What is correct driving and what are it's foundations and purposes? Is there really such a concept as "correct" or "efficient" driving? These are some of the questions I try to answer when giving instruction to drivers.
"Correct driving" for me is a virtue that requires appreciation. When someone neglects the value of correct driving I refer to him as one who hinders it. As an instructor, I do not teach my students "good" or "safe" driving habits. The road drivers that I teach and the track drivers I train, do not learn to drive safely or quickly, they learn to drive correctly. Safety and speed will than emerge on their own.
At length, correct driving is also easier, less tiring and demanding mentally and physically (thus also removing driving phobia), less costly in terms of fuel consumption and mechanical car wear. It is more fun and for the younger of us drivers, more impressive because the driving habits come mostly from the world of motorsport. Correct driving allows for a certain margin of error on the behalf of the driver and other road users, and it is safer and eventually faster
How do we get this all in one package, than? By our driving experience? No! Experience without training can lead to adopting bad habits. For one to manage to drive without getting into accidents does not make his driving style correct. Correct driving relies on following technical guidelines and training them. These following guidelines will show you how.
The following guide is very long (I did not call it a bible for nothing ), read it step by step, over time, and try and apply the habits on it one by one and than in co-ordination. It will take some time to learn how to perform these actions, and possibly a bit more time to get used to them, but eventually it will prove worth-while.
Questions can be posts in your responses to the article
First Comendment of correct driving: Good basic driving skills
My former posts covered this important subjects. Without these skills, any attempt to drive correctly will be in vain, period! You need to adjust your seating position, mirror angles and apply a correct steering technique.
A good seating position is imperative to make the driver both more at ease and yet with better awarness of his own car and the road ahead. It invovles seating relatively upright and close the wheel, but not being crammed against
The body should be in full contact with the seat. With the brakes and/or clutch fully depressed, the knees should remain just slightly bent. Without leaning the shoulder-blades forward, the wrist of our hand should be able to comfortably rest ontop of the wheel.
Our hands should grip the wheel at the 9 and 3 positions. Our thumbs should be hooked inside so long as we are driving on tarmac, our elbows should be bent at about 120 degrees and our palms should be just slightly lower than our shoulder. The grip of the wheel should be light, just firm enough to keep it controlled. Feel the wheel through your fingers.
A good mirror setup will, in the greater majority of modern cars (mid-ninties onward) eliminate blind-spots, period! With your head looking up and ahead, adjust the mirrors by looking at them by moving only the eyes.
The central mirror should show the whole rearview window. A person should be placed about a car length behind. Direct him to move to the left untill he is just bearly seen in the left edge of the central mirror. Now, adjust the left side mirror so that he is just bearly seen in it's inner (right) corner. Do the same with the right mirror (a person appears in both the right-side of the rearview mirror and the inner, left, side of the right-side mirror).
You probably will not be able to see the edge of your car in the mirrors. Lean sideways -- without leaning forward or tilting the head -- and notice when the car's edge comes into view, like with this car. This way, if you have to readjust the mirrors sometimes, you do not need an extra person. Additionally, mount little convex mirrors of this style, so that you see the very edge of the car in them.
Check all mirrors every 20 seconds or so. Before changing lanes, look at the central mirror and the relevant side mirror. In multi-laned roads, tilt your head slightly towards the side, that is as much of a shoulder check you need.
In relation to both a seating position and mirror setup, one should settle for the original car design: Steering wheel covers, seat covers and large convex mirrors or mirros placed on the original mirrors, are all bad things!
A good steering technique will give us optimal car control in a minimum of effort and hand movements, with a maximal range of motion to correct in any given moment. When we driven essentially forward, and only need to make little adjustments, lane changes, small curves or a fast evasive manouver, we keep our hands gripping the wheel and simply turn it with both hands.
When we actually corner in slower speeds, we predict the amount of steering rotation nessecary and relocate our hands accordingly. If I need to turn the wheel 90 degrees to the right, my right hand (in 9 O'Clock on the wheel) is replaced 90 degrees to the left. It than pulls the wheel from under the opposite hand which remains stationary. This way, both hands are at 9 and 3 mid-corner.
Emergency handling: A driver must learn defensive driving skills to control the car during emergencies. Here, we must choose the best real option. During emergency braking without ABS (and even with ABS really), a racing technique called threshold braking can somewhat decrease the stopping distance. However, this technique is not used an means of emergency braking, but as a way to decelerate before a corner.
In short: When something bad happens, brake and brake hard. This needs practice to overcome the fear and hesitation. After braking, you might choose to steer. In this case, look away from the obstruction and focus on an escape route (preferably towards the shoulder-side and not the center of the road). If without ABS, partially release the brakes when evading an object.
Second Comendment of correct driving: Eyes Up!
This could also be marked as a basic driving skill and will probably be the most important. Novice drivers have two connected bad habits: The first is "Tunnel vision", resulting in a narrow field the vision. The second, is to focus this small visual field in front of the car.
In order to avoid "Tunnel vision", we need to relax our eyes. Even if it is raining and visibility is not good, do not try and focus by force. By keeping the eyes relaxed, we are more mentally relaxed and our eyes will not grow weary of driving. Additionally, we open a new channel of vision in addition to our narrow field of focus: Our peripheral vision.
Our focused vision is the one entitled with enticipation and decisions. It will therefore be focused onward, as far ahead up the road as possible. Our peripheral vision, which our adaptable ability to detect movement at the corner of the eye, is the once in charge with detecting sudden movement (like the car directly in front of us braking suddenly) and also with the timing of our inputs: When to apply power and how much, when to go into the corner, etcetra.
Basically, we want to keep our visual field broad and keep the eyes up looking through the higher half of the glass rather than down through the lower half. We always want to look where we want to go, not where we are going to. This rule also applies in emergencies. Remember when I told you to look away from an object to avoid hitting it? That's because that once the eyes look away, you will drive away. If you lock your eyes onto it, you are not likely to remember to swerve.
But that relates to emergencies, but the eyes main role is during normal driving: If I look down and a car in front stops in my lane, I would see it very late and will have to stop relatively suddenly and than slowely merge into traffic in the next lane from a standing stop. If I look up and realise the situation early, I can make the lane change eariler and smoother, without stopping or bearly decelerating. I earn time to respond and can therefore make actions more smoothly and progressively.
Another example, in traffic this time. A few weeks ago I drove behind two cars towards a left-hand turn. By looking through the winshields of the car in front of me and onto the lead car, I noticed his signal turning on indicating that he is planning to turn left. Shortly after, he began decelerating which made the car between us brake too. Because I was expecting it, I braked eariler and more smoothly. Additionally, the peripheral vision is actually better in detecting sudden movements or color changes (E.g. Brake lights) than our focused vision.
This also works in bends: When look up at an oncoming bend, you see the road twist to the side to a certain angle beyond which you cannot see. This edge of your visual field into the bend looks like an arrowhead. As you drive closer and closer, you see deeper into the bend and your visual field seems to unfold as the arrowhead draws back and moves away from you. By matching your speed to this pace, you can always hit the appropriate speed for the corner. When you are about to negotiate the turn, tilt the head slightly into the corner and loo up through it as if it's a window or an Ironsight.
Third comendment of correct driving: The three elements of correct car handling
Good car control relies on three elements: Smoothness, Accuracy and decisiveness.
Smoothness is the first and most important of these values. Smooth car control is important in every respect, it's important in turning the wheel into the corner and when straightening the wheel, it is important when we press and depress the brakes/gas/clutch, when we move the gearstick in gear, when we make body movement for a shoulder check/looking into a corner/relocate hands on the wheel, etcetra. I will say again, this is a matter of mere safety, it's about driving efficiently. The best race drivers (in terms of lap times) are the smoothest.
However, it is important not to take smoothness too far. Cars, especially road cars, like to be handled percisely and decisivelly. If we need to perform an emergency stop, we need to brake as quickly as possible by lifting the foot in the air and kicking the pedal.
Also, when we make a relatively sharp and slow corner, we relocate the hands accordingly to pull just enough steering (Percision) and apply the steering smoothly but not slowely. Having turned the car into the corner, we begin to unwind the steering progressively and slowely. A decisive turn-in, a smooth turn-out.
Forth Comendment of correct driving: Enticipation to hazards on public roads
A hazard is every factor that makes us change our speed and/or position. We need to expect hazards and give them our attention. When a hazard is percieved, we need to adjust our speed, position, gear and eventually our pace of acceleration/deceleration. The goal is to make the overlap between these stages (the PSPGA) minimal, however existant.
Another important factor in driving on public roads is our speed and gap. We need to reach an appropriate speed. It does not need to be slow, but it should be appropriate to the road surface, range of vision and traffic and other objects around us, which are all determind by our visual field.
Our gap should be just over two seconds. You can measure it by watching the car in front when it goes over a certain mark on the road and count "Three one-thousand, two one-thousand". We also need to try and control traffic behind us by making our moves early and gradual (smoothness yet again), using our indicators and watching traffic around us by constantly using our mirrors.
In speeds custom in cities, a car following in a safe distance is seen down to it's bumper. In fast highways, a slight amount of road surface should be seen before the following car. To avoid tailgaters:
1. Keep your right/left (depending on the state laws) and let them pass.
2. If not possible, provoke a pass in a safe location by using your emergency lights and trying to block a tailgater that seems to stick to one of the corners of your car.
3. If an overtake is not possible, double the distance you keep in front of you, to give both of you time to react to hazards.
4. When coming to stop in traffic before a red light or even a cross-walk, slow down early to a stop or a very slow speed, look in the mirror and than roll onwards towards the red-light or crosswalk. You could notice an unattentive driver and roll forward to give him more space to stop and not hit you, or alert him if he tries to pass you when you stop for pedestrains crossing the street.
Fifth Comendment of correct driving: Understanding of car dynamics
A good driver needs to know why correct driving is indeed correct. The basic idea is to understand car dynamics and the forces acting upon the driving car.
The connection of the car with the road is it's four tires. Out of each tire, the patch of rubber that contact the road at any given moment is quite small, greater than a clamped fist but smaller than a size 9 shoe. When the tire moves and revolvs this rubber generates a force of static friction that sticks it to the road.
This force is known as "adhesion" and it works very hard: It has to carry the car's weight (along with the load of passengers and cargo), soften the constant blows of bumps on the road, accelerate the car when you press on the gas, slow it down or stop it when you brake and turn it when you steer.
The problem is that because the amount of rubber on the road (grip) is limited, the amount of adhesion is limited and we will herein present it as 100% adhesion. Think, if you use 50% of your adhesion to steer the car, how much is left for braking or accelerating? 50% only. If you brake very hard without ABS, you will be using all 100% and over it (physically being in a state of a skid) and you simply will not be able to steer without releasing some pedal pressure.
1. Maximize grip: Every two-weeks at most, fill your tires with air. If the tires are hot, add 10% extra. If the car is heavily loaded, look in the car guide or tire pressure stick (hidden behind the driver's door, inside the glove compartment or in the intake of the gas tank).When in doubt, prefer slightly too much over too little. The tire is actually less likely to explode when overinflated rather than underinflated.
2. Do not overload the tires: Make your actions smooth and accurate: Too much of any input (steering, braking, acceleration, shifting) or a combination of strong inputs (like accelerating in the middle of sharp corner).
3. Keep a large safety margin: In normal driving with a road car, you should use some 35% of your adhesion at most.
4. Understand weight transfers.
Regarding the last point: Weight transfers is the response of the car to the phyiscal forces acting upon it. When you brake relatively suddenly, you feel the car nose-diving and your body leaning forward, don't you? The car wants to keep on going (Inertia) but the anchors are resisting that. The front of the car therefore carries more load and becomes heavier on the expense of the rear-end, and is therefore drawn down towards the ground.
This is a forward weight transfer. What does it cause? When more weight acts on the front of the car, it results in greater downforce and makes more rubber contact the road and therefore more grip. This extra grip gives you more adhesion. Simultanously, the rear loses a similar amount of grip and adhesion.
1. Minimize weight transfers by being smooth and percise. Weight transfers end up decreasing the stability of the car.
2. Within that, given that weight transfers as a physical phenomena, cannot be eliminated, utilize a slight weight transfer to your advantage.
Regarding the second point, when you brake slightly two things happen: The first, the car is slowing down slightly so a certain amount of adhesion, say 5%, is used for deceleration. Simultanously, weight is transfered forward and the front tires recieve an additional amount of adhesion, say 6%, on the expense of the rear tires.
Now, let's add a slight steering input to the mix: As we turn the wheel, we are asking our tires to perform another task which is to turn the car. On the one hand, because we are also decelerating we lose some adhesion but, on the other hand, because we transfer weight forward, we gain some adhesion. When we steer, which wheels are steering the car? The front.
So, if we brake ever so slightly into the corner, we actually give the front more grip to turn the car. If we brake harder and harder, we risk the rear of the car losing grip and braking out of line and we overload the front tires. But, if we keep weight transfers minimal, but still use them, we earn some adhesion.
When we negotiate a relatively sharp corner, we keep the brakes slightly on just as we turn-in. Once the car dives into the corner, we smoothly (but decisively) lift-off of the brake and apply the gas just slightly enough to keep the car at a constant speed through the corner. This lets the car just corner without having to decelerate or accelerate, being stable and easy to control. When we start unwinding the wheel, we begin to apply more power gradually to help straighten up the car.
In very fast and open bends, we keep the car slightly accelerating though the corner, because at such speeds balance becomes more important than grip.
We now understand a moving car, but what about a skidding car? A skid is a situation gradually reached when you begin to approach the limit and go over it. In strong cars, accelerate too suddenly from a stop and the car will bearly accelerate. The reason is that you accelerate hard enough to go over your 100% adhesion. The same goes with braking hard without ABS or steering too sharply at speed.
These different skids are not the same: Skidding due to excessive straight-line acceleration/braking will always be a straight-line skid, so without ABS, you can brake and count on your car to skid to a stop quickly and in a straight line. Skidding when you steer can lead to bad consequences and divides into two types of skids:
1. A front wheel skid: Happens when the front tires lose traction first. Say, if you accelerate mid-corner, you shift weight backwards and off of the front wheels so they cannot steer the car as well and run wider than you wanted. This is called "Understeer", for obvious reasons.
2. A rear-wheel skid: Happens when the rear breaks traction first, normally when you brake hard (but not hard enough) mid corner and the agressive forward weight transfer renders the rear tires practically airborne and the swing aside. Once this happens, the front seems to turn "too much", earning the name "Oversteer".
Understanding these phenomena is the first step in avoiding them. However, like with skidding under braking, it could actually be helpful. With the above example, when we drive through a very fast corner, we always want the car to accelerate slightly through the corner and actually Understeer slightly through the corner, because understeer at speed is much more predictable and stable, whereas oversteer is nearly impossible to correct.
If we do have to correct a skid, we must bear the concept of weight transfers in mind. Many people try to steer out of skids and, while it can work at slow speeds, it is not the correct course of action. The most important thing to do is to shift weight back onto the loose tires (like braking slightly to transfer weight to the front when you understeer, instead of turning the wheel more and more) or simply brake hard to a stop (during oversteer).
We can also understand from this that our seating position and steering habits are important, because we can feel the skid before we see it. Understeer is felt when the wheel turns very light. Oversteer is felt through the back of the seat.
Additionally, our eyes play an important role too. If we look up a 250 feet ahead through the corner and the car steps out of line, we will suddenly be looking at a completly different direction. If we look down five feet ahead, the change of direction is less visible and our reaction is later.
Additionally, by looking where we want to go (into the corner) and not where we are going (away from the corner towards the edge of the roadway), there is a great chance for our hands and feet to get us there during a skid. However, it is important to be patient and use the feet and not the hands: During understeer, brake slightly. During oversteer or totally terminal understeer, brake hard to a stop.
wow... Truly impressive...! Am taking all this in: the part about the correct way to focus your eyes is something I never realized made a difference! And that bit about the tires (not to overload them etc.) was very useful. Thank you for sharing all this... excellent information!
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