By Jordan W. Charness; photo courtesy

Three minutes does not sound like a lot of time, but in real life an awful lot can happen in that period of time. In just three minutes, you can go from being completely calm and at ease, to having your heart pounding and racing.

Some say that it takes just about three minutes to go from being a pedestrian to a driver. It’s all about situational awareness: as you leave your house to walk to your car you may be concentrating on any one of a million things, but rarely is one of those things your upcoming ride in your car. Problems at work, challenges at home or even recent good news may all be crowding for space in your brain while you step in to the familiar confines of your vehicle.

But once you get behind the wheel of your car you should be focusing on driving and nothing else. You’re supposed to check your mirrors, adjust your seat and put on your seatbelt as well as your stereo, Bluetooth, GPS, cell phone connection, climate control and even engage your brain, all before putting the car into Drive. Otherwise, bad things can happen.

Most of us do almost none of the above before actually putting the car into motion. That crucial three minutes period is often done at the same time as navigating school zones, stopping at stop signs and red lights and checking out road conditions. Now that the weather is turning decidedly cold, those first three minutes also include waiting for your windshield to clear up from the accumulated frost and fog, none of which will actually happen until your car engine warms up, in about three minutes.

According to statistics, most accidents happened within a couple of kilometres of your home or place of work. Many of those accidents are caused by distractions that should have been taken care of before you got the wheels rolling.

Law enforcement agencies are now more inclined to give tickets at accidents when the police officer truly feels that the accident was preventable and was caused by driver distraction or error.

I recently heard of a case where a driver was distracted by the radio and decided to change stations. He leaned over to reach for the station changing button and in doing so drove off the road and into a ditch. When the tow trucks and the police arrived the driver explained what happened and was promptly ticketed for careless driving. He complained and tried to defend himself by saying that changing the station in the car is perfectly legal and he should not have been ticketed.

The judge felt that the fact that he drove off the road made it clear that although he was performing a perfectly legal act he was performing it in such a careless manner that he caused a danger to himself and to others on the road.

That particular case did not happen in the first three minutes, but certainly could have. It’s actually refreshing to see my 16 year-old daughter, who is just now learning to drive, carefully preparing the vehicle and performing all the motions I indicated above before she puts the car into gear. I hope that these will be habits that will last her a lifetime.

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