Emergency flashers in the rain

Ask The Traffic School Instructor: Emergency Flashers

Question: Should You use your emergency flashers when it is raining hard?

Answer: This is a common sight, especially in the South where heavy summer thunderstorms hit often. Driving with your emergency flashers on is not only illegal, it’s a really bad idea.

Emergency flashers are only supposed to be used on disabled vehicles to warn other drivers away. They can’t be used in the rain or to identify slow moving vehicles and there are good reasons for this.

Having personally witnessed multiple drivers using their flashers in heavy traffic during a rain storm, I can tell you it made it very confusing for me and, I’m sure, other drivers. The flashers made it hard to tell the difference between the vehicle’s emergency flashers and the brake lights. Determining when the brake lights came on was even more difficult because people tend to ignore the lights on a vehicle whose lights are continually flashing. It also makes it difficult to distinguish between a vehicle that is moving and one that may actually be disabled and stopped. With the lowered visibility due to the rain, the flashers just added to the hazards.

If it’s raining so hard that visibility is reduced to the point where you can’t see other traffic, drivers should pull off the road and wait until the storm passes. If you pull off the road and stop, then the emergency flashers can and should be used.

Using your emergency flashers to indicate that you are driving slower than other traffic is also illegal. Vehicles with mattresses tied to the roof with string or cars running on less than all cylinders don’t belong on the road. If you need to carry something that won’t fit inside your vehicle, you need to rent a trailer or a van. If your vehicle is unable, for whatever reason, to keep up with the flow of traffic, you should also stay off the road until the condition can be fixed.

Speed Limits

Ask The Traffic School Instructor: Speed Limits

Question: Do speed limits reduce traffic accidents?

Answer: No, speed limits by themselves can’t save lives. However, drivers who obey the posted speed limits do save lives. Let’s look at the purpose of speed limits and then, at why speed is dangerous.

According to the National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA), approximately one-third of all highway traffic deaths are directly due to speeding. Speeding means either going faster than the posted speed limit or traveling too fast for conditions.

What’s the purpose of speed limits?

There’s a popular belief that speed limits are just a way for governments to raise income by handing out traffic tickets but that’s not the case. Speed limits are determined by traffic engineers and set by local or state governments. No one likes traffic jams so, when trying to determine a speed limit, traffic engineers are actually trying to determine the highest safe speed that will allow traffic to move freely. In order to do this, they have to look at a lot of factors including; size of the road, number of lanes, curves, hills, whether the roadway passes through a school zone, shopping district, etc.

Taking all of those factors into consideration, once a speed limit is set, it is the maximum speed allowed during ideal conditions. Ideal conditions mean clear visibility and dry roads. When there is heavy rain, snow or fog, it’s up to drivers to adjust their speed according to conditions. Even if a driver is traveling at or below the speed limit, it’s still possible to get a speeding ticket for driving too fast for conditions.

Why is speed a problem?

Reaction time

The higher the speed, the less time a driver has to react to an emergency situation ahead. It takes between 1 to 1.5 seconds for a driver to react to an emergency situation. That means a driver obeying a speed limit of 45 mph will travel approximately 99 feet before he or she can fully react. A driver traveling 10 mph over the speed limit will travel more than 121 feet in the same amount of time. A lot can happen in that amount of space.

Laws of Physics

The laws of physics come into play also. A basic law of motion states that an object in motion tends to remain in motion – in a straight line. A driver driving too fast in a curve stands a good chance of losing control and running off the roadway because, due to the laws of motion, it’s  physically impossible to keep the vehicle on the road. Physics also come into play in a crash. The higher the speed, the greater the crash forces will be.

Reducing traffic Jams

Believe it or not, if everyone were to obey the speed limit and keep a safe following distance between their vehicle and the vehicle ahead, traffic would move much faster and more smoothly. Traffic jams are caused by drivers who are driving too fast and then hit the brakes when they approach a vehicle ahead. This causes traffic behind to hit the brakes and a traffic jam is the result.

You won’t get there any faster by speeding and yes, obeying the speed limit saves lives!

Traffic jams

Ask The Traffic School Instructor: Reducing Traffic Jams

Question: What can be done to reduce traffic jams?

Answer:  Traffic engineers are always looking for ways to reduce traffic jams but those solutions usually involve adding extra lanes or exits. If you live in a place where these types of road improvements have occurred, you’ve probably noticed that it didn’t take long for the traffic jams to return. It seems like adding extra lanes just draws more traffic but that actually isn’t the case.

Believe it or not, even with the same amount of traffic, individual drivers can make a big difference when it comes to reducing traffic jams. To do that, you first have to understand how traffic jams start. It’s not really the volume of traffic but the way people drive in those situations that create the traffic jams.

Traffic jams begin with what are known as traffic waves. Generally, a wave starts when a driver nears a slower driver ahead and hits his brakes. Once his brake lights come on, the driver behind hits her brakes and so on and so on and so on…… The driver in the front hasn’t been affected by the wave but traffic a quarter mile behind is now coming to a stop. This wave effect has also been compared to putting a kink in a water hose.

Traffic engineers understand this effect and, in some places, are trying to correct it in a way that sounds counter intuitive. In Atlanta and Washington State, traffic engineers are trying to prevent traffic jams through the use of variable speed limits on the interstate. By watching video monitors in a command center, when they see traffic waves start to build, they’ll adjust the speed limit via electronic speed limit signs. However, instead of increasing the speed, they’ll try to slow down the traffic behind. By slowing traffic behind, in some cases down to 35 mph, they hope that the wave ahead will have time to break up and move on. By allowing the wave time to break up, fewer cars behind will hit the brakes, causing an even longer wave. By slowing traffic, they hope to keep it moving instead of bringing it to a halt. Moving along at 35 mph is better than not moving at all. It’s too early to tell if it will work in Atlanta but it seems to be working quite well in Washington.

But we don’t have to wait for traffic engineers to solve the problem. Individual drivers can take action to stop traffic waves by simply allowing a longer following distance between them and the cars ahead. Even if traffic enters the lane ahead of you, if you back off slightly by taking your foot off the gas, you’ll notice that, while you may be going just a little bit slower, you’re still moving. It also has the effect of eliminating traffic waves behind you. If you try this, hopefully, you’ll find, just as the driver who created the video below has found, that a single driver can make a big difference when it comes to reducing traffic jams. Driving on the interstate isn’t a competition, it’s a cooperative effort!

Kids in cars

Kids In Cars Put In Danger By Parents

One in five parents put kids in cars in danger by “bending the rules” according to a survey conducted by Safe Kids Worldwide and funded by the General Motors Foundation. In the online survey, parents admitted that, when carpooling, they sometimes bent the rules by allowing kids to ride without a booster seat or even without seat belts.

According to Safe Kids, “Sixty-one percent of parents say they notice other carpool drivers bending the rules. Safe Kids research also shows that one in four parents report they don’t buckle up their children on every ride.”

Even on a short trip, the dangers of a crash are high. Most car crashes happen within 25 miles of home and at speeds under 45 mph. The reason for that is simple; your chances of being involved in a crash close to home are greater because that’s where you drive most often.

School age children should be belted into a booster seat seat until they are big enough to wear a seat belt properly. Safety experts say that kids should remain in a booster seat until they are at least 4’7” tall and weigh between 80 and 100 pounds. For most kids that’s between 9 and 11 years of age.

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death for children age 4 and every age 11 through 14. They are the second leading cause of death for ages 5 through 10. NHTSA data shows that, “among passenger vehicle occupants 5 and older, seat belts saved an estimated 12,174 lives in 2012. If all passenger vehicle occupants 5 and older had worn seat belts, 15,205 lives (that is, an additional 3,031) could have been saved in 2012.”

Even on short trips, kids in cars need to be buckled into a child safety seat appropriate for their age. Parents who carpool should never take more children than the number of seat belts available in the vehicle. Carpooling parents should also arrange to swap out car seats and booster seats.

Don’t place yourself in the position of a parent who says “If only I had….”


Child Passenger Safety Week

Child Passenger Safety Week Sept. 14-20

This is National Child Passenger Safety Week and it’s a good time to remind parents or those who care for children, about the proper way to care for a child while driving. When it comes to child safety seats, one size doesn’t fit all and it’s important to understand how to choose and install the proper child seat according to your child’s age.

According to a survey by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), these are the most common mistakes made by parents when installing and using child safety seats and booster seats:

  1. Wrong harness slot used – The harness straps used to hold the child in the car seat were positioned either too low or too high;
  2. Harness chest clip positioned over the abdomen rather than the chest or not used at all;
  3. Loose car seat installation – The restraint system moved more than two inches side-to-side or front to back; anything more than one inch is too much.
  4. Loose harness – More than two inches of total slack between the child and the harness strap; there should be no slack.
  5. Seat belt placement was wrong – Lap belt resting over the stomach and/or shoulder belt on the child’s neck or face.

Both NHTSA and SafeKids recommend the following steps listed on the Safe Kids downloadable checklist:

  • Right Seat. Check the label on your car seat to make sure it’s appropriate for your child’s age, weight and height.
  • Right Place. Kids are VIPs, just ask them. We know all VIPs ride in the back seat, so keep all children in the back seat until they are 13. Doing this, along with correctly using the appropriate child restraints, greatly reduces the risk of injury.
  • Right Direction. You want to keep your child in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible. When he or she outgrows the seat, move your child to a forward-facing car seat. Make sure to attach the top tether after you tighten and lock the seat belt or lower anchors.
  • Inch Test. Once your car seat is installed, give it a good shake at the base. Can you move it more than an inch side to side or front to back? A properly installed seat will not move more than an inch.
  • Pinch Test. Make sure the harness is tightly buckled and coming from the correct slots (check manual). Now, with the chest clip placed at armpit level, pinch the strap at your child’s shoulder. If you are unable to pinch any excess webbing, you’re good to go.

Many parents don’t realize that child safety seats have an expiration date. The plastic and synthetic materials used to make the seat’s body and straps can break down over time when exposed to the high heat and sunshine in a parked car. It’s not a good idea to use a hand-me-down car seat for younger children.

There are several good websites that provide information on the proper selection, installation and care of child safety seats. For information about: