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Techniques for Safer Driving

By Marybeth Harrison

As a race car driver and racing instructor I've learned that many of the techniques used in racing can be applied to street driving. These techniques can make one safer and more comfortable in the car, as well as drive more smoothly and be better equipped to deal with unexpected emergencies. Below are a number of valuable suggestions for improving your driving habits.

Driving safely is not just a matter of buying a car that meets all the safety requirements and paying attention while driving. While those are both very important, there are many other things you can do to help make you safer while driving and help you control your vehicle should you encounter a problem. This article offers some valuable suggestions for improving driving habits and, as such, some take a bit of getting used to. But they're worth it. In the short run you'll find yourself more comfortable and in control of your vehicle.

Proper Seating
Even though we spend a lot of time driving our cars, we aren't always sitting in them properly. Proper seating position is important not only to our comfort but helps maintain good car control too. Here's how to do it.

Adjust your seat so that:
You can fully depress the brake pedal with your right foot (and the clutch pedal with your left foot in a manual transmission) and still have a slight bend in your knees. Make sure you aren't having to reposition your body or hyperextend your legs to do this.

Your left foot should be able to rest comfortably on the "dead pedal" or "4th pedal" -- that area on the floor to the left of the pedal "assembly".

When your arms are held out directly in front of you, your wrists should be able to rest on the top of the steering wheel without your shoulders coming off the back of the seat. If you are quite tall, it may be difficult to do this without having to move your seat quite far forward so that your legs are cramped. If this is the case, you'll have to use your best judgment to find a happy medium. At the very least, however, you do want to make sure you can comfortably grip the top of the steering wheel with both hands. You may want to use the tilt adjustment on your steering column to increase your comfort but do be cautious about tilting the wheel too low. If that happens, your hands will hit your legs in a wide radius turn.

Eliminate Blind Spots With Three Easy Steps!
Most blind spots can be completely eliminated through the proper adjustment of side and rear view mirrors in your car or truck with three easy steps:

First, while sitting in the correct seating position, adjust your rear view mirror so it frames the back window of your vehicle without having to move your head. Now tilt your head to one side and adjust the side mirror so that you can just see the side of your vehicle. You'll know you've got it right when you move your head back to a parallel position and cannot see the side of your vehicle. Now tilt your head to the other side and adjust the other side mirror in the same way. That's it!

Test to see if you've got it right by following the path of a passing car. It should move from the rear view mirror -- as it is behind you -- to the side view mirror as it moves into the alternate lane, then into your peripheral vision as it comes along side you to pass. If you have detected a "blind spot" while doing this, move your side mirrors out further still. And don't worry, you'll get used to their placement after only a few trips.

Setting your mirrors this way allows you to have the widest possible range of vision. You'll now be able to see another vehicle regardless of whether it is behind or beside you.

The Dead Pedal
The dead pedal is located to the left of a vehicle's pedal assembly. In a race car, the dead pedal is often an actual pedal that is "dead" in that it does not control any operation such as braking or accelerating. In many factory vehicles, the dead pedal is simply a raised area on the floor (or side of the floor) sometimes covered with a rubber slip mat.

The dead pedal is used by your left foot and accomplishes a number of things. First, it acts as a foot rest for your left foot when you're not using it. Second, because the area is raised, there is less movement required for your foot to go from dead pedal to clutch. In racing, this gains you valuable seconds and helps prevent the driver from placing their foot incorrectly on the gear assembly. Third, the dead pedal acts as support for your body under heavy braking, e.g. threshold braking during a race or emergency braking on the street. In these cases, your left foot braces against the dead pedal and prevents your body from sliding down in the seat (very helpful in a street car without racing harnesses!) Most importantly, this allows you more control over the brake pedal.

The dead pedal also helps prevent people from bracing their right foot in the wrong place during an emergency. Yes, believe it or not, many people will brace themselves by placing their right foot good and hard on the GAS pedal -- oops! Many times, when impact seems imminent, the brain says to the body "brace for impact dude!!" and freezes up. Sometimes, however, this freeze up happens when your foot is on the gas pedal. While the brain might have had good intentions, it certainly doesn't help accelerating into a crash! What the dead pedal does in these situations is allow the body to brace against something solid thus freeing the right foot to brake or accelerate away from a collision.

10 and 2 O'Clock Are Not The Best Positions For The Driver's Hands
The belief that 10 and 2 are the correct hand positions are a long-standing and widely-believed myth still taught today. Truth is, however, that while 10 and 2 are certainly better than many hand positions in use -- such as both hands gripping the wheel at the top or single hand grips -- it is still not the best.

The correct hand positions are 9 and 3 O'clock -- which is the exact left and right side of the steering wheel. Using this hand position will make you a better, smoother and safer driver. When you keep your hands at 9 and 3, you always know exactly in which direction your tires are pointing. While this may sound basic, it is very important to increasing accurate car placement on the road. This is critical in a race car and no less important in a passenger vehicle.

When your hands are at 9 and 3, steering inputs are more accurate. In other words, the information you feed the car through the steering wheel is more accurate than at any other position -- what you think you are doing is closer to what the car will do. When your hands are away from this position, e.g. at the top of the steering wheel, you have a tendency to "lob" the steering wheel sharply in one direction or the other as you turn a corner. This lack of smooth delivery has to do with the weight and momentum of your hands when you move them. At 9 and 3, you are able to move the steering wheel more smoothly or "arc" the steering through a corner helping keep the car balanced and making you a smoother driver. (Your passengers will be impressed!) When you keep your hands at 9 and 3, emergency response is faster should it arise. For example, if you were driving on the highway with one arm out the window and the other flopped over the bottom of the wheel and a deer ran out onto the road in front of you, you would have to react quickly. But you're hands have to move the entire distance from the window and the bottom of the steering wheel to the sides, or top to enable you to actively steer the car. By the time you get your hands in position, it will be too late to steer away from the problem.

With hands at 9 and 3, better control of the vehicle is much more likely. Again, consider the deer scenario. You were able to swerve and miss it. But there are other challenges to deal with. First, if you're not at 9 and 3 you've probably "lobbed" the steering wheel, sharply unbalancing the car. This can lead the car into either a spin, crash or an off-road excursion. With hands at 9 and 3, you would have been able to "arc" -- move the wheel smoothly -- directing the car away from the deer. This would have increased your chances of eliminating the spin completely, or enabling a correction, preventing the spin.

As a driving instructor and race car driver, I drive with my hands at 9 and 3 regardless of whether I'm racing or driving on the street. If I'm on a long drive or on a straight stretch of road, I don't necessarily keep both hands on the wheel all the time, but I do keep at least one hand on the 9 or 3 position at all times.

 

 

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