June 19, 2006
As the summer driving season
heats up, more people will be traveling -- and more people will
be driving in unfamiliar situations. Whether taking a day trip to
a local beach or driving in a foreign country, unfamiliar situations
bring unfamiliar risks and an increased need to be pay attention.
"Renting a car is
hard enough in the States, but throw in foreign street signs, right-sided
driving wheels and Paris rush-hour traffic, and your European road
trip could be headed for a ditch. ..."
When renting a car, drivers
are already adding the challenge of driving an unfamiliar vehicle.
Add to that unfamiliar streets (foreign or domestic) and/ or an
unfamiliar transmission, and the stress levels can rise along with
the risks. Some ways to reduce those risks include... When choosing
a rental car,
"Pick simplicity over
style. Though standard transmission cars are more prevalent in Europe,
if your shifting skills are shaky, pay the 10 to 20 percent
more for an automatic. Also, consider renting a smaller car, since
many European cities were built for horse-drawn carriages, not Hummers.
[Mariana Field Hoppin, a travel consultant for Avis Europe] recommends
a midsize model, large enough to fit your bags but small enough
to park on medieval streets."
Most people will not be
planning to rent a car in Europe for their summer driving. While
those renting domestically are not likely to find standard transmissions,
they will still need to choose the right size vehicle to best meet
their needs. While everyone wants to fit and be comfortable, bigger
is not always better. Whether driving their own SUV or a rental,
drivers need to keep in mind that summer travel can be different
from the weekly commute. One big difference: the summer drive often
includes a much fuller vehicle.
"SUVs appeal to consumers
because of their greater cargo capacity and perceived go-anywhere
capability. Compared to typical sedans and station wagons, it seems
logical that a larger 4WD vehicle would offer both these advantages
with few tradeoffs. This is despite the fact that many SUVs have
a payload capacity (how much weight they can carry) that is considerably
less than what buyers assume. Once an SUV is overloaded, the chance
of a rollover increases dramatically. The taller height of an SUV
(which provides a commanding view of the road that many consumers
love about their SUVs) also raises the chance of a rollover. Due
to their higher center of gravity, SUVs are more prone to roll over
than passenger cars that ride closer to the ground. Overloading
an already top-heavy SUV not only raises the risk of rollover; it
also places added stress on the brakes and can cause a tire blowout
-- especially if the tires are improperly inflated."
It is a good idea to check
all vehicles for proper tire inflation (not just SUVs). While all
drivers need to make sure their vehicles are ready for travel (and
this means checking more than just the tire pressure before a long
trip), those pulling trailers have even more to do.
"Before You Go Out
On The Highway...
* [Make certain] the trailer is loaded evenly from front to rear
as well as side to side. Too much weight on the hitch will cause
the rear wheels of the tow vehicle to drag and may make steering
more difficult. Too much weight on the rear of the trailer will
cause the trailer to 'fishtail' and may reduce traction or even
lift the rear wheels of the tow vehicle off the ground.
* Check the brakes. On a level parking area roll forward and apply
the brakes several times at increasing speeds to determine a safe
* [Make certain] the side view mirrors are large enough to provide
an unobstructed rear view on both sides of the vehicle. ...
* Make certain water from rain or cleaning has been removed from
the boat. Water weighs approximately eight pounds per gallon and
can add weight that will shift with the movement of the trailer."
For those who have not
previously pulled a trailer -- or who haven't driven with one for
quite some time -- it is important to remember that the vehicle
will handle differently with the trailer attached.
"* Allow more time
to brake, accelerate, pass, and stop.
* Remember the turning radius is also much greater. Curbs and roadside
barriers must be given a wide berth when negotiating corners.
* Prior to operating on the open road, practice turning, backing
up, etc. on a level uncongested parking area"
Whether driving an RV,
pulling a trailer, or driving an RV that is pulling a trailer, bigger
vehicles require extra care.
"Always leave plenty
of room between you and the vehicle in front of you. RV's are much
heavier than your automobile and require a longer braking distance
to come to a stop. This alone will prevent accidents, especially
during emergency braking. Driving at a safe speed also lowers your
braking distance. Always use a supplemental braking system on the
vehicle you are towing too."
A bigger vehicle is more
difficult for the driver to stop or maneuver; it is also more easily
affected by outside forces.
"Avoid driving or
pulling your RV during bad weather and high winds. Because of the
size and mass of RVs it can be extremely dangerous to travel
during periods of high winds. It's better to get to your destination
one day later, than to risk traveling in bad weather."
Bigger vehicles have their
advantages and disadvantages. It is easier to be seen, but it is
more difficult to seeothers. It is more difficult to avoid an accident,
but there is more protection in the event of one. While some feel
safer in a bigger vehicle, others prefer the maneuverability and
freedom of something smaller. Cars provide a good compromise for
some; for others, a car does not meet their needs (their family
is too big, or they need to tow more weight than a car can handle).
Then there are those who find that even a car is too big.
"An automobile has
more weight and bulk than a motorcycle. It has door beams and a
roof to provide some measure of protection from impact or rollover.
It has cushioning and airbags to soften impact and safety belts
to hold passengers in their seats. It has windshield washers and
wipers to assist visibility in the rain and snow. An automobile
has more stability because it's on four wheels, and because of its
size, it is easier to see. A motorcycle suffers in comparison when
considering vehicle characteristics that directly contribute to
occupant safety. ... An estimated 33 percent of motorcycle operators
killed in traffic crashes are not licensed or are improperly licensed
to operate a motorcycle. By not obtaining a motorcycle operator
license, riders are bypassing the only method they and state licensing
agencies have to ensure they have the knowledge and skill needed
to safely and skillfully operate a motorcycle."
With the added "weight
and bulk" of a car comes added safety. Driving a motorcycle
has its own unique set of challenges and risks. For that reason,
a special license is required. Again: "An estimated 33 percent
of motorcycle operators killed in traffic crashes are not licensed
or are improperly licensed to operate a motorcycle." If the
drivers know what they need to know in order to get a license, then
they have knowledge of the skills they need in order to be safer
... [a]nticipate what may happen more than other vehicle drivers
may. For example, anticipate that drivers backing their cars out
of driveways may not see you; and place greater emphasis on defensive
driving. Motorcyclists also must be more cautious when riding in
inclement weather, on slippery surfaces, or when encountering obstacles
on the roadway. ... Approximately half of all fatal single-vehicle
motorcycle crashes involve alcohol. A motorcycle requires more skill
and coordination to operate than a car. Riding a motorcycle while
under the influence of any amount of alcohol significantly decreases
an operator's ability to operate the motorcycle safely."
Questions of the Week:
What will you be driving this summer? What do you need to know about
a vehicle before getting behind the wheel? Even if you are driving
the car you always drive -- on streets you know well -- how can
knowledge about the challenges other drivers might be facing affect
your driving? Whether or not you will be the driver, what do you
need to know when helping load a vehicle? What can passengers do
to improve safety on the roads? What can you do if a friend offers
you a ride, and you don't think it would be safe to go? How can
knowledge of vehicle safety issues help you talk to your friends
and family members about safe driving practices (and help you keep
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum