Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Driving Basics 101 - Part V

Your vehicle is a balancing act

In the 1988 movie Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman’s character, Raymond Babbitt, declared. “I’m an excellent driver”. In Raymond’s mind, he might very well have been an excellent driver, but to the viewers and anyone who was in a car with him…different perspective.

The same holds true in real life as well. Many people who think they are excellent drivers scare the life out of us! Other drivers complain about the actions of others but never notice their own short falls.

So what makes a truly excellent driver? First, adherence to the law with an acute awareness of what is happening around them, and secondly…the ability to be smooth.

A smooth driver has control of their vehicle and gives their passengers a sense of comfort. They use proper applications of their inputs; steering, brake and accelerator, while they adjust those inputs appropriately and timely to the actions of others.

So, how can we be a smooth driver?

You can start with everything that we have talked about in Parts I through IV. This whole series has been designed to be a ‘building block’ approach to driving. Each part in this series forms a strong foundation of skills, knowledge and ability. If there is any missing part, the entire structure is compromised.

Steering Inputs
Proper steering begins with your eyes, continues with how you hold the wheel and finishes with how you move the wheel.
Looking where you want to and being aware of your surroundings will tell you when and how much steering input is required. By having your hands at the nine and three o’clock ( 9 and 3) positions you can turn the wheel in a smooth manner. Often you don’t even have to take your hands off the wheel to make the vast majority of movements you need to manoeuvre through traffic. By using the 9 and 3 position you can turn the wheel 180 degrees without ever losing touch with the wheel while you maintain proper control of your steering and vehicle. One hand steering is neither safe nor proficient.
Just prior to turning, your eyes should be looking where you want the vehicle to go…not where you are.
Tip to remember > Look and steer where you want to go.

All brake applications should be done with consistent and progressive application. You use the amount of braking needed for each situation, but the key here again is your eyes. By knowing what is happening around you in all directions you are prepared for the need to slow down or stop. When you approach a stop sign, begin gently slowing the car before you think you need to and as you get closer you will be able to ease up on the pedal. You will finally stop without the feeling of a jerk or bounce when all momentum ceases.
Don’t “drive” to stop lights or to the vehicle in front of you. Coast, slow down and leave space which can translate into eliminating complete stops in heavy traffic, (bumper to bumper), situations.
All braking should be done in straight lines when the road design permits it.

Again, progressive and consistent application is key. There is no purpose served by having a heavy foot when accelerating. It is uncomfortable to your passengers, causes increased fuel consumption and can lead to premature tire wear.
You can only accelerate as fast as you are able to react to changing conditions in the road and traffic allows. If you haven’t determined a clear picture of what is happening around you, how can you react to the changes? Hey, there’s another mention of your eyes…are you seeing a trend here?
All acceleration should be done in straight lines when the road design permits it.

Combining Your Inputs
To be able to manoeuvre there will be times when some combination of these inputs is required. But having said that, if you use too much of any one input in combination with another you are asking for trouble. For example in the most extreme situations, if you applied one hundred percent braking (prior to the invention of ABS) you had no ability to steer. Likewise, if you spin your tires aggressively with your accelerator you have no real steering control.
There is a balance between all inputs that needs to be managed to become a smooth driver.
If you accelerate through a right turn your body will feel force acting on it to the left. Your passengers will also feel it…not smooth. But, if you adjust your speed properly, either by slowing or accelerating before the turn, maintain that speed and turn properly, you will feel little force…smooth.
All your inputs have the potential to use one hundred percent of their capabilities, but in combination they need to share that one hundred percent. When you over use any one amount of input you will sacrifice the availability of any of the other two inputs.

When you properly use your vehicle inputs you can make yourself a smooth driver. When you partner that with the discussion in the first four parts of this series you will be better prepared to be a smooth and safe driver. The last point to make with this is the added benefit that can be realized by being a smooth driver. You will save money by using less fuel, extend the life of your tires, transmission, steering components, suspension and brakes. You will also be kinder to the environment!

Next week - Part VI - Do you see what I see

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV


  1. My advice has always been "drive scared" And in winter, "dribe terrified". Often we become over-confident as drivers which leads to aggressive behavior. A good driver is a well trained driver and one who obeys the traffic laws and speed limits always ...

  2. In theory that is not a bad mentality, it will certainly keep you aware and humble in regards to your own abilities and the short-comings of others. I would recommend that we all drive co-operatively.