Disclaimer: This post won’t teach you how to drive like a stuntman in a Hollywood movie. This will teach you some important driving practices used by both stunt people and alphabet soup government types that could save your life, like they saved mine.
It happened faster than I could say ‘boo’.
A few years back, I was heading to the gym for an evening workout. While following traffic lights and speed limits, I made my way toward my destination in my sporty little Fiat 500, nicknamed “Stanley”.
As I approached this intersection, however things didn’t go as planned.
There was no traffic light. No stop sign for cars flowing along with me. As my car coasted down the street, it was business as usual.
Then the driver of a large sedan disregarded a stop sign, pulling out from the left effectively blocking the entire intersection.
My adrenaline surged and time slowed as my brain registered what was about to happen.
Stanley had no way of coming to a complete stop before colliding with this other car. Nor was the vehicle moving quickly enough to get out of the way before I would reach it. In a split second, I made several choices that left me conscious and walking away from the scene.
If you drive a manual car, you will likely understand that downshifting can be useful in slowing a car down as well.
I turned my tires to the right.
In drifting, they teach you to point your tires to where you want the car to go and DON’T LET GO OF THE WHEEL. This keeps you from over steering and spinning out.
I firmly depressed the brake.
In modern cars, with ABS, its less likely that you will lock the wheels up if you jam on the brakes. The Fiat did have ABS, however in the moment, I didn’t want to take the risk. I wanted to maintain as much traction for as long as I could.
Keeping one hand firmly on the bottom of the steering wheel, I ducked into the passenger seat.
Hand placement during a car accident is important for maintaining control of the vehicle just as much as it is maintaining healthy, working hands. Put your hands in the wrong spot, airbag goes off and you get a broken wrist.
Airbags are known to knock-out and disorient the driver. The last thing I wanted to do was be unconscious in the middle of a busy intersection with more traffic right behind me. With that on my mind, I made the choice to duck my upper body down into the passenger side area where no airbag would deploy due to the weight sensor not being tripped.
3.. 2.. 1.. Impact.
The Fiat collided with the sedan, sending it off into a tree, and leaving myself and my car hurtling back toward the right, eventually coming to rest against a street sign.
I was alive, awake, and no longer in the intersection about to be hit by as-yet-unaware oncoming traffic. I was lucky that night. But I was also brought up to take driving very seriously and have taken enough courses to know how to handle a car in adverse conditions.
That night may have turned out very differently, had I not made habits out of some very basic driving tradecraft that I would like to share with you, now.
The “rules of the road” change from place to place, and your driving style should be adaptable to keep you and your party safe but some safety tips are constant.
Whether you are on the winding Mediterranean coast of Italy, or the bustling streets of Rio de Janeiro, your goal as a driver should be the safety of yourself and those within your vehicle. This starts with setting yourself up for success with a quick vehicle assessment.
Tires to grip the road, properly maintained engine, and a fully present driver are the three requirements for a functioning vehicle to transport you from point A to point B.
Step 1: check the tires to make sure they are properly inflated, and in good condition. Flat or worn tires will not handle turns as you expect. In hard driving conditions, under inflated tires can deflate or “debead” – come off the rim – leaving you stranded.
Step 2: check the engine temperature and oil pressure. If either of these two are off, your engine will not be very happy, and you may get stuck.
Step 3: check yourself. The driver must be unimpaired, and fully conscious to effectively respond to and handle the responsibility of being behind the wheel.
After assessing the vehicle, eliminate blindspots by setting and checking your mirrors.
To maximize your field of view, your left mirror should be angled outward far enough so that just a sliver of overlap is seen between its inside edge, and the left edge of your rear view mirror. Do the same thing with the right mirror, angling it outward until only a sliver of the inside edge overlaps with what you see on the right side of the rear view mirror.
Now, you have access to your full rear field of view, eliminating large portions of typical “blind spots”. This will help you keep track of what is around you and any spaces to your sides, should you need to make any quick maneuvers.
Prior to the accident pictured, I had my mirrors set as I mention here, which allowed me to trust that my sides were clear without having to move my head to check. A simple glance was all I needed – and all I had time to do.
Check out this in-depth tutorial by car and driver to get your mirrors set right.
Keeping your focus on where you want to go, not the obstacles in your way.
Your focus should always be ahead, always looking for the next goal, the next waypoint.
Visualize your path forward while maintaining 360 degree awareness.
When stopping at an intersection, make sure you can see the tires of the vehicle in front of you contacting the ground.
Criminals the world over use stopped vehicles at intersections to block a target in.
Stopping at a distance from the car in front of you that allows you to see their tires will guarantee that you have the space to move around that vehicle.
Don’t forget – precipitation changes everything so take caution in changing conditions.
Whether your vehicle has front wheel or all wheel drive, is heavy or light, has ABS, TCS or any other system designed to keep you on the road – everything changes when you hit water. Maintain your distance and your awareness.
Two feet are better than one.
This may be an unpopular opinion but with some practice, I’ve found braking with my left foot to be an invaluable tool. Not only does it make for smoother driving, it gives me a split second quicker reaction time in hectic driving conditions.
Following these tips will help you get to where you’re going. But if you’re ever in doubt, remember – it’s better to arrive late than not at all.