Safe Driving Challenge for Teachers and Students

Dear Readers,

Periodically I like to share news relating to tires and driving, and I thought this was a great program worth mentioning. On October 18, Toyota and Discovery Education announced two exciting contests in which teachers and teens are invited to come up with their most creative ideas for promoting safe teen driving habits. While these contests give students and teachers the opportunity to win some big prizes, the best part is the energy, attention, and motivation they inspire surrounding a critically important topic – teen driving safety.

Surpassing tragedies caused homicide and suicide, as well as deaths from cancer and heart disease, vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of teen fatalities, claiming more lives than all of the others combined.  This has been a troubling trend for the past several years, and in 2010, Toyota and Discovery Education teamed up to create Toyota Teen Driver, a comprehensive program and website to provide safe-driving tools and resources to educators, students and parents. This year, the program includes two creative contests:

Toyota Teen Driver Video Challenge

This contest invites students to produce an original video describing what they can do in their communities to help make teenagers safer drivers. The top ten videos will be selected by a panel of experts for their originality and compelling content, after which an online public voting period will determine the winner. Multiple winners will receive large cash prizes, and Discovery Channel film crews will visit the top three students’ hometowns to hear their stories and capture their visions for safer driving for pieces that will air on the Toyota Teen Driver and Discovery websites. The contest is open to students in grades 9-12.

Toyota Teen Driver Educators’ Challenge

For this contest, teachers are asked to create innovative and motivating plans for keeping students safe on the roads. The grand prize winner will receive a big cash prize along with trip to Washington, D.C., to attend a safe-driving conference. In addition, the winning teacher’s school will be awarded a Virtual Driver Interactive simulator and a safe-driving assembly, led by Toyota Teen Driver experts. A second place winner will also receive a driving simulator and school safe-driving assembly, as well as a cash prize.

I applaud these terrific programs. Safer teen drivers mean safer roads, not only for them, but for everyone. If you know any creative teens or teachers, let them know about the challenge! The deadline for both contests is February 14, 2013. For more information you can follow my links above.

Wishing you safe roads and happy travels,


Along for the Ride

Dear Tracy,

I am a relatively new driver and just became a car owner for the first time in my life! I am extremely excited about being a car owner, but I also take the responsibility seriously. To make sure that I am prepared for any crisis situation that I may encounter while on the road, I would like to put together an emergency kit of items to keep in my car. Can you advise me as to what the best items are to include in my kit?

Alicia K.

Dear Alicia,

Congratulations on your car ownership! Isn’t it a great feeling to have the freedom that comes with owning your own car? I applaud your commitment to being a responsible driver, and traveling with a car emergency kit is an excellent idea. Here is a list of items I suggest keeping in your car:

Spare tire – Your car should include what you would need in the event of a blow out, but if you have purchased a used car, it might be a good idea to confirm you have a spare and that it is in good condition.

Portable air compressor –When your tire is leaking but hasn’t totally blown out, you can use a portable air compressor to get back on the road. The compressor fills your tire up enough to allow you to drive to a repair shop to get it fixed.

Jumper cables – One of the most basic items to include in your car emergency kit is a set of jumper cables. Your car battery could fail due to any number of reasons, from your car dome light being left on to cold weather. A set of jumper cables can mean the difference between waiting for a tow and getting back on the road. Not only may the cables help you in a jam, you might be able to assist someone else in need.

Flashlight – Keeping a strong flashlight (with a fresh set of batteries in it) is a good idea for emergency. Even in non-emergency situations, like when you drop your cell phone between the seat and the center console, a little light is a huge help!

Roadside flares –An immobile car on the side of a dark road poses a serious risk for a non-alert motorist turning a single car problem into a multi-car problem. Roadside flares not only provide a “help” signal, they alert unsuspecting drivers of a disabled vehicle near the roadway. Today, you can get LED flares, so you don’t have to light them.

Snacks & Water Bottles – If you spend a lot of time in your car, it might be a good idea to carry snacks and bottled water in your emergency stash. No one ever plans on being stranded on the side of the road, and it may occur at a time when you need to eat or drink. Just be sure to swap out the snacks from time to time, so you are not relying on stale sustenance.

Warm blankets – A few warm blankets, spare gloves, or even packets of instant hand warmer can make a long wait in the car much more bearable.

Ice scraper – In the winter months, make sure you are prepared for that layer of ice and frost. Don’t be the person out there trying to clear frosty windows with your library card!

First aid kit – Bandages, Neosporin®, pain relievers, antacids, basically anything you reach in the medicine cabinet for on a regular basis can be extremely handy to have on hand in your vehicle.

LifeHammer® – This tool is used it to break a window or cut a seatbelt, enabling escape in extreme situations. This item is definitely one that you may never use, but they are not too expensive, so it might be worth adding one to your cache.

Winter Driving – Keep the Pressure On

Dear Tracy,

Now that fall is here, I am beginning to worry about another season of winter driving.  I have heard that if you reduce the pressure in your tires you will have better traction on snow and ice. Is this true? Sliding on the ice really scares me – especially on all the hills around my home!

Olivia D.

Dear Olivia,

I understand – driving in winter weather has a chilling effect on my confidence, too. But, you should not reduce tire pressure to increase traction on snow or ice, mainly because it does not work. In fact, underinflated tires cause the engine to work harder, due to increased rolling resistance. Not enough tire pressure also affects the steering and handling of your vehicle. Under inflation is the leading cause of tire failure because it results in excessive tire stress, irregular wear, and loss of control.

There are plenty of other ways to prepare for driving in winter weather.  Install a set of quality winter tires before the first storm hits. You can also use the changing seasons as a reminder to take care of routine tire maintenance. Being prepared for winter weather will help you anticipate and avoid dangerous circumstances so you can maintain control and remain safe on the road.

Once your winter tires are installed, here are a few safe winter driving reminders:

  • First and foremost, always drive a little slower during winter conditions.
  • It always take longer to stop a vehicle on ice and snow, so double the anticipated stopping distance when braking anytime conditions are not dry.
  • Remember that a four-wheel drive vehicle does not have better braking ability than a two-wheel drive vehicle, so don’t expect an SUV to stop faster than a sedan.
  • In order to gain all of the handling and traction benefits of winter tires you need to install four of them. This assures all tires have the same grip capabilities.

Retired Tires

Dear Tracy,

My dad recently made my little brothers a couple of tire swings from old tires, when he had to replace two tires on his truck. I think this is a great way to use old tires, but now I am wondering about other uses for old tires. Are there many ways to repurpose old tires, and keep them from going to landfills?

Rob R.

Dear Rob,

Concerns about the environment and good old fashioned creativity have lead to a lot of great ideas for how tires can be re-used. Below is a list of some of the ways that old tires can be beneficial after their primary useful life has expired:

Retreads: Old tires can be recycled into new tires. Called “retreads”, these tires are widely used on trucks and on airplanes.  Not all tires can be retreaded; they must be thoroughly inspected for damage, wear, and manufacturing defects. A large number of tires must be scrapped. In this case, the following uses are great options.

Energy from Tires: Almost half of all old scrap tires are used for energy. They are burned as fuel in factories and power plants. Cement kilns, paper mills and electric plants are examples of operations that use either whole or shredded scrap tires for energy. This keeps millions of tires from landfills and helps reduce the need for fossil fuels. Though burning tires releases gases and noxious substances, from an environmental standpoint, the output is cleaner than that of many other fuel sources.

Construction: Many states shred scrap tires and use the material in roads and other construction projects. This use for old tires is becoming more widespread. Scrap tire rubber is an inexpensive, lightweight product used to fill underneath roads where bogs, clay or other weak soils that cause construction complications. Scrap tires are also beneficial in sound walls, bridge foundations and even landfill development. Scrap tires can be shredded and used in liners, daily covers and other parts of the operation of a landfill.

Ground rubber: Instead of shredding scrap tires, sometimes tires are ground into tiny rubber pebbles for rubberized asphalt, or ground rubber mixed with conventional asphalt. Research shows rubberized asphalt lasts longer, creates lower road noise, and requires shorter stopping distances. Ground rubber is also used for patio decks, running tracks and the pliable black surface that is used in school playgrounds.