GETTING UP TO SPEED by Nick Nicholson


How good a driver are you?

In this series, we finally have our vehicle moving. One of the many things you need to consider on the road is a safe speed. Speed limit signs are the maximum allowable speed to travel under IDEAL CONDITIONS. Anything less than ideal is a reason for your brain to consider what YOU are really capable of and adjust your speed to an acceptable pace.

If ideal conditions exist, you should be able to drive safely at the posted speed limit. Remember, these conditions revert back to our previously discussed beginnings in this sequence including your physical, mental condition, the condition of the vehicle and so on right through to the road and weather conditions around you at the time. (sun, sun position, wind, moisture, temperature, visibility, and so on.)

Just to let you know, my biggest weather fear on the highway is fog. Nick-2015Nothing I have experienced scares me as much as fog. Are you aware that most people speed up in the fog? Unable to see the passing scenery, they lose the perception of speed and tend to accelerate. The problem arises when somebody is creeping along ahead of you, scared to death …………. bang, chain reaction rear-ender. The daytime glare in fog can also be somewhat blinding. It may sound silly but, sunglasses work to reduce that glare. One more thing in fog. If somebody is right up your tail, let them (make it easy for them to) pass.

There is another factor with speed that I strongly believe in and that occurs when you are driving in traffic. You may hear it called many things. I have termed it “Space Cushion”. What it refers to is the following distance you create as a safety zone when following a vehicle ahead of you. The speed itself doesn’t matter. This works at ANY speed. Matter of fact, you continue to travel at the exact same speed as the vehicle ahead.

When you are following another vehicle in a car or light truck under ideal conditions (we talked about them) you look ahead and pick out a stationary object that you’ll have to pass. (bridge abutment, shadow on the road, road sign, a particular clump of shrubbery, you get the idea).

• When the back bumper of the vehicle ahead passes that stationary object, start counting to your self “One thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three”. Saying those words at a standard speaking rate will equal approximately three seconds.
• By the time you have completed saying “one thousand and three”, your front bumper should be just reaching that same stationary object on the side of the road.
• If you have already passed it, your “space cushion” is too short. BACK-OFF, find another reference point and do it again. Slow your speed down slightly until you can match the desired timing.

This is my recommended (car) “space cushion” and it has served me and drivers working with me extremely well for many years. I didn’t say it is easy to do in all circumstances but, if you follow this principle on a regular basis you’ll have a better chance of arriving at your destination safely. Practice this for thirty-three days in a row. After that length of time, it becomes a habit. Larger and heavier vehicles must increase this space significantly.

One point I should make. When you follow this suggestion, be aware that someday, something will happen right in-front-of you where you have to jam on your brakes. Be ready for it because you seldom have to brake hard using this method. Avoid becoming too relaxed.
Your mind, as well as your body, have many parts that come into play in safe driving. Again, have you been lucky, so far?
Keep your people safe.

The beauty of life is in your hands.

About the Author

Nick Nicholson, is a retired safety practitioner who spent many years researching the human behaviour factors of driver and pedestrian actions. Specifically, he spent 25 of those years devoted to highway crash investigations, regulatory compliance, the design, implementation and presentation of safety programs. Nick enjoyed many hours presenting professional driver enhancement training to adult participants.

As a long time Fleet Safety Council Member (1988) and the Founding Chair (1992-1995) of Council’s Hamilton-Niagara Chapter, he presents his opinions in hopes of improving the safety knowledge of readers. Nick is a firm believer in human advancement through positive attitudes, solution thinking and the understanding that the beauty of life is always in your hands.

Old Uncle Nicky’s Opinions are his own and in no way reflect the opinions of Fleet Safety Council

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