Safely in Canada and the U.S.
Driving techniques to avoid accidents and fines
Although travellers worry mostly about crime, inadequate
driving skills pose the greatest danger while travelling in Canada
and the United States.
North American traffic conditions dictate driving
must be taken seriously.
Safe driving skills can be easily learned. We focus on defensive driving here.
is somewhat harder to unlearn bad habits, but following
just a few driving "rules" can
move you into the professional class of defensive drivers who
avoid both accidents
and traffic fines.
Most importantly, these defensive driving
techniques can save your life:
1. Keep the eyes constantly moving.
Many drivers develop an nearly hypnotic
stare at a point on the road not far in front of them. Others
stare at the line between lanes.
Both of these types of drivers
can be identified by their sudden braking as they notice dangerous
situations at the last moment.
Instead, your eyes should be constantly moving up and down the road, to the sides, and . . .
2. . . . to the rear view mirrors.
Keep your eyes moving up and down the road
in back of your car.
A driver should
always know what is happening behind her vehicle and to the sides
of her car.
Again, there should be no surprises.
3. Always leave yourself an out.
At all times, try to place your
vehicle where your safety is not determined by other drivers. You want to be in control.
That means you need a place to head if danger appears.
When driving, this
is called looking for "space cushions," places where you can go
in order to avoid collisions.
- For example, on a six lane highway with
three lanes in each direction, you are in a very unsafe position if you are directly behind another vehicle in the centre
of the three lanes going in one direction, and there are cars
next to you in the two adjacent lanes.
In this situation, what happens if the car in front of you suddenly
You have no space cushion. You have no place to go
if you cannot brake in time.
Also, what happens if the car on your left or right suddenly moves
toward your lane because the other driver does not look carefully?
Your escape is blocked.
You have not left yourself
an out. Again, you are not in control.
Think about the positions of vehicles a
driver is less likely to notice.
Not at her front.
Not at her
back if she is using the main rearview mirror.
Yes, at her sides,
especially at the side and slightly to the rear.
These are the "blind spots" when
And, the right side is worse than the left. Unless her
mirrors are adjusted perfectly or she turns her head, she will not
notice vehicles to her right or left and slightly to her back.
If she suddenly changes lanes, you must watch out if you are one
of the adjacent drivers!
When you have a space cushion, you have already
avoided this accident.
Therefore, if you must pass, you do not
want to linger next to another vehicle.
should rush to its front as soon as possible.
And, as mentioned,
you do not want to follow too closely, especially if you cannot
move to the right or left if the car in front of you slows suddenly.
It is fascinating (and frightening) to observe
the behaviour of drivers on multi-lane highways. Standing on a
overpass or looking down from a low-flying airplane, you see vehicles
travelling in packs.
All of the time. Clustered together like
cattle on a sub-zero January day in Saskatchewan.
Think about this: When are you most likely
to hit something?
When there is something to hit!
the packs. Don't be part of the herd.
Hang back. Or, if you want to pass, rush ahead of
the group of vehicles as soon as possible, without going so fast
that you get a ticket in the process.
"There's a lot of [deleted] you have to
put up with when driving, [for example] the other cars. Thousands
of these other cars, many of which have people who have licences apparently."
— George Carlin
4a. Make sure the other driver sees you,
4b. Never assume another driver will do something
unless you are certain he or she will do so.
On freeways—where improper lane changes
are one of the most frequent causes of serious accidents—and
on two-lane roads, where vehicles going the other direction are
frequently passing slower vehicles—USE YOUR HEADLIGHTS. Yes, turn your lights on.
This helps other drivers notice you.
In fact, you may want to use your
headlights in nearly all driving situations, as do many professional drivers.
In some areas, especially in Canada, this is the law.
Rain and fog, too, are a time for headlights,
as well as twilight.
Some drivers have a very ignorant and limited view of
the role of headlights or a misguided desire to conserve power,
as they delay turning on car lights in the evening as long as
"I can see just fine!" they foolishly say.
But, how well
others can see them is also vitally important!
Twilight is the time of most accidents.
Drivers are tired after a day of activity. Some have stopped
for an after work drink or two or three and have impaired focus. Others,
anxious to get home, rush too quickly.
people to see you and to avoid you.
Be among the last to turn
off lights in the morning and among the first to turn them on
in the evening—if not driving with lights on all the time.
If another driver does not seem to have
noticed you, and it looks as if he might hit you, blinking the
headlights may help avoid an accident.
And, moving the right foot off the
accelerator to be ready to brake will speed reaction time, if
your best reaction is not rushing ahead to avoid collision.
You should be particularly careful at intersections
when a driver approaching from a side road or already stopped
at a stop sign does not seem to be looking right
or left for other traffic as you approach.
The horn, by the way, is nearly useless
in most driving situations because other drivers are usually too far
away to hear you or their music systems are too loud.
- Rear end collisions can be prevented or
made less serious.
If you do not have time to rush ahead, repeatedly
lightly (so as to not slow down) step on the brake pedal when another
vehicle approaches too rapidly from behind.
causes your rear red lights to blink in warning.
Do this over and over, when you suspect a car coming from behind may not have
The great danger, as mentioned, are drivers who
do not look far down the road as they drive. They miss seeing slower
or stopped vehicles ahead of them until the last moment.
the brake lights should attract attention of these faulty drivers,
and allow them time to stop. Or, at least decease the impacts
of the collisions.
Using turn signals.
Using turn signals also lessens
the chance of accidents.
Turn signals attract the attention of
All too often, you see signals turned on at the same
time as turns or lane changes are initiated, which is not safe or legal
Making a decision at the last moment shows clearly
that a driver has not been paying attention. He or she is not driving defensively. These drivers are far more likely to injure themselves and others.
Using signals is far more than a courtesy;
it is a key safety technique.
5. Maintain average traffic speed on
A vehicle going slower than other traffic
sets up too many opportunities for collisions on high-speed highways.
If a more relaxed
driving pace is desired, use another type of road.
Using freeway ramps.
You should be at average traffic speed when
you enter a freeway and be at average speed when you enter the exit
Before rushing up a freeway entrance ramp, look back
and gauge the average speed.
Also look for a break in the traffic
in the lane closest to the ramp.
You'll want to enter the freeway
at the SAME SPEED as those already on the freeway. Other cars
should not have to brake or swerve to avoid you.
Therefore, avoid driving directly behind a vehicle
on the ramp in front of you.
Why? Because you want full control over your speed, as you enter the
freeway. You don't want your safety determined by someone else.
By the time you reach the end of the ramp, you have reached normal
On all but the most poorly designed freeways, you have
time to gain needed speed on the ramps. The usual exceptions are the oldest freeways in cities, such as portions of Interstate 278 in Brooklyn, a grotesquely dangerous highway, in spite of its rather low speed limit.
Note that the proper etiquette
for drivers already in the right lane of a divided highway is to
lane left when they see drivers coming into traffic from an entrance
If it is not possible to move over, slow down
or speed up to give the entering driver a comfortable space to enter the freeway.
protects both drivers.
Stopping on freeways.
Do not be a stationary object or semi-stationary
obstacle on a freeway.
Nothing is more dangerous than when a car stops at
the end of an entrance ramp because the driver misjudged the opportunities
to enter traffic—or was
just too timid.
From this stop, the vehicle must enter traffic
as an obstacle as dangerous as a large boulder in the road.
boulder, however, can better defend itself than a car made of
thin metal, plastic, glass, and the bodies of the driver and passengers.
In addition, avoid stopping on freeway
margins, except in extreme emergencies. If possible, exit the freeway
Otherwise, you become a danger to yourself and
others when you pull into high speed traffic again.
6. Respect the weather.
Readers from cold countries know the importance of caution
in icy or snowy conditions.
In most cases, they have the experience to handle these.
However, you and they may not know that even a light
rain may be as dangerous as the worst winter weather.
In much of Canada and the U.S., rainfall is very sporadic during Summer.
As a result, oil residue and dirt accumulates on roads, especially at intersections
and on inclines where large
vehicles must strain to maintain speed.
When the first rain comes after a dry period, roads
can become every bit a slick as in the midst of winter because of the slippery
mixture of oil, dirt, and water.
Use caution at the start of a summer rain, and be
careful any time driving on slick roads when braking takes longer.
During really bad weather, you
may want to check into a hostel or hotel for the duration, even if you
Otherwise, you'll be on the road with drivers who are
not as careful or as skilful as you are.
This is especially true in places like Portland (Oregon),
Vancouver (both), Victoria, the California mountains, and the
southern United States, where most drivers are not used to driving in
snow all winter.
7. Remember that your reaction time and
driving skills deteriorate when tired or older.
The old adage that ample rest is the basis of
dynamic, successful activity applies to driving as well as to
every area of life.
Driving without having had sufficient sleep
is highly dangerous. Both your reaction time and vision deteriorate when you are tired.
However, you don't always need to sleep to freshen your
mind. Sometimes, merely walking a bit will revitalize
your focus. Just having your eyes closed awhile may also help.
Follow the guideline to stop every two
or three hours
while driving long distances.
Scheduling a bit of hiking or swimming while
on long car trips not only keeps you safer, it also helps you
feel better after sitting so long.
Moreover, you'll need to modify your behaviour
as you grow older—or drive among older drivers.
Areas with large populations of older drivers
include parts of Arizona, Florida, southern California, the Rio
Grande Valley of Texas in winter, southern Vancouver Island, and
to some degree nearly everywhere, as the general population grows older throughout North America.
As you age, your peripheral vision—the
you can see to both sides without turning—grows narrower and narrower.
Consequently, you now need to turn your head
more to see what you had seen in the past without turning.
Unfortunately, older drivers are not used to this.
They have developed
a routine of turning only so far, which can be dangerous both
for you and for other drivers.
As a consequence,
younger drivers must watch for their mistakes—pulling into oncoming traffic "without looking."
If you're older, do not be bitter.
Those younger drivers may
have better vision, faster reaction times, and all that, but you have priceless driving experience, which helps keep
In summary, use common sense. Pay attention to your surroundings
The congested, yet high speed driving conditions of North American
driving mandate focus on safe driving practices.
International visitors or new residents will find additional tips on the Driving tips for international
For more health and safety tips
Go to >> Being safe
Go to >> Staying
Go to >> Staying
Back to Top