NOTE: Since publication of this column, I heard back from Motard.Tony who shot the video, who confirmed it happened on Sunday, Feb. 16. This means the person driving the car was not a journalist but either a GM staffer or a photographer. It’s likely the incident occurred immediately prior to taking the drone photo seen at the bottom of the column. In any case, the point is not to lay blame on an individual but to figure out what happened and why, and what should have happened, so this column remains unchanged except for some clarifications.
You might have already seen one of the latest poor driving videos to do the rounds on YouTube. In the short clip, a trio of motorcycles is riding on a Nevada back road at around 125 km/h behind a new Corvette, when the Corvette driver suddenly brakes, preparing for a U-turn. The bikes have to brake hard, ride around the car, and then the Corvette makes the U-turn behind them.
It’s called “Corvette C8 Test Driver Close call with bikers,” and you should take a moment now to click on the frame below and watch it.
The incident itself is unremarkable – nobody crashes, nobody is hurt – but the comments are illuminating. They’re fairly evenly split between “the Corvette guy is a douchebag” and “it’s the bikers who are the real assholes here.” Of course the car should not have tried to pull a U-turn without signaling, but of course the riders should have been better prepared for such a dumb move.
I can comment on this because I drove the exact same car a few days later on the exact same stretch of road. This was for a press drive of the new C8 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.
I was there on assignment for The Globe and Mail, in my shameful alter ego as a car guy, and if you’re interested, you can read what I have to say about the remarkable new Corvette here. The various commenters on YouTube hypothesize about the probable circumstances, but I can tell you exactly what happened.
When car and motorcycle manufacturers introduce a new vehicle, they invite the media to come and drive it. Sometimes this goes well, other times, not so well. They usually pick a place with decent weather and appropriate roads, and they invite either specific outlets or, sometimes, specific journalists who they know to have either the reach or the ability to best showcase the vehicle. They need to put multiple journalists in a limited number of vehicles, so the journos arrive in staggered “waves” that normally allow two people per car for a full day over a week or two, or one person per motorcycle.
In this case, Chevrolet invited journalists to come to Las Vegas for two days with the new ‘Vette – a day on public roads, and then a day on the track. The first wave of media arrived on Feb. 17, then a new wave every day after that. I arrived on Saturday, Feb. 22, with a group of Canadians.
I asked General Motors if they knew who was driving that car and the head PR guy on site said they were “looking into it.” It doesn’t really matter, though – it was a bonehead move, whichever way you look at it.
Motard.Tony says he shot his video on the day before the first journalists arrived. The driver of the Corvette squeezed into the car and set off on the recommended test route: Hwy. 167 through Lake Mead National Recreation Area, where the video was shot.
There are three things to bear in mind about the new Corvette on a media drive, when considering this incident. One is that the car is very fast, and Motard.Tony wrote that at times, he and his two buds were riding behind the car at speeds of more than 100 mph, or 160 km/h+. When you’re driving like that on an empty highway, you really don’t expect to have other vehicles riding your ass. You’re also watching ahead for cops, since the speed limit there is 65 mph.
The second is that rear vision in the new ‘Vette is awful. The rear window is very shallow, and vehicles behind you aren’t obvious. Chevrolet gets around this by offering a very clear camera-view image in the windshield mirror, which was fitted to this yellow car, but it takes some getting used to: your eyes must focus on the image on the screen, which is close to you, rather than a reflection on the mirror that matches the focal point of the road ahead. Most people, myself included, only use the rear camera image in the mirror when driving slowly in tight circumstances, not for general driving. If you owned the car, you would get used to this compromised vision, but when you’re driving it for the first time with just an hour or so behind the wheel, it takes some practice.
The third is that auto journalists usually need to take photos of the vehicle they’re driving, so they’re constantly pulling over for potential pictures. It’s even worse for motorcycle journos who have to tuck away all their equipment and must ride endless back-and-forths for another shooter to get photos of them out on the road. Shortly before the car turned around, it passed a parked vehicle and it’s possible that this vehicle was home to a photographer and drone operator. The ‘Vette driver passed it on the straight, then turned around to go back and line up some photos.
Who was at fault?
This is why the driver of the car just hit the brakes and almost turned in the otherwise empty road. He wasn’t expecting anything to be behind him, he couldn’t properly see that something was behind him, and he needed to head back for a potential photo. But at least he checked before making the actual turn, so no harm was done.
None of this excuses him, but it does explain it. He was probably a highly experienced, very capable professional driver who just had a lapse in judgement and made a dumb move by not signalling his brake. It can happen to anyone, even you.
So who was at fault? The motorcyclists, obviously. When you’re out riding, you have to expect that even the best driver in the world could make a mistake right in front of you. If you’re not holding back around that unfamiliar car, if you’re not covering your brake, and if you’re not laser-focused on what that car is doing, all the while scanning everything else within sight, then you’re inviting trouble.
In this case, the driver did see the riders before turning, and the riders did slow down in time and avoided the car, and no harm was done. But this video is a reminder that anything can happen out there. Most drivers are quite competent, but even the best of them can make mistakes, and this driver may very well have been among the best of them.
It won’t help you to tell everyone that “it wasn’t my fault!” from your hospital bed, or worse. It’s on you to make sure that you always enough of a margin for their error when it happens, because it will happen. This video is proof of that.