Reality Check

911-Driving School offers a three-hour behind the wheel program on a closed course.  Reality check isn’t just for new drivers or mature drivers worried about their driving skills declining.  If you’ve recently purchased a new car and want to take it through its paces to get a feel for how it handles in an emergency, a closed course offers a safe alternative to “real” driving.  (253) 445-0911

ProFormance Racing School

ProFormance offers a wide variety of specialized driving classes and experiences. Want to experience what race car drivers experience?  Get some hands-on training at Pacific Raceways in Kent (previously Seattle International Raceways) with courses offered by ProFormance Racing School.   These classes are expensive.

Join a club

Audi Club, Porsche Club, Washington Motorcycle Road Racing Association and the Society of Vintage Racing Enthusiasts all offer driver schools and safety seminars at Pacific Raceways in Kent. Check out Pacific Raceways website at   BMW CCA Puget Sound offers BMW owners an opportunity to step up their driving skills in a controlled environment.  They also use Pacific Raceways as their venue.

1. Changes in temperature impact tire pressure.  Check your tire’s air pressure at least once a month and keep them inflated to manufacturer’s recomendations (usually printed on the vehicle door placard or owner’s manual).
2. Check the tires tread depth. As rain falls, it mixes with grime and oil on the road creating slick conditions. Driving at a slower pace allows more of the tire’s tread to make contact with the road, which leads to better traction.
3. If your car skids, remember not to slam on the brakes. Apply firm, steady pressure to the brakes and steer the car in the direction of the skid.
4. It takes about three times longer to brake on wet roads than on dry roads. Since more distance is required to brake, it is important to not tailgate. Keep a little more than two car lengths between you and the vehicle in front of you.
5. Avoid using your brakes. Whenever possible, slow down by taking your foot off the accelerator.
6. Wet-weather driving demands gentle use of all the main controls – steering, clutch, brake and accelerator – and a larger allowance for errors and emergencies. Turn your headlights on, even in a light rain. All motorists should regularly check that their headlights, rear lights, brake lights and turn indicators are working properly.
7. Ninety percent of driving decisions are based on visual input alone. Heavy rain can overload wiper blades, allowing an almost continuous sheet of water to flow over the screen. Inspect your wiper blades and replace them if they are cracked, torn, cut or streaking.  When visibility is so limited that the edges of the road or other vehicles cannot be seen at a safe distance despite your wiper blades, it is time to safely pull over and wait for the rain to ease up. Keep your headlights on and turn on your hazard warning lights to alert other drivers.
8. Cloudy weather reduces visibility. Use extra caution when passing other vehicles.
9. If you have driven through standing water deep enough to get your brake shoes wet, apply the brakes lightly to dry them.
10. Don’t drive while fatigued.  Stop at least every couple of hours or every hundred miles to rest.
11. Before taking a long trip, ensure your car is properly tuned.

-compiled from Goodyear resources

You don’t have to have a terrible disease to have your life as a driver curtailed.  AAA recently announced that nearly 80 percent of drivers 65 and older take regular medication, yet only about half have talked to their doctors about the impact of these medications to their driving was launched to offer to offer assessment tools, expert advice and resources.  It is a 45-minute screening tool on the site that uses short videos and tests to help you assess how aging is impacting your driving.  “Roadwise Rx” allows you to enter your prescriptions to find out how they may impact your driving skills.

AARP is one of several places that offers driver safety classes each month.  For a nominal fee, drivers can take a refresher course and learn about how aging impacts your driving ability and what you can do to reduce the likelihood of getting into an accident.  You can find AARP’s drivers schedule on page 17.

Goodyear tire demo at the Tacoma Dome in September 2012.

In September, I received a phone call from a Goodyear representative who wanted to know if I were interested in attending a demonstration about tires.  If you’ve been reading the “Senior Scene” for any length of time, you know the paper doesn’t have an automobile section.  So I nearly told the rep that I wasn’t interested except that I’d received several phone calls recently and it got me to thinking.

After about the age of 16, we take the act of driving for granted.  Gone are the days when only the man in the family drives.  Most families financially support multiple vehicles and their various insurances and expensive-to-fill gas tanks.  All that changes if a health crisis occurs.  One of my callers had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  She was still early in the life of the disease, but as soon as she received the diagnosis, she discovered she needed to take a driver’s test.  The second caller had had a stroke.  She needed to take a test to be able to drive again.  Both callers began to see just how much narrower their lives might become based on a test many of us will usually have only a handful of times.  Transportation options are extremely limited, especially for folks who may have not been limited since the days when their folks told them they had to be back by night fall.  And with limited transportation comes limited opportunities to go out just for fun or to meet up with friends or family.  Your big world can just that quickly become limited to how far you can walk or whether or not you’re on an active bus line.  See how your driving stacks up here.

So I went.  A whole passel of Goodyear folks showed up to take a BMW 321i for a test drive and experience the difference between the Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric All-Season and Michelin’s similar high performance tire.  And then there was me.  In all honesty, there are little old ladies that probably complain that I drive like a little old lady.  I don’t like paying for the privilege of getting to the next location a few minutes sooner so I drive speed limit and follow all traffic laws.  This makes me a good driver (maybe) but not a gutsy driver.

The Goodyear employees were all men and they blew through the course as if it were a life-time personal dream of theirs to recklessly drive someone else’s vehicle.  Driving at my much more sedate speed meant there wasn’t really much difference between one tire and the next.
At the break between driving a dry course and a wet course, a Goodyear rep talked about how Texas just changed their highway speed to 85 miles per hour and how other states are thinking about following suit and suddenly high performance tires made a whole lot more sense, especially if I was thinking about doing any traveling.

This leads me to a second reason to write about driving in the “Senior Scene.”  Despite Perry Como’s song about our skies, on this side of the mountain you’re more likely to see rain than sun.  Dry weather isn’t necessarily the best thing either, since the first real rain we get after a dry spell turns our streets into oil slicks.  The most frequent noise on the hills around Tacoma after a rain is the scream of tires trying to get traction.  Stopping half-way up a hill because a traffic light turned red can turn you into a believer in good tires.  Regardless of what tire you have on your car, replacing tires when the tread becomes worn, keeping your tires properly inflated and driving at a slower pace will increase your traction.  See here for more tips.

The Goodyear course was set up at the Tacoma Dome.  It was nice and flat with sprinkler systems arranged to simulate an easy rainfall.  Driving at or just above highway speeds and changing lanes on wet pavement to avoid the knucklehead who just pulled in front of you pretty closely resembles what driving the track was like.  I’d like to say that all on my own, I ratcheted up my driving but it honestly took a professional driver sitting in the suicide seat and giving me pointers to get me flying through the wet course.

This is point number three that I wanted to make.  It’s been decades since I took a driving test.  Even at my usual speed, the professional beside me had some tips to improve my driving.  Once I achieved a faster speed, he very patiently provided even more guidelines.  Most of us believe that if our passengers can ride without clinging to the suicide strap or pumping their feet through the floor and we mostly avoid traffic tickets that we’re safe drivers.  We drive but we don’t spend time analyzing our driving.  It was educational to sit next to someone whose work life is dedicated to driving.  I was excited when I walked off that track which made me wonder, “Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could experience that.”  They ought to have classes or something that allowed you to drive around at breakneck speed and build your confidence level.  Well, of course my trademarked idea was already being used.  Check out the driving school sidebar.

So, did I see a difference in performance between Goodyear’s tires and Michelin’s.  Yes.  I don’t know if that’s because the track was stacked with a bias for Goodyear or not as I honestly still don’t know much about tires but I definitely believe you should buy the best tire you can afford.  If you can afford it that might be the Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric All-Season.  But, I also believe that you’re always happiest with a product when the team responsible for helping you make the decision listens to you, works within your limitations and genuinely wants your experience to be the best it can be and maybe that’s the real reason I walked off that track with the world’s biggest smile.