MARKHAM, ONT.—Young Drivers of Canada used to run a series of TV ads, the voice-over for which would say that Dad thought of himself as a good driver, while the video showed the egregious driving errors he made.
The tag line was, “Now, he’s going to teach his kid everything he knows about driving.”
My apologies if the wording is inexact, but the gist of it was: leave this very important task to the pros.
Now, I literally “wrote the book” on how to drive, when I co-authored the text used for the Labatt Road Scholarship driver training program, which ran at universities and colleges across the country for many years.
I have taken or been an instructor at a variety of advanced driving/racing schools across this country and abroad. I have also been a licensed professional-grade racing driver for most of my adult life, and continue to be an active competitor.
But when it came time for my own kids to learn how to drive, I followed Young Drivers’ advice, and turned the task over to them. I’m sure there are lots of good driving schools around. But I know the people who run YD, understand their programs and trusted that their system would do the job.
OK, so they still teach incorrect sideview mirror adjustment. But overall, I trust them.
And all four of my kids have become very good drivers, with I think only one fairly minor at-fault medium-speed-farming excursion which rearranged the bodywork on my ex-Showroom Stock BMW 318 racecar.
This winter, I attended a condensed version of a winter driving training program they conduct for what should be fairly obvious reasons (looked out the window recently?).
We live in a country where summer is defined as two weeks of bad skiing, but this has been one of the worst winters in the GTA in some time.
And with almost all new cars being fitted with “no-season” tires (no good in summer, no good in winter) it is ever more critical to learn how to handle adverse weather conditions.
First, you should put proper winter tires on your car, but I know most of you won’t.
Four-wheel drive? Mostly, it just allows you to have your crash at a higher speed.
Learning how to handle a car in slippery conditions is way safer and much more fun in a big parking lot where the only thing you’re likely going to hit is some plastic pylons.
Which in one driving school I attended they called “lawyer’s children,” to sort of focus your mind a little…
At YD’s centre in Markham, I was driving a Toyota Prius Hybrid equipped with Michelin winter tires (like I have on my own car) under the watchful eyes of YD’s director of operations, Angelo DiCicco, and instructors Jasmine Suhner and Jason Craig.
The first exercise was to accelerate to 50 km/h, bury the brake pedal and let the ABS do its thing. They measured how long it took to stop.
Then I repeated the above going 40 km/h.
When you are on a snowy track, the second stop can be tricky because you may have polished the road surface with that first stop.
So I tried to stay on fresh snow. The car stopped several car lengths sooner. No surprise: the faster you go, the longer it will take you to stop.
DiCicco pointed out that the possibility of a pedestrian fatality increases exponentially with speed.
At 40 km/h, the unlucky victim would likely be injured, but would probably survive. At 50 km/h, (s)he would have almost zero chance of surviving. If this had been a real emergency situation in a real school zone, those few car lengths could be the difference between a hurt and scared kid, and a dead kid.
Knowing this, are you going to speed through the next school zone you come to? Like most of the people on the route I took into the Big Smoke that day? Are the few seconds you save really that important?
Do you really want a dead kid on your hands?
I also tried to negotiate a slalom course at varying speeds, finding out pretty quickly that it is very difficult to judge how much traction you actually have, because it varies so much, depending on how deep the snow is, how slick/slippery it is, if there’s ice underneath that snow.
At 40 km/h it was pretty easy to handle the cones. At 50, not so much. To avoid hitting any of those lawyer’s children, I bailed after a couple of gates, and just drove straight. The poor guys resetting the pylons thanked me afterwards.
Sliding sideways in the snow is always fun, especially in someone else’s car. But it is also something every Canadian driver should learn how to handle, preferably under controlled conditions such as the YD program offers.
I have also found that you never can do something like this too often.
OK, so maybe I’m a slow learner. But I have never failed to learn something new at every driver training program I have ever taken — or taught.
Check out Young Drivers of Canada for details.
What are those mirrors on the side of your vehicle for? Not for seeing behind you. That’s what the rear-view mirror — the one hanging in the middle of the top of your windshield — is for.
Nor are they for seeing the sides of your own car. You pretty much always know where the sides of your own car are — right there where they were when you left your home this morning.
It’s what’s beside the sides of your own car that you have to keep track of, and to do that you have to crank those sideview mirrors (called that for a reason!) much farther out than most driving instructors and many drivers’ handbooks teach.
How can you know when you’ve got them correct? First, get properly seated. As upright as is comfortable; as high in the car as you can get leaving a fist-width of space between your head and the roof; steering wheel adjusted so you can lay either wrist on the wheel at the “twelve-o’clock” hand position with that elbow comfortably bent and your shoulders well back into the seat cushion; right foot pushed to the floor under the brake pedal with your knee still slightly bent.
Now, lean as far to the left as you can, with your cheek right up against the side window. Crank that sideview mirror out so you can just see the side of your own car.
For the right side, lean into the centre of the car over the console, and adjust as above.
Needless to say, do this when not moving!
If it’s your first time, have a friend walk around the car, starting from where your peripheral vision leaves off on your left. Have him walk behind the car. You should see him leave the field of vision of the left sideview mirror, and get picked up in the rearview mirror.
Then as he comes around to the right side of the car and leaves the view of the rearview mirror, he gets picked up in the right sideview mirror, and then into your peripheral vision again.
Blind spots? What blind spots? There is no such thing as a blind spot if your mirrors are properly adjusted.
You have 180 degrees of rearview vision without having to crank your head around to look over your shoulder. Remember; at highway speeds, you are travelling about one third the length of a football field every second. Can you really afford to be not looking where you are going for that long?
I don’t want to be on the highway with you if you are.
And a few simple pieces of mirrored glass are much more reliable than some fancy electronic system which (a) can break down, and (b) whose cameras and other sensors can get dirty quickly, especially in the sort of weather we’ve been having recently.
For your sake, for your insurance policies’ sake, for the sake of all other road users, please learn to do this correctly.
Sadly, I still drive cars regularly whose mirrors cannot be adjusted properly. Shame on those manufacturers. Just don’t buy their vehicles.
Remember: the life you save — it might be mine!
Correction – March 2, 2019: This article was edited from a previous version that misstated the website for Young Drivers.