The Toronto Star: Identity Threat and Act to Avoid Road Mishaps

By Carlos Tomas
Special to The Star

Nine out of 10 accidents happen to so-called “average drivers” when they fail to identify a situation’s accident potential or respond to it correctly. Now, thanks to the accident-proofing techniques employed by expert drivers from around the world almost anyone can drive safely, efficiently and accident-free.

Another bonus is that you can save money on insurance, fuel and maintenance costs.The idea behind reducing driving risk is simple: Identify potential accident-prone situations in advance and act accordingly. Keep a safe distance from other drivers. Communicate clearly. And be aware of what’s going on all around you at all times.

Get the whole picture:

In city driving, many things are happening all at once. So being able to quickly read the total traffic picture is the surest way to maintain better control of your driving situation. To do this, you must continuously scan the area two blocks ahead and behind you and from one side of the street to the other.

Stopping and accelerating your car to driving speed burns up to 16 times more fuel than keeping it in motion (not to mention all the unnecessary wear and tear on brakes, tires, engine and transmission). So while you’re driving, look as far ahead as two or three traffic lights. By pacing yourself, you’ll arrive at each intersection on the green with the traffic already moving.

You’ll also reduce your chances of being rear-ended. And you’ll also be les apt to block intersections.

Expect the unexpected:

Having established a safe steering path, check to see whether anything is coming into your lane by quickly glancing from side to side.

Be especially cautious at intersections. Often drivers will enter these without signaling or making their intentions clear. Study their movements. Be aware of such clues as angled front tires.

At an intersection there are three common zones where conflicts arise – with drivers failing to yield right of way. Check the left side for drivers not slowing down for their red signal. Check ahead for approaching drivers slowing down, preparing to turn left -across your path. Check the right side for drivers completing a right turn, into your driving lane.

Another common cause of accidents is vehicles unexpectedly intruding from an adjacent lane. Or from a parked position. As you approach parked cars notice the angle and position of the front tires, and look to see if a driver is at the wheel, ready to pull out without signaling or checking for on-coming cars.

Also check under parked vehicles for children’s feet or animals that may run out. Have your thumb over the horn, ready to warn them. Or, better still, lightly sound the horn to make them know you’re coming. That way your attention is free to check elsewhere.

Check your rear-view mirrors about every five seconds. And more frequently in heavy traffic. Or when preparing to slow down or change lanes.

Make your own space:

To be in full control, create a “space cushion of safety” around your car – ahead, on both sides and to the rear.

Insulate your vehicle with space by adjusting your speed. Drive as if you’re not following the vehicle ahead of you. (As a bonus, you’ll seldom have to stop for a red light!)

In heavy traffic, drive in the lane with the fewest cars. A following gap of at least three to four seconds is advisable, with more on slippery roads.

When stopping, stop a car length or more behind the car ahead, to leave plenty of room to maneuver.

Occasionally you’ll encounter the persistent tailgater. Even when another lane is unavailable you can usually squeeze over to the side to allow him to pass. If this doesn’t work, gradually decrease your speed and drop back to allow for plenty of stopping distance for the both of you.

Don’t drive blind:

Avoid blind- spot driving.

Adjust your speed as soon as you find yourself in a blind spot, or someone moves into yours.

Develop the habit of checking your blind spot before changing lanes, parking, leaving a parking spot, and turning, especially to the right. (Cyclists will particularly appreciate this!)

Each time you start the car turn on your headlights. This is simple procedure alone can prevent so many accidents – even in daytime. Many insurance companies reward “daylighters” with premium discounts.

Don’t make’em guess:


Make your intentions as clear as possible. Don’t be afraid to over-communicate.

The less confusing you are to other drivers, the less other drivers will confuse you.

Establish eye-to-eye contact. And if you’re in a good mood – what the heck: Smile!

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About the author

Carlos Tomas

Carlos Tomas is President and Founder of Shifters, Canada's first manual transmission driving school. He has taught standard-shift with Young Drivers of Canada, worked with disabled drivers, and even instructed instructors. 

Known for his extreme patience, Carlos helps you how understand the clutch, gets you up-to-speed (all puns intended) quickly, and inspires, with  and an unmatched comfort level that puts you at ease from the start.

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