Boneheaded drivers, stunt driving is not all about speed

Blocking a driver from changing lanes? Bolting off a light to make a left turn? Congratulations, you could be charged with stunt driving

Originally published: May 9, 2016

You might remember when Ontario introduced its infamous stunt driving laws in September 2007. There was a lot of outcry in some sectors that the law essentially made a cop the judge, jury and executioner, right there by the side of the road. I may (cough) have been one of them. Do 50 km/h over the speed limit, and you get automatic impoundment of your car for seven days, a $2,000 fine and a week-long suspension of your licence. And that was just the start of the fun. By the time you added in demerits (six) and other circumstances, you could be up to $10,000 in fines and jail time.

The “50 over” part was of course what grabbed easy headlines; there was always more to the law than that, and it’s why variations of it have been picked up in other parts of Canada like Quebec, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Manitoba. There are differences within the respective laws, but the spirit is similar. Alberta continues to monitor according to speeding and careless driving laws, though tiny Prince Edward Island has a section on what qualifies as stunt practices.

Call it whatever you like; speeding, street racing, aggressive driving, stunt driving, dangerous or reckless driving – critics are correct that existing laws cover most of what is included under many stunt wordings; some, like reckless driving, fall under the criminal code. But the intent was to give officers a tool that addressed an increasing practice on our roads: people using them as racetracks. It’s hardly new; Jim Stark and Danny Zuko were sending up sparks on screen long before The Fast and the Furious made its debut. What has changed is increasingly sophisticated cars, and a lot of unsophisticated drivers trying to replicate their onscreen heroes.

The stunt law wasn’t about using a hammer to kill a flea; it was about using a hammer to pound in a very large, stupid nail. The charge covers things like weaving at high rates of speed, crossing into oncoming traffic for longer than it takes to complete a pass (playing chicken), blocking someone from changing lanes, and more. In Ontario, if you bolt off a light and make a left ahead of oncoming traffic, that’s stunting. Someone in your trunk? That, too. The speed is the instigator of the charge in most cases, but it is surrounding behaviour that backs it up. I agree with critics of the law that speed alone shouldn’t merit the roadside hook; according to Greg Schweiler at Trafficstop.ca, people charged with stunt driving are gambling so much on pleading not guilty they will gladly plea out to 49 over and have the charge reduced to Section 128 of the Ontario HTA – speeding. He acknowledges that courts rightfully view 50 km/h over in the city far more harshly than they do on the highway. Don’t look for much leeway there.

My initial concerns back in 2007 were that cops would be gleeful at the chance to get any car doing 151 km/h on our highways onto a tow hook. They’d be making the call for kicks. Actually, the wording of the law (and cops don’t make the laws) says they “shall” seize the car for impound if it’s doing 50 km/h over the speed limit. Not “may.” Shall. Because those speeds are often accompanied by the characteristics inherent in street racing – weaving, blocking, lifting and squealing tires – I’m okay with getting them off the street and letting them have their day in court. Toronto Police Services Constable Clint Stibbe tells me virtually every ticket is fought in court, too, with varying results. He clocked a woman doing 101 km/h in a 50 zone; she was late getting her kid to school, who was in the back seat. The bigger concern here isn’t being played out on the highways; it’s the idiots who are using your local streets as racetracks.

I profile other drivers as surely as airport security profiles fliers. I’ve taught my sons to pay attention to signs drivers give off if they’re about to get aggressive: creeping at crosswalks, eyes clapped only on the traffic signal, ready to blast out of the blocks like some Olympic sprinter. Yes, you get to be first – but too bad you didn’t notice a pedestrian step off the curb. I don’t trust polite drivers who wave others through stop signs, long after they legally should have gone themselves, or if you’re looking at your passenger as you talk to them, or if your driver’s seat is reclined so far back you look like you’re sitting in your La-Z-Boy after eating too much dinner at grandma’s.

You’re not in control if you have your dog on your lap. Actually in some jurisdictions this falls under the stunt laws, like in PEI where it is not permissible for “any person or thing to occupy the front seat of a motor vehicle in such a manner so as to impede the driver in the free and uninterrupted access to and use of the steering wheel, brakes and other equipment required to be used for the safe operation of the motor vehicle.” This means you can’t have Fifi on your lap, or a watermelon, or your date.

Do laws like this really change anything? I knew a man who viewed those speeding billboards much as he did menus; it was the cost of driving as fast as he wanted, and he had the wallet to do so. The extended fear of the punishment being so much more than a speeding ticket – stranded by the side of the road, impound fees, insane insurance rates – has provincial police saying it is definitely making a measurable impact. Some argued it was not constitutional, including a judge. But back in 2010, the Court of Appeal for Ontario in R v. Raham upheld the constitutionality of Ontario’s stunt driving provisions. This decision was not appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, according to the Ministry of the Attorney General’s Office.

There will always be some, like the 18-year-old from Kleinberg, Ont., who two years ago was busted doing 240 km/h on Highway 407. Hard to think the law meant much to him, when he’d posted a picture of his Nissan GT-R on Twitter the week before under the caption, “bring on the tickets.”

He forgot about the bus pass.

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Ontario licence plates need a serious overhaul

Government looks at problems of fading and peeling but little has been done for a permanent fix

Originally published: May 2, 2016

If it’s my imagination, then it’s everybody else’s as well. It used to be a faded licence plate was the province of a stubborn old dude like my father who refused to part with it, regardless of threat of ticket. Up until 1973, in Ontario you renewed your vehicle registration and got a new plate every year. After that, we moved to a sticker system that admittedly was more environmentally friendly, but made for many sparse garage walls. And yet, head out to any parking lot or roadway in Ontario right now, and you will encounter too many vehicles sporting fading, peeling licence plates.

The problems surfaced in late 2012, when the manufacturer, Trilcor Correctional Industries (licence plates are made by inmates just like in the movies; this one the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ontario) moved from a solvent-based paint to a two-part process involving an aluminum coat and a film. If you look, you’ll notice a reflective quality to the numbers and letters; the trouble was, those layers had trouble adhering to the raised edges on the plates, and started to prematurely bubble, peel and fade.

People complained. The provincial government responded, saying the plates had a five-year warranty and if you detected a problem, you could simply replace them free of charge. Anne-Marie Flanagan, advisor with the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, notes the Ontario plates are made to similar specs as other North American jurisdictions. Even so, they commissioned the National Research Council to carry out an independent investigation into why the fading and delaminating was occurring.

“The report noted that potential factors, like climate, may affect plates and included a few recommendations including to investigate that the correct pressure is being used in the embossing process – which we have now investigated and confirmed.”

So they’re trying to fix a problem without saying it was a problem. They may use the same process as the rest of North America, but only Ontario and a few U.S. states are having issues. Back in 2008, a batch of 90,000 plates manufactured in Nova Scotia experienced peeling and fading; the government there identified the batch and has waived the replacement fee for those affected even outside the five-year warranty period.

Estimates of returned Ontario plates are running at about 2 per cent of the 1.4 million plates put out annually. I must live in some anecdotal hotspot because I see far more than 2 per cent every time I leave the house, and wonder how many people perhaps haven’t noticed, or who don’t understand it’s a legal problem, too.

Here’s the thing: Nothing lasts forever, especially something exposed continually to our climate. Vehicle owners have an obligation to maintain all the parts of that vehicle, including government-issued plates. But to go from something that outlasted most cars (I have plates that are over 20 years old) to something that is fading faster than Bill Cosby’s reputation, and shift the onus onto consumers to take care of it, is unfair. If you miss the five-year cutoff for warranty, new plates just went up to $40 from $29. Personalized plates now start at $310, meaning that warranty window is even more important should you experience problems. Licence plates should last longer than five years, and so should the paint on them.

If you don’t care about the cosmetic factor, consider the legal one: Section 13 of the Highway Traffic Act requires you to keep your plate clear of obstruction, meaning everything from snow and dirt to rust and fading. That plate must be clearly legible. Constable Clint Stibbe with Toronto Traffic Services says police will be looking at intent – are you purposely obstructing your plate? – but it’s ultimately about education. “An officer will usually issue a warning the first time, but once that’s in the system, it’s up to the owner to get that plate fixed. The next time, a ticket will be issued.” It’s a $110 ticket.

Keep in mind you may not paint or glue the letters back on yourself. Be careful what aftermarket holders and covers you might be tempted to purchase; although you can purchase some right at the ServiceOntario counters, they’re not a government-issued product. Stibbe cautions that some covers can work as privacy screens, whether you intend them to or not. If they reflect or refract light or otherwise obscure the plate, you might be on the hook for it. But he admits there is little appetite to bust drivers for sporting clear plastic covers.

I can name 100 things I’d rather do than stand around a cramped government office tucked into an even more cramped plaza trying to exchange licence plates that have had reported ongoing problems for more than three years.

“The government is committed to continuing the investigation into this matter. In 2015, the supplier of the reflective sheeting implemented changes to its production process which is consistent with changes implemented in other jurisdictions. We are monitoring the situation to see if these changes improve the plate quality,” says Flanagan. In the meantime, check out your newish plates. If you see problems starting, go get in that line and change them out under warranty. If they’re simply old, suck up the 40 bucks to avoid a larger fine.

As for the government making a change to the production process: What took so long?

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Spring inspections can save money down the road

Switching tires is the perfect time for a look-over after the trials of winter

Originally published: April 27, 2016

Have you ever been to a palm reader? What if I told you a decent vehicle technician could do an equivalent of a palm reading on your car, and there’s nothing shady about it? According to Bill Gardiner, Canada’s “Car Doctor” speaking recently from a Kal Tire location in Toronto, your tires are like the palms of your car, and reveal a lot of information with the right inspection.

“Wear patterns reveal problems with suspension or alignment. They’ll show a lack of rotation when your tires were put on, and signs of under-inflation, which affects safety as well as fuel economy,” he says. Tires are one of the most important components of your car, yet are often overlooked and under-appreciated. If you’re banging them off curbs and damaging sidewalls, if your driving habits cause premature wear and if you can’t be bothered replacing them, every safety feature in your car is compromised.

“Canadians really have an optimal opportunity to have their car inspected,” he says. “Most of us change out tires twice a year with the seasons, and it’s the perfect opportunity to be proactive about maintaining your car.”

He notes Canadian winters can wash lubricants out from steering and suspension systems. The gunk – salt and brine – sets in and can do a number on ball joints and tie rod ends.

“New cars are so well engineered and insulated, the driver doesn’t get audible clues that something is starting to go wrong,” Gardiner warns. You also get used to driving your own car, and things like brakes becoming spongy and steering starting to pull can be subtle rather than overt. A seasonal once-over will check those brakes, fluid levels, filters, wiper blades, bulbs and the battery.

It’s easy to treat our cars the way we treat our bodies, and respond to the parts as they break rather than heading trouble off at the pass. Maintenance will always be cheaper than repair, however, especially if you factor in the sudden onslaught of breakdown costs while you’re on holiday or by the side of the road. A flat tire is easily repaired by roadside assistance or you, but other problems could present a torn-up vacation and a blown-up credit card.

Check the inflation of your spare tire (if you have one) annually in the summer; if you want your tech to check it, clear all the junk out of the trunk so he or she can get to it. If a tire goes, get as far off the roadway as you can, safely. Don’t change a tire next to a live lane of traffic; call for assistance if you can’t make it to an exit. There’s a reason many parts of the country levy a huge fine for failing to slow down and change lanes around emergency vehicles; it’s a deadly place to be.

Gardiner points to your owner’s manual as the standard. Most will have two schedules for maintenance, and he reminds you that Canada is considered a severe climate zone. Some manufacturers are now insisting on the use of synthetic oil, and doing otherwise could cause problems if a warranty issue arises. Same goes for the timing on those oil changes — a common question is whether you follow the month or the kilometre; he suggests twice a year regardless for the average driver, once if you’re a low-miler.

Dealerships can be aggressive with their own maintenance schedules. While vehicle owners want to take care of their cars, most of us are looking for the most reasonable way to maintain our warranties. Compare those blockbuster packages offered by the maintenance department with the manufacturer’s schedules in your owner’s manual. If they’re not close, ask questions.

Gardiner also notes the other side of the coin, less reputable shops and chains that rely on costly upsells once they lure you in with a cheap poster price. “Most manufacturers do not recommend you flush any fluid reservoirs. When you start hearing about flushing and serpentine belts and air cabin filters from one of these places, you’re likely getting an upsell by an unlicenced technician.”

Batteries typically last about five years, but Gardiner says that number is falling as more and more parasitic draws are placed on it with increased electrical loads. All the wingdings – clocks, lights and systems that perform even when you’re not in the car – contribute to a steady drain. He says more batteries fail in summer than winter, another reminder to consider if you should be replacing it. Once again, head back to your manual to make sure you replace the battery with a CCA rating (cold crank average) that meets or exceeds the one that was original to the car.

A good technician will be able to tell you a lot about your car’s performance and problems, starting with the tires. But the first step is planning your maintenance so everything else you plan goes off without a hitch.

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Turo has a legal leg-up in car sharing field

Peer-to-peer car rental isn’t perfect, but insurance and roadside assistance cover users

Originally published: April 20, 2016

I think the sharing economy is a crock. It started out warm enough; borrow my underused this, trade me an hour of babysitting for an hour of snow shovelling.

But any iteration on a grand scale withered on the vine in the past decade. It seems most of us noodle away building our own networks and don’t really need SnapGoods or a Groupon to tell us how to do it.

Allowing an entity to profit from, but avoid the responsibility for, things that were previously based on community (lending a lawnmower, catching a ride, raising a barn), is backwards and destructive. The only “sharing economy” survivors are, in fact, full-fledged corporate entities.

This has been my unvarnished opinion of Uber’s illegal activities all along; I’m watching things like Airbnb operate outside of the licensed and regulated hotel industry, and Uber push its “play now, worry later” mentality onto other industries. Uber is making inroads in some places, such as Toronto, which is pretending to create a level playing field to keep the cabbies from storming the castle, while other places, such as major cities in Germany, have told Uber to pack up its nonsense and go home.

But there’s a sort of new kid on the block, effective now in Ontario, Alberta and Quebec: Turo. You don’t ferry people around in your car for cash; you actually let them drive your car. You hand over the keys for a day or a week or whatever is required. The company boasts drivers can save as much as 30 per cent over standard rental rates and owners can earn 600 bucks in a good month. Minimum booking is a day; average is five.

The San Francisco–based company started in 2009 in the U.S. as RelayRides (the new name came into effect November 2015), but a new moniker has led to some rebranding. Go to its site, punch in your destination and shop for a ride. Price ranges are all over the place; on the U.S. site the scale starts at ten bucks a day, but that was next to Nicholas’s 2016 Corvette that he would let you rent for $608 per day. I don’t know who Nicholas is; every car has an owner’s name and picture attached, so you can remember this isn’t some nameless, faceless corporate behemoth. It’s Tinder for rides, though Turo makes a straight 25 per cent off the top, which makes them … something.

Turo passes a huge peer-to-peer program test that Uber so miserably failed until just last month. They’ve introduced a partnership with Intact Insurance and Belairdirect to provide coverage for the customers driving the cars, and for the cars while they are being rented. Or “shared.” Whatever. Car owners must be customers of these companies in the three Canadian provinces on board in order to use Turo, but the Turo policy is independent of personal policies; it is a commercial policy that supplies “$2M third-party liability, standard accident benefits, physical damage limit of $75K and replacement cost for up to 4-year-old vehicles.” Turo pays the $1,000 deductible in the event of a claim; it also provides roadside assistance to the renter.

Turo CEO Andre Haddad emphasizes that the company’s goal is to make better use of the millions of cars that sit idle, and let owners offset costs of buying and maintaining a car. Issues like a renter losing your car for a week under Ontario’s stunt driving law would be handled “on a case-by-case basis”– a popular, and perhaps correct, answer whenever I push on events that may be rare, but I would still want to know about before I offered up my car, not after.

Like most of the sharing economy, Turo has had its issues with compliance. It suspended service in New York City in May of 2013 because that city’s laws forbade an insurance policy like Turo’s (then RelayRides) to supersede an owner’s personal policy. It resulted in a $200,000 fine for “put[ting] New Yorkers at risk through false advertising, unlicensed insurance activity and other violations.” This, of course, is the nut of the problem that those entering into any version of the peer-to-peer rental – be it a house, a car or a ride – must eventually face. Current law can’t keep up with technology, and governing new ideas with old rules is like watching Donald Trump give a speech: he just keeps making crap up, but so many people like it that what’s right gets lost to what’s popular.

How out of touch is legislation? As recently as 2008, the Ontario Highway Transportation Board ruled it illegal for people to carpool outside of work-related trips, such as hauling a bunch of kids to a hockey game. Lawmakers are struggling to keep up, as evidenced with Uber’s bully tactics in most fields it shows up to play on. Turo entered Canada with the insurance problem essentially solved, though Haddad chuckles (but doesn’t answer) when I ask what grey areas of the law they might be dancing across.

The car rental industry is understandably unhappy with its grass being cut, and Turo has had to iron out issues at places like the San Francisco airport, where rental companies pay a premium to do business. Haddad stresses that the Turo experience is about much more than renting a car; it’s about being able to rent a unique car or truck that will make your travels exciting (and full of many high fives, according to the website), all while making owners happy and prosperous. There are high-end cars like that Corvette and some Teslas on the site, but they’re outnumbered by cars that look remarkably like the Elantra in my driveway.

When asked about the fact that some are now capitalizing on the idea and essentially putting together fleets of cars to rent out – leasing cars to turn a profit – Haddad applauded what he called their “entrepreneurial spirit.” I doubt car rental companies, with their associated costs, compliances and tax rates would share his enthusiasm. More importantly, according to J.P. Ostiguy, senior manager with the Alta Group, you best be careful about leasing-to-rent. You will most likely be busting the terms of your lease, which here in Canada are pretty black and white.

Will Turo take off in Canada? With the insurance dilemma addressed and roadside assistance in place, it probably will. A lot of people would like to drive a special car once in a while, and exotic rental places tend to have a lot of geldings in their stables. It’s built for urban centres and as long as owners make pick up and drop off convenient, I don’t see who is going to miss a fleet of rental cars classified only as compact or midsize.

Not when you could drive Nicholas’s Corvette.

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Recalls slipping through the cracks can be deadly

Lax regulations mean there is no easy way to tell if a car has had its recall dealt with

Originally published: April 11, 2016

A jury has awarded $15 million to the parents who filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Enterprise Rent-A-Car of San Francisco after their daughters, Raechel and Jacqueline Houck of Santa Cruz, died in a fiery crash in 2004Alert Driving, North America News, August 2010

The recent changes to Ontario’s vehicle safety certification program were long overdue, after being untouched for more than 40 years; you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would argue that cars haven’t changed significantly in that time.

But did the government miss out on one of the biggest safety issues of all? Absolutely. That rental car noted above, a 2004 Chrysler PT Cruiser, had been issued a recall warning of a fire hazard, yet had been rented out four more times, with the work never performed.

If you’ve purchased a new car, you’ve no doubt received notices of recalls – perhaps in your mailbox, certainly when you’ve taken your car in for maintenance at the dealer. Your information is retained by the manufacturer and you are notified whenever recalls are issued for work to be performed. This works well if you’re the original owner of your vehicle and you’ve never moved; factor in a vehicle changing hands or an owner moving about and not updating records, and you can see how the recall chain can be easily broken.

Sometimes recalls are massive – think GM ignition switches or Takata airbags – but often they’re smaller items on a small subset of one model year, or even cars coming off a line during a certain shift. In theory, manufacturers want to be seen getting ahead of a potential problem; as you know from explosive (literally) headlines, it is often the intense pressure from lawsuits and governing bodies that finally makes them step up. Prevention is cheaper than a cure.

When Ontario’s safety standards were recently changed, critics instantly asked why something as important, and basic, as a check for outstanding recalls wasn’t made a requirement of a used car being given a stamp of approval for resale. The vehicle is in the hands of a licenced seller or mechanic, over 70 pages of paperwork is being checked, and yet no pass is taken over the recall history of the vehicle?

At present, you can go on Transport Canada’s website and check the recall history of any vehicle using the vehicle identification number (VIN) that is clearly visible on the driver’s side of the dash through the windshield. The problem is in finding out if those recalls were, in fact, carried out. The new legislation failed to correct the long-standing problem of consumers buying potentially dangerous vehicles with open recalls, some dating years back; the longer a recall is open, the harder it can be to get it serviced. Picture trying to get parts to service a 10-year-old car versus a two-year-old one; sellers might be less inclined to chase down the work on a car they already stand to have a narrower profit margin on.

The Automobile Protection Association (APA) would have been happy just to see a mandated notice of the open recall, if not a fix. The newly introduced safety standards continue to place the onus on the consumer to work through myriad information platforms to determine if the car they’re purchasing could be dangerous. This is ultimately doable, but unreasonable; if a cheese slicer or a toaster has a recall issued on it, it’s yanked from sale until it’s made safe. Why, then, can you buy a car with a recall?

George Iny, president of the APA, is concerned that “car dealers have a similar culture around recall compliance as the U.S. daily rental companies used to have. In the view of dealers and their associations, it’s the customer’s problem, not theirs.

“A second-year law student answering an exam question would have no problem figuring out the dealer selling a used vehicle would be liable for injury or property losses stemming from an open recall existing prior to the sale as a used vehicle,” says Iny. “Curiously, that understanding appears to have eluded the best minds in the auto industry, including the lawyers representing dealer trade groups. APA’s secret shoppers have identified vehicles with open recalls at both new and used vehicle dealerships.”

His sentiment is echoed by Warren Barnard, executive director of the Used Car Dealers Association of Ontario. “There’s really no way changes to the Ontario vehicle inspection program could deal with recalls, which is an area of federal jurisdiction. Unfortunately, Transport Canada doesn’t seem to be taking the matter seriously. Unlike in the U.S., there is no single database in Canada where dealers or consumers can do a search on a vehicle’s 17-digit VIN to determine if there are any open recalls (recalls that haven’t been fixed) on that particular vehicle. If NHTSA in the U.S. can do it, Transport Canada should be able to do it here, too.”

There is no sure fix. GM recently issued its third recall for 1.4 million cars between 1997 and 2004 for oil leaks that had led to fires; 1,345 of the fires had happened after an initial recall and repair, meaning that even if a consumer had managed to source the problem, it still wasn’t solved. Iny shakes his head that government regulators continue to work in silos, with Transport Canada and provincial regulators passing up the most obvious opportunity to stem the flow of vehicles deemed in need of fixes by their manufacturers before they change hands to unsuspecting consumers.

Ford wrestled with nearly 15 million recalled vehicles for the years 1992 to 2004 across much of its lineup surrounding a faulty cruise control switch that caused many house and garage fires. Like the GM fires, many occurred long after the vehicle had been shut off. Would you know if your 2003 Ford Super Duty had the repair done if you’re the second or third owner? If you inherited it from Uncle Bob, did he get around to it? You could contact the brand-specific dealer to access that information, or call the manufacturer’s customer service line.

Resellers are unlikely to spend so much time chasing down open recalls, a fact Iny laments may ultimately end in the prohibition of sales on cars with open recalls. “Too bad,” he says, “as that will create a lot of inconvenience concerning the majority of recalls, where the potential for harm is remote.”

Should consumers be responsible for doing their own investigation on a potential purchase? Of course they should. You can run a VIN number on your phone as you stand in front of the car, and that should be one of the first things you do. But consumers should also expect a vehicle that has passed a government safety standard and is being sold by a regulated seller has also been cleared for open recalls. If those governing and sanctioning bodies can’t easily access whether the work has been performed, will you?

Posted in Drive She Said | 1 Comment

Lending – or borrowing – a car can test a relationship

Asking questions and common courtesy can help avoid problems when the keys are handed back

Originally published: April 4, 2016

Baby, you can drive my car … or can you? Depending on what you drive and who your friends and family are, car lending can be no big deal – or, a minefield.

Let’s establish two sides of the scenario: There are those who offer to lend people their cars, and there are those who ask to borrow cars. What’s in between those two groups? That minefield.

You know that you have to protect your insurance rating to keep your premium where it is (or to access sometimes imaginary “decreases”). You get minor damage fixed on your own dime, you drive according to conditions, you’re careful in parking lots and you dread the behaviour of the idiots on the road around you.

When you hand your keys to someone, you are handing over your insurance rating like a small mewling infant. It requires the same constant care and consideration as that baby; people who offer their vehicles to a friend know this, and have already decided they trust the person they’re tossing the keys – and the baby – to. People who ask to borrow a car may not know this, or may not respect this, or may not care. I mean, it’s just a car for a couple of hours, right?

The hard facts:

Make sure anyone you loan your car to has a valid driver’s licence. Don’t make a face when your friend loaning you their car ascertains this. Weirder things have happened; just ask Judge Judy.

Someone else driving your car with your permission is covered under your insurance policy. If they have their own car insurance, their Accident Benefits Coverage will cover things like medical care, but actual damage to vehicles and property will be on you. If they don’t have their own insurance, their workplace or provincial benefits coverage will still be in place in addition to your policy.

If they’re involved in a collision, that claim will impact your insurance. If they get a speeding ticket, that will not impact your insurance rating. If they get a parking ticket and don’t pay it, that will come to roost when you go to renew your licence sticker.

Most insurance policies do not define the lending of a car. This is reasonable and allows people to have flexibility with their own property when handled in a prudent manner. Trouble will follow, however, if you do things that constitute a material change in risk; anything that is drastically different from what you signed up for will restrict or void your policy. Allowing your 18-year-old neighbour to use your car for the summer is a material change in risk; letting your brother use it to visit his girlfriend for the weekend is not.

While you don’t have to notify your insurance company of something like a one-off road trip your car is taking with a friend driving, do know that your insurance policy is only valid in continental North America. That lost weekend in Mexico will have to stay lost.

If you’re from out of province, know that there can be differences in policies on issues like injury claims, caps and right to sue. And for parents intent on making sure their teen doesn’t drive their expensive and/or collector car, you might be surprised at the lengths you have to go to; it’s not enough to tell them ‘no.’ Your insurance policy factors in your licenced householders on all vehicles; if you want to separate that expensive-to-insure new driver from your expensive-to-own car, you have to specifically remove them from that car in writing. The upside is your rate will be reflected on your driving record only; the downside is, if your kid takes that car, with or without your permission and crashes it (like the Vancouver teen who recently destroyed his mother’s Mercedes while doing 250 km/h), you’ll have to report it stolen – by your own kid.

The insurance questions are actually the easy part of the car lending equation. Things get sticky everywhere else. Speaking of sticky, don’t trash the interior of a car you’ve borrowed. If you know the owner doesn’t eat or drink in the car, respect that.

Here are a few other things to consider; have the uncomfortable conversations right up front, though from the perspective of the borrower, some things shouldn’t even warrant conversation:

  • If I borrow your car and blow a tire, who’s going to pay? If I slam a pothole and don’t tell you, who pays later?
  • If that borrowed car is sitting in a driveway overnight and a tree branch falls on it, who pays?
  • What is the deductible on the loanee’s policy? Be prepared to pay it if you’re involved in a claim.
  • Find out if the vehicle has collision insurance. If it doesn’t and you smuck up a fender, now is not the time to declare the car not worth fixing. Not your call.
  • Return it full of fuel. I don’t care where the needle was when you picked it up; owning a car costs a lot more than gas. And make sure you use the right grade of fuel.
  • Return it clean.
  • Return it when you say you will.
  • Use it for what you said you were going to use it for. A car returned with hundreds of mysterious kilometres on the speedometer is like your spouse having a blackout weekend and returning home with no memory of it.
  • If you can’t drive a manual transmission, don’t lie.

Contrary to popular belief, people with pickup trucks are not waiting around for calls at the end of the month. There’s also a reason many who are kind enough to help you out insist on doing the driving: If you know little about trailers or payloads, you can do a lot of damage. If that means you score the loan of a truck and a driver, thank him/her appropriately.

The best advice is from Pete Karageorgos, Director of Consumer & Industry Relations for the Insurance Bureau of Canada: “If in doubt, ask your insurance representative or call IBC’s free consumer information centre at 1-844-2ask-IBC (1-844-227-5422).”

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Don’t be a ‘hero’ – pull over if you’re tired

Driving while drowsy limits your abilities to avoid a collision almost as much as being drunk

Originally published: March 28, 2016

I woke up in the back of a vehicle at a truck stop along Highway 401 the other day. It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

There had been no drastic kidnapping; I was in the back seat of my pickup, grateful for tinted windows and transient surroundings. I’d pulled off a little earlier because I’d had to admit I was simply too tired to drive safely.

I can’t remember the last time it happened. I’m a road trip warrior, and because of that, it’s easy to overestimate my abilities. We’re probably the worst offenders; the people who believe we can do something simply because we can do it all the time. Sometimes you can’t.

Drowsy driving is considered by law enforcement to be right up there in danger with drunk driving. The latest available stats from Transport Canada reflect that drunk drivers are involved in 40 percent of fatal collisions, while drowsy drivers comprise 20 percent. There has no doubt been a huge shift in more recent years towards distracted drivers and handheld devices as we see a language shift to reflect that anything that takes your concentration from the road is some form of impairment or distraction, and that both are as bad as each other. But 15 percent of Canadian drivers have admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel at some point; that’s a terrifying number. Part of the problem with sleeping causing fatalities is how it must be ascertained: if there is no mechanical issue and a toxicology screen is clear, the process of elimination points out the drowsy drivers.

I’d flown in the night before from a time zone three hours away, but I knew I had time to get a decent night’s sleep before driving two hours the next morning to a noon meeting. I was tired, but no more so than anyone else who has endured planes and airport lineups and a bunch of cats glad that you’re home. I do it all the time.

On the ride out, I was doing my own version of shake it off; a pending medical treatment meant no caffeine or alcohol for 48 hours, so my system was virgin territory. Unfortunately, a coffee is a very real pep talk my body could have used at that point. I cranked the radio and dropped the window a couple of inches, reasoning the cold air would do what the caffeine wouldn’t be allowed to.

Heading back out after my appointment, I truly thought I’d kicked the fatigue. I’d been on the highway 20 minutes when I realized I had to get off. My hands were on the wheel; my eyes were open; I was in my own lane and doing the flow of traffic. The problem was that I was simply phoning it in. If anything happened around me unexpectedly, my reaction time would have been horribly compromised. And it wasn’t my eyes, it was my brain.

As if on cue, two Ricky Racers in their souped-up rides with the laid-back seats decided to race. It was the fartcan strapped to one that caught my attention, and as they clipped in and out of traffic I put on my indicator to pull off. They were my signal that there is too much danger on our roads to risk being a driver with an impaired reaction time.

I parked at the edge of a busy parking lot and locked the doors, then climbed into the back seat of the pickup. I am not a napper, so I had no clue if a) I would sleep, or b) it would actually work. I crashed for about 40 minutes and it worked. Checking tips later on, it’s true: a 20- to 40-minute nap can do wonders.

I drove a middle-of-winter, middle-of-nowhere snow gig one time. I love snow and ice, and the brilliant sunshine made for a perfect drive – until it was my wheel time, and I went about 30 metres and pulled over. Snow blind. Regardless of sunglasses, alertness or the kind of car, I simply couldn’t see over the glare. My co-driver was fine and we switched later. Did I want to let down a team? Of course not. But I didn’t want my ego to kill them, either.

Many of us work shifts; many of us take medication (and more dangerously, a mixture of medications) and many of us are stressed out of getting adequate sleep. Behind the wheel, everything is heightened. If you trip a little when you’re walking, you hope nobody saw you and carry on. On the road, that slip could end in a collision. If you’re watching a show and realize you’ve missed a few minutes, you can rewind and catch up; do that while you’re driving and you’ve missed your exit, drifted lanes or plowed into the stopped traffic ahead of you. The risk not only magnified, there is little margin for error.

I’ve driven cars that now send out a chime or even flash a coffee cup light if it senses you are drifting or doing erratic speeds. Many highways have rumble strips which are excellent road braille. The thing is, all the warning signs in the world don’t mean anything if the image persists that by staying on the road you are toughing it out or “getting the job done.” There are many places that stigma needs to be removed, but drowsy driving is not one of them. It has to be considered every bit as deadly as texting or drinking behind the wheel.

Signs of drowsy driving to look for, from Transport Canada:

  • blinking or yawning frequently
  • closing eyes for a moment or going out of focus
  • having wandering or disconnected thoughts
  • realizing that you have slowed down unintentionally
  • braking too late
  • not being able to remember driving the last few kilometres
  • drifting over the centre line onto the other side of the road

Suggestions to help without coffee and junk food:

  • sleep well prior to long road trips
  • share the driving with other passengers
  • take regular rest stops every couple of hours and do some exercise
  • eat light meals or fruit throughout the journey and drink water
  • nap of 20 to 40 minutes is an effective way to reduce sleepiness

Most important of all? Simply admit when you’ve hit your limit. Dead drivers don’t get trophies.

Posted in Drive She Said | 1 Comment

How to stop being such an easy target for car thieves

Immobilizer technology has helped curb car thefts, but we’re still making it far too easy for thieves to steal

Originally published: March 21, 2016

The top-selling vehicle in Canada is a Ford F-Series pickup. The most stolen vehicle in Canada is a Ford F-Series pickup. I’m sure there is one of those annoying causation versus correlation arguments buried in there, but those discussions chase their own tail and I can never figure them out so I won’t bother.

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), in 2015 car thieves liked big pickups; overall, the 2005 Ford F350 SD 4WD took top spot; the only non-pickup in the top 10 is at number four, the 2006 Cadillac Escalade. What do they all have in common? Ranging in model years from 2001 to 2007, none have a manufacturer-installed electronic immobilizer; they’re easier to pluck. Auto theft is driven by many things, but it’s hard to argue “ease of use” wouldn’t be one of them.

There are patterns that emerge; the list for Ontario looks vastly different, with far more high-end later-model cars. It is those patterns that prompt investigators to ask how much of the change in theft is attributable to opportunity, and how much is now driven by organized crime.

“Since immobilizer technology was mandated in 2007, theft rates have fallen,” explains Garry Robertson, national director of investigative services for IBC. “Where we once saw perhaps 150,000 vehicles being stolen annually, that has dropped to the 74-75,000 range. What is causing alarm is that now many of those vehicles are never recovered.” It’s an issue the insurance industry takes very seriously. You may think your insurance rates should fall in accordance with a huge dip in the number of vehicles stolen, but with an increase in the value of many of those on the more recent lists and a lesser rate of recovery, don’t be looking for falling theft rates to impact your rates significantly.

A reformed car thief (who wishes to remain unidentified) attempts to steal a specially-equiped car using typical ‘tools of the trade’ in this file photo.
A reformed car thief (who wishes to remain unidentified) attempts to steal a specially-equipped car using typical “tools of the trade” in this file photo.
Nick Procaylo, PNG
The Insurance Bureau points out cars are stolen for four main reasons: high-demand cars to be sold overseas, cars to be turned around to consumers unwittingly buying a stolen car, someone “borrowing” your car to get from A to B one night, or to be used in committing another crime. Theft deterrent systems have made stealing a car tougher for thieves, and regulators have made it easier to find a vehicle’s history, but owners themselves do some pretty stupid things. The IBC estimates 60 per cent of vehicles are stolen with the keys in them. Thieves like vehicles with keys in them; it makes them worth more and nothing says “stolen” like “you have to use a screwdriver to start it.”

Robertson points out that, if I were a car thief, I could sit across from any gas station and within minutes have a car. “People go in to pay and leave the key in the car; they leave it running while they grab a coffee, or in their driveway in the morning. It only takes a few seconds and it’s gone.”

Car theft is a national issue, and there are no boundaries and no borders. “We have cars stolen in one part of Canada and resold in another, oftentimes with American interests taking advantage of a weak dollar to profit,” says Robertson. In other words, that car advertised on Kijiji might seem like it comes from just around the corner; it could actually have come from anywhere. “After the flooding in High River, Alberta, in 2013, we assembled a database on our website of cars deemed salvage. Those cars were showing up in British Columbia, sold through Kijiji. People were checking on that database, which was similar to one implemented by the U.S. after [Hurricane] Katrina, and finding their recently purchased cars.”

I do work with the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC) and the Automobile Protection Association (APA). Both organizations protect consumers, and both stress the importance of using tools at your disposal before your purchase instead of after. Is the price too good to be true? Walk away. Look for certified used sellers. Have a licensed mechanic check the car before you buy it. Protect yourself.

Car insurance companies have their own protocols regarding theft. Investigators will be determining if your vehicle is a “world car”, one in high demand in places such as West Africa, where Toyotas are highly coveted. According to Pete Karageorgos, director of consumer relations for IBC, some companies will wait 30 days to pay out a stolen claim. “It’s possible the customer settles prior to 30 days; in that case, whenever and if the car is recovered it is the insurer’s property and they dispose of it,” he says.

Want to lessen the risk of having your ride stolen? Here are just a few common sense tips:

  • If you have a garage, use it. Seems basic, but many of us don’t do it.
  • Never leave your car running. Never leave a key fob in it when you go to pay for gas.
  • Don’t keep your keys by the front door. Vehicles are stolen from driveways – with the key – because it’s so easy to guess owner’s habits.
  • Don’t park in dark corners of lots. Thieves work quickly – under a minute in many cases – and being able to do it in privacy helps them, not you.
  • Don’t keep your original registration in the glove box. A true copy (both sides) is valid for police, and the original makes it far easier for thieves to turn your car over to a buyer.

In the end, your new(ish) car has sophisticated anti-theft protection, but your key is literally the key to overriding them all. Don’t make it easy for thieves.

2015 Top Stolen Vehicles in Canada

  1. 2005 Ford F-350
  2. 2006 Ford F-350
  3. 2007 Ford F-350
  4. 2006 Cadillac Escalade
  5. 2003 Ford F-350
  6. 2006 Ford F-250
  7. 2001 Ford F-350
  8. 2004 Ford F-250
  9. 2007 Ford F-250
  10. 2001 Ford F-250

2015 Top Stolen Vehicles in Ontario

  1. 2003 Cadillac Escalade
  2. 2010 Acura ZDX
  3. 2009 BMW X6
  4. 2013 Acura MDX
  5. 2003 Chevrolet Avalanche
  6. 2013 Toyota Highlander
  7. 2005 Hummer H2
  8. 2014 Toyota Venza
  9. 2011 BMW X6
  10. 2004 Chevrolet Avalanche

To see where your vehicle falls, go to the ICB site and plug in your province.

Posted in Drive She Said | 7 Comments

If you see (or cause) an accident, don’t ignore the victim

Last week’s hit and run – in which an 11-yr-old boy was left in the road and ignored – shows we need a reminder of what it means to be human, not just a good driver

Originally published: March 14, 2016

It takes a special kind of coward to hit something with your car and take off. “Hit and run” minimizes what can actually happen. Hit and damage, hit and injure, hit and kill. Those are more exact.

I’ve been told how human responses can kick in at a base biological level; that fight or flight response we’ve all felt triggered in that fraction of a second when we must decide, and we must decide right now. I don’t know if the person who hit and killed Maurice Richards of East St. Louis on March 9th was making an instantaneous decision to flee after slamming a car into the 11-year-old. It was raining; it was just 6:30 p.m. and the child wasn’t jaywalking; he was at a corner of two streets. Unless you are impaired or a fool, you know if you’ve hit an 11-year-old child hard enough to leave him crumpled and dying in the street. It takes a certain kind of person to run.

The headline this week wasn’t even about the coward who fled. Instead, it was about a series of drivers who drove around the supine boy and ignored him. He died in that street as cars – multiple cars – swerved around him without stopping. Without calling for help. He lay there long enough for the rain to drench his clothing. And people drove around him.

You and I have a contract. You might not think we do, but we do. We have a social contract that says if I see your kid in trouble or your elderly parent needing a hand, I help. You do the same for me. It doesn’t matter if today I am able-bodied or out of danger, one day I won’t be and every day someone important to me isn’t.

I don’t get to drive around your child lying hurt in the road. What those motorists in East St Louis did was abominable. If worried for their own safety, they could have made a fast call. A phone is at the end of virtually every arm these days. If they didn’t know what they were seeing, they had a responsibility to risk being wrong.

You want to know why you risk being wrong? Because it’s brave. My mother was walking down a major thoroughfare near our home one day nearly half a century ago. Ahead of her was a small girl, maybe 7, skipping as she proceeded on her own. As my mother watched, a car pulled up to the youngster and a man leaned across the front seat to speak to her. My mother quickened her steps to close the gap. When she saw the man push open the passenger door to let the girl in, my mother charged into action; she stood between the car and the girl, and told her not to get in a car with a stranger. The tiny girl looked up at my mother quizzically, and said, “but that’s my Daddy.” My mother felt terrible and that man thanked her profusely. This is why you need to be strong enough to risk being wrong. How could you live with yourself if you weren’t, and had done nothing? My mother told us that story later and felt foolish, but I realized what a hero she actually was.

The world is a different place when viewed through our individual eyes. I’m aware I’m a woman of a certain age who risks greater bodily harm inserting myself into a situation than say, my 6’4” son who has worked as a bouncer. I know that weapons and drugs are everywhere in this world, and situations aren’t always what they seem. It does not release me from that contract, because without it we stop being a community, we start being lesser people. The day I won’t risk being wrong to help you when you need help, is the day we have lost to the fear and hatred that threatens to consume us.

I can’t release the despair of that young boy lying in the rain. I don’t know if he was conscious but if he was, he realized nobody was stopping. Someone finally used their car to block traffic and get to him, but first responders couldn’t save him. You don’t have to be doctor or a police officer to assist someone who is hurt. You don’t have to perform CPR or risk further injury if you’re unsure of what to do.

You have to call for help, and you have to hold a child’s hand even as he dies. That is the contract. That is what we owe each other.

Posted in Drive She Said | 3 Comments

Secure your pet – but don’t take safety for granted

Most pet safety systems don’t offer the protection they promise, and some are even dangerous

Originally published: March 7, 2016 – With video

“The safety of children travelling in vehicles is very important to Transport Canada,” according to the Transport Canada website. So important, your kid will be bundled up or tied down according to strict government regulations, from birth until he or she is delivered into a regular seatbelt. And that is as it should be. But what about your pets?

If you’ve ever pulled up to a stoplight and had Buddy in the next lane glance over smiling with Snuffybits his Butterdoodle – or whatever it’s called – sitting on his lap, you know there are no regulations regarding how to travel with your pets. And Buddy is endangering the life of Snuffybits as surely as if he were to throw her out into a live lane of traffic. Ever seen an airbag go off, Buddy? Thinking your Minipoo is safe inside your handbag is equally dangerous.

While pet owners may or may not care about transporting their fur babies, The Center for Pet Safety in Washington, D.C. cares very much. In fact, it’s a non-profit research and advocacy group that takes zero money from the pet product industry; instead, it rigorously tests the claims of all those cute tethers, harnesses and carriers that promise to protect your pets in your car. Its crash test videos should scare the hell out of you if you own a dog or cat; you can see its test results at www.centerforpetsafety.org.

Another company that cares is Subaru. While car manufacturers are rightfully held to stringent safety standards for every single part of the cars they make to protect human occupants, dogs are cats are on their own. But Subaru has partnered with The Center to find recommended solutions for their customers (with its findings also found on The Center’s website), and it was good enough to supply me with a recommended harness and kennel for testing in a new Forester; your own vehicle should have similar anchor spots, but check first.

When it comes to any vehicle, Dr. Tara Sermer, a veterinarian and owner of Green Lane Animal Hospital in Thornhill, Ontario, acknowledges pets are a hugely overlooked safety issue for both the animals themselves and the car’s occupants. “Dogs are a major distraction,” she says. “They can easily become frightened or unhappy, and a loose dog inside a car is just dangerous.” Forget worrying about a crash for a moment; Dr. Sermer sees far too many eye injuries from dogs hanging out open windows. “Foreign bodies causing injuries, dried out eyes, corneal ulcers – all of these things are common and preventable.”

If your vehicle is going 100 km/h and comes to a sudden stop – a crash – everything inside your vehicle that is not secured will continue to travel at 100 km/h. Your cellphone, that Kleenex box, your dog. An unsecured dog can severely injure the occupants of that car; an unsecured, terrified dog can bolt across lanes of traffic; an unsecured dog could threaten first responders who are obligated to tend to the hurt humans first, and if Animal Control has to be called, your frightened dog will be subdued any way it takes to get you the help you need.

Dr. Sermer tells of a collision on a major highway involving a client and his Labrador. With the driver injured, the dog took off and was missing for 24 hours. When it was finally found, it had a severely fractured front leg. She had another client who had to have the dashboard of their car removed to get out a frightened cat. Uncontained cats will usually race right for the pedals and lodge themselves there. As kids, my sister and I let our family cat out of his cage on the way to the cottage “just for a minute” and he did just that; I can still hear my father hollering as he fought the car to the side of Highway 400 in crazy vacation traffic.

Lindsey Wolko is the founder of The Center for Pet Safety in Washington, D.C. “Pets are as big a distraction as cellphones,” she tells me. Dogs under seven kilograms should be in a carrier; dogs over that weight should be in a safety harness. And there is only one company that makes harnesses that are recommended by The Center after its extensive crash testing: Sleepypod makes both the Clickit Utility and Clickit Sport. Forget the aisle full of tethers with claims they will keep your dog safe. There is no standard, no legal requirements to back up their claims, and testing proves many of the products will not only do little to protect your dog, they will actually cause worse injuries in some circumstances.

You can get kennels of all sizes, and the Gunner Kennel we tested that was big enough for our 20 kilogram dog took up all of the cargo hold of the Subaru Forester we were using. The Gunner supplies superior safety, but obviously would be an option restricted by space and lifestyle; examine all the recommendations.

The Clickit harness I tested for this piece was the Utility, with two tether straps that attached into the child seat anchor points. The company, Sleepypod, now has a newer version to market that is easier to use and has passed The Center’s stringent crash test standards. Sleepypod remains the only company that voluntarily complies with The Center’s standards to attain certification. The biggest problem with many of the mainstream harnesses available to consumers, according to The Center, is the use of an extension mechanism.

“The Center for Pet Safety has scientifically proven that extension tethers and zipline-style products increase the risk of injury to not only the pet, but also the people in the vehicle if a crash occurs,” says Wolko. “Long extension tethers negate the crashworthiness of a harness and should be considered a design flaw.” Extension tethers and ziplines are any devices that allow the animal to “travel” distances beyond a safe zone, and then snap back while tied to a single point.

The Center continually updates its best practices for testing consumer products, and it even has a former IIHS bioengineer with years of passenger safety expertise on board to help replicate dog dummies for most effective results. Wolko begins to tell me with a shudder that decades ago, someone used real dogs in similar tests. She doesn’t finish the sentence.

According to Wolko, American statistics indicate 60 per cent of dog owners travelled with their dog in the car at least once per month in the past year. I will venture that Canadian numbers will no doubt be somewhere in this neighbourhood.

Animals who have never been secured will take some training. Wolko suggests short trips – just a few minutes – initially to get them acclimated, and like children, the younger you start them the easier it will be. The harness we used seemed comfortable for Shelby, our dog model; after a bit of testing with the straps, it didn’t take long for Shelby to relax while wearing it.

And after hearing about the injured Lab missing for a day, Shelby no longer has a vote in whether she gets bolted in. We love her too much not to. And, Alfie, the little yapper in the video, is getting a new crate. We love him, too.

Posted in Drive She Said | 2 Comments