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Driving Tips to Live By

Live life in the safe lane

by Autobytel Staff
February 17, 2006

Racecar drivers spend days getting the perfect seating position. Proper seating and posture behind the wheel helps them to concentrate solely on driving, and, they hope, winning. They know that the right start to overall car control is proper seating position, and they also know that while we react to what we see, we also react to what we feel. The contact we have with the seat and vehicle controls provide information about what the car is doing. Of that information, perhaps most critical is what we get from the steering wheel. The right comfort level behind the wheel will result in vital information about the road and traction level of the tires. Create your own crumple zone. Cars have 'crumple zones' designed to absorb energy and help protect occupants in case of an accident. The same idea should be applied to your body posture: Sit close enough to the steering wheel so your arms and legs are bent and you can reach foot and hand controls without stretching. Some drivers, especially younger ones, tend to sit too far back in the seat, with arms and legs straight. It may look cool, but studies in Europe indicate there is a greater risk of joint damage (ie: elbows, shoulders, knees, hips) during a frontal impact when your arms and legs are straight. By keeping your arms and legs bent, you can create your own crumple zone and help avoid serious injury during impact. Drive with feeling. Your hands are your only contact with the road, so keep them on the steering wheel. By doing so, you open a channel of communication with your tires that is instrumental when it comes to avoiding accidents. You'll be surprised how much information you can get just by listening with your hands: On the steering wheel, your hands will tell you how much traction you have, if you're going too fast and what the road conditions are like. It's simple: your tires tell you where the car is going. Your steering wheel tells you where the tires are pointed. You steer the steering wheel. How you hold and grip the steering wheel determines how much information you get from the tires - your only contact with the road. Hold the steering wheel at about 10 and 2 o'clock position. The 11 to 1 o'clock position is not advisable, especially if the air bag deploys. Be a 'tire manager'. When we're driving we are really tire managers. Why? Because tires are the only part of a car that makes contact with the road, so how we interact with our tires is critical to safe driving. How you grip the steering wheel is important: Grip it too tight and you lose information, a 'feel' for the road. This also will accelerate fatigue, so keep a comfortable grip on the steering wheel. Many cars now have 'speed sensitive steering'. Turning at a low speed, say, into a parking lot, the steering feels light and easy. As you increase your speed the steering feels a little stiffer. This provides a better feel of the tires' traction with the road. Of course, your eyes are the most important key to safe driving. Keep them up, focus ahead and look through the traffic in front of you. We tend to go where we look - our hands on the wheel follow our eyes. In racing, we say "drive the race track first and the traffic second." By doing this, you always know where you are in relation to the road. If all you do is focus on the car in front, you might drive right into a very avoidable accident. Body posture, steering control and vision: all are important aspects to safe driving. Fact is, we really do drive by the 'seat of our pants'. Racecar drivers say 'I am at one with my car'. Almost sounds emotional---and driving really is an emotion.


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