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Is it time you took a refresher driving course?

November 4, 2013

Even professional drivers and instructors should consider taking refresher courses once in a while, Steve Wallace writes.  Photograph by: Seth Perlman, The Associated Press

Even professional drivers and instructors should consider taking refresher courses once in a while, Steve Wallace writes. Photograph by: Seth Perlman, The Associated Press

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, October 30th 2013

When was the last time you had a practical driving assessment?

I had one at a driving-school convention in San Francisco a little more than a year ago. Most drivers will never do a refresher driving session in their lifetime, unless it is mandated by an employer, doctor, court or as a result of a driving-licence classification upgrade.

A refresher drive usually includes an assessment of the candidate’s driving skill and safety, as well as several suggestions for an improved driving system. The session will usually last about 90 minutes and include highway, residential, business and confined-space areas.

There are many aspects to such a drive. Here are some examples.

Most drivers have no accurate idea of the space and time necessary to safely stop in an emergency. For this reason many of them unintentionally tailgate, particularly at high speed. The two-second following-distance rule has been expanded to three seconds for several reasons. The popularity of micro-mini vehicles, which stop much quicker than the average passenger car, has necessitated this change of behaviour.

The 10-and-2-o’clock hand position on the steering wheel has now been changed to 9-and-3 because of the implementation of airbags. Many veteran drivers have yet to adjust.

Some experienced drivers need to be reminded about the need to come to a full stop before turning right on a solid red light or from a stop sign. School and playground speeds and enforcement are also items that can be reviewed. Shoulder checks and the proper use of convex mirrors is a worthwhile session.

Believe it or not, I am asked more questions about right-of-way by experienced drivers when doing a refresher than all other queries combined. There is a simple “wanter-waits” right-of-way rule. If a driver “wants” to turn left crossing an oncoming driver’s lane, there is a requirement to “wait” until the lane is clear. A driver who “wants” to enter a traffic roundabout must “wait” for vehicles occupying it. The “wanter-waits” rule is followed worldwide, with few exceptions.

Most drivers are speed-conscious and space-ignorant. They choose a driving lane based solely on speed, when spaces should more properly define their lane of travel. It is much safer to avoid a crash by steering to an open predetermined space than slamming on the brakes, only to be rear-ended.

Where drivers look when negotiating the highways tells a lot about their relative crash avoidance potential. Drivers should check the mirrors, then ahead, the speedometer, ahead, the sides of the road and ahead in order to be prepared for the unexpected. This viewing sequence should be performed before and after every road characteristic. Road characteristics and hazardous areas can be defined as intersections, curves, hills, bridges, tunnels, overpasses or any other anomaly that deserves a look. Inner-city streets should be handled by checking each and every intersection by looking to the difficult-to-see-side last. Drivers should cover the brake and check the rear view before each intersection.

Merging is meant to be done while moving. Drivers should look at the space they wish to merge into and match the speed of traffic in order to have a smooth and safe entry. Drivers on a freeway should move to the left lane, to help with a smooth merge. In extremely busy traffic, it is best for freeway drivers to alter speed to make an allowance for those wishing to enter.

Many companies and government agencies fund and support a refresher drive for staff every few years.

The public would do well to emulate the refresher drives attended by professionals.

Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is the former Western Canadian vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas, a registered B.C. teacher and a graduate of the University of Manitoba.

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