Look out! Winter Driving Ahead

Today Was A White-Knuckler

See full size imageWith the bad winter weather we’ve had lately, let’s talk about Winter Driving Safety and how our every day choices really make a difference.  

A friend and safety consultant of mine, Rob Chvatal, spoke at the ASSE Culture Symposium last year.  Rob helped his audience understand how we develop our habits, their impact on safe behavior and why it is important to become more aware of our choices and actions.  It was good information, but it took a close call today for me to become aware of one of my bad habits.  I hope you find this useful.

Some People Really Make Bad Decisions

Over the years I’ve learned that safety is often about the choices people make.  Many of these choices involve an action that creates a result or outcome (consequence). The behavior-based safety folks label this the ABCs, antecedent-behavior-consequence equation.  In our every-day world, most of our choices that we decide upon turn out to be okay and result in nothing going wrong.  And many of these choices are made out of habit, without thinking.  It’s just another normal day.  

Today was no different.  Driving into work this morning, about a block before a traffic light, a car quickly pulled onto the highway from a restaurant parking lot to my right.  This isn’t a big deal, because the highway is divided and has 2 lanes in each direction.  Out of instinct I glanced at the car and lifted my foot off the accelerator to prepare for braking.  What I hadn’t noticed yet, was that the traffic light ahead had turned yellow.   Because I was in a defensive mode of decelerating and already prepared to brake there was no problem stopping in time.  Just another normal day, like any other trip into work. 

Today I Was Lucky

To be honest, today I was lucky!  There have been many times that I have driven right through that same yellow light without giving it a second thought.  I’m usually in a hurry in the morning, trying to make up that extra minute or two, just to find 2 lights later that the same set of cars that had been behind me before are there once again. 

The truth is that I had made the choice to run this yellow light over and over again, and it had become a habit for me.  Nothing bad had ever happened before, but today could have been different. 

The car on my right that had just entered the highway decided to run the yellow light.  Bad Choice!   A truck stopped in the cross traffic at this intersection on the right decided to make a rolling right turn into traffic.  The result wasn’t good.  Fortunately, the choices these 2 drivers made didn’t end in injury, but there was plenty of damage for the wreckers to haul away.  I was the lucky one today.  If I hadn’t stopped, I would be getting a repair estimate right now instead of writing this blog post.

We make hundreds of choices every day, take actions as a result and experience the outcomes.  Over time, our choices and the resulting actions can become habits.  To a degree, once an action becomes habitual we stop thinking. Here’s where we humans get into trouble.  We are creatures of habit, establishing our every day behaviors based on positive results from wrong choices and actions.  Nothing bad occurred, so we falsely assume that everything must be okay.  Our experience tells us one thing, but then something unexpectedly changes.  It could be a different  reaction by someone, how we feel today or our emotions, distractions, fatigue, the weather, or other factors that change the situation, our learned “correct” choices can be completely wrong. 

Driving Defensively Is The Key

One area where this is evident in on our roads and highways.  Any person who is involved in a crash and is injured didn’t knowingly choose to be hurt.  However, they or others involved did make a series of choices during the moments preceding the crash.  Defensive driver training teaches tactics designed to give us more time to make the best choices we can. 

The 2 tactics that are probably the most important, especially as we enter these winter months, are to: 

  • increase your following distance, and
  • decrease your speed; especially when the weather changes or visibility is affected. 

Both of these relate to your ability to see what is going on ahead, and the time you have to react.

Please comment with your winter driving story and tips for arriving without incident.  Thanks!