Monday , September 18 2017
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Before hitting the road, do your preflight

In the last five years, in a town not far from ours, no fewer than five children have been run over and killed in their own driveways — by a parent. Could anything be worse?

This is more than tragic and so completely unnecessary, yet it’s a nightmare which plays out all too often for too many families. As is the case with so many traffic fatalities, these were preventable. All it takes is one simple step.

In aviation it’s called a “preflight.” When learning how to fly, one of the first things a student pilot learns is the importance of the preflight. Simply put, the preflight is a detailed inspection by the pilot before taking off to determine the airworthiness of the aircraft.

On light aircraft, this is an up close and personal job for the pilot with actual hands-on manipulation of control surfaces, engine fluid level checks and other tasks as called for on a preflight checklist. On larger aircraft, the process is more complicated. The pilot cannot always perform each task hands-on but the preflight is done under his or her supervision and according to very strict standards.

A good pilot will never leave the ground without a thorough preflight. Needless to say the consequences of doing so can be disastrous. The same is true for driving.

Personally, I go way overboard on this stuff with both the car and the motorhome. When we get ready for a road trip I drive my wife crazy with my pre-drive routine, checking, rechecking and re-rechecking everything!

The last thing I want is to be cruising down the road and feel a shake or a shudder, or hear a clang or a thump and wonder, “good grief, what did I forget this time?” Or have you ever had someone pull up alongside, point at something on your rig you can’t see, yell something you can’t hear and then take off? Don’t you hate it when that happens? You don’t know if you should wait ‘til you get to the next town or pull over right now and grab for the nearest fire extinguisher.

How many times have we gotten down the road a mile or two and thought with a sudden catch of breath, “Oh wow, did I close the toolbox?” or “Oh man, did I remember to latch that awning?” The one I really don’t like is, “Oh boy, did the steps come up?” We drove 200 miles up the Oregon Coast one time with the steps down. The first thing I did when I opened the door and discovered this was a red-faced look around to see if anybody noticed. Yeah right, like being embarrassed was the worst thing that could have happened.

Some things just cannot be anticipated. On our last road trip we had just reached highway speed after a breakfast stop when we heard a bang. I looked in my rearview mirror and watched the shroud from our forward roof air conditioner soar gracefully up and away, then tumble back down, narrowly missing the car behind which was occupied by one of our daughters and her husband, before finally shattering on the median. My son-in-law thought this was funny, so I made him sleep under the coach that night. Not really, but I was tempted. Even with all the checking and re-checking, hey, stuff happens.

Instead of a preflight, it’s call a pre-drive check or “walk around.” If you leave your car unattended for more than a few minutes — certainly for an hour or more or overnight — do a quick walk around before you take off. It takes less than a minute and could save a life.

Specifically check these items:

  • Look under and around your car for objects and any fluid leaks.
  • Look at your tires to see if they look okay and are properly inflated.
  • Make sure windshield, windows, headlights and tail lights are clean and operable.
  • Check the dashboard and window ledge for loose objects.
  • Most importantly, check for anything or anyone that might be in your intended path such as toys, pets and children.

Rear view cameras can help. But, even with a camera, it can be difficult to see things directly behind your vehicle. It shouldn’t matter if you are late. Do it anyway! If you wanted to get there sooner, you should have left sooner.

The good driver takes other pre-drive precautions as well. After the outside checks are done, if you’re parked curbside, walk around the front of the car to enter the driver side door. Why would you walk around the front and not the back? Have your keys in hand, get in and close the door quickly. Once inside check to make sure your seat and inside and outside mirrors are properly adjusted.

Some call them head “rests,” but they’re actually called head “restraints” — and they have nothing to do with your comfort. They are safety devices that may help reduce whiplash injury if you are struck from behind. If not properly adjusted for the seat occupant, they will serve no useful purpose.

Check to make sure all occupants are buckled up or, in the case of children, make sure that proper restraint devices are correctly installed and properly used. Seatbelts save lives. Check out the stats. And not being buckled up is a primary offense in many states now.

As with the larger aircraft, the pre-drive routine with your RV is more complicated and time consuming, but take the time and do the drill. Use a detailed written checklist so nothing is left to chance. And, I’m sure I don’t have to remind you, when you’re backing up always have your co-pilot back there with signals you both understand or a handset so you can communicate instantly.

If you follow my stories here or on, then you know that I talk a lot about the difference between good drivers and those who merely know how to drive. Anyone can drive, but good drivers are getting harder to find all the time.

Good drivers are the ones who know, understand and obey traffic laws and rules of the road. Good drivers are aware of the dangers and conscientious about their safety and the safety of others.

Good drivers do the preflight!

About Robert Sears

Robert Sears is a professional driving instructor who once owned a company that trained more than 70,000 people to drive. Today he is an author working on several non-fiction books and writing traffic safety articles for consumer and special interest publications. He is a 30-year motorhome owner who has logged several hundred thousand miles of RV driving experience.

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