Category Archives: Highway Safety

A question about skid marks

Here is a question I received and answered on the now-defunct website

Are skid marks darkest at the end or beginning? And can you determine the tread from the tread marks? My daughter was in an accident and the cop cited her even though from his pictures it looks like the skid marks are in the opposite direction, and she never even applied her breaks because her car died on impact. If they are the darkest at the end that would prove they are not hers, Besides the fact they curve the opposite direction that her vehicle traveled. I asked about the tread marks because she has a very unique tire tread and blowing up the photos show they don’t match her tread.

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Lane Changes and Mirrors

Here is a question I received and answered on the now-defunct website

I recently got my drivers license that now allows me to drive alone. I’m still a bit nervous with certain things like changing lanes and left hand turns. When changing lanes how should the cars appear in my mirrors to let me know I have enough space without cutting them off? Someone told me if I can see their head lights in my rear mirror I have enough room, is this correct? I always check my blind spot as well but changing lanes really gives me bad nerves. Any advice is appreciated!

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How Can I Become A More Confident Driver?

Here is a question I received and answered on the now-defunct website

I got my drivers license at the end of June and I’m still a very nervous driver, I prefer to have someone in the car with me and I’m quite nervous to drive alone. I’m pretty nervous with changing lanes and left hand turns, although I’m getting a bit better with those things I would prefer to be fully confident. How long does it take to become a fully confident driver? I still find myself making mistakes and feeling badly about my driving skills because of it, for instance I was coming to a stop light and I didn’t realize how fast I was going and I had to stop a bit harder than usual, (mind you I’m more concious about that now) but the person in the car with me (who’s been driving for 45 years) yelled at me because of it and it really shook me up and upset me. What can I do to overcome this fear and anxiety with driving? Thank you in advance.

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Should there be an upper age limit for driving?

Here’s a question I received and answered on the now-defunct website

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?

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.

Dodging Debris

When driving, especially on the highway, you really never know when circumstances will suddenly change.  At highway speed, you’re moving at about 80 feet per second or faster.  If something suddenly pops into your path, you may only have a second or two to react.

Watch this video, taken from the Modern Driver DashCam.  In this clip, a living room recliner blows out of the bed of a pickup truck in the right lane before bouncing to a stop in the left lane of a highway.

Notice that the only escape path was to quickly move into the adjacent lane – a move which in only possible if the lane is vacant.  One of the most important things to remember about driving on multilane roads is to always leave yourself an escape path.  Try to position yourself in the traffic flow so that the lane next to you is empty, and other cars are at least two seconds away.  If you’re constantly maintaining this emergency buffer space around your car, dodging an attacking recliner is a relatively easy maneuver.

The Deadliest Season

It’s begun: the “100 Deadliest Days” of the year for teen drivers is upon us.  Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, an average of 399 teens will die each month, according to statistics reported by AAA.  The rest of the year averages more than 50 fewer deaths monthly.  That’s an average of 16 teens killed in car crashes every single day all summer long.

Summer starts with proms and graduations, then opens up for beach trips, mountain escapes and spontaneous road trips.  According to AAA, the seven most dangerous days on the road for teens during summer are May 20, May 23, June 10, July 4, July 9, Aug. 8 and Aug. 14.

What can parents do to keep their teens safe?

To keep teens safe during these dangerous months and year round, AAA Insurance suggests the following tips for parents:

  • Eliminate trips without purpose.
  • Limit passengers. Fatal crash rates for 16- to 19-year-olds increase fivefold when two or more teen passengers are present versus when teens drive alone.
  • Restrict night driving. A teen driver’s chances of being involved in a deadly crash doubles at night.
  • Establish a parent-teen driving agreement. Written agreements help set and enforce clear rules about night driving, passengers, access to the car, and more.
  • Enroll teens in summer driving school.   If your teen earned their license within the past year, a refresher in defensive driving could help save their life.
  • Be there. Make sure your teen knows that if they need help, advice or a ride, they can call you at any time. Extend this offer often and let your teen know that you are always available, and that they will not be judged or punished should they need your help.

MADD also suggests:

  • Talk about alcohol.  Talk with your teens about not drinking alcohol until they are 21 and never get in the car with someone who has been drinking.
  • Buckle up. Insist on seat belts at all times and in all seating positions. Low seat belt use is one of the primary reasons that teen driver and passenger fatality and injury rates remain high.

Autistic Teens Want To Drive

A study released by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Center For Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) looks at teens with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders and driving.  They found that, among their sample of 300 teens, two-thirds are already driving or expect to drive.

“As a clinician who specializes in children with disabilities, I was interested to find that so many teens with high functioning autism spectrum disorders want to drive and do,” says Patty Huang, MD, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at CHOP and the lead author of the study. “We need to help them. Establishing a few indicators for these teens that will likely have an interest in driving is the first step in developing targeted strategies and interventions to support them and their families.”

The findings suggest that parents of teens with HFASDs would benefit from guidance in deciding if driving is the right choice for their individual family. Readiness to drive can be difficult to assess, and parents should be encouraged to seek the help of their child’s physician, an occupational therapist or driving instructor.

Modern Driver Institute is the only driver education provider in Pennsylvania that specializes in working with individuals with autism.   We recommend that driving goals be incorporated into your student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP).

The Deadly Truth About Rural Roads

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released a detailed study of vehicle crashes from the year 2010 which found that 55% of fatal crashes happened in rural areas.  That’s 2.5 times the rate of fatal crashes for urban areas, despite the fact that only 19% of the population lives in rural areas – or maybe because of that.

Rural roads tend to be narrow, two lanes and can be full of sharp curves and hills that limit sight distance.  Drivers who are comfortable in urban and suburban settings just may not have the experience to survive the particular challenges these roads present.  They require an understanding of how the laws of physics impact your car as well as a keen attention to detail, both in seeing/understanding the advance warning signs and interpreting the road ahead for danger.

Pennsylvania fared slightly better than the national average, but more than half the fatal crashes during that year happened in rural environments.  Pennsylvania ranked sixth nationwide in the number of deaths on rural roads.

To see the complete NHTSA report, click here.

Modern Driver Institute trains students on some of the most challenging rural roads in the area as part of our standard program.