A Crash and A Question

Here is a question I received and answered on the now-defunct website AllExperts.com:

I was driving in the right hand lane on a two lane one way. There were more cars in the left lane and it was moving lowly so I was passing cars. The last car in the left lane cut into the right and came up behind me. There was a cross walk ahead and the long line of cars in the left lane came to a stop. I saw the people in the cross walk pass and saw that there was no one else going across the street so I easily passed the line of cars in the left lane. Continue reading A Crash and A Question

Am I shifting properly?

Here is a question I received and answered on the now-defunct website AllExperts.com:

I am not sure whether I am asking the right person or not…but you must be driver… I am driving for 6 months I don’t know whether I am driving correctly or not…,…and I am observing my driver…whenever he wants to slow down the car from high speed, he presses the brake then after brake, he pushes half-clutch…and just to stop the car he uses full clutch…while I am a driver too…I have noted that when he applies brakes, there is a feel that brakes are applied…but when I apply brakes, it is seamless…(I use full clutch then brakes)…please tell me what is right…because our car is going to workshop regularly for the last six months(once for the brakes…once he was driving and the battery went on fire…waterbody gone, and little problems everyday)…(we got driver exactly six months ago)…whether I am using the car wrongly or him…second…he uses the 3rd gear very much…even in traffic, I mean if I do this the car vibrates, so I use second gear, and use 3rd gear only to climb flyovers, etc…and I come to 2nd gear normally from 4th…if I have to slow…my driving is smooth…and his is not…but whatever…Tell me of any mistakes we do…because the driver says gears are related to speed so to slow down, we will always use the previous gear…and to speed up the next one…I am very sorry, this is a very long question…sorry for the inconvenience. Continue reading Am I shifting properly?

Should there be an upper age limit for driving?

Here’s a question I received and answered on the now-defunct website AllExperts.com:

Do you feel there should be a road traffic rule for driving age, upper limit, i.e. old people who are 65 and above should not be allowed to drive private and self owned vehicles? Do you feel because of old age, eyesight, the chances of accidents happening might be more o the road and because of this shouldn’t there be a rule prohibiting them to drive vehicles on the road ? Continue reading Should there be an upper age limit for driving?

Driving and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

Next time you’re at a family gathering or a work event, wander around and ask each person you meet this question: “Are you a good driver?”

I’d bet the overwhelming majority of the people you ask would consider themselves a good driver – better than average, certainly.  A survey by Hartford Financial Services found that 88% of respondents considered themselves cautious drivers.  Another study found 80% of respondents rated themselves “above average” as drivers.

Despite this, there are approximately 10 million car crashes every year in the US alone.  That’s about 27,000 per day, or about 19 crashes every single minute of the day, every single day. Yikes. In these, about 35,000 people are killed every year.  That’s just under a hundred people a day, killed in car crashes.  Another 6,500 people are seriously injured in crashes each day.

So, if the overwhelming majority of road users are better than average, why are so many crashes still happening?

Part of the answer is likely due to the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which is a cognitive theory which hypothesizes that incompetent people lack the self-awareness to identify their own incompetence.

Think about “American Idol” or similar talent search shows.  Inevitably, there are contestants each year who are pushed through the show, not because they have incredible talent, but seemingly for just the opposite condition. These people are pushed through for the laugh value in ratings, but they actually do think they can really sing.  What the Dunning-Kruger Effect suggests is that these individuals are so incompetent that they lack the proper frame of reference with which to judge their own skill level, and therefore they invariably over-estimate their talent.

Surely, incompetency is not strictly relegated to singing on a national talent show.  Spend more than an hour in traffic, and you’re likely to see several people demonstrate their incompetence behind the wheel.  Yet, if our personal assessments of ourselves were true and accurate, seeing a below average driver display their limited skills would be relatively rare.  Instead, we can find them everywhere, at least here in Pennsylvania.

Admittedly, we do little in the Commonwealth to address incompetent driving.  Professional driver education remains optional for residents.  This means it can be a pricey choice that is out of reach for many families, and others can simply opt out.  Most people are taught to drive by their parents, who themselves have not been evaluated as drivers in decades. Even if the parents had taken driver education, the amount and quality of the information that may remain in their minds from a course taken decades earlier will have depreciated over that time – that is, the parent may only decently remember half of what they originally learned.  Years later, when the child is now the parent, they pass along only half of what they remember, which is 25% of what the parent originally learned.

Yet, these people pass the driver’s test (which is exceedingly simple) and are never again evaluated.  And more than 80% of them consider themselves “above average” drivers.  Logic tells us they can’t all be right.

Interestingly, the Dunning-Kruger Effect also tells us that, given the proper metacognition tools, these same people are able to better assess their own skill level.  In other words, a professional assessment could help someone realize their driving kung-fu is not as strong as they believed.  And that becomes the perfect place to start.

Best Used Cars For New Teen Drivers

Parents often ask me for recommendations about what their new teen driver should be driving.  I thought I’d put all the information in one place.  Overall, the goal is to get them into a safe, sensible vehicle that will best buffer any mistakes they make and protect them well if they get into trouble.

First off, let’s consider your teen driver.  The CDC estimates an average of 6 teens ages 16-19 die every single day in preventable car crashes, and that teen drivers in their first year of driving are at 3 times the crash risk per mile driven as older teens with more experience.   Most teens fail to properly anticipate road hazards, have a tendency to speed and fail to preserve proper safety space.  The two most common crash types for new teen drivers are single vehicle run off the road (which mostly happens because they take curves too fast) and rear-end collisions (failing to have enough following distance in traffic).


suvI’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: SUV’s (sport utility vehicles) and similar vehicles are poor choices for new teen drivers.  The high center of gravity increases rollover risk.  Combine this with a new teen driver likely to misjudge the proper entry speed to a curve, and you have a recipe for disaster.

musclecarLikewise, high-performance cars should be out of the mix.  This includes anything with more than 6 cylinders in the engine, and anything with rear-wheel drive.  Most new teen drivers already have a tendency to go too fast and leave too little space – giving them too much power on top of this is a recipe for disaster.  Rear-wheel drive vehicles have a tendency toward oversteer skids, which new teen drivers may not have the skills to counteract.  They also tend to be much harder, and more dangerous, to drive in inclement weather.

minicarsAlso, stay away from compacts and minicars – these simply don’t have the mass to protect your young driver in a crash with anything larger than themselves (which is every other vehicle on the road).


The best choice for a first car for a new teen driver is a mid-sized, 4-door, 4-cylinder, front-wheel drive sedan.  If you’re on a tight budget, there’s good news.  Safety features such as airbags, antilock brakes and traction control have been standard on many cars for more than 20 years, so you can go all the way back to the mid-1990’s for a great car at a bargain price.

Here are some good choices.  All of the vehicles below are mid-sized or large sedans with 5-star government crash ratings, and all can be had for under $5,000.  Click on the images for more information.



Survive a Deadly Pileup Crash

Note: I originally wrote this article in December, 2012.  It is no longer available at its original source, so I am reposting it here.

On Friday, October 5, 2012, 53 cars were involved in a pileup crash on a Florida highway that injured more than 50 people.  And that, apparently, was just the beginning.  On Thanksgiving day, a 150-car pileup near Beaumont, Texas killed two people and injured nearly 80 others.  Within a single week, an additional six pileup crashes were reported:

  • Dec. 17: 27 car pileup in Quebec City
  • Dec. 19: 60 car pileup in California
  • Dec. 19: 7 car pileup in Vancouver
  • Dec. 19: 35 car pileup in New York
  • Dec. 20: 23 car pileup in Texas
  • Dec. 20: 25 car pileup in Iowa

That’s nearly 400 cars wrecked in just 8 crashes in a 12-week period – five of those pileups have happened in the past 24 hours.  There are some common factors to these incidents.

All of them happened on highways.  In most of them, weather conditions were considered a “contributing factor”.  In all of them, driver error was a primary factor.

While highways offer convenience and efficiency, allowing us to quickly move between distant cities, simple errors can quickly turn them deadly.  Here are four tips to keep yourself out of a deadly pileup.


In most states, the maximum speed limit posted on a road applies only during “optimal conditions” – that is, dry roads in daylight with good visibility.  If weather conditions deteriorate and the roads become compromised with rain, ice or snow, or visibility is compromised with fog or darkness, the law requires drivers to reduce their speed accordingly.

The distance it takes your car to come to a complete stop depends on a few things, including your reactions, your speed, the mass of your vehicle and your traction (here’s a tip: good tires on dry roads stop waaaaay shorter than bald tires on wet roads).


stopping-distancesDriving too fast shortens your stopping distance while slippery roads increases it.  This leaves you open to hydroplaning or skidding – either way, you’re out of control.


But speeding isn’t the only mistake here.  On the highway you should maintain a 4-6 second follow distance from the car in front of you, and add an extra second for every inclement weather condition (add a second for rain, another for fog, et cetera).



This gives you time to react safely if something awful goes down ahead of you.


In addition to your follow distance, make sure you keep a space cushion around your vehicle for safety.  Stay aware of the traffic around you, and don’t let yourself get boxed up – boxed-in cars become squished cars in a traffic pileup.


Here’s the simplest advice to stay alive:  if the weather is forecast to turn bad, clear your schedule and stay home.  If you absolutely have to drive, stay off the highway.  Take local roads where traffic is more likely to be moving slowly anyway.  Arriving late is better than never arriving at all.

If you learned something from this article, great!  You’re now a little bit smarter than the average driver.  Share this with as many people as you can and maybe we can put an end to these horrible pileup crashes.

Drive Better