Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Citizens' Police Academy: Drivers Test!

by Annette Dashofy

Years ago, I took a DOT course on emergency driving, so I didn’t expect to learn all that much in this week’s Safe Vehicle Operation class. Wrong again.

Let’s begin with some national statistics. One in eight LICENSED (not counting those driving illegally) drivers are involved in a collision each year. Just under 42,000 people die in motor vehicle crashes annually.

Three in ten Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash sometime in their lives.

Nearly one in three crashes where someone dies is related to speeding.

6,289,000 traffic crashes were REPORTED in 1999 with 3,200,000 people injured. Check your decimal points. We’re talking millions.

These figures point out the importance of Defensive Driving, which means the ability to operate your vehicle in such a manner as to be able to avoid a collision no matter what the road and weather conditions.

Our instructor for the evening, Roland Livermore of the Community College of Allegheny County showed us a series of videos that should convince just about anyone to wear their seat belts. If one person in a car is NOT wearing a seat belt and the vehicle is involved in a crash, that person becomes a missile crashing around inside the car and into other passengers. In the first video, an unbelted passenger was the reason three other belted passengers died and a fourth was critically injured.


We also saw videos on the effects of speeding in crashes. Let’s just say, I drove the speed limit the whole way home.

There was also one on a PIT (Pursuit Intervention Technique) involving a police vehicle tapping one side of the evading car’s back bumper, sending him into a spin. Pretty cool, but not permitted in Pittsburgh at this time. Pennsylvania is just starting to train in such procedures.

DID YOU KNOW that you cannot see color at night unless in a lit area? Police calling in descriptions will use terms like “light-colored vehicle” or “dark-colored vehicle” but they can’t accurately determine color.

Also, a sixty-year old needs three times as much light to see at night. Now you know why older folks frequently don’t like to be out after dark.

DID YOU KNOW that when you get hit by an oncoming vehicle’s headlights, the glare causes a temporary blindness that requires five to seven seconds from which to recover? The trick to avoid this is to look at the “Fog Line” which you might know better as “the white line on the side of the road.” Yes, it’s a Fog Line.

Terminology lesson: The preferred term is “pursuit” rather than “chase.” A pursuing police vehicle should maintain a four-second following distance, more in the case of rain or ice.

Officers are trained to exhibit a level of skill beyond that possessed by non-law enforcement drivers. They are to have the ability to remain cool, calm, and collected in stressful driving situations. If an officer loses that ability during a pursuit, they can be ordered to “terminate the pursuit.” They must also have an accurate perception of their driving abilities and the performance capabilities of their vehicle and they must be able to successfully apply their actual driving skills to specific situations in the driving environment.

We heard quite a few wild stories in the course of the evening, but I’ll leave you with just one. Two guys were driving on the highway, passing each other, cutting each other off, and generally demonstrating aggressive, dangerous, and immature driving. The first guy exited the highway. The second one followed him. He followed him all the way to his home. The first guy pulled in his garage. The second guy kept going.

The second guy came back later and torched the garage with the car in it.

Yes, they busted him.

Part of the evening was spent on a quiz. These are questions that very likely were on the driver's test you took when you were sixteen. See how many you can answer now.

Question #1: What does a steady yellow light of a traffic signal mean?
Hint: No, it does not mean GO FASTER.

Question #2: What is the required distance to legally use your high beams?

Question #3: What is the proper position for your hands on the steering wheel?

Question #4: When should you use your turn signal?

Question #5: What do lights and siren mean to a driver?

Question # 6: What is hydroplaning and what should you do if it happens to you?

Post your answers as a comment. (No helping, Gina!) I'll give the correct answers after lunch.

Next week: SWAT Team!


Gina said...

Annette - You think I remember what was said in the class? Seriously, I think we sometimes forget how dangerous cars can be. My younger brother was killed at age 21 in a crash much like one of those depicted in the of the videos. It didn't help knowing that it only took him seconds to die. Remember: a quick death is not better than no death at all!

Tory said...

OK, I'm game:
1) WHAT I LEARNED: don't start into intersection, if already in intersection, proceed
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS: 3 more cars can get through this light
2) WHAT I LEARNED: 1/4 mile
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS: Don't use them if anyone else is arond
3) WHAT I LEARNED: 10 and 2
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS: I think this may have changed since I was in High School
4) WHAT I LEARNED: Use when turning and changing lanes
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS: Use when not too busy with hair and makeup
5) WHAT I LEARNED: Pull over and stop
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS: Move to right lane, some people slow down
6) WHAT I LEARNED: Take your foot off the brake

How'd I do?

Martha Reed said...

Annette, it's your statistics that amaze me. 3 times as much light to see? That's a real nugget of information. I'll have to tell that to one of cousins who stopped driving at night because she "couldn't see". I understand know that she means it.

Thanks for the post!

Joyce said...

Tory, I like your answers!

I'll disqualify myself from this one.

Annette said...

Tory, not quite textbook, but in reality, dead-on. But we're still looking for the CORRECT answers, folks, so keep guessing.

Regarding #3 (hand position on wheel), yes, it has changed. Anyone want to venture a guess as to what it is now and why?

Gina, I'm sorry about your brother. That video was pretty hard to watch, but I kept thinking, it wasn't nearly as gory as reality. It did make me think of my cousins in that crash a year ago, though. Different circumstances, but dead is dead.

Annette said...

Martha, that's right. And the eyes start to deteriorate much sooner than that, so those of us who aren't yet sixty are still starting to feel the effects.

Our instructor also mentioned turning DOWN the dashboard light at night to reduce the glare. I've been doing it, even though the instruments in my Saturn are in the CENTER so not in my normal sight-line. And I must say, it does make a difference. I guess the glare from the dashboard lights constrict the pupils just a bit.

Annette said...

Thanks, Joyce. I appreciate that.

And my word verification today is "nazycoo." A sci-fi writer could use some of these to create a new language for an alien nation.

ramona said...

If #1 does not mean "Go Faster" does it mean "Go as fast as you can"? Because that's what most drivers where I live seem to think.

I want to know all there is to know about #6. Hydroplaning scares me.

SWAT team! Annette, you lucky dog.

Annette said...

Ramona, regarding #1 you would think so, wouldn't you? Well, no, that isn't it either.

Regarding hydroplaning, check back. I'll be providing the answers and a more on water-skiing with a car around 2:30 Eastern Time.

Regarding SWAT team...hehehe. Can't wait.

Lee Lofland said...

How about if I answer these from a cop's point of view during a life or death emergency.

1. Slow down even though I'm running lights and siren at full blast because I know there'll be at least three idiots in the intersection who're trying to beat the light.

2. Two feet. I have to use/flash my high beams repeatedly when I'm two feet behind a car that's being driven by some lady who hasn't seen my blue lights, or heard the siren because she's putting on makeup, fixing her hair, and talking on the cell phone. Meanwhile, a murderer is running lose somewhere in the city, or someone is lying on the side of the road bleeding to death.

3. Ten and Two, and always feed the wheel from one hand to the other, never crossing your hands. This prevents drawing your weapon and shooting the little old lady who's stradling the center line while driving 12 miles an hour on the freeway.

4. Everday. You should break it off and jam it in your ear each time someone thinks that because you're a cop you should know the directions to every single freakin' place in the world. Buy a map.

5. Not a damn thing.

6. Turn on your blue lights and pretend you're chasing the car in front of you. Losing control during a pursuit saves face.

Annette said...

After Tory's and Lee's responses, the real answers are going to be such a letdown...

Joyce said...

I think Lee's answers trump Tory's.
I can't stop laughing!

donnell b. said...

Annette, I need to go back to school and learn to drive :) Terrific information. FYI, I compiled my local law enforcement's accident data base. Like Lee's comments, some of their stories, were hysterical, e.g. the poor motorcycle cop who went into the court house to testify against a speeder and came out to find his motorcyle had been ran over. These guys can't catch a break! Well done as usual

Annette said...

Okay! Here are the answers (at least in Pennsylvania), although none of them are as funny as Lee's version:

Question #1: What does a steady yellow light of a traffic signal mean?

Yellow means the red light is about to appear and you should slow down and stop.

Question #2: What is the required distance to legally use your high beams?

Within 500 feet of an oncoming vehicle or 300 feet of the vehicle in front of you.

Question #3: What is the proper position for your hands on the steering wheel?

3 o'clock and 9 o'clock. Yes, it used to be 2 and 10, but if your airbags deploy, your hands will be knocked off the wheel at those positions.

Question #4: When should you use your turn signal?

ALWAYS, even when no one is around, you must turn on your signal at 100 feet before a turn when driving UNDER 35mph or 300 feet if driving OVER 35mph.

Question #5: What do lights and siren mean to a driver?

You must give the right away, clear any intersection and pull off to the right by positioning the vehicle close to the curb for ALL emergency vehicles.

Question # 6: What is hydroplaning and what should you do if it happens to you?

Hydroplaning is caused by the tires riding on a thin (1/12 of an inch) layer of water present on a wet roadway. Do NOT brake, slow down, take your foot off the gas, and steer in the direction you want to go.

Ramona, our instructor recommended buying the best tires you can to prevent this. Get rid of your bald tires!

Joyce said...

#3 Hands at 8 and 4 is also acceptable because many cars don't have a place to put your hands and 9 and 3.
Also, if your hands are at 10 and 2and the airbags don't force your hands from the wheel, you'll end up with wrist fractures.

Lee Lofland said...

Driver's hand positions - Many old-school cops still prefer the old "gansta' lean" position. The left wrist hanging on the wheel at twelve-o'clock with the right forearm on the console. Works well with dark-tinted RayBan sunglasses.

And, some like the trailer-park tan position. Right hand at twelve-o'clock with the left elbow resting on the open windowsill. Great for displaying "Mother" tattoo. Summer uniform and mirrored sunglasses required.

Annette said...

Joyce, thanks for mentioning 4 and 8. That's what I'd been told after the change from 2 and 10 for the airbags.

Lee, I'm not even going to comment on those alternative choices you mentioned.

However, I will add, our instructor pointed out that if you tend to drive with your hand through the steering wheel and the airbag goes off, your wrist is snapped instantly. I rarely did that anyway, but sure won't be doing it in the future.

Thanks for taking our quiz, folks!

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