Of course not. There are situations when you can’t possibly avoid a collision. But you can limit the chances of a collision by your behaviour behind the wheel. As the all-knowing Car Guru, I’m going to be kind enough to share some tips with you, dear reader, on how to best avoid accidents. Just kidding, of course. What I’m going to do is offer my observations and comments about the errors we all make while driving. After 33 years of driving in a variety of conditions all over the world I have a few.
I wrote on these pages a couple of years ago: “Following too close is the single worst driving error we make, in my opinion. I could probably list several more sins before I would list speeding as a top priority in traffic law enforcement. That’s not what our police, the safety industry and the media think.”
I’m not sure why we collectively developed such a nasty habit in
Canada, especially in GTA (although the expressways around Montreal are just as terrible if not worse). Our driving conditions are horrible for probably 50% of the time, so it’s very slippery very often. Drivers slow down a bit when it’s really bad, but hardly enough to compensate for the reduced traction and they tend to drive too close to the car in front of them already.
I often hear other people say that if they keep too much distance in front of them, other drivers cut in all the time and it’s very frustrating. So what, I say? How much will it slow you down, if you let four or five drivers change lanes in front of you in your daily commute? 15 seconds? My math tells me that keeping a safe distance is much more important than that. And besides, the real estate in front of you is not yours. It belongs to us all (I heard that one from an instructor at a BMW driving school).
I think we train our drivers very poorly in that respect. Most of the information fed to us by the authorities and popular media tends to focus on the distance between cars. Any knowledgeable driver will tell that it’s the time that’s crucial for keeping a safe distance. In other words, you will hear stuff about two- or three-car lengths, while you should be hearing about the time it takes for the car that’s following to cover the distance between the two cars.
That’s because the higher the speed, the more distance you need between cars to be safe, while time is a constant. The general rule is that a safe distance between cars is maintained when the following car takes 2 seconds to cover the space between the two cars.
The easiest way to measure this is to notice when a car in front of you passes by, let’s say a light pole, and then count how many Mississippis it takes for you to reach the same pole. Of course, that’s the general rule for normal conditions. If your car needed new front brakes five months ago, or you’re driving in a snow storm, the time should increase progressively with the worsening conditions. On a frozen lake at 200 km/h and without studs in my tires, I would probably keep more that 10 seconds of spare time between me and the car in front.
Happy safe distance keeping!