The Toronto Star: Identity Threat and Act to Avoid Road Mishaps

The Toronto Star logo

By Carlos Tomas
Special to The Star

Nine out of 10 accidents happen to so-called “average drivers” when they fail to identify a situation’s accident potential or respond to it correctly. Now, thanks to the accident-proofing techniques employed by expert drivers from around the world almost anyone can drive safely, efficiently and accident-free.

Another bonus is that you can save money on insurance, fuel and maintenance costs.The idea behind reducing driving risk is simple: Identify potential accident-prone situations in advance and act accordingly. Keep a safe distance from other drivers. Communicate clearly. And be aware of what’s going on all around you at all times.

Get the whole picture:

In city driving, many things are happening all at once. So being able to quickly read the total traffic picture is the surest way to maintain better control of your driving situation. To do this, you must continuously scan the area two blocks ahead and behind you and from one side of the street to the other.

Stopping and accelerating your car to driving speed burns up to 16 times more fuel than keeping it in motion (not to mention all the unnecessary wear and tear on brakes, tires, engine and transmission). So while you’re driving, look as far ahead as two or three traffic lights. By pacing yourself, you’ll arrive at each intersection on the green with the traffic already moving.

You’ll also reduce your chances of being rear-ended. And you’ll also be les apt to block intersections.

Expect the unexpected:

Having established a safe steering path, check to see whether anything is coming into your lane by quickly glancing from side to side.

Be especially cautious at intersections. Often drivers will enter these without signaling or making their intentions clear. Study their movements. Be aware of such clues as angled front tires.

At an intersection there are three common zones where conflicts arise – with drivers failing to yield right of way. Check the left side for drivers not slowing down for their red signal. Check ahead for approaching drivers slowing down, preparing to turn left -across your path. Check the right side for drivers completing a right turn, into your driving lane.

Another common cause of accidents is vehicles unexpectedly intruding from an adjacent lane. Or from a parked position. As you approach parked cars notice the angle and position of the front tires, and look to see if a driver is at the wheel, ready to pull out without signaling or checking for on-coming cars.

Also check under parked vehicles for children’s feet or animals that may run out. Have your thumb over the horn, ready to warn them. Or, better still, lightly sound the horn to make them know you’re coming. That way your attention is free to check elsewhere.

Check your rear-view mirrors about every five seconds. And more frequently in heavy traffic. Or when preparing to slow down or change lanes.

Make your own space:

To be in full control, create a “space cushion of safety” around your car – ahead, on both sides and to the rear.

Insulate your vehicle with space by adjusting your speed. Drive as if you’re not following the vehicle ahead of you. (As a bonus, you’ll seldom have to stop for a red light!)

In heavy traffic, drive in the lane with the fewest cars. A following gap of at least three to four seconds is advisable, with more on slippery roads.

When stopping, stop a car length or more behind the car ahead, to leave plenty of room to maneuver.

Occasionally you’ll encounter the persistent tailgater. Even when another lane is unavailable you can usually squeeze over to the side to allow him to pass. If this doesn’t work, gradually decrease your speed and drop back to allow for plenty of stopping distance for the both of you.

Don’t drive blind:

Avoid blind- spot driving.

Adjust your speed as soon as you find yourself in a blind spot, or someone moves into yours.

Develop the habit of checking your blind spot before changing lanes, parking, leaving a parking spot, and turning, especially to the right. (Cyclists will particularly appreciate this!)

Each time you start the car turn on your headlights. This is simple procedure alone can prevent so many accidents – even in daytime. Many insurance companies reward “daylighters” with premium discounts.

Don’t make’em guess:


Make your intentions as clear as possible. Don’t be afraid to over-communicate.

The less confusing you are to other drivers, the less other drivers will confuse you.

Establish eye-to-eye contact. And if you’re in a good mood – what the heck: Smile!

The Toronto Star: This School Gives ’em the Gears

This school gives ‘em the gears
By Linda A. Fox

Call it a “driving” ambition but I’ve always wanted to walk into an upscale dealership and take a snappy, imported sports car for a spin.

A few days ago, I finally did it. Top down; wind in my hair. A dream come true.

What prevented me all these years from this seemingly simple task? Not being able to drive a stickshift.

For 23 years I’ve wimped-out and driven automatics, knowing in my heart that every car I’ve really lusted after came with a standard shifter.

So it was with visions of speeding to the office in my Lamborghini (after the lottery win, of course), that I put myself in the capable hands of Carlos Tomas, operator of Shifters Manual Driving School (921-7845).

Shifters offers a course in basic manual transmission driving skills for those who have a licence, plus courses for the complete beginner.

I chose the course entitled From Automatic To Stick-Shift which gave me five in-car sessions of 1½ hours each . . . .

Carlos says the most common fault of drivers is (lack of) communication. He stresses keeping a safe distance from other vehicles and being aware of what’s going on around you at all times.

“Don’t be afraid to over-communicate,” he says. “The less confusing you are to other drivers; the less other drivers confuse you.

There are obvious benefits to driving a vehicle with a standard transmission. First, the purchase price is usually about $ 1,000 cheaper. But most important, they are more fuel efficient and therefore, easier on the environment.

Do men and women differ in their ability to learn stick-shift, I asked.

“No, not at all. Both show about the same ability with training,” Carlos feels.

I know I still need practice. Now if I can just get my next-door neighbor to let me take a spin in his red vintage Ferrari . .

The Toronto Star: Drive Smart, Drive Green

Means and Ends
Jody Ness

Ease up and take pressure off you and environment.

My 13-year old friend, Sarah loves to roller-blade she is also far ahead of me when it comes to environmental issues. Recently she questioned whether my test-driving cars all the time wasn’t potentially an eco-problem.

Add to this the growing concern, especially in California, over car emissions. With these thoughts in mind, I turned my attention to the emerging topic of eco-friendly driving.

After much discussion with him, I’m passing along some suggestions offered to me by Carlos Tomas, founder and chief instructor of Shifters. The Driver Education Centre, the Toronto-based school for better driving and specializing in manual transmissions.

Tomas’s hypothesis is that if we all drove more environmentally consciously, we wouldn’t need to worry about legislating vehicle emission standards. We could make a bigger difference by just driving smarter.

Here’s some food for eco-thought:

1) Keep the vehicle in motion. Overcoming friction of a stopped vehicle spends more energy than gradually increasing the speed of a vehicle in motion. Obviously, with a red light or a stop sign, we are required to come to a full stop. But there are lots of times when slowing is sufficient to reach the next stage for the resumption of traffic speed. Stop-and-start traffic doesn’t need to be so. For example if you are looking ahead and see that traffic is stopped you should:

a) continue your speed until the last possible moment, then jam on the brakes, and lurch to a halt to inspect the serial number of the muffler in front of you, or;

b) anticipate traffic flow and let off the gas early, coast gently and brake gradually, maintaining a safe and appropriate distance between you and the vehicle in front?

If you guessed b), try putting it into practice. If you guessed a) read on, then try again.

2) Use fluid, gentle acceleration and braking whenever possible. Tearing out from a red light not only wastes fuel, but rubber too. There are obviously a lot of Toronto drivers who can afford to replace tires more frequently than I can. I wish I could understand what inspires some drivers to peel away from red lights at warp 10, leaving behind metres of Michelin, patches of Pirelli, and gobs of Goodyear. Whatever your reason, stop and think about it. A good tire costs say $100.-150. each. To produce a new tire takes the equivalent of a barrel of oil. Does it make sense to waste both money and natural resources?

3) Check your passenger’s knuckles. This is often a good indicator of your driving ability. Unless your passenger is in a coma, they usually react violently to sudden starts and stops.

White knuckles, pushing imaginary brake pedals, and reaching for the grab handles or” sky hooks” are usually signs that your passenger is not comfortable, in my personal case, vomiting is often a tell-tale symptom of motion sickness as a result of jerky driving.

I fondly remember being driven down a particular twisting stretch of California’ Pacific Coast Highway by former Formula 1 champion Jackie Stewart, and not once worrying whether I would have to embarrass myself by requesting a puke-stop. Now that’s smooth.

4) Smile. Enjoy your driving experience. Whether you’ve invested $10,000, $50,000, or $100,000 in a vehicle, surely it’s more than just transportation. Otherwise you could take the TTC.
Why not enjoy your vehicle? Heck, it’s got a stereo, a CD player, cup holders, seats that adjust in hundreds of ways to ensure a comfortable position. But, do pay attention to the traffic flow.

5) Avoid “hurry up and wait”. Also known as “sit ’n’ stew.” Wouldn’t you rather be driving, albeit slowly, than sitting completely still, only to have to sit at the next synchronized red light all over again?
So would your car!

6) Practice winter driving all year long. Good summer driving is really only practice for good winter driving. If we used the same caution required to slippery conditions all the time, we’d not only be driving safer, but more economically.

7) Give your clutch a break. While sitting at a stop light, shift to neutral and let out the clutch. Don’t even touch it or the gear shift until it’s time to move out. This saves wear and tear on your clutch and entire transmission system.

8) Drive only a much as you need to. Try to combine errands to the grocery store, beer store, and dry cleaners into one trip. Consider alternative “wheeled” transportation form time to time.
My lawyer confided to me recently that he often ”blades” between downtown appointments. Or how about biking for a change of pace? If status is important to you, check out BMW’s latest entry into the personal mobility market – a mountain bike. (I’m not kidding!)

9) Go Cruisin’. Where traffic conditions permit, use cruise or speed control to maintain a constant speed. You’ll notice a big difference in gas consumption over extended distances.
Save gas. Save wear and tear on your vehicle. Save money. Enjoy your driving and get there safely,” advises Tomas.
So for Sarah’s sake, I tried it. On my first effort, I manage to squeeze 600 km out of a tank of gas that normally goes 500. My wallet, my blood pressure and the environment all say “Thanks Carlos.”

For additional information please refer to MEDIA print article entitled On fear and loathing of stick-shifts: by Bill Taylor and Identify threat and act to avoid mishaps by Carlos Tomas.

The Toronto Star: Wheels Feature: Manual Gearbox Requires a Shift in Attitude

Ashante Infantry - The Star

By ASHANTE INFANTRY, Star reporter.

Why did a breeze assignment turn into `What I Did This Summer?’
Sure, I never aced roller blading, but I’m not completely uncoordinated and my instructor wasn’t to blame.
Carlos Tomas of Shifters Driving School is a skilled, unflappable guide who purports to teach licensed drivers to master the gearshift in three to five 90-minute lessons.
It certainly wasn’t him, and it wasn’t all me.
Life got in the way: out of town assignments, illness, holidays and demand for Tomas at the only Toronto school that’s dedicated entirely to manual transmission motoring. Altogether, I had the routine seven-and-a-half hours of instruction — spread over 16 weeks.
And unlike most of his clients who have a time-sensitive goal — a new car, or maybe a European vacation where stick shift rentals are a third of the price — I was just after the bragging rights.

Day 1: When Tomas pulls up in front of the Toronto Star building, I’m happy to see that his training vehicle is a slightly older model of my Mazda 626, also black. “Now you get to see what your car really feels like,” he says when he hears this.
We head over to Cherry Beach, where Tomas parks on a quiet side street and takes out a colourful metal model of a powertrain and explains that the engine and wheels are connected, like a tricycle, unlike their independent relationship in an automatic.

Tomas, 51, is knowledgeable and full of one-liners, but I’m swallowing yawns. Instead, I smile and nod a lot. Later, Tomas tells me that he expanded the theoretical component because I seemed so interested.

Day 2: When we meet again a few weeks later, Tomas begins with a review. Then, I start the engine, slip into first gear and practise driving off, accelerating and stopping.
At first, using both feet to drive is awkward. My left sandal keeps getting caught under the pedal and as soon as the car starts moving I have the urge to come off the clutch and floor the gas. But that makes the car jerk forward.
I ease up on the gas, but keep forgetting to hold the clutch in for the 1-2-3-4 beats he suggests. Stalling cures that.
I take the car up and down Cherry St. several times, then Tomas says its time to shift gears. Yeah! “This is fun!” I squeal as I hit third for the first time.

Can I drive manual and answer the cell? And write down directions? Does the manual-me measure up to the adept, accident-free automatic-me? Not yet.
Day 3: “Did you think about driving standard while you were gone?” he asks six weeks later. I respond with an unequivocal `No.’ In fact, I’m not really thinking about it right now: weary from a late night, nervous about having this lesson in the rain and preoccupied with looming story deadlines.
It’s obvious. It takes me five minutes to figure out that the car won’t move because it’s in neutral. Then I keep forgetting to return to first gear to move off from a stop.
“The hurry habit is a problem for learning a skill that is all in the feel,” says Tomas, whose most consistent instruction is “listen to the engine.” I’m paused, uncertainly, at a green light, waiting to make a left turn when I hear the impatient horn of the car behind me.
At a clearly marked driver’s ed vehicle? I’m indignant.
“They probably can’t even drive standard,” Tomas says reassuringly.
Shake. Shudder. Stall. And the cacophony increases.

Day 4: “Okay, impress me,” he says when I get behind the wheel a month later. Relaxed, confident, I do a fair job in bustling through Bloor West Village.
Tomas directs me to a residential neighbourhood and announces that it’s time for hills. This turns out to be the most frustrating lesson.
Parked on a mild slope with my foot on the gas, I’m supposed to press the clutch down softly to inch the car back, release it slowly to move forward and find the friction point, or “sweet spot” in between to keep it still — guided by a subtle change in the engine noise and nearly imperceptible clutch vibration.
I don’t hear it. I don’t feel it. And with a late-model Volvo parked behind me, I’m afraid to let go of the emergency brake.

“This is the pinnacle of the skills,” says Tomas.
“Believe it or not, there a lot of people out there driving standard who can’t hold a car on a hill.” I believe it.
He complements my efforts to not lose my cool. I fake him out with a smile while calling myself a loser (“See: this is why you can’t rollerblade!”). New mantra: I must get in touch with my clutch.

Day 5: The leaves are changing and so is this light. I slip into first and accelerate over the steep incline. Tomas and I are both grinning. That hour of hill exercises paid off. I can hold the car still, sans parking brake, while discussing the news. I’m pretty sure I could also find the lipstick in my purse and apply it, but I don’t test this in Tomas’s presence.
I thought driving standard was about speed, but it’s really about control. And changing gears is the best part: the finesse in the flick of the wrist and the power of that instant response from the engine.
Tomas and I have some stylistic differences: he prefers to have the car in neutral while waiting at red lights to prevent leg fatigue and save wear on the clutch release bearing; I want to remain ready-to-go in first gear.
I’ve also picked up a few tips about reading traffic flow and been reminded to come to a complete stop at a red light, even if I’m making a right turn, even if the way is clear.
I flow from bumper-to-bumper traffic in first gear on Danforth Ave. to cruise in fifth on the DVP before pulling up at the Star building at One Yonge.
Now that I know how my car is supposed to feel, I see something sporty and expensive in my future.
Lessons at Shifters cost $274 for three, $454 for five, plus GST. For more information call 416-921-7845 or visit

Tips for learning how to stick shift
-Practise or visualize lessons between sessions
-Take sessions as close together as possible
-Wear flat, closed-toe shoes
-Schedule downtime before and after each lesson to ease tension
-Take lessons in weather and neighbourhoods that you’re going to be driving in