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By Jan Wagner - syndicated weekly columnist/photojournalist
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We’re spoiled here in Southern California

 


Del Mar, California

Okay. Today’s is a column where readers from other parts of the country and the rest of the world get to feel all smug and superior. The subject is our typically good driving conditions in Southern California, and how we sometimes seem to take them for granted.

It has never ceased to amaze me how we seem to get into accidents on the nicest of days. Often the sun is shining, there is not a cloud in the sky and yet accidents seem to happen here all too often. Why?

What prompted me to write this column was seeing the aftermath of a recent accident. It happened near my Southern California neighborhood, mid-afternoon on a beautiful day. Two vehicles were involved. The speed limit was only 45 MPH.

Before I continue, I’d like to take you back to where I came from and where I learned how to drive. The place is Alberta, Canada. This time of year, back then and there, meant that even on a nice day with clear blue skies, it was also likely that there was snow, gravel and perhaps ice on the roads. Drivers back there were acutely aware of the need to always be vigilant and ready for the worst. Believe it or not, for fun I used to go out looking for deserted roads, so that I could drift around on snow, gravel and ice. That taught me seat-of-the-pants, instinctive car control, and that experience has thankfully stayed with me to this day.


Autocrossing builds accident-avoidance skills 

That is probably why I like autocrossing so much, since participants are not bound by the same artificial limits we must observe on public roads. I get to explore driving on the edge of being out of control, and by doing so on a regular basis in a safe, controlled environment; I at least somewhat maintain my driving skill level. For that reason I strongly recommend autocrossing to every driver.

Rainy climates frequently present their drivers with slick roads too. Again, drivers in such places learn that they must to be careful to survive. They need to allow extra distance to make safe stops and to slow down well in advance of turns 

No one is immune to accidents. I remember once, as a teenager, I was creeping slowly along a crowned, dirt, two-lane road in the country. It was springtime in Southern Alberta and the snow was melting.  Despite the clear blue skies, the warm weather was ideal for turning the dirt on the road into mud – very slippery mud. I was not riding the crown at the center of the road. Instead, I was in my ‘lane’ on one side of the crown. I still remember sliding down the side of that road, almost in slow motion, right into the ditch.

All of these experiences and many more taught me to drive according to conditions and, if worst came to worst, how to react instinctively in the event of trouble. That was not an absolute guarantee for avoiding accidents but it sure did help. While my insurance agent can confirm that I have not had an accident in a long, long time, I have had several opportunities for accidents in that period. Fortunately I have not ‘taken advantage’ of these opportunities for accidents, thanks to not tailgating, by slowing down when visibility is poor or when the road is slippery, by looking ahead so that I could have some warning of traffic coming to a stop on 65 MPH freeways in time to stop myself before rear-ending someone (or getting rear-ended), and so forth.


Heavy, stop-and-go Southern California freeway traffic

So, let us now return to the aftermath of the fender-bender that I saw. The two vehicles had come to rest just past a wide, paved intersection, on a beautiful, sunny day. It looked like sprinklers had recently been watering the roadside landscaping, and they had done their usual great job of soaking the streets as well. However, on this day that seems to have become more than just an annoyance that got passing cars unnecessarily dirty.


Accident vehicle

I suspect that the water on the road contributed to this accident. There were skid marks on the curb in the center median, and also on the road, all leading towards where a minivan had come to rest. I can only imagine how terrifying the experience had been. The two vehicles had briefly come together, with the minivan ending up partially on a sidewalk and straddling a deep concrete drainage ditch – stopped abruptly by the landscaped (and very well watered) embankment. Thankfully there appeared to be no injuries.

In Southern California, Mother Nature does not provide drivers with opportunities to prepare for bad driving conditions with nearly the same frequency as she does in other places. That can’t help but lull us into a false sense of security until wham, just when we least expect it, something like this happens.

Is there a particular point to all of this? Mainly that we all need to pay careful attention to our driving at all times, no matter how good the conditions may seem to be. The boredom of plodding along in Southern California traffic one minute can almost instantly turn into a situation like this, without much warning. There are numerous potential hazards.


A sudden, blinding sandstorm by the coast

The distractions caused by cell phone usage compound the hazards, yet they can easily be avoided simply by not using a cell phone while driving. A moment’s distraction can make the difference between avoiding an accident and being involved in it.

Finally, consider improving your driving skills by participating in an autocross or a performance driving school. Not only is it fun – the experience could save a life.

As always, please share your stories and send your comments to AutoMatters@gmail.com. Enjoy the archives and more at www.AutoMatters.net. Drive safely and do join me again next time.

 

Copyright © 2006 Jan R. Wagner – #179 AutoMatters

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