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9 Car safety myths you might still believe

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When it comes to car safety, sometimes you don't know what to believe. We asked Anna He, advanced driving instructor at ILR Car Control School and president of Sweetie Girl Racing to help us set the record straight on some once widely believed safety myths.

Dr. Louisa Gembora
Psychologist, high-performance driving trainer, judge on Canada's Worst Driver
Most people don’t brake hard enough. That’s a skill that’s best learned by going to an accident avoidance or winter driving school. People buy fast, expensive cars and expect the car’s traction and stability controls to keep them safe. Driving schools teach you the minimum needed to get your license. What saves your life is learning to read the road, anticipate and recognize potential dangers, know your own limits and use skills of accident avoidance.
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The myth: All-wheel drive helps you handle better
The reality: On the street, the safety benefits to all-wheel drive are few.

"All-wheel drive is a performance feature and a performance feature only. It doesn't help with cornering. It doesn't help with braking. It only helps with acceleration," says He. "You can't give a tire more grip just by adding power to it."
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The myth: In an involuntary skid, steer into the skid to regain control
The reality: Ambiguous wording may explain how this myth came about. Our instructor explains clearly: "You want to turn into the direction you want the car to go. More importantly, you should look in the direction you want the car to go."

It may feel counter-instinctual to avoid looking at a threat, but, in a swerve, if you concentrate on the brick wall in front of you instead of looking at a way around it, you're going to hit the wall, says He.
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The myth: Grip your steering wheel at 8-and-4 (the lower half) to avoid blocking the airbag
The reality: Scarily, you'll still see articles today touting this "safety measure." "If you look at an airbag exploding in slow-motion, it moves past your hands, then inflates," our instructor advises.

"Where you're holding doesn't affect it, but 3-and-9 (as pictured above, hands on either side of the wheel center) is best." How you're holding it makes a difference, too; never grip the wheel from inside the rim, as it might get caught during quick steering, says He.
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The myth: Seatbelts may jam in an accident and trap you in your car
The reality: At one time, a non-belter might quip "Seatbelts kill more people than they save." Not true. "Seatbelts are absolutely mandatory," states He plainly. The only way seatbelts can really pose a danger, she says, is if they're custom and not DOT-approved.

Those aftermarket installations may confuse rescue crew, but with factory belts there's no risk of getting trapped, and a big risk in not buckling up while driving.
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The myth: To get rid of blind spots, aim your rearview mirrors so the side of your car takes up your mirror
The reality: Often people have been taught to set their mirrors too narrow, so that the inside and outside mirrors overlap in scope (left in the picture below).

Our instructor explains how to get it just right: "To properly adjust your mirrors, you want to sit in the driver's seat, move your head right beside the driver's side mirror, and adjust it so you can see the side of your car. Then, when you sit back, in the mirror you should be able to see the space beside the back of the car."

The diagram below shows the correct way, on the right. That said, setting your mirrors this way or that is only effective if you pay attention when driving and constantly monitor the space around your vehicle for traffic. "Wide" mirrors do nothing if you're not looking…

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Chris Bye
President of automotive learning & promotion company Franczak Enterprises (
We spend so much time sitting in traffic looking at a bumper one metre in front of us at five km/h. When we speed up to 100 km/h, we are still looking one metre in front of us. Remember, the farther down the road you are looking the earlier you see things. This will give you time to react. Everyone think racing drivers have great reaction time, which most do. But more importantly, they use their vision more efficiently and effectively to tell them what is coming up next.
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The myth: Sports cars handle better because they've wider tires that grip better
The reality: There's some truth to this, but it doesn't work the way you might think it does. "When you change the width of a tire, you're not changing the size of the contact patch (where the tire meets the road), you're just changing its shape. Grip isn't really affected," says He.

Wider tires are better for cornering, but that has just as much to do with stiffer sidewalls as it does with size.
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Anna He
Race car driver and president of Team Sweetie Girl Racing
People don’t look hard enough. Look at the road ahead, and be constantly scanning, looking for sudden movement, for changes, for your situational awareness. If you’re looking at your cell phone or the radio station, you’ll keep your focus there. Your mind has to be on your driving. A lot of people say they’re looking at the road, but they’re not seeing it. It makes all the difference in collision avoidance and prevention.
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