the worst situation I got into.

I almost fell out of the vehicle when I opened the door. We're sideways. My foot is deep in the sand. I tried to get us unstuck, but had a lot of trouble. We ended up getting out of the vehicle and stepping on the sand to encourage it to roll down the side of the dune. Then Rafiq got us was the only time he took control of the wheel.
Random camels grazing on a small oasis of bushes.

After lunch we found our way to a new area and went cruising up and down the dunes. It was really fun...we picked up so much speed that I could shift from first to second gear! There was something different about our this new area. Not only were camels grazing nearby (Rafiq's never had a student take so many photos), but the slopes were quite a bit gentler and I never got stuck.

I asked Rafiq about the ease of the course. It would make sense to me to start off with the easy and then build up to the harder terrain. His answer has kept me thinking for the last couple of weeks.
"If I had started you out here, you would have given up when we got to the really hard places."
Hmm...I've used that same logic when advising parents to have their teens learn to drive in the fall and winter. Those students are rarely afraid of driving on a dark and rainy night. When driving in adverse conditions, new drivers can relax knowing that their driving instructor is sitting next to them, and prepared to help when their own inexperience threatens their lives. Thank you Rafiq. There is wisdom in your teaching style.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

2012 Video Contest Winners

Announcing the 2012 Video Contest Winners: Thanks again for everyone's hard work on these videos, they were all excellent! The scores were all very close, there was even a tie for third place. 

Audrey Thomas "Organ Donation"

2nd place
Bogui Adjorlolo "Please be safe"

3rd Place
Ty Leet "Road Rage"

3rd Place
Maddie Gwinn "Drunk Driving"

Monday, September 17, 2012

Child Passenger Safety Week 2012

It's Child Passenger Safety Week once again!

Car crashes are the number one killer of children 1 to 12 years of age in the US according to the NHTSA, so let's protect our children by making sure that our little ones are using the right seats, at the right time, and in the right way. They are counting on us!

Visit for advice on choosing a car seat, installation tips, and instructional videos. There's a welath of information over there!

If you're not sure whether you've got  it right, check the Child Car Seat Inspection Station Locator to find out where you can get your car seat inspected free of charge.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Will Self-Driving Cars Really Be the Norm?

Can you imagine driving down the freeway in the driver's seat reading your Kindle or catching up with your friends latest posts on Facebook, without the worry of getting into a collision? It seems strange, but self-driving cars could make that possible much sooner than we ever imagined.

According to this recent report published by KPMG and the Center for Automotive Research, the auto industry is on the cusp of revolutionary change, and the revolution will be characterized by the introduction of self-driving vehicles. It sounds far fetched, but industry leaders envision a fully self-driving vehicle as early as 2025.

The KPMG report suggests that the marketplace will not only accept self-driving cars, but will be the "engine pulling the industry forward." However, I am not convinced. As a consumer, I can't say that I would fully trust my life to a "driving computer" no matter how great the technology. Humans are not perfect, but we like to make decisions for ourselves. I also think there's a lot to say for driving because you enjoy it. Nobody likes being stuck in rush-hour traffic, but I'd bet a lot of people enjoy driving down the open road. Not to mention that the cost of these types of technologies may far exceed what many people would be willing to pay. Perhaps things may change down the road, but I think it's going to be a long time before your average person will be purchasing a fully self-driving car.

I would welcome autonomous driving technologies, but I can't imagine sitting back and reading the newspaper while my car makes all the decisions. I agree with Tom Baloga, BMW's U.S. vice president of engineering, in that "We will always be the ultimate driving machine."

What do you think?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Teach Your Teen: What Your Lane Position Says About You

Lane Positions: Getting on the Same Page
If you're like me, you spent most of your life not knowing anything about lane positions. Then I became a driving instructor. Now you're teaching your teen. So it's time to put a name to something you don't even realize you already know....There's actually a name for your car's position on the roadway. The names aren't very original. But that's okay. They're easy to remember.
  1. Driving in the center of your lane is technically referred to as driving in lane position one (LP1).
  2. Hugging the left side of the lane is LP2.
  3. Hugging the right edge of the lane is LP3.

I'm only giving you  three, but keep in mind that some fanatics add a fourth and fifth as you cross the lane lines on either side.

Drivers alter their lane positions for many reasons. 
If you are driving in the center of your lane in normal conditions, the position and speed of your car tells other roadway users that they can trust you. If you pass a parked car or bicycle and move to LP2 and reduce speed, you show that you are considerate. When you see that oncoming traffic includes a mobile home on a large truck and you move to LP3, you indicate comprehension that bigger vehicles will squash you if there was a collision.

Bottom line, you will intuitively trust or be wary of other drivers depending on the cues their driving habits send you.

Vehicle Body Language VS. Verbal Language
We're all familiar with distracted drivers who put on their turn signals to change lanes and then forgot to turn it off. It's almost like they're saying, "Hey I'm turning, yup gonna turn any second, just you wait, I'm getting ready to turn." We adjust our driving to give them space but the signal keeps blinking while they're oblivious. After a few seconds we don't trust them anymore. We don't trust them because body language (position of the car) always trumps verbal language (blinkers).

I know a car is going to turn right at a stop sign when it gets into LP3, slows down, the wheels are turned to the right and the driver makes a head check. It doesn't matter if  he has a turn signal on or not. His body language tells me exactly what to expect.

Help Your Teen Recognize What Specific Behaviors Mean.
  • Drivers who weave in and out of traffic, maintain high speeds relative to traffic flow, and tailgate are aggressive and should not to be trusted. Let them pass you. You'll breathe a lot easier without the pressure building behind you.
  • Drivers looking down frequently may be texting, looking at a map or even reading. Build your space cushion around you (especially on the freeway) so that if their distraction causes a collision then you won't be a part of it.
  • Drivers who turn left from LP1 or LP3 may be unfamiliar with their destination or not have much driving experience. Show them extra caution since they may do something unexpected.
  • Drivers who don't slow down at stop signs will either not stop or will stop well over the stop line. Be careful if you are a pedestrian.
  • Drivers who pass bicycles by crossing the center line (essentially giving them ten feet of space) do not understand how big their vehicle is. The average lane is 12 feet wide. The average car is 6 feet wide. A semi-truck is 8 feet wide. Hugging LP2 while passing a bike will give the rider approximately 6 feet of space, which is double the minimum 3 feet required by law.
  • Of course, each driver and situation is different. The more frequently you work with your teens on assessing the driving behavior of others, the better they will learn to evaluate their own driving and make corrections as needed.

Anticipate Other Drivers Actions
How do you know a car is really going to stop at an intersection? Or turn? Or make a lane change? Look at the following factors to help you know how to adjust your own driving:
  1. Vehicle speed (too fast, too slow, just right) 
  2. Direction of the tires (straight or turning)
  3. Lane position (LP1, LP2, LP3)
  4. Signal lights (turning, braking, backing)
  5. The eyes have it (Do other drivers see you? The pedestrians? The bicycles? The road construction?) 

Practice answering these questions about other drivers for the next week. Does their behavior show they know what they're doing? Or are they putting out mixed signals? Knowing the answers will build years to your experience level in just a few short days.

So, just what does your lane position say about you? 
Whether or not I should trust you, of course.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Why Don't School Buses Have Seat Belts?

How come children on school buses don't need to buckle up? I couldn't leave the birth center without a car seat for my infant. I struggle to get my 3 year old to leave her belt buckled. We stress safety...but when my 5 year old gets on the bus to go to school for the first time, he learns that he doesn't always need to buckle up. We're sending our children mixed signals. Mine in particular are confused. They actually unbuckle as soon as we pull into our neighborhood and say, "we don't have to wear our seat belts as soon as we pass the mailbox." And I'm left wondering where they got that impression and trying to get them back in their seats.

If seat belts truly save so many lives (and I believe they do), then it's time to apply the seat belt laws across the board. My kids spend more time on the school bus than in my car. Busses should be equipped with safety belts and children secured.

The anti-seat-belts-on-school-buses crowd says buses are safer than cars. They're big. They're yellow. They have better crash rates. Bus drivers are also supposed to focus on driving rather than making kids buckle up. Plus it'd be too expensive to put seat belts into buses. Ehem. Really? That's a lame argument. Just ask any parent who's lost a child.

The pro-seat-belts-on-school-buses crowd says those crash rates are misleading. Most serious crashes happen at night and on weekends, as well as during the months of July and August. School buses usually don't operate during those times and private vehicles do. Thus the numbers don't give a fair comparison. Dr. Arthur Yeager has made it his life's work to change the status quo. His argument to install school bus seatbelts is quite convincing. Compartmentalizing children in thickly padded high back seats does nothing to cushion kids from side impact and roll-over collisions. It only works if the kid stays in the compartment. Like they do when wearing a seat belt.

About 20 years ago, New Jersey mandated that all new school buses be equipped with seat belts. It turns out that having kids buckle up reduced behavior problems...and bus drivers spent more time focusing on the driving task and less time disciplining. I find the same thing is true when my kids aren't crawling over seats and kicking their siblings while I'm driving.

So, back to the main question. Why don't school buses have seat belts? Because we haven't banded together to make it happen. Consider visiting the National Coalition for School Bus Safety's website and joining their cause. That or drive your kids to school every day. Just take into consideration that one is easier to do than the other.

Monday, July 30, 2012

We have a new video!

I love our new promo video. It even makes me tear up a little. 
It might be because that's my son playing baseball in the video. 
I can't stand the thought of him growing up and driving. 
But, when he does, I sure to want to make sure 
he gets a good driving education to keep him safe on the roads!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Drive Free Cars

If you're in the market to buy a car, the first question you might be asking yourself is whether you want to buy new or used. There are many factors to consider, including that great new car smell that you won't get in a used car.

I think for most of us, it really comes down to price. When buying, it's helpful to know that
  1. New cars depreciate approximately 25% when driven off the lot, and
  2. New cars lose approximately 70% of their value in the first four years.
When you buy used, the previous owner has already eaten that depreciation cost and you can get a car for a great price. The trade-offs of course are that you may have more maintenance costs, you are not the first owner and may not know the entire owner and accident history, you may not have the same warranties you would have with a new car, and you won't get that great new car smell.

Whether you're interested in buying a car or not, you may find this Dave Ramsey video on how we could all be driving free cars interesting.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

You May Need A Driving Lesson If...

You may need a driving lesson if you've ever ...
  • hit a trashcan while backing out of your driveway
  • felt rumble strips while unwrapping a cheeseburger
  • confused stop signs with stop lines
Collision last week down the block from our Everett driving school. 

Posted by Picasa

Friday, June 22, 2012

Buckle up the toddler or the gas can?

A Colorado woman was cited for a seatbelt violation when she decided to strap up her gas can instead of her toddler. Poor kid.

The controversial photo above was posted on the Colorado Department of Transportation's Facebook page. According to, the photo sparked hundreds of comments and more than 1,000 shares on Facebook, and was taken down.

The CDOT stated the following on their Facebook page after taking the photo down:

"Dear Facebook Friends and Others- We have decided to take down the post of the child sitting next to the gas can buckled in the child safety seat. Please know that we very much believe the photo served as an educational opportunity for child passenger safety and we hope that parents will utilize the information sources available to understand the laws and requirements to protect their children while in vehicles. However, our resources are limited and we can't continue to monitor comments at the level necessary to ensure that any harassing or profane posts are removed promptly. We're trying hard to provide resources for you regarding traffic safety and transportation in Colorado, and want you to feel safe and comfortable posting or asking questions. Thank you for understanding!"

Friday, June 15, 2012

Teach Your Teen: Visual Search Pattern

I started playing basketball in 3rd grade. I wasn't very good. I was afraid of getting hit so I didn't like to rebound or receive passes for that matter. In practice, I frequently lost control if I took my eyes off the ball so I always looked at the ball while dribbling. I was more of a hindrance to the team than a help.

Contrast me then as a new player to me as a more experienced player two years later. I became known as a solid defensive player and ball stealer. Our team made it to the playoffs and won the championship game. What changed? First, I got over my fear of getting hit by the ball (and breaking my glasses). Second, I kept practicing. And third, I learned some crucial skills along the looking down court instead of at the ball.

What does my basketball learning curve tell me about driving? Current rates of collisions by both inexperienced and long time drivers indicate that we've got a problem with traffic safety. Most of us think that just because we can operate a car (like I could dribble a ball) that we should be able to drive without crashing. Too bad it's not true. Performing basic maneuvers without incorporating proper vision techniques leave both basketball players and drivers vulnerable to fouls.

What is a visual search pattern? 
Alternating your eye movement between set places in the traffic scene. You are targeting, looking for potential hazards, and making decisions in advance. Make your pattern a part of your muscle memory so that you'll build a routine you can do without thinking. Consciously drilling positive habits helps mentally prepare you to handle any interruptions in the pattern.

Area One - Expand Your Horizons
Target your eyes on the horizon or as far ahead of you as you see the road go. This will keep you centered in your lane and give you a heads up on when/where the road turns or if there is a slow down in the traffic flow. Keep your eyes continuously moving between each area of the search pattern every handful of seconds.

Area Two - Anticipate Slow Downs
Look for slow downs (turning vehicles, road construction, bus stops, lane closures, etc) and anticipate how you will need to alter your driving to interact smoothly with them. Perhaps, you will need to make a lane change or take your foot off the gas.

Teaching Help: Get your teen driver to verbally tell you when they see stop signs and signal lights as well as brake lights, pedestrians, bicyclists, etc. If you find that they are seeing a hazard in advance and not re-acting appropriately to it, then you can insert directions with a smile (as opposed to cursing when they scare the crap out of you).

Area Three - Scan Each Intersection
Scan intersections at a 45° angle a couple seconds before reaching them. You may want to cover the brake (hover your foot above it) if you are unsure how another vehicle or pedestrian in the intersection are going to act. Be prepared for surprises hidden behind parked cars, buildings and bushes that block your view.

Area Four - Watch Your Back
Keep tabs on who's about to rear-end you. If you are slowing or stopping and the vehicle behind you is approaching too quickly, tap the brakes so that the brake lights flash. This interrupts the rear driver's day dream and let him know he should also be slowing down.

Pop Quiz
What is the most common excuse given at the scene of a collision?

Number one, "I didn't see him," followed by a close second, "He came out of nowhere!"

People and cars don't come out of nowhere when you've got your search pattern a part of your subconscious. When your brain starts to wander while driving, you want that visual search pattern and your actions to it so automatic that there is nothing to stress about, just smooth interaction with others...kinda like a well practiced basketball team.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Securing Your Load

Years ago, my husband witnessed a barbecue fly off the back of a truck onto the freeway. Being the Good Samaritan that he is, he pulled over, got out, ran across the freeway, and helped the driver move the barbecue to the side of the road. Luckily nobody was hurt.

I always tend to get nervous when I see find myself driving directly behind a truck, like the one below, carrying anything that could potentially fall off. I generally make it a habit to change lanes.

After hearing my husband's story recently, I got to thinking about just how dangerous it can be when any object becomes unsecured while driving at such high speeds. There are so many potentially dangerous scenarios. A report by the AAA Foundation estimates that twenty-five thousand accidents per year in North America are the result of unsecured loads.

Photo from the State of Washington Department of Ecology Website

I presume that this is the reason Washington has strict laws regarding securing loads while driving. RCW 46.61.655 states in part that
  1. No vehicle shall be driven or moved on any public highway unless such vehicle is so constructed or loaded as to prevent any of its load from dropping, sifting, leaking, or otherwise escaping therefrom, except that sand may be dropped for the purpose of securing traction.
  2. No person may operate on any public highway any vehicle with any load unless the load and such covering as required thereon by subsection (3) of this section is securely fastened to prevent the covering or load from becoming loose, detached, or in any manner a hazard to other users of the highway.
  3. Any vehicle operating on a paved public highway with a load of dirt, sand, or gravel susceptible to being dropped, spilled, leaked, or otherwise escaping therefrom shall be covered so as to prevent spillage. Covering of such loads is not required if six inches of freeboard is maintained within the bed.

The law is straight forward and is basically what the average person would expect. However, what people may not be aware of or expect are the crimes associated with failing to secure a load. The same RCW outlines that a person is guilty of:
  1. Failure to secure a load in the first degree if, with criminal negligence, he fails to secure a load in compliance with the subsections listed above and causes substantial bodily harm to another,
  2. Failure to secure a load in the second degree if, with criminal negligence, he fails to secure a load in compliance with the first two subsections listed above, and causes damage to property of another, and
  3. An infraction, if the person fails to secure a load or part of a load in compliance with the subsections listed above and the failure does not amount to one of the crimes listed above.
If ever in doubt about how to secure your load, visit the State of Washington Department of Ecology website for tips and videos on how to secure your load and keep the roads safe.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Learning To Drive In America: From Russia With Love

No Bribe Zone – American Driver’s License
Anna R. didn’t think learning to drive at 30-something was so unusual until she moved to Redmond last year. In Moscow, Russia, it’s typical for women of her age to learn to drive for the first time.  Even so, Anna was embarrassed to come here and learn a skill most Americans learn as teenagers. “My husband told me that this is not ballet dancing and not to think about my age.  So we worked it out pretty fast.”  Her husband also volunteered to drive with her on weekends to give her extra practice. “He took care of our baby when I had my lessons. That was a good investment. Now I don't have to ask him to take me places, I can do it myself.”

Anna also tells me that about twenty years ago nearly all drivers in Russia were men.  Now more and more women are getting their licenses. Unfortunately, corruption is wide-spread in Russia and it’s not uncommon for people to bribe officials in order to get a license. Some of Anna’s friends were able to pass the test without any bribes. Another young mother, Natalya Vesolova, recently shared with the Associated Press that she refused to pay the expected bribe. As a result it took her a year and a half and 7 attempts to pass the test. I asked Anna how she feels about living in the U.S. and not having to pay bribes. She replied, “It feels good.”
Anna shared with me that it was Carol Howie, one of our best instructors, who helped her to overcome the fear of driving at 60 miles per hour on the freeway.  “The most difficult part of the learning process was probably driving on highways... what was easy at 30 mph, suddenly seemed to be a challenge at 60 mph. I must confess that my instructor, Carol, really helped me to fight the high speed fear. She was always so calm and confident, and definitely more optimistic about my driving abilities than myself, and eventually she passed this optimism to me, too.”

Carol Howie - Driving Instructor
 Carol tells me that Anna’s experience is typical for people who haven’t learned to drive as a teenager. “If a person has not learned to drive before reaching adulthood there is usually a reason which may still be present, such as the fear of driving on the freeway.  In Anna’s case, we have to deal with that first to be successful.”  

Anna credits Carol with giving her the confidence to overcome her initial fears.  “Carol was very patient with me, even though she had to repeat certain things many times. Now, when I am driving on my own and have to make decisions on the road, I have to say that I have answers for most situations from my lessons with Carol.  And some confidence on the road (not too much though!) is a great thing!”

Thursday, May 24, 2012

2012 Summer Video Contest - Call for Submissions

2011 Summer Video Contest Winner
Tim Harding
The 2012 Summer Video Contest skinny...

Who: YOU!!! (And any friends or family members you can rope in to help.)
What: 2 minute video -  make a fun sketch, music video, parody, re-enactment, etc about any driver's education topic.
Why: Be a part of our goal to develop a collision-free community.
When: Submissions accepted June 1, 2012 through September 17, 2012
Where: Your basement, back yard, private road, neighborhood parking lot....

Click here for entry form.

Last year, Tim Harding won the video contest with this submission. I'm excited to find out what this year's contestants will come up with. Best wishes! And may the odds be ever in your favor.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sounders-inspired Driver's Ed Car

Check out the newest addition to our drivers education fleet -
a Sounders-inspired instruction vehicle!

We know there are a lot of soccer fans out there. In fact, we've found that the most common reason our students have had to miss driver's ed classes is due to soccer tournaments. So, along with all of you, we want to show our support for the local team.

Go Sounders!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

This Way To Ausfahrt

One of the great ironies of my life is that I can't stand my little boys' potty humor but I'm okay with my own. No, I'm more than okay with it. It's hilarious.

In 2001, my friend and I flew to Germany and rented a Renault Twingo and drove to Slovenia. (If you need another reason why you should drive a stick, consider this one, that's almost all they have in Europe and if you want a cheap rental car then it's a necessity.) Not long after leaving the airport and getting on the highway, we saw a sign to Ausfahrt. Ha ha ha. The city's name is flatulent. That's funny.

A mile or so down the road and we saw another Ausfahrt sign and got another good chuckle. And I imagined how fun it would be telling people I lived in a town named Ausfahrt. Several miles passed and so did several more Ausfahrt signs. I started imagining a town that was laid out like a wagon wheel with spokes moving out from the center. That's why we saw so many signs. We were just traveling on the outside of the loop. 

One flaw in our thinking about Ausfahrt was that neither one of us had ever heard of it. And the number of signs we saw indicated it was a large city that must be well known. As in, it's the largest city in Germany. we passed another couple signs we realized what it really meant. Ausfahrt is not the name of a town, but rather the word "exit" in German. Brilliant!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Panoramic Rear View Mirror

I was out and about doing some errands last week when I spotted a peculiar thing in the car stopped ahead of me. Two teenage girls, one seated in the driver's seat and one in the passenger's seat were both gazing into a rear view mirror that stretched the length of the entire windshield. I had never seen a rear view mirror like that before so I was kind of intrigued. I figured there had to be a logical and safety-related reason to have such a mirror, even though the two girls were using it at that moment to simply check their hair, makeup, etc.

Shortly after that, I went along my way and ended up behind yet another set of teenagers with an identical rear view mirror. I had honestly never seen one of these before, so I was shocked to see two within only a few blocks of each other. I started wondering if this is some trend that I have been oblivious to, so I decided to snap a photo with my phone. The quality is obviously lacking, but you get the idea of what the mirror looks like, I hope.

According to Internet sites selling these mirrors, they supposedly improve driver safety and visibility by eliminating blind spots and giving the driver visibility of all-lanes. That sounds great, right? Not having a blind spot and being able to see much more around you would be great. But, I wonder at what price you get this for? Does the added space that mirror takes up in the windshield block your visibility in front of you? Does the mirror serve as more of a distraction than a help considering that you can look at yourself without having to adjust the mirror? (It obviously seemed to be quite a distraction to the two teenage girls I saw).

Although I've come across many positive reviews, I think I might have to give the mirror a try before making my own judgment about it. Have any of you tried this type of mirror out? What are your thoughts about it?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Learning to Drive In America: An Immigrant's Story

Every now and again it's good for me to crawl out from underneath the rock that I call my comfort zone and get to know people from other places. Not everyone learns to drive at 15 or 16. Today Julio C. tells us his story and challenges with learning to drive in the United States. Guest post by: Jeff Denenholz.

For Julio growing up in Central America, earning a college degree and starting a family prohibited him from owning a car and learning to drive until moving to Redmond, WA last November.  He realized immediately important differences between life in Latin America versus here.  “We never had a car for multiple reasons, so we had no license document at all.”

Not having a car has presented several challenges for Julio, mainly the lack of a driver’s license.  He quickly discovered what most of us already take for granted.  “We found that the driver’s license is usually the identification document for U.S. citizens, so it’s a must to have, even if you don’t plan to get a car immediately.”  

Thanks to a great job offer here, Julio is finally able to own a car and learn to drive. He says many friends and co-workers were surprised to learn this was his first time on the roads.  “Well, most people I talked with were quite impressed when I said that I had never had a car or driven before, at all. It seems like in the U.S. everybody gets a license and a car around 18 years old, or maybe before, but where I come from having a car while being so young can be quite a luxury that few parents are able to afford. Over there you usually get a car after getting your own job and working hard for a while. I was almost ready to get my car back there when we decided to move to another country.”

Julio was most concerned about learning to change lanes in the beginning.  “I was very afraid of making a mistake and crashing into another car by changing lanes. Also, parallel parking presented quite a difficult skill set to master.”

Carol Howie, professional driving instructor, tells me that many of her students like Julio never learned to drive due to lack of time or money.  For Julio, it was mainly credit card debt.  Carol doesn’t think there is a great difference between adults who were born here and those learning to drive after moving here from another country.  “They each are highly motivated for a job, for their family or to just get on with their life. We do have to deal with language differences sometimes, however. Then we draw lots of pictures at the side of the road.”

Julio agrees with Carol’s philosophy that the best way is to start with very simple tasks “baby steps” and build confidence along with the skills.  “Carol, a very patient lady, didn´t hesitate on giving me plenty of opportunities to practice and helped me go baby steps from the simplest things to know on the road to more challenging stuff like entering a highway.”

Monday, April 9, 2012

Sign Stealing: From Fun to Fatal

Book Review: Driver's Ed by Caroline Cooney

When the kids in Mr. Fielding's driver's ed class talk about stealing the Thickly Settled sign near the forest, he was barely aware of the conversation. He was so burnt out on living that he neglected to teach the only class where failure may result in death on the road. So when his students end up stealing a stop sign and a woman dies, he determines to teach better and find out who is responsible. The only problem is he doesn't know anyone's name and the students all look alike.

My favorite part about Driver's Ed was getting inside the minds of the two main teen characters. It was like taking a step back in time for me and remembering what it was like to have a crush and doing stupid things to get attention. It was interesting to follow the teens' thoughts and justifications as well as to experience their torment as they continually choose to hide the truth. While telling the truth won't bring someone back from the dead, it's the first step in making things better.

I think Driver's Ed is a great book for young adults that not only teaches you that the thrill of the moment may lead to something disastrous, but more importantly that the emotions that fill your soul afterward cause tremendous anguish.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Shocking Statistics

Let's all drive safely so we don't end up being one of these tragic statistics.

Statistics courtesy of NHTSA 2009.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Teach Your Teen: Be Still

I've heard it said that the uncluttered mind is free to think clearly in a crisis. I pretty much agree with that since it's exactly how it happened with me.

I've got a lot going on in my life. First and foremost, I'm a wife and mother. Second, I'm active in my community and church. And third, I'm heavily involved in our family business. The overlappage (don't worry it really is a word) of roles has a tendency to fill my mind with details. Tons of  them. Large and small. Insignificant and truly important. Sometimes, the clutter in my mind piles up and starts talking to me. It becomes one of those friends that chatters non-stop. On occasion, I like the extra company and crunch my breakfast apple as I mull things over on my commute. But other times, like that grey morning when the rain splattered my windshield, it needed to stop.

As I got on the highway, I got the distinct impression that this morning, of all mornings, I needed to have two hands on the wheel and a large space around my little car. These aren't necessarily out of character driving habits for me. But on cold, wet mornings, it is common to find one of my hands warming up under my leg while the other one steers.

I knew the voice. It doesn't come often, but when it does, it comes from deep within. There have been occasions when I've followed the prompting. And other times when it spoke to deaf ears. When I reflect back on various gut instincts I've had and pop them into the Smart-O-Meter, it's fairly safe to say that I've always been smarter and happier for following as opposed to ignoring my sixth sense.

I turned off the radio only to be left with the plunking of rain drops on the roof and rhythm of wipers working double time. My infant son and carpool buddy slept soundlessly in the back seat. The traffic pattern looked typical for a bleak Seattle morning. A little wet doesn't slow anyone down...until it turns into standing water on the freeway. Even so, traffic flowed at a steady pace. As I began to imagine what the voice meant, my driving instructor mind switched on and I began to methodically identify each potential hazard in my path. I knew what was happening in all directions around my vehicle.

There was a gentle incline to my path and a pack of cars clustered together in the close distance. I was driving in the high-occupancy-vehicle lane, which consistently has better space than any of the others. Occasional cars moved in and out of my comfort zone to the right. An SUV behind me in my lane was was several seconds back. All was well...until a pickup truck ahead swerved over two lanes.

He didn't even look. Cars could have been right next to him and he never would have known until he hit them. How could he have done something so rash? His truck could have flipped! A huge pile up could have ensued.

My eyes darted over to see what he'd been avoiding. My hasty judgement of him faded quickly as I watched another car out of control. My foot hit the brake. I checked my rear view mirror and put firmer pressure on the brake, coming to a stop. The SUV to my rear followed my lead having watched the whole scene play out over the top of my car. A monster truck behind her hastily made a lane change. He had no intention on getting stuck behind any sort of slow down. Dropping so much speed so quickly didn't make sense....Until he saw what we'd seen. He cut his speed fast and came to a stop next to me.

 It was then that the most unusual thing happened. It was like the Divine connected the three of us. Monster Truck, SUV and I found ourselves together, looking at the car in front of us that had hit a patch of standing water and spun around. It was facing the wrong direction. And the world seemed to stop. This driver was in danger and paralyzed with the realization that she was stuck. She didn't move as she contemplated her options.

Perhaps, she could drive in reverse to the next exit. Or maybe she could wait until traffic thinned out and try to turn around... all the while hoping and praying she could do so quickly enough to not get hit. Better yet, she could wait for a State Trooper to come save her. He would block a couple of lanes of traffic and she'd be able to get going the right way. Resigned to the fate of the last option, she moved her car to the shoulder.

Unified, Monster Truck, SUV and I went into action. While Monster Truck blocked the lane next to me and SUV had my back, I slowly drove up next to the spun out driver and rolled down my window. "Are you okay?" I asked. With deer-in-headlights wide eyes, a young girl nodded yes. She couldn't have been more than 20 and was visibly shaken. She needed direction and I told her what to do. "Will your car start?" She tried the engine. It started. "Good. Those two are blocking traffic for you. I'm going to back up and you need to turn around.  You have two lanes to do it. You're going to be okay." "Thanks," she whispered as I put my car into reverse.

I returned to my place beside Monster Truck and gave him a nod. He had been instrumental in this grand scheme. Doe Eyes turned around and rejoined traffic. We had been a success.

With a wave to SUV our connection dissipated and we were all moving again. No one else knew what had transpired. But we did. We were pulled together at the right place and at the right time. Listening to the still small voice warms my soul. We did a good thing.

You have stories to tell. Share them with the new drivers in your life. Teach your teen to be still and listen. The voice they hear when they most need it may come from within.
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