What I Learned in Elder College
I'm lucky to be part of Vancouver Island University's Elder College program. It's one of 18 similar programs found throughout British Columbia and is aimed at participants who are aged 50 or older. I present 2 three hour seminars on driving and always seem to learn something myself through interaction with the group.
Drivers will often ignore things that don't make sense to them. One participant was curious if she would run into trouble by not stopping for a stop sign posted at an E&N Railway crossing. The railway is almost completely dormant due to the track condition.
She has also noticed that some crossings are posted with stop signs and others nearby are not.
There's only one answer to her question, regardless of how little train traffic that crossing sees, you have to stop and proceed when safe. Not doing so could invite a ticket and ingrain improper behaviour that could result in ignoring a stop sign at an active railway crossing.
A common complaint within the group concerns following distances. It seems that as soon as you are able to establish a comfortable following distance another driver changes lanes and fills it in. Many of those drivers also leave very little distance between their back bumper and your front one when they do this.
I agree, it's frustrating. These drivers appear to have forgotten the rule of thumb that you need to see all of the front of the vehicle behind you in the center rear view mirror before you change lanes. The wisest course is to drop back and re-establish your safety margin.
How long is one car length was the next question.
Don't think of following distance in terms of car lengths as we tend to have difficulty judging that by eye. Instead think seconds. Leave at least two seconds following distance to act as a buffer. When roads are busy, it's night time or conditions are rainy or slippery, leave ever more time to react and stop.
The discussion of two way left turn lanes sometimes results in blank stares when I explain that the only way to legally leave them is by turning left. Many drivers use them as acceleration lanes after making a left turn onto a busy street. The lane change to the right from the two way left turn lane is a case of disobeying a traffic control device.
Finally, I've learned that many drivers have never taken the time to read the owner's manual for their vehicle. This is critically important in relation to occupant restraints (airbags, seatbelts and child seats). Being out of position or improperly restrained could be fatal! The simplest way to protect yourself is to read that manual.