How fast are you really going?

Do you know the distance it takes to stop your car from a speed of 100 km/h? You should. It could mean the difference between life and death.

Most drivers can stop, at highway speeds, within the distance between one hydro pole and another in good weather. If a deer, vehicle or other impediment of any kind should block your path, you need to know when to brake or steer to avoid such a hazard. Steering is always better when space is available. Stopping to avoid a crash will expose you to the possibility of a rear-end collision. The panic stop from 100 km/h takes about four seconds with good ABS brakes.

Do you know how many hydro poles it takes to pass another vehicle? Depending on your vehicle horsepower, it takes anywhere from eight to 12 poles for a safe pass on the highway, almost 20 seconds or more at 100 km/h for a proper safe pass. When driving instructors ask learning drivers this question, we most often get the seemingly ridiculous answer of two or three hydro poles and five or six seconds. To learn is to do and to do is to learn. That’s why it’s so important for drivers of all ages to actually practise emergency stops, evasive manoeuvres and controlled acceleration.

How many seconds do you think it takes to do a right or left turn? A safe turn takes anywhere from five to 10 seconds at a standard city engineered intersection. If you ask most student drivers this question, their answer will be somewhere in the neighbourhood of three seconds.

Most drivers think they can stop, pass and turn much more quickly than they really can. This distortion of their time needed to do basic high speed and intersection moves is what is killing and causing injury to people on the roadways.

The majority of drivers are also terrible at speed judgment. It requires practise and, sadly, most drivers simply don’t practise speed judgment. This is why so many speeding tickets are issued when drivers have to slow down entering a city or lower speed zone. They do not look at the speedometer, thinking they are well within the speed limit, when in fact they have been used to the higher speed and find it difficult to slow down for the city speed zone they are approaching. This phenomenon occurs after a long highway drive and is called velocitization. The drivers in this situation actually think they are going the reduced city speed limit, but have failed to confirm it by looking at the speedometer. They are often going 70 km/h in a 50 zone. If we are distracted or looking for directional signs, it is easy to misjudge our speed when entering a town with a reduced speed limit. The police radar patrol has been aware of this phenomenon for many years. That is why they set radar entering a town much more often than leaving.

If the passenger covers up the speedometer and calls out a speed, can you judge that speed within five km/h? Professional drivers can do this easily, without fail. Try this exercise to test your own judgment. On a long highway drive with no other vehicles around, cover the speedometer at 100 km/h and try to judge when your vehicle is going school-zone speed (30 km/h). Chances are you cannot do this, even when given a five km/h plus or minus cushion.

Practise speed and distance estimating. It may save a life one day.

Steve Wallace is a longtime teacher and owner of Wallace Driving School in Victoria.

Photograph by: DON HEALY, Regina Leader-Post