Do you know how close you can legally park to a stop sign? How much space to leave between your vehicle and the one in front of you in normal driving conditions? Which way to point your wheels when parking uphill (on the right) on a street with a curb?
If you’re like many Alberta motorists, you probably don’t, because it’s been years since you’ve had any formal driver training. (For the record, the answers are: five metres, the distance travelled in two seconds and to the left.) Only 11 per cent of Alberta drivers who took a test on road rules as part of a 2010 AMA Foundation for Traffic Safety Research study got a passing grade.
The study also found that the longer the time since the drivers had got their licences, the less they knew about the current rules. “
The longer you’ve been driving, the likelier it is that you’re breaking some rules without even realizing it,” says Rick Lang of AMA Driver Education. “Driver education should be about lifelong learning.”
Traffic rules and driving guidelines change over time. An example: do you know the correct position for hands on a steering wheel? You probably think it’s 10 o’clock and two o’clock, but it’s actually nine and three. This guideline changed several years ago when airbags became a common feature on North American vehicles.
On the road, a knowledge gap can have serious consequences. “The majority of crashes are preceded by at least one traffic violation,” Lang says. So how does the average driver stay road-savvy? “If you want to find out how good you are, take a lesson or a driver’s assessment,” suggests Lang. For about $120, an instructor can tailor a private two-hour assessment and lesson for you.
These refresher courses aim to keep you driving safely, whether you’ve been on the road for five years or 50. Of course, all drivers should begin their lifelong education with training from a provincially licensed driving school (such as AMA Driver Education, where novice courses include 18 hours of classroom instruction). From there, Lang advises recharging your knowledge and skills every three to five years. Start by reading up on the current road rules (see the Basic Licence Driver’s Handbook online at transportation.alberta.ca/733.htm). Then visit ama.ab.ca/driver-education to take a learner’s practice exam.
If this sounds taxing, remember: driving errors can cost you fines and demerits. If you accumulate eight demerits, the Department of Transportation sends you a courtesy letter. Pile up 15 and you get a registered letter suspending your licence. This happens more often than you might think – as of March 31, 2011, there were 2,739 drivers in Alberta with demerit-related suspensions.
But there’s a silver lining. Alberta drivers can participate in a government-approved driving program, such as AMA’s Demerit Reduction Defensive Driver Course, every two years to remove up to three demerit points from their record.