Remember, lack of attention at the wheel can be lethal

May was road-safety month, a well-intentioned attempt to remind people of the importance of the rules of the road. Less than two months later, after being cut off twice on my motorcycle and having seen some crazy mistakes, I’ll echo that safety comes from not only following rules, but avoiding distracted driving.

Distracted drivers are dangerous drivers. The Ministry of Transportation states that two seconds of inattention doubles the chance of an accident; using a cell phone quadruples the likelihood of an accident.

Distraction isn’t just multitasking behind the wheel; too many of us bring our worries behind the wheel with us.

The other day I was waving at a driver I knew stopped at the light across from me at the intersection. I honked and even waved out the window; but she didn’t notice me. I’m not sure what her “blindness” was from, but even when stopped in traffic, we need to be aware of what other drivers and pedestrians are doing around us. The same obviously goes while driving; we need to be scanning the road ahead in addition to behind us in our mirrors, and looking to side streets and sidewalks for hazards.

Personal grooming, texting, eating, being overtired, intoxicating substances, and even great music can all cause sufficient distraction to lead to accidents.

If that last one surprises you, have you ever noticed how the speed of your vehicle is often in direct correlation with the loudness of your music? A great song comes on and you crank it up; and while you may not be distracted from the road, you are distracted from the speedometer.

That raises another issue, seeing what’s going on around you is not enough, you also have to be able to hear what is going on around you. If your hearing is fine, make sure you don’t have the music so loud that you might miss the sound of tires screeching, someone yelling, or sirens blaring. If your hearing is failing, get a hearing device or don’t drive.

Traffic fatalities may have decreased from approximately 3,300 in 1991 to 2,500 in 2010, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see those numbers creep up again. Where we have all realized that drinking and driving is not acceptable, 67% of those who text and drive know it’s dangerous and yet still do it.

In addition to distracted driving, too many people have forgotten the basic rules of the road.

Failing to pull over and stop for emergency vehicles with sirens blaring and lights flashing is one of my biggest concerns. I don’t know if other drivers can’t hear them, aren’t paying attention, or are being negligent, but regardless of the reason, they are putting many lives on the line. Case in point, a week back, as I was pulled over and stopped for a passing ambulance, the car behind me actually passed me and then turned into the mall entrance in front of me. That’s definitely not in the driver’s handbook.

Not signalling is another of my “favourites.” Drivers have gotten lazy and this makes them unsafe. Another unsafe behaviour is the number one accident for motorcyclists; cars for some reason “don’t see” motorcycles or misjudge their speed and turn left across an oncoming motorcycle’s path.

The final thorn in my paw is what I call the drift. People who turn left have forgotten that they are supposed to move into the lane directly to the right of the centre-line if there is more than one lane. Instead, they seem to feel ownership to both lanes and they turn directly into the right-hand lane.

The drift makes it so that people in oncoming traffic who are turning right cannot do so safely. The right-hand turner should signal, stop, watch for pedestrians and cars, and when the lane is clear should turn right into the right-most curb lane. However, with left-hand drifters, if you advance and make that right-hand turn, the drifting left-hand turner will either hit you, or honk at you (like you are the one at fault).

If you want a refresher on the rules of the road, there are such courses, and the driver’s handbook is online at: . Or, for the letter of the law, read the Ontario Highway Traffic Act.

From my recent motorcycle course I was reminded of many defensive driving techniques, including that the safest way to drive is with the assumption that all drivers are out to kill us. While that may seem harsh; it is truly relevant.

We share the road. Our roads will only become more safe if we all follow the rules and are focussed on our driving and the potential hazards all around us. That means leaving multi-tasking at the office, driving defensively, and making sure that our senses are not impaired.


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