No such thing as an accident?
“The DMV estimates there will be 20 million car crashes this year,” says Don Kitch, Jr, former racecar driver and now safe driving expert. Then he pauses: “And there is no such thing as an accident.”
What does he mean by that? Explaining further at a Volvo Advanced Driving Program in Los Angeles, Kitch says all car crashes are a result of some failure to drive defensively. And unfortunately, most drivers in the US don’t know how to drive effectively in challenging situations, because they’re not taught how. In many states, new drivers can apply for a license online, with no professional training at all.
Volvo is Doubling Down on its Commitment to Save Lives
Volvo’s Vision 2020 states their goal as reducing the number of people killed or seriously injured to zero. That’s only two years away, and with more than 40,000 overall highway deaths in the US in all makes and models, that goal seems insurmountable. Volvo, however, is undeterred. They’re known for the thought and technology they put into safety for all of their vehicles, and they are taking a stand.
The company starts and ends with safety, Kitch tells us at the class.
First, we talk about hand position on the steering wheel. As a teenager, I learned to place my hands at 10 and 2 on the clock face, effectively giving me a guideline and encouraging me to keep my hands on the wheel at all times. However, since air bags have advanced over the last 30 years, that rule is no longer correct.
What? No 10 and 2? We may be blowing your mind right now.
Instead, Kitch says, place the hands at 9 and 3, slightly lower on your wheel. Then, if there is an accident in which the airbags are deployed, the hands won’t smack back into the face of the driver. The 9 and 3 position avoids broken noses, teeth, and arms. Imagine, for instance, that you are driving and you’re hit by another car. When that airbag deploys at speeds of up to 200 mph (according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), the impact of the bag could fling your arms violently. Don’t get me wrong, though… that’s still better than smashing your forehead into the windshield.
Do You Know How to Use Your Brakes Properly?
Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS) were introduced back in the 1980s; my first car was a 1977 and I learned to “pump the brakes” without them. Old habits are hard to break, and at the Volvo driving school, I learned how deeply ingrained that was for me. With ABS, the technique is different—it’s to put your foot on the brake and steer as necessary. The ABS system will prioritize steering over breaking.
“I’m telling you right now, ABS also stands for ‘Ability to Brake AND Steer’,” Kitch tells us in class. Learning how to steer while braking will pull you out of many dangerous situations, he explains and teaches us to stand on the brakes and hold it down.
“The driver may panic,” he continues. “But the car is designed to NOT panic.”
When it’s my turn on the track in a brand-new Volvo XC60, I am instructed to brake hard when I reach the marker and steer toward the flag. It’s scary, at first, because in my head I am afraid the car is going to fishtail. In fact, I feel MORE in control with Kitch’s teaching, and I safely brake and steer to the shoulder of the course. When you feel the pedal start pulsing, maintain pressure.
Slippery Roads are No Joke
Volvo engaged Sweden-based SKIDCAR System to be present at the training with their Slippery Road Simulator to demonstrate how to effectively drive on ice and snow. SKIDCAR is a metal frame fitted to a vehicle to simulate slippery conditions, and is often used to train first responders on how to drive safely. It kind of looks like a skateboard under a car, and it feels just like driving on ice. Since I grew up in Indiana and did a 360 or two on the road in my car when braking on ice, I can tell you it is pretty true to life.
Along with the tips from Don about overall driving safety, our SKIDCAR trainer shows us what do to: slow down, keep your eyes in the direction you’re going, and don’t oversteer. When you oversteer, you lose control of the back of the car, and many car crashes are initiated in that miscalculation. When beginning to accelerate into the turn, apply low speed in a smooth, focused manner to give your tires the best chance of finding traction.
Top Tips from Don Kitch
- Always Be Driving Defensively: Develop 360-degree situational awareness (read: no distracted driving)
- Know where your blind spot is, and position your mirrors effectively
- Lift your chin an inch and live in two planes of vision: Now and Ahead, using “High Aim Vision,” which means you look over the car right in front of you to anticipate what is going on ahead of that driver
- Your eyes do the steering; look to where you want to go
Passive safety + active safety + you
By continually learning and innovating, Volvo’s working toward their goal to end fatalities and severe injuries on the roads. By combining exhaustive research, computer simulations, and thousands of crash tests with data from real-life collisions, Volvo is taking this very seriously, and they’re living up to their reputation for world-class safety.