I am a racing driver and an advanced ("Defensive" in your terminology) driving instructor from the middle-east. From my experience in many schools worldwide (in which I participated and/or observed), I have seen many points of controversary in this occupation, and investigated them thoroughly.
Throughout this "research" I have been exposed to many views, mine and of others, which I discovered to be false and, eventually, came up with guidance that I (and my coleagues) found to be ideal.
In this article (and possibly some following ones) I will present "my way" of one of the most important things in driving of any sort -- seating position (with hand positions and mirrors considered as part of it). Surely you will find that you dissagree with some of my assertions, but keep an open mind, you might be surprised.
Does our position behind the wheel effects our driving performance and safety? Without a doubt the answer is yes!
In motorsport, particularly rallying and track racing, a seating position is deeply inspected and assisted with special seats (especially buckets), harnesses, and adjustable wheels and pedal sets. The driver can spend hours and up to half a day in adjusting and experimenting with different postures to reach a good positioning.
Seating effects the driver's attitude, awareness, vision, perception time, reaction times -- which are all important and contributing factors to the majority of road accidents, and that's without disscussing the direct connection between the seating position and performance in limit handling (particularly the connection between the buttocks of the driver inside the seat and his ability to correct oversteer)!
Moreover, once a crash is inevitable, a seating position will greatly determind the effectiveness of passive safety instruments as seatbelts, pretentioners and airbags. A good seating position also allows to make long drives very comfortably, which in turn only increases awarness to the road and to tactile feedback from the car.
How to adjust?
First, position yourself in the seat. What do I mean? Position yourself inside the seat, not on it! Make sure your back is straight and push your buttocks and back all the way back into the seat. This immediatly results in better friction with the seat, a better field of vision and more awareness.
Now, adjust the distance of the seat according to the pedals. The ball of the right foot is placed over the brake pedal with the heel resting on the floor before it. In a stickshift car, the left foot performs a similar operation with the clutch. The engine should be started and the brakes should be pressed several times before the check.
The idea is to have the knees slightly bent (120 degrees) with the brakes and clutch fully depressed. The idea is to avoid a potential situation where the legs are fully extended, therefore resulting is less control over the pedal and possibly resulting in fractures to the legs and pelvic, while keeping the leg in a position that supports the body. If the leg recieves an angle of 100 degrees or so, you are too close.
Now, the back-rest is adjusted up so that the wrist can comfortably rest over the top of the wheel without effort and without leaning the shoulders forward and out of the seat. This again helps to avoid locking the elbows and to keep the back constantly in contact with the seat. You should avoid bringing the back-rest completly vertical and keep the head at a distance of five fingers from the ceiling.
Hands, legs and eyes
The position itself is now adjusted. Now we need to adjust feet positions on the pedals, hand positions on the wheel and mirror adjustments. The right foot is placed on the brake as default and is also designated with the operation of the throttle. The heel should be kept on the floor just beofore the brakes and as still as possible, and the knee can usually be leaned against the center console with the seat being in slight contact with the top of the thigh. The left foot is kept at the rest-pedal whenever not operating the clutch (in an Automatic -- always) and leaned towards the door as possible.
The rest-pedal is just that: A pedal. With the foot over it and the legs placed as apart as possible, the leg muscles support the back muscles and therefore diminish back-aches. This pedal also has an active role, which is acomplished by pressing against it to keep the body still while braking and cornering.
Hands belong on the wheel. Take one off and you just gave up 50% of your control and feedback. The popular 10 to-2 position is rather outdated and belongs to the days when cars had great rims, at which case gripping the wheel over it's diameter would result in the hands being placed too far apart. Modern wheels, however, are smaller and are designed to be gripped at the 9 and 3 hours. This allows an input of almost 270 degrees without changing grip, better control and usually less fatigue as the fingers can easily reach the blinkers and wipers, and are slightly lower than the shoulders and typically lower than the heart.
A lower position (8 to-4) and gripping the wheel with vertical thumbs, both justified as a means of avoiding fracture, are normally unnessecary, as airbags will not hinder your hands at 9 and 3 (and usually not at 10 to 2 either), and your thumb can be hooked on the crossbrace of the wheel as long as you drive on tarmac, as the chances of a pothole spinning the wheel around sharp enough to hurt your thumbs are slim.
As far as our mirror position, I often hear claims for and against settings that are considered "wider" and "tighter" in relevance to the sides of the car. These are all bad terminologies. The mirrors are not adjusted according to the sides of the car, but rather according to objects displayed within them.
You should position an adult behind you at a distance of about 25 metres. With the center mirror well adjusted, place that adult so that he appears in the left corner of the center mirror. Now, adjust the left mirror so that the same adult appears in it's right corner. Place the adult to appear at the right corner of the center mirror and than adjust the right mirror to display that adult at the right corner.
Usually, this means that the driver's side mirror is opened just to the point where the edge of the car is not seen, and the other mirror is opened so that the quarterpanel is seen only with the head positioned at the center of the car. However, other cars will result in other adjustments.
With this position, the overlap between the mirrors is minimized so that the visual field is maxed-out without creating blind spots behind the car. The only thing than remain hidden from you is a bike sitting in the next lane, just inside the blingspot between the side mirror and your peripheral vision. The chances of a bike fitting completly in this field are slim, and are removed by performing a brief shoulder check or fitting a small convex mirror.
hehe...now why do I have this feeling you say those things just to try out that cute smiley emotion? ok..behave now... so where were we? Ah..yes...better go back to practicing that position... damn, maybe hubby can help....
If it appears so complex I will try and simplify it:
1. Sit correctly in the seat: Push the buttocks down into the back of the seat. Why? More friction with the seat, more awareness and zero back aches.
2. Adjust the height of the seat to a distance of five fingers between the head and ceiling. Why? To have the best visual field in front.
3. Adjust the distance of the seat according to the feet: Start the car up and press on the brakes a few times (to built up pressure) and than press it all the way down. In this position, your knees should be just slightly bent (120-150 degrees). When driving, you need to place your legs somewhat apart and keep the left foot on the rest-pedal when it's not operating the clutch (in an automatic, always). Why? A more comfortable and sensitive application of the pedals and less risk of fracture during an accident.
3. Adjust the reclining of the backrest according to the hands on the wheel. Place the wrist of your hand ontop of the wheel. You should be able to this easily and without leaning your shoulders away from the seat. Why? The whole back remains in full contact with the seat constantly, so turning the wheel is easy, the back never hurts and our hands won't suffer from fractures during a crash.
4. Where possible, adjust the distance of the steering wheel so that your hands at 9 and 3 on the wheel are bent at the elbows at an angle of 120 degrees. The height of the wheel, if adjustable, should allow to clearly see the dash at the corner of the eye and the hands at 9 and 3 should be just slightly lower than the shoulder. Why? Better control and less fatigue over time.
5. Adjust the rear view mirror to show you all of the rear-view window at a glance with the head up and looking forward.
6. Use a friend to help you adjust the side view mirrors: Have him stand behind the right corner of your car at the distance of approximatly a car length, and slightly to the right so that he is just bearly seen in the right corner of the rearview mirror. Now, adjust the right-side mirror as out as possible without losing sight of him, so that he is just bearly seen in the inside (left) corner of your mirror. This should be done at a glance, not by tilting the head.
7. Do the same with the left mirror. Place the person behind the left side of your car to appear on the very edge of the rearview mirror. Now, adjust the left side mirror untill you just bearly see him on the inside (right) edge of the mirror.
Why? By keeping the mirrors just slightly overlapped we have good orientation, and can see in spite of obstructions (say, if the reaview window is somewhat blocked), while still opening the mirrors signifcantly wider.
8. In most cars, with mirrors adjusted like this, the edges of the car are not seen in the mirror. Lean your head sideways (without tilting it or leaning forward) to see when the edges of the car come into view. In many American cars, you will see the edge of the car in the driver's side mirror when your head is leaned against the glass (in many European models, however, the edge of the car will be seen with a very slight tilt of the head).
The passenger-side mirror should show the edge of the car when the head is leaned towards the center of the car (in front of the rearview mirror), but again many European models might even require the head to be leaned further towards the mirror.
By knowing when your car's edges come into view when the mirrors are adjusted, you could readjust the more easily next time, without another person.
Modern cars have excelent seats and very good mirrors, which means that when the seat is correctly adjusted, you could drive for hours without any problem and feel very comfortable.
The mirrors (along with what you see in the corner of the eye when you glance into them) should cover anything around you, 360 degrees, for a distance of one lane or so, to each side. Cars can be seen as far as two lanes to the side, but bikes might be more problematic and require a small peek over the shoulder and to the side (not behind) in highways with multiple lanes.
When reversing or parking, you can tilt your head slightly to see the edge of the car, or mount small convex mirrors over your side mirrors, so that they show just the edge of the car. Do not use "Fish-eye" convex mirrors.
Thanks but, that's what I do. I instruct these things professionally.
Anyhow, once you get the seat and mirrors adjusted, things will become much easier (after a certain time to adapt to the changes, of course).
As an instructor, it is always nice to meet people who are willing to adopt your avice, even if it contradicts their current beliefs, which it usually does. I give you the for the right approach for driving, and in general.
so you ARE an instructor! yes, shows in your knowledge and skill at explaining!
I still remember when I was learning to drive here in uk, the hardest part was to 'unlearn' some of the bad habits I'd picked up elsewhere (living in france and south asia before that). The hardest was of course, holding the steering wheel the right way... (here they are very fussy about that), so took me days just to master the correct movement!
Of course, a few years down the road, one starts slipping back into those old habits again.... but hey, you're there to remind us not to!
With my particular knowledge of the driving habits custom in the UK, I can say that their methods are far from ideal:
- Gentle driving as dogma: I am all for being smooth, but cars also need percise and decisive inputs. The English dogma of driving smoothness is more effected from one's idea of elegance rather than correct driving.
- Mirrors: Normally adjusted at a narrow fashion and always covered by shoulder checks, which are often inadequate.
- Holding the wheel at 10 to-2. 9 to-3 is much better.
- Pull-Push steering: Again, good, but far from ideal: The technique I showed you earlier is better.
- Keeping the drive through the corner: Again, a great portion of bends are better taken by covering the brake when you turn-in.
- Cadence braking: A method accepted in the UK as means of emergency avoidance, which is very dangerous. It's better to brake hard, even in the cost of locking up the wheels in a none-ABS car.
- "Steering into the skid". Wrong and dangerous! Correcting a skid is much more complex and depends upon the specific situation, thus presenting such a general solution is wrong, partial and pretends to simplify a complex situation, which is -- when presented oraly to the public -- irresposible at best. As a solution for road drivers, braking is much better.
- Attitude: "No method is better than another, it's just different". I do not agree with that. There are basic methods of doing things (such as Pull-Push) and more advanced methods. They also carry too much emphasis on the mental and observational skills that has to do with driving. Knowing how to seat, set mirrors, steer the car, operate the pedals, etc is also very important.
American habits are also bad in times:
- Seating position: American people seem to have airbag-phobia. Because of this, their seating position and hand positions on the wheel are mainly aimed to minimize potential damage inflicted from the airbag, should it inflate, rather than give good car control.
- Mirrors: The more the better, right? Wrong! I have grown aware of the wide utilization of cheap, chinese-made, convex mirrors of all sorts. How come these cheap mirrors are better than those of the car manufacturer? Why don't any luxorius car model includes such mirrors, by option at least? Your own mirrors will show you all you need, any addition is only more information to process.
- Brake-phobia: People are afraid to brake in various conditions: While cornering, on wet roads. It is as if the brakes, that magnificant device intended to slow down the car, is considered as something bad (Quite like the airbag).
Correct driving habits:
- Seating position: Relatively upright and close to the wheel. Gives you good car control, safety (including against the airbag) and comfort. These three go toghether, they do not contradict!
- Steering: Like I have shown in the article: You prepare the hand in the direction of the corner beforehand and pull the wheel from under the stationary hand.
- Mirrors: Opened as wide as possible without losing the slightest overlap between the side mirrors and the central mirror. You can mount little convex mirrors over the mirror (but no "fisheye" convex on it, nor anything on the central mirror!)
- Emergency handling: When something bad happens, braking hard to wipe off speed is the best initial course of action, regardless of whether the car has ABS or not.
I will post our threads about several of these elements later on.
wow...Thank you for this! Fascinating read...just makes me realize the different approaches to the same thing! Love that bit you added about attitudes... yes, makes sense.
Am afraid to admit though, I'm guilty of all the UK driving habits you mentioned above...
Thanks. Your current habits are nothing, it's the will to change and evolve that makes a truely "advanced" driver. We all learn new things every now and than: I do, least ways. Additionally, many of these habits are not "bad", just "none optimal".
What an amazingly written and constructed post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. You give so many resources to the reader, and I appreciate the time that must have went into putting this together. Great job, and 5*s from me!
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