Sunday, August 2, 2020

Road Safety: A Phone Call You Would Not Want to Receive in the Middle of the Night || Monchster Chronicles

Words and Photos by Monch Henares

Somewhere along the I-15 in Idaho state, there was a car crushed to the pulp, and it was my son driving it.

It was in the summer of 2010 when my eldest son, who was 20 years old at the time, asked me if he could borrow one of our cars, and go on a road trip with his friends. His first-ever long drive would begin in Las Vegas, Nevada where we lived and end in the Missoula, Montana. That is a long 943-mile trip by car that would take more than half a day, 13-hours and 12-mins to be exact, driving non-stop.

Being the cool dad, I said "Yes". But of course, that came with all the fatherly talk and advice on road safety, speed limits, and danger spots to avoid along the way. He listened intently, and even repeated what I have just told him. That to me was a sign that he was prepared and ready for the task ahead.  

I asked him to show me his itinerary. He planned several stops along the way and he even said he did that because he knew it was going to be a very long drive and he didn't want to get sleepy on the wheel. That made me feel more assured. Father and son, we both prepped the car with an oil change, tune-up, tire tread and pressure check, and even replaced the brake pads. The car was super fit to go.

The day of the long journey to beautiful Montana came.  My son and his friends were all pumped up with excitement. I think I was more excited for them remembering my first solo trip to Baguio when I was his age. Our agreement was that he would call me three times. First, from where they would spend the night. Second, before they leave the next morning. Third, when they get to Montana.

He did call me at about seven in the evening and said they were just looking for a nice cheap place to check-in for the night. He kept saying the trip was awesome and that they could not wait to get to Missoula. We said our goodnights and I wished him a fun and safe trip ahead.

I went to bed that night with a good vibe, but at a little past 3:00 AM, my perfectly peaceful sleep was broken with a loud blaring ring from my phone. There and then, I knew something was wrong. And sure enough, it was my son on the phone saying he was very sorry. He was very sorry he totaled the car. I told him I did not care about the car. I was more concerned about how he was. Was he hurt? Was anybody else hurt? Is there someone already there to help them?

My son lived through this horrific accident because he wore his seat-belt.

It turned out that they did not find a decent place to stay for the night and they hurriedly decided to push through with the trip. So, after downing in coffee, they went on their way through the dark night. He said after driving a few hours, he fell asleep on the wheel and woke up to a loud crash sound, and noticed the car was going through a violent roll. 

"It happened so fast," he said. The car hit the drainage ditch on the side of the road, flew in the air then hit the ground,  and then rolled over three times until it came to rest back on the road. There were pieces of the car everywhere.


I just wanted to share the road safety guidelines I told my son the day before his roller coaster of an accident. My top ten road safety rules went something like this...

1. Be Visible to other Drivers

In order to be safe for others on the road, you have to visible or be noticed by them.

Turn on your headlights even during daytime hours. Late-model cars have Daytime Running Lights (DRL) installed as a standard feature. It's sometimes coupled with a Auto-Headlight feature which makes it very convenient because it uses a light-sensitive sensor to choose when turn your headlight on and when not to, like when going through a tunnel, for example.

Drive cars of a color that's easy to see, bright colors like red and yellow are great. Avoid colors that blend with the road or darkness, grey or black are examples of this. Flat coating is a new fad in car paint. I definitely don't suggest the darker shade, those car finishes are almost totally not visible at night.

Use your turn-signals or blinkers before you attempt to change lanes or turn into a street. It is very important that the vehicles around you know of your intent. Use them only for that purpose. Hazard Warning Lights or Emergency Blinkers should also be used wisely. Use them only in an emergency, like when you are stalled on the road or stopped on a dark shoulder. I still don't get why some drivers turn them on while driving in the rain. 

Use your horn sparingly and with courtesy, not unless your really need to get a wayward cars attention. Keep your cool so you won't look like a fool.

2. Defensive Driving

What can be more stressful than driving in the city during rush hour?  Over-growing cities like Manila have seen an increase in the number of people who have to use a car to get around. I won't tell you how not to get stressed because I think it is an impossible task we have to live with, but instead, this is what I suggest you learn and practice to make driving fun and exciting. 

Defensive driving is more about common sense than anything else. Imagine yourself in an exciting game of dodge-ball.  Every car around you symbolizes the ball. All these balls are driven by maniac drivers that have only one intention, and that is to take you out. Your main goal, playing "It", is to dodge all these threats and crazies and get to your destination without a scratch. How fun is that? So, after doing some simple math, I can assume that the more people that drive defensively, the safer it will be out there.

Defensive driving, contrary to the seemingly obvious conclusion, can save you just as much time and money, more importantly, keep the roads safer for everyone. It will help you easily navigate through most road and traffic conditions and anticipate the possibility of a mishap.

3. Pay Attention To The Road 

"Where did he come from?" or "I lost my brakes!" (common for a jeepney, bus, and truck drivers) is the most common excuse used after an accident. But really now, it wasn't that the other vehicle (or person, or tree, or carabao) was invisible.

More than 60% of road accidents happen because a driver does not pay attention to what is happening on the road. Any vehicle, whether big or small, can be the cause of an accident. Also, remember that you cannot rely on your fellow drivers to follow the rules and keep you safe. So stay alert and ensure that you have plenty of room to maneuver your vehicle out of a potentially dangerous situation. 

Don't fiddle around with the car radio, cell phone, or other things while driving. If you have a cell phone, and it rings or a text notification dings while you are driving, please do not look at or answer it. Pull to the side of the road with caution to answer it. That notification is not worth the life or lives you will put in danger. Distraction is one of the major modern causes of accidents, and that includes hitting and killing pedestrians or bicyclists.

Don't just watch directly in front of your car, ‘Read the road’ by paying attention to what's happening farther down the road ahead of you, rather than just maintaining a narrow focus on the few feet immediately in front of your car. Scan the parked cars for people in them who may open a door you would have to avoid. Look for cars in driveways that may reverse into traffic. 

Watch pedestrians for indications they are going to move onto the road, particularly children. Expect cyclists to behave unpredictably. Cautiously avoid any debris or boxes on the road. They are probably empty but they may be filled with a lot of stuff that can damage your car. Treat them like they are made of concrete. This will help you better prepare for what's coming and avoid potentially risky situations.

4. Know Your Blind Spots

Regularly check your rear-view mirrors, including side mirrors, and always be sure to check your blind spot before changing lanes.

Remember that you have a few blind spots around your vehicle. The area behind the pillars of the car and at the back are the usual blind spots. Always be cautious when moving in these directions, such as when you are changing lanes or backing out of parking. Looking into your rear-view mirror is not enough. 

I was taught to always turn my head and look with my own eyes to see if the coast is clear or to assess the situation. On the freeway, have a mental note of what vehicles are around you, take an inventory using your mirrors. that green car that you can no longer see, might be in your blind spot. Everything that you see in your mirrors is 100% correct. 

Backing up is always tricky. Have a quick look around for anything in your way first. Be especially careful if there are children playing around the vehicle. Defensive driving might seem dull for some, but safety should be the paramount consideration on the road. 

5. Do Not Provoke

Don't do jackrabbit starts and last-minute braking. When you see you'll have to stop soon, begin slowing down well in advance rather than rushing up and then having to hit the brakes harder, this increases the chances you will be rear-ended or might end up hard-kissing the behind of the vehicle in front of you. Fast takeoffs are also dangerous because if someone or something moves in front of you just as you're starting to move your car, your faster speed on takeoffs makes it almost impossible to stop in time to avoid a collision. 

Don't tailgate, leave plenty of space between you and the car ahead of you. This includes even in slow but heavy traffic, where you might be tempted to leave no space out of fear someone will move into that one-car space ahead of you, but fender benders are most common in slower-moving traffic of exactly that sort.

On roads that have higher speed limits, such as highways, traffic from the rear approaches very quickly. When there are large vehicles such as trucks and buses on the road, ensure that you maintain enough distance for your car to be visible in the rear-view and outside mirrors of the vehicle in front of you. In fact, tailgating any vehicle is a risk. So, maintain a reasonable distance between your car and the vehicle in front.

As you drive in traffic look through the windows of the car in front to see the tail lights of those in front of him/her. When they light up, you have a little extra warning of the need to stop.

Don't "brake-check" cars or otherwise engage in conflicts with drivers around you. When someone's tailgating you, the right response is to move to another lane with caution if possible or otherwise try to just move out of the way or ignore them, but don't fall into a trap of tapping your brakes to 'send a message' or scare the other drivers. 

You just risk making them hit you or swerve into another car, and often such behavior will instigate an even worse behavior from the other driver that surely escalates the situation. Be calm, don't let your emotions make you do something stupid that increases your chances of having an accident while also distracting you from concentrating on your driving.

6. Do Not Exceed the Speed Limit

The faster you are moving, the longer it takes for the car to do your bidding when you apply the brakes. It also reduces the time you have to react to the unexpected, such as a car out of control or an animal crossing the road. The sheer physics of a collision at high speeds should be enough deterrence. The greater transfer of energy resulting from the higher momentum can cause horrific injuries. Don't speed or drive too slow. 

Fast driving is a major factor that increases your risk of having an accident, and no matter how good you might think you drive, you never know when another driver might pull out in front of you or turn in your path due to poor judgment of distance. Likewise, driving to slow can back up traffic, cause tailgating, cause other cars to swerve around you, and can cause faster cars to risk running into you.

Driving over a given speed limit is not only illegal but also dangerous. Driving at 60kmph on a road where the limit is 50kmph might save you 20 minutes, but it also increases the chances of an accident.

7. Always Remember To Wear Your Seatbelts

The seat belt is the most important safety device in your car. A seat belt might appear to be insignificant, but it can save your life. The force and sudden movement on collision can fatally injure a person or even fling drivers out of the car if they're not strapped in.

Seat belts also help in cutting down movement while driving on bumpy roads. If you have a small child in the car, use a baby seat and fasten it using a seat belt. Wear your seat belt. If you hit a big bump or are hit by another car, you don't want to risk losing control of your vehicle even temporarily, Seat belts increase your odds of remaining in a safe position to maintain control of the car.

8. Do Not Drive if You Are Stressed or Unwell

Watch for erratic drivers and avoid them. Nearly one in three accidents is alcohol-related, and on weekends about half of all accidents are alcohol-related, so if you see a driver swerving, driving too fast or too slow, or pulling out of a bar's parking lot, you should slow down and avoid being near that car. Also, whenever possible, avoid driving through areas with a high concentration of bars, especially on weekends.

If you think you are tired, distracted, stressed, fatigued, furious, or unwell and it would affect your judgment while driving, you should not get behind the steering wheel. Any of these can slow down your reaction time, impair your concentration, and driving in such a state is unwise.

Being overworked, stressed, or tired increases the chances of you falling asleep at the wheels. If it's a long drive and you feel tired, pull over to the side of the road and sleep for a while. A five-minute power nap works for me.

It goes without saying that consumption of alcohol is a serious impediment to making the right choices and it is very dangerous to drive intoxicated. If you are going to a party where you are likely to consume alcohol, make sure someone who does not drink is the designated driver or arrange for a taxi or Grab. Driving under the influence of alcohol is a punishable offense, including the possibility of cancellation of your license or even jail time.

9. Do Not Drive in Bad Weather Conditions

Avoid driving in bad weather conditions or in rush hour traffic. Sometimes you might have no choice, but if you do have a choice, then don't take the risk of driving in conditions that inherently increase the risk. Remember, even if you think you can drive fine in those conditions, there are lots of terrible drivers out there who might be driving around you.

The most sensible thing to do in bad weather conditions such as heavy rainfall or fog in the mountain is to slow down and turn your lights on. Driving at high speeds in heavy rain could lead to your car aquaplaning (rise up on a thin film of water between the tires and road so that there is no more contact with the road).

Similarly, visibility is reduced significantly in a dense fog, and judging the distances between vehicles becomes difficult.

In both cases-heavy rain and fog-slowing down is the safest option. If the fog is very thick, drive slowly along the divider or road markers to have a point of reference. Do not try to overtake in such conditions.

Therefore, speed-match the rest of the traffic as closely as possible without exceeding the speed limit. If the rest of the traffic is moving at a pace faster than you comfortably like, keep to the lane on the right and stay out of the way of the faster vehicles. If you need to overtake a vehicle moving slower than you are, do so from the left. Make your intentions clear using the turn-indicators before overtaking.

10. Maintain your car

Make sure that your car tires have the right air pressure because overinflated tires reduce the area of contact with the road, resulting in loss of rolling friction on wet surfaces. 

Replace you windshield wipers once a year, right before the rainy season. 

Get your car serviced regularly. Build a relationship with a trusted mechanic or shop who will let you know if your brakes need work or you have missed a tire going bald.

Keep your car in good shape with regular maintenance checks. It won't matter how safely you drive if your brakes don't work or your tire burst at high speed, so always maintain your car.

He Is Alive

If you feel sleepy, pull over to a safe place and take a 5-10 minute power-nap. I am just so thankful my son and his friends came out of this horrific accident alive with non-debilitating injuries. 

They all wore their seatbelts, thank God. They followed every rule on this list except one (rule no. 8), and look where it got them. My son is now 30 years old, married, healthy, and doing very good as a neonatal intensive care unit nurse in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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Monch "Monchster" Henares is an award-winning automotive journalist and feature writer for the Philippine Daily Inquirer's Road Talk, a media blogger, co-founder of and a co-anchor in the program 'Kaya Mo Yan' on DZRH News Tele-radio.  He is also a tech and motoring specialist, inventor, and automotive engineer. 

He managed the motor pool for a limousine company in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. He is now based in Manila, Philippines, and is the President of BuildMeUp Corp.

You may e-mail him at
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