Going back to the subject of observation and how to avoid hazards in your everyday driving, I will now describe "surprises" that occur on the road, and how to expect them. As drivers, some situations seem to happen with no premature warning, but an attentive driver will be prepared for their occurrence in advance.
I remind you, we need to look UP to the furthest possible distance and "draw" an imaginary line between us and that point, and drive on that line.
Car pulling out
Driving in little streets in residential areas, we often find ourselves driving alongside a column of cars parked parallel to the kerb. In this situation, it can so happen that a driver fail to notice us and pull up suddenly just ahead and boom! A collision.
This situation, however surprising, can be anticipated. First off, the streets which are prone to this kind of collisions are usually quite narrow, so it's usually not possible to drive there at 30mph, even though it might be the legal limit. The normal speed is usually half that amount of less.
In that speed we can notice more details ahead. I remind you that we are not looking at the tarmac straight ahead, we look up to the furthest piece of road we can see ahead. In that distance, we need to look at the parked cars for signs that might indicate that a car can pull out. These signs include:
- Wheels turned outside towards the road sharply
- Lights, blinkers and brake lights
- Exhaust fumes
- Driver in the car
- Driver packing up the car or entering it
- Open window
- Sound or vibration of an engine as it's turned on
- Car dropping off passengers, which might pull back out
- Extra vigilance around taxis and buses
Expect when a driver is likely to perform an overtake ahead. Whenever a driver has the opportunity, he might attempt an overtake, even if the conditions do not allow. Always imagine an "escape route" towards the right hand shoulder, and consider the properties of the right shoulder: Is it paved? If not, how steep is the decline towards the gravel? How wide are the shoulders?
Look at drivers on the opposite direction: Look for signs of aggression, a driver tailgating another (in readiness for an overtake), flashing lights or a driver that seems to "wiggle" along his lane. Beware in particular of drivers that seem to "drift" to the right side. They might suddenly come to awareness, panic and veer sharply left towards you.
Under suspicion, slow down and stick as right as possible. If a car veers towards you, immediately perform an emergency braking, slow down as best as you can and than veer right. If there is a risk in veering right (a narrow or "deep" shoulder), brake and wait to the last possible moment to veer, and prefer hitting anything on the shoulder, relative to hitting the oncoming car.
Pedestrian running out
We all know to beware of people running out in front of a parked car, especially a bus that hides a larger area or is dropping passengers that could decide they want to cross the street. Another sign is to see the pedestrians: If they are walking towards the road they are likely to try and cross it. Of course, it's worthwhile to consider where a pedestrian will find it comfortable to cross the road and attend these places with extra caution.
When you look up, "read" the road surface and look for patches and potholes. Seeing them in the distance allows to slow down, plan the approach and usually enables to go across them. If not possible, prefer going over the pothole in a straight line and at a slow speed than to veer to a dangerous shoulder or towards oncoming traffic. Another good sign that might "warn" you is the tarmac itself. Potholes don't usually appear in the middle of a well-paved road. Beware of roads where the tarmac appears worn and with patches.
A lot of drivers tend to be forced into emergency maneuvers due to cargo dropped from trucks ahead. The solution is to look out for trucks that seem to carry cargo which is not safely packed and seems to wiggle about over bumps and through bends or while braking; an open loading bay;a car loaded with cargo way too high, etc...
Look into cars ahead. The risk is most imminent when the driver has just stopped, even simply for a red light or for parking. Look for movement of the driver/passengers inside the car.
Look ahead and "read" the road surface in search of anything slippery. Adjust your speed and the following distance from the car ahead, to the conditions: Drive slower on worn, bright and/or dirty tarmac and even slower on a wet road.
Be particularly aware on the wet: If it's been quite dry for a week, a rain shower is going to set the grease and dirt afloat, reducing the grip levels to half that of a normal wet road. Be particularly aware of the first rain and for any damp parts of the road when it's dry (like after nightly dew in the spring). The problem of greasy surfaces increases as the driving speed is reduced and the amount of cars increases. So, beware in:
- areas prone to heavy traffic/jams
- Intersections and roundabouts
- Busy bus stops
- Construction sites on/alongside the road
- Rural roads that goes between fields or in the shade of trees
Grease is also likely to be drained at the end of a downhill and on the far edges of the road. In general, just avoid any wet surface that appears shiny, murky or greasy (colorful), covered in leaves, etc...
Besides matching your speed to the conditions, you need to "read" the road ahead for things like patches of ice, puddles of deep water, unmelted snow, a pool of oil, a pile of gravel, etc... Noticing the colorful shine of oil 300 meters in advance gives you time to slow down and try to get around it.
A bend tightening up
In winding mountain roads, there is a risk of a blind corner tightening up after you approach it. This can be expected by various things:
First, the corner entry speed should always give you the "reserve" so that you can deal with a tightening of the corner. It takes extra caution if the bend is downhill.
Second, to increase the grip reserves, we brake before the corner in a straight line to a speed where we feel comfortable enough with to let go of the brakes as we turn into the corner. Still, while turning into the corner we need to still brake very lightly. After we finish turning the wheel into the corner, we lift off of the brakes and apply enough gas to keep the car at a constant speed, so it's not slowing down or speeding up.
As the corner opens up to the exit, we begin to increase the throttle so that the car accelerates just slightly while you straighten the wheel. Aside from that, the steering inputs in the corner must be smooth, but without "hesitation." The proper steering technique I illustrated earlier can help too.
The next stage is the line we take. We need to take a relatively wide line. We begin from the "high-side" -- in a right-hand corner we would stay well to the left and well to the right in a left-hander. We start turning and "dive towards the "inside" of the corner ONLY when it starts opening up.
In some corners, it's not possible to stick all the way to the right/left, because of the risk of getting too close to oncoming traffic, or to the dirty edge of the road. This kind of line helps you see further into the corner and have an additional reserve of grip for the tightening part of the corner.
When we look up and see the corner, you will see through it up to a certain stage, at which point your visual field "ends" in the shape of an arrowhead. Look at that point. As you near the corner, your visual field will seem to unfold and the point of the arrowhead seems to get away from you. You need to slow down and match your speed to that of the "vanishing point" and use it to determine the radius of the corner.
If the vanishing point runs in a constant pace, the corner has a constant radius. If it tightens up, the speed with which the "limit point" seems to move decreases. This can help notice the tightening part of the bend earlier.
Other than these marks, there are also other notes:
- Bright tarmac: Tarmac becomes worn when tires shave it under load. Bright tarmac would therefore indicate that drivers used a lot of grip for making it around the bend.
- Skid marks
- Impacts around the guardrail, while indicate that drivers collided with it.
- Signs that indicate a tightening bend
- The lines of telegraph poles, trees, etc..can indicate whether the angle of the road "closes" up.
- A subconscious sense of "danger"
I just wanted to state that head on collisions are not always caused by a vehicle approaching at speed in the opposite lane. I was passing a pick-up towing a trailer which was travelling adout 40mph in a 55mph zone. I saw a car stopping at a driveway on my left. I slowed and prepared to resume my position behind the truck. The car stopped and I could see the driver (a young girl) look to their left then proceed to turn onto the highway to their right. Although I was slowing and aware of the situation the driver and her girlfriend were cluless. I will always remember their wide open eyes. I was able to return behind the truck/trailer with plenty of room to spare. In the clueless drivers position check the lane you are turning into but don't forget to look where you are intending to go!
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