Topic of the Month – Driving for Conditions

Driving for conditions is a term almost every BC driver has heard. But the sharp increase in crashes and fatalities that coincides with the onset of winter suggests that many drivers fail to adjust their driving in a way that acknowledges increased driving hazards. Use the approach below to help you succeed during tricky winter driving conditions. Share it with others in your organization.

Driving for conditions is more than operating the vehicle in a manner and at a speed at which you can keep it on the road. It means driving at a speed that does not generate risks for you – and others. It means applying behaviours that allow a margin of error, recognizing that you or another driver could make a mistake. Driving for conditions is a continuous mental calculation involving three dynamic variables – the vehicle, the driving environment, and the driver.

November tip of the month 2014

The Vehicle

The vehicle is the easiest part of the equation to manage. For the few minutes it takes to conduct regular vehicle inspections, and given legal requirements to do so (as per Occupational Health and Safety Regulation), there’s no excuse for operating a mechanically deficient vehicle. Warning buzzers and flashing lights alert drivers to hazards before they occur.  Tire compounds are better than ever, and there’s a tread design for every application. Plus, there is plenty of good information available to help you inspect, maintain and prepare your vehicle – making it less of an unknown, and more of a constant you are confident will perform as you expect. 

Your Driving Environment

Driving decisions must accurately acknowledge the physical environment. You have to see the road and interpret the information it provides. Think about the road surface materials, lane width, vertical alignment, grade and sighting distance. Consider outside temperature and precipitation. How do they influence your visibility? What do they mean for traction and braking? How will the vehicle respond to driver inputs? Your safe speed calculations recognize road and weather conditions so you know what driving measures are right for those conditions.

To make informed decisions, drivers must actively scan their entire driving environment to collect information.  Look as far ahead as you can see, then watch the road surface in front of you. Check your mirrors for changes in traffic. Observe what the car three or four vehicles ahead is doing. Watch the ditches. Select and use relevant information. The patch of black ice, the wafting snowflakes, the curve ahead, and the oncoming bus all matter.  The lovely sunset, the sale at the mall and your smart phone don’t.

Equally critical components of the driving environment – ones that are far more variable and often figure in crashes – are other vehicles, other drivers, and surprises. Driving for conditions includes the chance that a pedestrian, plough truck or moose may suddenly appear before you. Your behaviours must acknowledge other traffic, and allow for the possibility that the other vehicle might not have proper winter tires, and might be operated by a fatigued or inexperienced driver.

The Driver

The third element – the part that ties it all together – is the driver. The driver’s role is to use the information they gather to decide what actions to take, and provide the reflexes and motor skills to operate vehicle controls.

Many factors influence a driver’s capacity to make prompt, correct decisions, and their ability to execute quick, effective responses. Use the table below to conduct an honest self-assessment. How often, and to what extent, do these factors influence your driving behaviours?

Factors that support correct decisions, and quick reaction times

  • Driving experience
  • Well-rested and alert
  • Patience
  • Expectation / anticipation
  • Proper hydration and diet
  • Physical / mental fitness 

Factors that contribute to poor decisions, and slower reaction times

  • Over-confidence / complacency
  • Fatigue or other impairment
  • Aggressive attitude
  • Cognitive load – driving distractions, “things on your mind”
  • Declining vision, reduced visibility

Driving for conditions recognizes your state of mind, your skills and your limitations.

Driving is a complex activity. Yet, driving for conditions can be boiled down to being prepared with a road-worthy vehicle, looking for and paying attention to important cues in your entire driving environment, choosing a speed that’s right for you and your vehicle in those conditions, and watching out for the other guy.

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