Top reasons insurance won’t cover you in a crash

Any dishonesty on your part can result in loss of coverage – but you may not know until it’s too late

Car insurance can be a tricky thing. The only way to really test it is to have something bad happen. All that legal fine print and those payout limits may seem agreeable in the abstract but you can often discover the cold, hard facts are little balm when facing the emotional, as well as physical, fallout from a collision or claim.

But what if you’re doing things that could result in you having no insurance at all? Don’t bother reaching for that little pink slip in your glovebox. It doesn’t mean a thing if the carrier decides you’ve broken any of their cardinal rules. You may be knowingly or unknowingly, putting yourself in jeopardy and leaving yourself without coverage. Some may seem obvious; others may be a surprise to you.

Deb Arnold, with Sound Insurance Services Inc., outlines the top eight most common reasons you might find yourself on the outside looking in when it comes to your car insurance.

Being charged with impaired at the scene of a crash. Liability and Accident Benefits coverage will still respond but the company does not have to repair or replace your vehicle. The wording is clear: just being charged – not convicted – is enough to negate your claim.

Allowing an excluded driver to drive your vehicle. It may seem like no big deal if a friend or family member asks to borrow your truck for a move, or if you ask them to drive your car if you’ve had a few too many. But it’s your responsibility to make sure they hold a valid driver’s licence. Any collision they’re involved in will count against your insurance record, but if they’re not licenced, you won’t have a claim to make.

Allowing an undisclosed regular or frequent driver to drive your vehicle. Typically, they might pay the claim but they’d either re-rate or cancel the policy afterwards. Simply put, the insurance company is covering who you say drives the car. If you fail to tell them someone else drives the vehicle every weekend, or a new household member is using it regularly and you haven’t notified your company, you could find yourself in trouble. In the event of a re-rate, they might cover the claim but back charge you to include what you should have been paying.

Undisclosed Uber or Lyft use. There are insurance products now available that properly cover you as a car-for-hire driver. They will cost you more (though nowhere near the previous commercial rates intended for other industries), but read the time limitations involved; you can only drive so many hours per week, in most cases. If you have a terrible driving record, you might want to rethink the Uber thing.

Undisclosed commercial use. You’re rated for personal use but you’re a courier. Whether you deliver pizzas or flowers or contracts, that’s a business transaction.

Having a policy rated for one location but it’s actually garaged elsewhere. For instance you live in Toronto but you’ve disclosed the vehicle is garaged in Kincardine for a cheaper rate. Arnold is seeing more of this as Ontario rates remain sky-high, and the temptation is there. Likewise, if you move from Vancouver to Halifax, you have to change your insurance address as well as your plates.

Saying you’ve installed winter tires but haven’t. This has not yet been tried in court, however, it is a risk not worth taking. The carrier may pay the claim and simply remove the discount, though there is always the risk they will deny the claim.

Registering a vehicle to one name and not disclosing who is actually driving the vehicle. People with challenging driving records will try this but if they have a collision, policy will be voided for non-disclosure. “Challenging” is Arnold’s word; mine is “terrible”. If someone can’t secure insurance in their own name, don’t put your name down instead.

But how will they know, you ask? The insurance industry is very dedicated to cracking down on fraud. With howls coming from their clients and the media about soaring costs, they have investigators who will do just that: investigate. Never underestimate the intentions of a pissed off ex-spouse or a nosy neighbour. There is an anonymous hotline available on the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s website (800-IBC-TIPS), and people use it.

It’s important to note that if a company has cancelled your policy, this is a question you will be asked when looking for another one. It’s also easily discoverable, and insurance companies aren’t in business to take a risk on anyone who has already proven themselves to not be worth that risk.

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On the road to autonomous cars, the middle ground is most dangerous

As cars get smarter, people are relying more on vehicle safety systems and less on their own driving

Houston, we have a problem. Well, actually not just Houston. But newly released figures from the National Safety Council in the U.S. are startling.

Road fatalities have increased 14 per cent since 2014. After decades of plummeting rates, the recent, hard uptick is concerning for everyone. While the latest figures available from the government of Canada show our 2015 still on a slight downward trend (1669 deaths over 1709 in 2014) law makers and car manufacturers always keep their ears up for signs of troubling trends to the south of us that often make their way north. We drive the same cars and we play with the same toys.

You probably saw the recent article, and others, that say automated features in modern cars are making drivers lazy and dangerous. You shouldn’t be surprised; every time a new safety feature is unveiled by one manufacturer, and the others rush to copy it, all I can see is driver skill getting just a little farther away in my rearview mirror. Getting a true handle on why the increased fatality rates are occurring is intricate: higher employment and cheaper gas more people are driving more miles; in some areas, high housing costs means more of those people are extending their commutes.

The safety features in modern cars are breathtaking in scope and complexity but the over-reliance and complacency of drivers threatens to take back with one hand what those safety breakthroughs are giving us with the other.

I’ve been yipping about the downside to the upside for years; new vehicles are capable of performing pretty amazing feats of technology, but too many people are handing over the operation and decision making to the car. It’s where the road to autonomous driving is leading us, but we’re not there yet. Carmakers are eager to strut their latest stuff, but their eye is on a far bigger prize: full autonomy. Their holy grail is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Level 5 autonomous driving designation: “fully-autonomous system that expects the vehicle’s performance to equal that of a human driver, in every driving scenario – including extreme environments like dirt roads that are unlikely to be navigated by driverless vehicles in the near future.”

That’s not really what is causing the most concern, however. It’s the Level 3 designation. “Drivers are still necessary in Level 3 cars, but are able to completely shift “safety-critical functions” to the vehicle, under certain traffic or environmental conditions.” The vehicle is mostly super great. Until it’s not and the driver has to surface from their reverie and take over. Level 4 is fully autonomous and “designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip.” Level 4 does not cover every driving scenario, hence it’s not Level 5.

We are currently in a terribly dangerous phase of our driving culture despite the explosion of technological advancement. We are neither here nor there; we are in the middle of a transition that can have no totally safe mode. We have exciting, ever-changing automatic features on our cars but many drivers who either don’t know how to use them or trust them too much, endangering themselves and those around them. If fatality rates continue to spike in the U.S. in the alarming double digits served up the last two years, manufacturers as well as law-makers are going to have to reassess their dash to the finish line. Too many bodies piled up on the way to a promised utopia of far fewer casualties makes for lousy optics.

Everyone from the Center for Disease Control to Mythbusters has proven that handsfree use of a device is just as dangerous as a handheld; it’s your cognitive ability that is compromised, and your mind is sunk deep into a conversation rather than the road whether you’re holding the phone or not. Increased fines and punishments are being implemented in most jurisdictions, but too many users are mirroring the bluster of that other ornery group who have declared you will have to take it from their cold, dead hands. And increasingly, that is what’s happening.

Why shoulder check if you have a chime that will let you know what’s up? Why look outside your car windows before you back up if you camera is showing you what’s back there? Why not stab through layers of on-screen directions to find that playlist even if your eyes are off the road? Why worry about tailgating when your car will brake itself for you? Who cares if you’re texting when your lane departure warning will let you know you’ve LOL’d once too often? Too many people drive like they’re bowling in an alley with the bumper guards up. What can go wrong?

A system can fail; a driver can get in a car without those bumper guards. The same way traction control has a generation not even knowing their car has just saved them from spinning out of control, we will have drivers forgetting they are making multiple errors, some of which could be tragic without that car-as-lifeguard. I don’t care if every car has parking assist. Nobody ever has to learn to parallel park again. Parallel parking is useful but not vital to staying alive. It’s an assist, not a safety feature. Not knowing you’re drifting all over the road or about to smash the car ahead of you is dangerous, and until the car can make the entire chain of decisions, a driver is required to know what to do. Too many are forfeiting.

If you read this space with any regularity, you know I detest the word “infotainment”. Information is information; entertainment is entertainment. Manufacturers who collide these together do a disservice to the very consumers they’ve pledged to protect. Learn how to work your onboard navigation system (including traffic settings and things like toll roads) when you’re in dry dock, program it and leave it the hell alone.

Manufacturers, don’t make me rabbit-hole down three levels of screens to adjust the temperature or cancel the nav lady’s voice. Drivers, start using your mirrors and stop relying on a flash from your side mirror to let you know what’s going on around you.

I don’t want Canadian statistics to start to trend the way American ones are. Our stricter laws are a help; only 29 U.S. states and D.C. have laws requiring all occupants to wear a seatbelt. We die on our roads because we drive too fast, we drive impaired, we drive distracted and we don’t buckle up.

How do you save someone from themselves? We’re not there yet.

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New licence-reading app may help pets trapped in cars

While WindshieldInk has its limits as a personal texting app, it may be useful in other ways

Would you like people to be able to contact you via your licence plate?

A new enterprise, WindshieldInk, is banking that you will, with the launch of an app that allows you to send messages to people who have signed up to receive them.

When I learned of this new incarnation, an alarm went off. I recalled the first time I’d heard of something similar and dismissed it then as a creepy way for motorists to use their vehicles as a dating service. Too invasive, I thought, when I learned of I wasn’t the only one; the app is long gone. Perhaps actually saying in their advertising, “”So that cute guy just drove by and you think you just missed your only chance to talk to him. Thanks to BUMP, now you can contact him just by taking a picture of his license plate. What are you waiting for?” was a clue this wasn’t gonna go smoothly. Privacy, anyone?

In 2014, General Motors’ Chinese division created DiDiPlate that would let text someone simply by scanning their plate into your phone. It’s as creepy as it sounds, and the idea sunk beneath the waves.

But Ken and Glenna Kuchling had a different idea. About twenty years ago back in Calgary (the couple now lives in Toronto), Glenna pulled into a parking spot and saw a deceased gentleman behind the wheel. She called police, but the moment replayed itself. What if his wife had been in a nearby shop? How do you connect with people when their licence tag is the only information you have?

Fast forward to today, and while Ken freely admits there are other similar apps on offer, the Kuchling’s are looking to market theirs in a different way, and perhaps to a different demographic.

“For company fleet management, it’s an updated 1-800-How’s-My-Driving,” he explains. For police forces, it could allow the public to input suspected stolen vehicles or trailers to more readily locate them.”

We discussed the range of applications for the program, but I kept snagging on the obvious: people have to have already signed up to receive your anonymous text that they’re about to be towed, that their muffler is dragging, or they left their lights on. It requires a level of interconnectness that most people won’t assume is warranted. I’ve watched most interactions on our roads, and I’m going to assume that if someone texts me about something I’m doing while I drive, it’s unlikely to be sunshine and roses. Flip side, how many people really care if someone is getting towed? “Not my problem” is a popular go-to in these stressful times.

Instead I kept coming back to the other possibilities of the app. What if a situation didn’t require the target to be necessarily already a customer? The obvious one for me? Children and dogs left in hot cars.

The issue remains in the headlines around North America, not because there’s nothing else to report, but because it remains a stubborn problem that is getting worse, not better. There are no available Canadian statistics, but on average in the U.S. since 1998, 37 children have died of heatstroke annually after being left in a hot car. 2017 is already at 26; if you want a heartbreaking read, scroll through their names and ages at this site.

There are no statistics for the toll that being left in a car takes on dogs, except for official ones like police K-9 dogs that prove no closed car is safe for a pet in many months of the year. “During the last week of May 2015, a total of 11 K-9 dogs in states including California, Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma and Wisconsin died due to heat exhaustion,” according to Veterinary Pet Insurance, proving this is an education issue. Whenever I write about it, I can count on my mail being hit with swear-laden missives from people I wish didn’t own dogs.

As Windshieldink rolls out its program, it is looking to team with SPCAs for just this situation. “In Ontario, you can use the Windshieldink mobile app to send an email message directly and instantly to the SPCA. Simply enter #SPCA in the license plate/#ID field of the mobile app, select ‘Ontario’ as the origin, input your message, verify the #ID, and hit ‘send,’” says Ken. “We recommend that you tag your ‘signature’ and GPS location into your message. The whole process takes less than 30 seconds and the message is emailed directly to the SPCA. They will get a clickable map link showing where you are located and if you included your phone number, they can call you back.”

Apps like Windshieldink require buy-in from a majority of drivers that may prove tough to engage. While you can send and receive notifications (you choose how you want to be contacted) anonymously, many of us are becoming increasingly leery of information we give out. For corporate and emergency applications, however?

I’m with the puppies.

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Even in their twilight, drive-ins offer more than just a movie

These days, going to a drive-in movie theatre is about the experience

The weather this summer may be unpredictable for outdoor activities, but you know where the climate is almost always perfect? In your car. So, take advantage of a cheap and fun idea you already know but have probably forgotten about: Go to a drive-in movie.

While real estate values in larger centres have priced out many of the venues you might recall from your youth, the industry is still alive and well in many parts of Canada. Where else can you bring your kids, your dog, your date (or all of the above) and watch a brand new release in a vintage setting?

“There used to be eight to 10 venues in the Toronto area alone, but it’s always a land cost issue,” Brian Allen, president of Premier Theatres, which owns five drive-ins in southern Ontario, explains. You can find drive-ins in most Canadian provinces, with the exception of Alberta and the Yukon. Click here to find the one nearest to you.

Families make it a ‘tailgate party’ for kids and adults at Docks Drive-In in Toronto.

Allen is clear about other factors at play in the decline in venues. If you want to screen first-run movies at your facility – and to compete, you have to – you need to invest in the latest digital equipment. That can get costly for a business that isn’t year round, and is also weather-dependent in many instances. A little rain can be worked around, but a deluge will cancel the evening.

For decades, drive-ins used the same 35-millimetre films as everyone else. But the switch to digital has proven too expensive for many of those already operating on the margins of the movie industry. When the changes in format were done in 2013, it was estimated it would cost about US$70,000 per screen to accommodate what Hollywood would be sending.

The first drive-in opened in Camden, New Jersey in 1933. Numbers peaked during the 1950s and ’60s at around 4,600 venues nationwide. Today in the U.S., there are just more than 300 operating, while Canada has about 30. While many have predicted the demise of the drive-in, and the numbers certainly bear out that trajectory, some are embracing the changes and investing in creating a new version of an old pastime.

“We’re selling the whole experience, not just a movie,” explains Allen. “We have modern playgrounds, immaculate facilities, and great concession offerings. We welcome dogs, we play the national anthem before the movies begin. It’s an entire experience people are after.”

You needn’t worry about the down-in-front problem with today’s SUVs; certain areas are marked for larger vehicles. Allen considers the experience to be akin to urban camping, and while the drive-in will forever be a cheap hotel room for some demographics, being able to have your little ones already in their PJs until they crash with their bellies full of popcorn and Twizzlers, leaving parents to watch the grown-up movie that usually follows the kiddie one, is an easy way to spend a Saturday night as a family.

The Premier website shows elaborate neon signs and video of a long line of urban campers making their way to screenings of Hollywood’s latest offerings. It’s high-tech and a far cry from the clunky speakers we once hung on our windows as we slowly drained Dad’s battery drinking smuggled beer.

When I was young, we’d stuff the trunk with kids, believing we were doing an end-run. Premier offers Carload Thursday – eighteen bucks a car, regardless of how many are mashed in there. They have cheap Tuesdays at $6 a head (regular price is $12), and kids are just a couple of dollars each. In peak weather, the screens are sold out, with more than 1,000 cars at the site in Oakville on a summer weekend.

Daniel Cojocaru drove himself and two friends in his 1969 Plymouth Fury to an opening night show of ‘Shrek’ and ‘Evolution’ at the Docks Drive-In in Toronto.
If I really want a taste of my youth, however, perhaps I’d best be heading to Saskatchewan. The Jubliee Drive-In at Manitou Beach was started by a group of businessmen in 1955. Over time, it came to belong to just one family, the Crawfords.

The area of Manitou Beach and nearby Watrous in Saskatchewan are noted tourist areas, featuring the second saltiest body of water in the world at the centre of their spa and resort. While the permanent population of Manitou Beach hovers around 250 and nearby Watrous is nearing 2,000, the Jubilee draws about 85 per cent of its patrons from visitors to the area.

Tara Hayden worked for the Crawford family for nearly two decades before taking over the operation of the site four years ago. The theatre changed hands after the Crawfords retired, and four years later the village of Manitou Beach bought the property.

“The community was in danger of losing the drive-in at the time. The changeover to digital threatened to close it,” she explains. In true prairie spirit, the surrounding areas held fundraisers to buy some used equipment to keep the place going. Hayden says it’s common in Saskatchewan, which still has four drive-ins.

Right now, Hayden, the local girl who now works full time in car sales, keeps a movie schedule in an attempt to at least break even. Last year the Jubilee was open for six months; this year, after June weekends and adding Thursdays in July, Hayden plans on running every day for the final two weeks of August and closing up shop on Labour Day. She says next year is up in the air.

“It’s funny,” she continues. “When my son was 15, he was running the 35-millimetre projector. The family who runs the Prairie Dog Drive-in in Carlyle (nearly four hours away) was visiting and it turned out their 15 year-old daughter was running their 35-millimetre projector. These two kids deep in conversation over equipment that was decades old. It would be such a shame to lose these places. They really are important parts of their communities.”

She says now their visitors are coming back with not just their kids, but their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Everything old can be new again, especially if a community values it.

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A simple solution for nighttime distractions: turn the screen off

The bright infotainment unit draws your eyes onto it and off the road

Originally published July 31, 2017

A key selling feature in most new vehicles is how large the screen in the dash is. Touchscreen or ringed with dials, size matters.

It’s a boon for aging eyes. It’s also easier to locate your information with a shorter glance, surely making them safer. But it took a recent road trip with a friend who has a little attention deficit disorder (ADD) to make something very clear to me: they’re a huge distraction.

I’ve always preferred clean cockpits, streamlined dashes and fewer toggles and toys. Driving should be about driving, not mashing away at a phone or a screen every few seconds and sending distracted driving crash rates higher than alcohol and drug impaired ones. We’re entertaining ourselves to death.

My co-driver showed me how he dealt with it: he didn’t just dim the screen, he blackened it.

Duh. I’ve since found the setting in every car I’ve been in, and after some initial adjustment and several more long trips, I realize it’s the best driving tip I’ve received in a long time. No more flashing from a navigation system as it scrolls through knots of roads, no more visual updates from radio stations about what they’re saying out loud anyway. Especially at night, you have reduced eye strain from competing light sources. It’s a dashboard, not a midway.

Set your navigation system at the outset, and you continue to get directions verbally, and in some cars, in a reading near your speedometer. I did it in baby steps, first dimming the screen then outright shutting it down. It takes less than a second to pull it back up, but the fact remains, the fewer places there are to draw your eyes to, the more likely your eyes will stay on the road, the only place they belong.

If you’ve driven past vehicles with kids in the rear compartment watching movies on seat-mounted screens, you know how distracting they can be to other drivers. I know they’re not in my car, but try to take your eyes from them. It’s hard. Our brains are hardwired to detect changes in our surroundings for our own safety; the problem now is that we are providing distractions that are becoming a danger themselves.

Car manufacturers are in a tough spot of their own design. Nobody is going to start offering less connectivity, fewer bells and whistles or outdated software. The toothpaste is all the way out of that tube. Modern safety systems on cars have advanced with the same speed, but the cynical among us can’t help but wonder if much of that safety is needed to combat so much of that distraction. If I wasn’t futzing with a nav system or poking through six levels of input feeds, maybe I wouldn’t need lane departure warning, a feature I half-jokingly call text assist. It’s always up to the driver to be competent and safe, but how many cookies are you going to throw down in front of a kid before they go for them?

I drove up to James Bay once, and if you’ve seen it on a map, you’ll know it’s hour after hour of nothing. A straight line on the navigation map, never wavering, never changing. It’s similar to heading across the Trans-Canada Highway through parts of many provinces and all of Saskatchewan. There is only one road to James Bay and nowhere to go but up to the top; we didn’t need a map, but by habit had it displayed. It was worse than distracting, it was hypnotic.

It takes a lot of people a long time to finally understand the many features offered on their new car, if they ever do. I tell them to put the owner’s manual in the bathroom; it’s an easy way to ensure at least some of it gets read. But many of the small things, like disengaging the horn when you depress the locking button on your keyfob, get overlooked. Most of us know there is an arrow on the gas tank icon that shows you which side to fill up on (really useful on rentals). More high-end cars have automatic high beams, so you know that feature will start to show up farther down the food chain in short order.

Manufacturers aren’t just making leaps and bounds in the safety arena, they really are tweaking the smallest things to make your ride both incredibly comfortable and a seamless transition from your home or office. These are all good things, but remember that many of them are still distractions, no matter how useful or pretty. Find the built-in firewalls that can cut out the ones you don’t need all the time.

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The necessary violence of life-saving airbags

First-person account describes it as “like a bomb” going off, but these safety devices are proven to save lives – with caveats

Originally published July 17, 2017

It was 5 p.m. on a perfect summer evening. Melissa Moore, 54, was driving her 2017 Subaru Forester on the rural highway just outside Whitehall, Michigan, the town where she lives. She admits the new car purchase had been an exciting step up from years of utilitarian minivans; the Bluetooth, the touchscreens, the newfound luxury, all had made her a little lax on even asking questions about the safety features of the vehicle.

“I knew Subaru had a great reputation,” she admits. “But it still wasn’t like me to not check out safety options.” A deer helped her check most of them out, all at once. A seatbelt and a lot of airbags saved her from certain injury, if not worse.

Most of us think we’ll have time to avoid a deer strike. With your vision up in areas you know deer to frequent (there were four collisions with deer on that day alone where Melissa met hers), the blunt truth is that they often come out of nowhere, and directly into your vehicle. You don’t have any braking distance.

“It was maybe five feet away from me; it happened so fast, it came from the passenger side of the car,” says Moore. “All I could think later was how grateful I was that my 14-year-old daughter wasn’t sitting there. She’s often with me.”


The speed limit in the area is 55 mph (about 88 km/h), the speed she was maintaining. If you factor in driver reaction time, you need about 300 feet (91 metres) to stop a vehicle with good brakes on dry pavement. There was zero chance that deer wasn’t going to land in that Subaru. In fact, it carried on across the road and hit another vehicle, which in turn hit the ditch and was totalled.

Responders figure Melissa managed to hit the brakes and began to steer. Damage to the car is on the front and down the driver’s side. All the airbags in the Forester were deployed, except the passenger dash and the passenger seat. Melissa didn’t even realize her seat had an airbag in it until her son pointed it out. All the curtain bags activated. For Melissa, “everything just exploded. The seatbelt had me pinned in place and all I could smell was the propellant chemical. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. It happened so fast.”

She had a badly bruised shin and a bruised and strained chest wall, where the seatbelt and airbag did their jobs.

Despite the recent Takata airbag scandal, in the U.S. alone, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that between 1978 and 2012, 39,976 lives have been saved by airbags in that country; here in our own country, Transport Canada’s statistics say 300 lives were saved between 1990 and 200o. Airbags were deemed mandatory for all cars and light trucks sold after September 1, 1998.

As consumers, we take airbags for granted, even at the most entry level of cars. Manufacturers are increasingly providing better and better airbag systems throughout their vehicles. But as consumers, we need to remember that safety systems only work when used as they’re designed. Movies and ads would have you believe that an airbag goes off in slow motion, or resembles nothing so much as a large puffy marshmallow. The truth couldn’t be more different: that plastic bag launches like a rocket, at 100 to 300 km/h depending on their location. It deflates instantly.

Crucial to an airbag adequately protecting you is the proper use of your seatbelt, as well as your seating position. There should be a 25 centimetre distance between your chest and the airbag – for the driver, it’s in the steering wheel, for passenger, it’s mounted in the dash. The seatbelt is built to have enough slack in it to receive the initial thrust of the collision before pulling you back into the seat as the airbag cushions you and keeps you in place. Not using a seatbelt means taking the full force of that airbag and will cause serious injury. In fact, Transport Canada reports that eight people have been killed by airbags up to 2001 – and the common thread between them all was that the victims sat too close to the airbag when it deployed.

Both restraint systems are also meant to be used with the seat in the proper position. Reclining will compromise that. A passenger putting his or her feet on the dash risks the force of the airbag blowing up directly under their legs. Don’t put your feet on the dash. Ever.

What will make my airbags deploy?

Generally, airbags will deploy if you hit a “solid, fixed barrier” from 13 to 22 km/h. Some advanced systems will sense a child or other small person in the passenger seat who could be injured by the airbag, and automatically turn it off. Those under 12 should still be travelling in the rear seat.

Melissa Moore could still taste the chemical residue in her throat at the hospital after the crash. While doctors continued to make sure some existing conditions hadn’t been exacerbated – she has some osteoarthritis and lower back issues – she remained shocked that the violence that took place outside the car produced far less damage than what happened inside. “The outside of the car doesn’t even look that bad,” she mused. “Inside was like a bomb went off.”

Airbags. The bombs that save lives.

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Safe boating is something for both land and sea

Getting your craft to the water means using the proper vehicle and procedures for safety

Originally published July 12, 2017 (with video)

There is one right way to trailer a boat, regardless of size.

And so many wrong ones.

For six years, Nissan Canada has been teaming with BOATsmart!, an organization that promotes safety in recreational motorized activities. BOATsmart! is accredited by Transport Canada to provide Pleasure Craft Operator Cards, a requirement in Canada for anyone using a pleasure craft outfitted with a motor. The test is available online for fifty bucks (note: it can take about six hours to complete. The section on buoys is hard – take notes), but once you pass, you’re are licenced for life.

To test out my newly licenced self, I took to cottage country in Ontario for the day. We were driving the Armada and the Pathfinder, Nissan’s (and the industry’s) biggest towers in their segments, and the Titan the Titan XD. The goal? Hook up everything from power boats to personal watercraft to a pontoon boat, get them into the water and take them for a spin.

Driving while you’re towing something isn’t actually that difficult, especially if you’re familiar with large vehicles. You have to be cognizant that you’ve effectively tripled your needed stopping distance, take great care on right turns and downhills, especially, and remember all that additional weight and length will compromise your agility. You take it easy, in other words.

Hooking up that trailer, however? That’s where things get interesting. Having an expert point person guiding you is critical, but you’re still threading a needle. In our case, we were backing up an Armada, a tank of a vehicle, to over 2,000 kilograms (4,500 pounds) of boat resting on a 680-kg (1,500-pound) trailer. Some Nissan trucks (the Titans, for example) have a center line on the backup camera; gently steer and correct until two lines join and you’re there. You still need patience, skill and a gifted yeller. I would not want to do this in the rain, in the dark.

Properly attaching a boat trailer is critical. Missed steps can cause highway mayhem in the blink of an eye. Lining up the hitch is incremental, and requires patience. Once positioned, drop the hitch onto the ball and make sure the locking system is secure. Slide the hitch pin. The hooked chains should be crossed before connected to the vehicle, so if the hitch for any reason lets go it will be cradled. Connect the lighting harness and check all vehicle lights, and spend some time adjusting your vehicle’s mirrors. Before you launch your boat, remove any tie-downs at the rear. It’s an often overlooked step.

While Nissan currently has a sliver share of the massive truck market dominated by the domestics, it is that towing capacity they see as their window in with the Pathfinder and the Armada. All the luxury this demographic wants for hauling kids as well as the ability to get the watercraft where they need it. The Pathfinder has a 6,000-lb capacity, beating the Explorer, the Highlander and the Pilot by 1,000, and the Acadia by 2,000. The Armada hauls 8,500 pounds, edging out the Tahoe at 6,400, the Sequoia at 7,100 and the Expedition at 6,500.

The Titan and Titan XD, both available in 2017 with single cabs as well as crew cabs, don’t lead the field in towing capacity, but Nissan is confident their five-year bumper-to-bumper warranty will be an industry leader. The Titans have an available Trailer Light Check system that allows you to check the lights on your trailer from your keyfob, even if you’re on your own. It’s a nice safety feature, and Nissan’s Around View Monitor (AVM) available on most of their lineup remains the best in the business. It’s a bird’s eye view of your car, and truly delivers the best use of cameras I’ve seen. You can park an Armada in a thimble with it.

We were “working” on fabulous Lake Rosseau for a reason: it’s the spendy part of cottage country where the millionaires and their moochers come to live the high life. Nissan is looking to exploit a demographic whose daily driver is more Porsche than Pontiac, and while the truck lineup they’re offering has price points that start higher than much of the advertised ones of their competition, once you cut through the screaming headlines and rebates of the domestics and go head to head on features, they’re competitive.

Ford has trailer backup assist technology I’ve tried that is spooky but cool. You take your hands from the wheel and use a mouse-like knob as a sensor on the trailer does the work. Backing a trailer is counterintuitive; you are pawing the wheel to the left to shift it right in your mirrors and it’s a lot harder than it looks. Ford has the right idea as we race toward autonomy, and while it takes some getting use to (and more than a little trust), look to the rest of the industry to adopt similar features.

BOATsmart! was on hand to make sure we literally didn’t get our wires crossed, and to guide us through the step-by-step process of properly securing a trailer. The boat itself must be properly secured to the trailer, and skipping steps on either could prove dangerous. A local marine operator regaled me with tales of a large speed boat slipping its trailer on one of the country’s busiest highways, a reminder that towing anything is not for the reckless or careless.

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Summer heat means danger for pets in cars

Even a few minutes in a vehicle while you “pop in the shop” risks the life of your beloved Fido

Originally published July 4, 2017

I wasn’t paying much attention to the older gentleman ahead of me in line at the pet store. The cashier had pleasantly asked where his dog was today, because pet stores are the one place where everybody seems happy to see a dog.

“Oh, she’s at home, and hopefully not tearing the place apart,” he said gruffly. The cashier smiled her best dogs-will-be-dogs smile and continued the transaction. It was the next thing he uttered that made me shift the tower of cat food cases I was holding.

“And now of course, every idiot who wants to is allowed to break my car windows when I leave her in the car,” he continued.

Yeah, that idiot would be me, you old fool.

I watched him head out the doors and wondered why he had a dog at all. Dogs are a wonderful, joyful, pain in the ass. If you have one, you’ve signed up for all that entails, and that means not leaving them behind in cars that can heat up faster than a microwave. Ever. Not even for ten minutes.

Provincial animal protection mandates are in place across the country, and headline-making negligence reports are making lawmakers take heed. In December, 2014, Nova Scotia recently passed legislation with higher fines ($200-$700) for some abuses, and giving more power to SPCA officers to do things like break car windows instead of waiting for police. Breaking a window will always be a call made in the moment if you’re a bystander, but it’s good to know that some places are recognizing that seconds can matter if an animal – or worse, a child – is in distress.

The law in many places is still blurry; we need it bolstered, like they did in Nova Scotia. British Columbia currently has 24 SPCA workers who are able to intervene, and their NDP government continues to push for harsher laws. Currently, you can face a $75,000 fine and two years in jail. In May, 2014, a dog walker caused the death of six animals in her care when she left them in her van. She received a six-month sentence, but it served as fuel for this debate.

Last year, California enacted a law that allows private citizens to rescue dogs from a hot or cold car, but the wording is deliberate, and focuses on causing the least amount of trauma to a trapped pet rather than baseball bat justice.

I’ve put myself through the physical terribleness of being locked in a hot car for an hour, and I can’t imagine how a child or pet would get through a similar experience. Leaving aside the words I have for people who leave their children in the car while they run in somewhere “just for a minute”, let’s address the pups.

A car or van is an oven. Steel and glass and dark interiors, they are ovens, not shelters. In ten minutes the temperature inside your vehicle can rise from 21C (70F) to 32C (90F) American Veterinary Medical Association. Another ten minutes it can get to nearly 38C (100F). In 20 minutes that lovely temperature you’re enjoying outside has turned your car into a deathtrap for your creature.

Don’t bother with cracking the window. If you have your oven on and you open the door an inch or two, it does nothing. Same with your car. Parking in the shade? Nope. The heat – and your animal – is trapped regardless.

Dogs don’t perspire like people. They can only pant and sweat through their paws. If the seats are hot, that removes one option from them. Pile on the frantic behaviour that often ensues by being left behind by the people they trust, and ramp up the onset of their internal thermostats heating up. Distress can set in in minutes, and organ failure and death not long after. Yes, it can happen fast. Would you ever set your oven for 100 degrees and put something living in there? Thought not.

Every province has an SPCA number you can call if you see an animal left in a car. You can also call police. You can run into nearby stores and try to have a car owner paged. Most tips tell you that leaving a car running with the air conditioning on is not a solution, but I’d argue that, at least gently. I have a friend who travels with her dog across the southern U.S. sometimes and it’s much safer to leave her animal locked in a running vehicle while she dashes in for a pee if that is her only option. It’s a solution that introduces other concerns, but if the emergency brake is on so Fido can’t accidentally drop it into drive, I’d take this approach over the roasting car.

There are many who criticize the internet for creating vigilante lawlessness, and it’s as easy to find a sympathetic story about someone who only left their kid or their dog for twenty seconds before all hell broke loose. I’m not an unreasonable person, but “I was only gone for a few minutes” has to become equated with “I only had a couple of beers”. Neither can work, neither can become normal, neither can be acceptable.

My dog-owning kids know they can drop their critters off with me if they have to; I’ve offered to stay with a pup outside a store on a leash, and I’m no dog person. The cashier at the pet store I was at told me staff even offer to go out to cars of customers, like the crotchety guy ahead of me, when they knew there might be dogs left outside.

If your animal is already in distress, a stranger breaking a window will increase that stress in the short term. But before you start calling out the rebels looking for a cause, remind me why I care more about your dog than you do.

Posted in Drive She Said | 3 Comments

Will stronger penalties be enough to stop rise in aggressive driving?

Bill 213 is aimed to stop the growing fatalities from dangerous speeding, but some people still don’t get the message

Originally published June 19, 2017

Ontario Provincial Police just came off a winter with a 14 year record high snowmobile deaths, with 24 victims. And now, with summer not even officially here, they’re posting more record setting fatality counts on our roads and bracing themselves for a long season of carnage.

Police break down crash statistics into the Big Four: distracted driving, speed, seatbelt usage and alcohol and drugs. So far for 2017, they’re stunned to report an 80 per cent increase over last year in a category that seems to want to bully its way into the big leagues: aggressive driving.

In 2016, OPP reported “65 people died in OPP-investigated collisions last year in which an inattentive driver was either a contributing factor or the primary cause of the death. In comparison to the other Big Four categories, 2016 ended with 55 speed-related, 53 seatbelt-related and 45 alcohol-related deaths.”

That would make distracted – hey you, put down the phone – the big one. But current numbers have police scrambling to contain a growing phenomenon, the aggressive drivers. Up from 15 fatalities all of last year to 27 just to this date, police are quick to point out we haven’t officially entered summer, the dangerous, silly season of people driving over their heads.

Back in April a passel of exotic high-end cars were nabbed off Highway 400. The news flashed images of decaled Mercedes, Ferraris, Porsches and Lamborghinis, amongst others. Stunt driving charges were laid against a dozen of their drivers, meaning the bucket list machinery was towed away on flatbeds, their owners grounded and now beginning a circuitous romp through the court system to sort out the charges. Owners cried foul; police cried fair. News reports say it was surrounding motorists who made multiple calls, and police say dash-cam footage and reports will back them up.

Were they targeted? As I tell my kids whenever I’m driving one of those cars, of course you’re targeted. You might as well paint a neon bullseye on your car. You didn’t buy that car so you could, you know, blend. I’ve also met more than one owner in the category who considers the cost of speeding tickets as the cost of doing business. The rich are different from you and me.

In 2007 when Ontario introduced its so-called Stunt Driving law, the idea was to give police some teeth to round up the street racers, the brats who embraced the aftermarket parts bin like a dog on a bone and then turned our roadways into danger zones for everybody else.

The punishment seemed onerous enough. Police could be judge and jury at the roadside, immediately seizing the car and suspending a licence. The charge would then wend its way through court, and could result in fines between $2,000 and $10,000, up to six months in jail and further licence suspensions between two and ten years. Everybody knew going 50 km/hr over the limit could result in the charge; but it also highlighted the dangerous nonsense that is indeed ‘stuntish’: driving with people in your trunk, turning left in front of a line of traffic to jump the light, weaving in and out of traffic, among other things. It was supposed to stop the idiots, and yet here we are with an 80 per cent increase in fatalities in early June.

Bill 213, a private member’s bill from Tourism Minister Eleanor McMahon seeks to toughen up the fines and jail terms. McMahon is the right one to shepherd this through the wickets; her husband, OPP Sergeant Greg Stobbart, was killed while he was cycling by a driver with five convictions for driving under suspension. Making our roads safer is going to necessarily fall to politicians if drivers themselves seem unable, or unwilling, to cut the crap.

Over the years, I get well-meaning but off centre letters from readers asking why cars are even made than can go more than 100 km/hr. They are written in earnest: why do we need vehicles that are able to go faster than any posted speed limit.

I sigh, and not just because of simplistic thinking. People will manage to break any law and endanger themselves in new and improved ways no matter the vehicle, and no matter the punishment. The downside isn’t that dangerous drivers kill themselves, it’s that they take the rest of us out with them.

I don’t know that stiffer fines and jail times will ever deter the most hardcore Ricky Racers. But short of doing what those readers have asked for – putting lawnmower engines into cars – I don’t see any other answer.

Posted in Drive She Said | 2 Comments

The car that makes driving fun again is the anti-SUV

Mini Cooper S isn’t without its faults, but its lithe handling is a welcome change from the sea of big rigs on the road

Originally published June 12, 2017

I’m tired of SUVs and CUVs, and it took a 2017 Mini Cooper S Seven to remind me of that.

I know I’m the only one fatigued by various utility haulers; sales prove it. The segments are exploding so fast, I swear if I leave two SUVs in a dark garage overnight, in the morning there will be five of them. Our fuel prices remain incredibly affordable on the world scale, meaning everybody can drive big, bigger, biggest and nobody has to go electric. Yet.

My personal car is a little hatchback Elantra GT with a manual transmission. It was bought with my son in mind, knowing he’d end up with it. It’s easy on fuel, a fun ride and really versatile. Great bang for the buck.

I’ve driven a lot of Minis over the years, and loved doing so. My problem? Stubborn transmission problems are no industry secret, yet buyers, especially those purchasing older models, end up contacting me freaking out at the expense they find themselves facing when they’ve done too little research. That’s some upper class German engineering under that hood, with the repair bills to go along with it. My Mini love maxed out at that point.

I’ve also watched Minis grow, to the point that I’m seeing a vaguely Mini shaped car that was somehow just too big for my deeply entrenched Mini aesthetics. Like many of their brethren, Mini was searching for ways to capitalize all the way to the edges of their segments. Somewhere along the way, they lost the plot with some of the models sacrificing charm for, well, utility. Minis aren’t noted for their back seat legroom or road domination. Everything those CUVs and SUVs use as selling points, and everything I don’t want a Mini to be. I know, selfish of me, but it’s the truth. If you have to noodle something to be everything to everyone, it’ll usually end up being not enough for anyone.

It’s been a few years since I’d planted myself behind the wheel of a Mini. I’d driven the Countrymans (Countrymen?) when they first came out and, while they were fine, they didn’t have the Mini feel that I wanted; that I demanded. Some formulas shouldn’t be mucked with, much like family recipes. With keys in hand to the newest Cooper S five door, I wondered if my love could be rekindled.

I don’t say it often, and rarely in these pages, but I want this car.

We’ve been reaching for bigger and bigger vehicles and surrendering fun. When we’ve chased after reasonably priced compacts, we’ve thrown superior handling back to the sports cars – though you will only pry any vintage Miata from its owner’s cold, dead hands. The turbocharged four cylinder engine in this Mini is exhilarating; it handles with such infinitesimal input from the driver, it’s like it can read minds. The stock 17” wheels make it look cool, but also corner like a dream. I can already imagine having mine kitted out with winters and running all four seasons.

The Seven edition is a nod to the Austin Seven, one of the original Minis. Most of the options are about colour ways and painted stripes; the interior is full of the retro Mini touches and dials that you either love or hate, with lots of extra flourishes and zip-a-dee-doo-dah lights that you also love or hate. I love them. Pricing starts just under $28,000, and while the model I drove was topped up to $38,440, I’d probably add less than $2,000 to mine from the shopping list, and I’d win some back opting for a manual transmission.

We talk often – too often, in fact – about autonomous cars and all the coming changes. We talk about all the safety features that remove decision making from the driving process, and how this will all make driving so much better.

I was reminded this week that I call nonsense on that, and I doubt I’m alone. I love driving. I don’t want to imagine the week or two a year I might have to haul cats somewhere, or help a kid move. I want to smile every time I get in my car and hold a great steering wheel in my hands before the car tells me I don’t have to.

I love a vehicle that’s engineered for the driver, and while I respect that if you’re contemplating how to get a child seat into a car or pull lumber, this one isn’t for you. I also know that many of us aren’t doing that. I still go to the grocery store and the garden centre and the cottage; a super subcompact isn’t for me.

But this Mini is.

Posted in Drive She Said | 2 Comments