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Social distancing aids drivers’ health

August 21, 2020

 

Special rules for COVID-19 have applications behind the wheel
Student driver has great advice: When you’re in a parkade, go to the upper levels with very few vehicles. You’ll be able to stay away from the door-knockers.
Photograph By TIMES COLONIST

Who would have thought social distancing in this time of pandemic consciousness could be applied to driving?
Asking a simple question can yield a very unexpected answer.

Where would you park in a multi-level open air parking garage? This is the question I directed to a student driver. He said he would drive up a number of levels until he reached an upper level with very few vehicles. He would then take a space where there were no vehicles immediately left or right. His plan was more about not getting the doors chipped, and less about visibility when leaving a parking space. Out of the mouths of babes?

He then said the upper most parking level is one he would never take, given his dad’s bad experience with seagull excrement bombardment.

Social distancing has been adopted behind the wheel in more and more situations. Be mindful of your bubble. Many drivers now park away from the main doors of the mall, not because of a vehicle safety situation, but rather a health initiative. It is so much easier to back into a peripheral parking space than be on the lookout for the possibility of multi-directional vehicle contact. Drive-through spaces are always the best way of avoiding reverse gear.

There are many more single-occupant vehicles on the road since COVID-19. Drivers without passengers are the vast majority throughout the weekdays, with there being a slight increase in multi-person occupancy on the weekends. Multi-person occupied vehicles are more likely to be those in which the riders are wearing masks recommended by health authorities. This type of count was conducted over the last month and is far from empirical data, but more of a simple observation.

Car dealerships are sensitive to the singleton test driver, as opposed to the sales staff accompanying the prospective buyer. Wiping down the vehicle before and after such a drive is now mandatory for all such dealerships and associated businesses.

Space is no longer thought of as the final frontier, Star Trek style, but more as a degree of separation mandated by health authorities. This whole idea of allowing more space between people outside of one’s COVID-19 bubble has compatibility with the type of space cushion driving practised by many professionally trained drivers.

A driver will never hit a space, injure or kill a space. Space cushion driving is a lot like social distancing when walking. Spaces are used as escapes when drivers are threatened with an imminent but avoidable crash situation.

Social distancing can be a prelude to any driver’s lane choice. It can also be a factor in the route selection for those travelling to work or on related household duties. It is better to choose a path of travel which allows for wide shoulders and multi-lane escape potential, than narrow pathways where the only crash avoidance technique is to brake and hope.

The social distancing bubble is like the driving diamond. Picture one’s vehicle with an imaginary diamond shape around it. The driver would have a better chance of avoiding a crash by steering right or left when this predetermined and intended space is provided.

Lane choice and speed maintenance are important in maintaining such spaces.

The front and back space cushion of the imaginary diamond completes the similarity to the social distancing bubble.

Maintaining proper following distance will help avoid a rear-end crash, the most common of all crashes. The judicious use of the four-way flashers, to discourage tailgating, completes the space cushion driving practice.

This type of driving will give better protection to both pedestrians and cyclists. Always plan to have one side open and ready for escape when travelling in a lateral fashion with those biking and walking.

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

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