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November 2005 Newsletter

 Teenagers, Seniors, and Driving Examiners


According to statistics, teenage drivers stand a higher than average chance of crashing a motor vehicle. Note, I do not use the term accident, which is far too cute and forgiving. Crash, wreck, or collision would be more appropriate, since most of these events can be avoided. There are all kinds of theories about problems with young drivers, the most prevalent of which is inexperience. How odd, and tragic as well, that we donít bother to give these kids the kind of driver training that could save lives. I do not mean endless lectures or scary movies. We all saw those in driverís ed, and the effect was minimal. The difficulty with that approach is that it is almost impossible to scare, browbeat or bully a person into total submission, regardless of how valid the safety message may be. Most kids experiment with skateboards, bikes, and all sorts of other toys. Young cowboys often like to ride wild horses. Chances are, whether through peer pressure or just for fun, at some point a new driver will put the pedal to the metal. Experienced drivers may as well. Yet we donít even teach them the number one bailout manoeuvre, an emergency stop, nor do we spend much time on how to do an emergency lane change safely.


 Graduated licensing is a worthwhile concept, though it is possible that the extremely positive statistics on the benefits have been cooked like yesterdayís leftovers. I wonder why at the very least, a new driver doesnít get to try at least thirty, preferably a hundred, full emergency stops during the course of their training. It should also be part of the driving exam, since surely this is as important as signalling a lane change. Even with anti-lock brakes, most drivers, let alone teens, do not do a very good job of a true panic stop. See the article Zamboni Braking, below, for more details.


What of older drivers and mandatory retesting? If such a thing actually dealt with vehicle dynamics and skill development, perhaps it would be worthwhile, but then it should be introduced across the board. Of course, this would require that examiners be elite drivers in their own right, fully up to date on technique and technology as well as regulations. Once again, an anti-lock stop should be part of the test, as well as stuff like merging into fast moving traffic. Until we fine-tune the examiners, any policy changes are useless.


Another point to consider is that legislation is often outdated before it is even introduced. The current expression in California is that sixty years old is the new forty. In other words, with exercise, good health care, and a lucky dip in the gene pool, we should expect to remain active longer. At the Whistler/Blackcomb Ski School, we have quite a few full time pros in their seventies, and a few in their eighties. Are we going to discriminate against the futureís active one hundred and ten year olds with laws that are at least that far behind the times?


Bring on optional upgrade training for all age groups. I suspect most drivers would jump at that sort of chance, especially if government sponsored and reasonably priced. Why waste money on legislation, when it could be spent on learning? Improve the skills and understanding of trainers and examiners. As for more laws, we should be careful. It is far easier to introduce legislation than to modify or repeal it.



General Motors: The Search for Profit


Letís face it; the General threw it all away. Years of producing relentlessly average product, bloated salaries and bonuses, advertising that was far better than the vehicles involved. People turned away in droves, and donít seem in a great hurry to come back. This is a shame, because some of the cars the company is putting out today are pretty nice. You have to wonder, though, that they would consider closing the Oshawa plant, which is one of the best and most productive in the industry. This is not clever corporate thinking.


I worked with Delphi on chassis development a few years ago. The engineers were all good people, trying hard to make things work. Of course, that division is bankrupt now, although it is fair to say that no United States corporation of that importance can ever truly go under. The government cannot afford to let it happen. Remember the term military-industrial complex?


On behalf of the Skip Barber Racing School, I set up an event at Waterford Hills racetrack for Jim Perkins when he stepped down as CEO of Chevrolet. The man is an enthusiast of the first order, and regaled us with various driving tales from his past. I asked him why, when he was so obviously a car guy, did his division continue to produce such uninspired machinery. His answer was that the bean counters wouldnít let them do otherwise. That is unfortunate. Too bad some of that ad budget and unwarranted executive bonuses didnít go to engineering.


The current General Motors CEO says the latest cuts will help return the company to profitability. It makes you wonder. With their track record, and things like the decision to close the Oshawa plant, which is the best one in the company, has the company really decided to improve its performance or is it simply putting out fires?



Aging Air Bags



After about ten years, the air bags in your car will require service or replacement. This is a safety issue. You want them to work and do not need them to deploy spontaneously, just as you are taking a sip of coffee. Check with the dealer. With luck, the service will simply amount to making sure the sensors are okay. When shopping for a used car, consider this in the price negotiations.



High Tech


Some stability control systems can feel disconcerting when they kick in to save you from yourself. If you donít know this, there is the possibility of a wrong reaction, as happened often with anti-lock brakes. An uneducated driver would slam on the binders, not know why the pedal was vibrating, let go of the brakes or try to pump them, and crash anyway. Correct wheel handling is very important as well, especially in todayís airbag equipped cars. That cool one hand draped on top of the wheel is a sure ticket to broken bones should the airbag deploy.
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