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A close call at a stop sign with a distracted driver

Published March 18, 2013
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On the weekend, I was almost hit by a distracted driver.

In the accompanying dash-cam video, you will notice I was proceeding (at the legal limit) on a through street when a vehicle approaching from the right ran a stop sign and almost collided with my car. The approaching car did not brake until I sounded my horn (you will notice how the nose of their car dives under their heavy braking after the horn is sounded) . They were well past the stop sign or stop bar where they should have legally stopped. Please note, the wide angle view of the camera distorts the distance much like a convex mirror and does not show how close this incident really was. I missed the other car by less than two metres.

More: Is this the most foolish distracted driving stunt of all?

More: What not to do when making a left turn

What prevented this collision was the fact I was keeping my vision high and I was processing driving information including the approaching vehicle that may not stop. I have been trained to ask the “what if” questions while driving. In this case it was: What if that car doesn’t stop at that stop sign? This helped me prepare for what might happen. When it did, I was already slowing and ready on the brakes and steering if needed. That prevented what could have been a fender bender or, worse, a T-bone collision.

As I passed and glanced over, the other driver was holding what looked like a cell phone in her hand.

The road surface was not slippery. The sun was not in the driver’s eyes. The driver’s vision was not blocked. The stop sign was visible. How could this driver not stop?

Distraction!

If I had been distracted by talking to a passenger or on a phone or, heaven forbid, texting, this could have easily been a collision. If I had been distracted I would have not processed that vital information that the vehicle was approaching and possibly not stopping. This could have easily been a traffic crash in which the average driver would have said, “The other car went through a stop sign and there was nothing I could do.” Not so!

There has been a lot of attention lately in the media given to the dangers of distracted driving and rightly so. Wheels recently covered a couple of studies compiled by scientists showing how driving is impacted (pardon the pun) by distractions.

Unfortunately, not enough motorists believe the studies or want to acknowledge there is a danger to distracted driving or even believe they are distracted if they are conversing with a passenger or on a phone call.

I believe part of the problem is that many of our motorists have not been taught how to process driving information or even how to look for that information. This vital subject is not properly taught in “regular” driving schools. Not enough time is dedicated to this most crucial skill.

If they do realize the danger and they are still communicating on their electronic gizmos or with a passenger while driving, then they are being totally selfish.

The vast majority of drivers tend to look at the vehicle in front of them and react to that vehicle. If there is no other vehicle in front of them, they tend to look at the road but much too close to their own vehicle.

When a driver does this, there is little information being picked up by their eyes to be processed by their brain. Hence, they believe they can carry on a conversation or text while driving.

When a driver brings their field of vision higher there is a huge increase in the amount of driving information for the eyes to pick up and pass onto the driver’s brain. Then it is up to the driver to process all that information if they want to keep themselves and their passengers safe.

A question I like to ask drivers in our advanced driving course is do they believe they can multitask while driving? Well over half of the group usually respond that they believe they can.

Then we give each of them an easy test. We simply talk to them while they negotiate a driving exercise. Every single time we do this test, one of two things happen. They either screw up the simple driving task because they are processing the conversation or they drive well and miss what was said to them.

This is what it takes for many motorists to finally see how driving safely requires their full attention. This simple demonstration is quite the eye-opener for many people who believed they could carry on a conversation without it effecting their driving ability.

I challenge each of our readers to simply stay focused on their next driving excursion and see just how much information there is to be processed.

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