Training Topic – Vehicle Clearances

Do you remember the first time you scratched or “dinged” the side of your car when you first started driving?  I do. 

My father’s pride and joy was our family’s 1977 Chevy Nova sedan.  I backed it out of the garage and started to turn the car too soon.  To my shock, I managed to rub paint from the garage door frame into the fashionable black trim molding.

I was certain my normally calm and reserved father (a fleet manager at a major public utility) would explode when he saw what I had done.

To my relief, he was only mildly annoyed, and spent a Saturday with me teaching me how to buff out the paint from the molding/trim, and then how to better sight obstacles in my mirrors, etc. (he was also an accomplished driver trainer, having received many certifications and being qualified in several popular driver training programs).

The lessons I received back then need to be translated to my two sons now, as they start to drive.

Understanding vehicle clearances (top, bottom, side to side) are important for all drivers: 

  • For businessmen, they need to adjust their driving when operating rental cars on business trips (that may be wider, more powerful, have buttons and knobs in unfamiliar locations, etc.). 
  • For drivers who change equipment frequently or receive a new vehicle as part of a fleet upgrade, there can be difficulty in keeping centered in lane or stopping short of a fixed object when relying on mirrors that may not be adjusted properly.
  • Turning into a driveway or parking lot can create literal fender benders if the driver misjudges cornering capabilities.
  • Driving along unimproved roads can lead to bottoming out and damaging the undercarriage.
  • Construction zones use tall, concrete “Jersey Barriers” to form “cattle chutes” which provide a full lane’s clearance, but make it feel like you’ll scrape both sides of your vehicle if you drift inches to either side.
  • Commercial trucks and buses must always exercise great caution with limited overhead clearance at tunnels, bridges, overpasses, and even enclosed terminals where they drive under a roof structure.
  • Misjudged clearances can be devastating when pedestrians or cyclists are involved.  “I didn’t see them” is never an adequate explanation.

Because this is a simple issue in the eyes of most drivers, they can become complacent when practical caution is a better approach.

This month, our Ten-Minute Training Topic is on “Vehicle Clearances” and covers this topic in greater detail.  Included are driver handouts, manager’s supplemental reports, and power point slide shows for photocopying or displaying on monitors.

Interestingly, collisions with fixed objects are the second most common type of vehicle crashes.  Hitting a guardrail, abutment or other stationary object has led to more than 11,000 deaths and more than 500,000 injuries during the most recent year’s statistics per the National Safety Council. Yet, we’ve found very little in the way of training or educational materials.  We’ve already received many compliments on this program for exploring the mundane issues that really contribute to actual collisions.

A sampling of issues we raise in the training topic include:

  • When operating any motorized vehicle, we need to pay careful attention to the clearance space around the vehicle.  This includes all dimensions – above, below and beside the vehicle.  It’s possible to hit tree limbs, bridges, tunnel entrances, sideswipe parked vehicles and even to get stuck on railroad tracks depending on your vehicle’s design and conditions. 
  • Key contributors to these crashes include: driving while distracted (failing to notice the hazard because of electronic distractions, fatigue/drowsiness, or other impairment such as being ill or influenced by OTC medications, etc.) and/or assuming there’s adequate clearance when there really isn’t (being unfamiliar with the equipment, route, or specific hazard).
  • Some drivers get into trouble when they rely on GPS navigation systems that are out of date, are missing critical data, or have bad data on board.  Some systems are designed for personal (i.e. car uses) and don’t have the needed insights to warn of low bridges, etc.
  • During 2011, SafetyFirst received tens of thousands of Motorist Observation Reports and 7.24% were specifically tied to dishonoring the right of way (failing to yield, or aggressively taking the right of way from other motorists).  Other reported behaviors related to this issue include:  
    • Failure to stay in lane = 4.35%
    • Disobey traffic rules = 4.28%

Did You Know?

Here are some local news items that further highlight the seriousness of this type of collision.  You may want to share local stories from your area with your drivers:

NY Daily News — 10/07/2012 – “A tractor trailer driver wedged his truck under an overpass of the Nos. 2 and 5 trains at Westchester Avenue and Fox Street in the Bronx Sunday. A heavy-duty tow truck eventually freed the tractor trailer. The unidentified driver was not injured.”

San Francisco Chronicle — 09/25/2012 – “The U.S. should write standards for GPS-connected devices used by truck and bus drivers to stop them from hitting low bridges after driving onto restricted roads, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said. Truckers following faulty directions by global positioning systems devices have hit bridges in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County more than 200 times in the past two years, the New York Democrat said in a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood yesterday. About 80 percent of bridge strikes in New York state, where parkways with low overpasses are supposed to be closed to commercial traffic, are caused by GPS misdirection, Schumer said. Even if the roads are well-marked, GPS devices may not note restrictions on trucks and buses, he said. “These accidents are frequent, costly, dangerous and entirely avoidable,” Schumer said. “If we have the technology to send a truck to Mars, we have the technology to prevent trucks from crashing into bridges.”

 Websites you may find helpful:

(SafetyFirst is not responsible for the content on these websites – access the information with caution as to the sources and or accuracy of their material)