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Jackie Stewart....

... a multiple Formula One champion and a tireless campaigner for better driving standards, has a philosophy of better driving which is based on 4 key concepts - the 4 C's , which he defines as :

  • Concentration
  • Competence
  • Care
  • Consideration

Of these 4 he singles out concentration as the most important skill to acquire to be a better driver.

Most road safety experts and the Traffic Police are concerned that the standards of driver education are far too low and that the driving test is not a sufficiently good test of the skills needed for todays driving environment.

Although reading about safer driving is a start and much can be learnt in this way, there is no substitute for experience and this can only come with practise. If you genuinely wish to improve your standard of road driving almost every motor racing circuit in the country offers high performance - not motor racing - courses, where, in the safety of a circuit anyone can learn the basic principles needed to be a smoother, safer, driver - the key word here being smoother.

Also many driving schools are now able to offer post driving test tuition both on and off the roads, tuition which, in my view, is best carried out off the public road.

The Institute of Advanced Motorists is one of the leading advocates of improved driving standards and provide free tuition to associate members who sign up to take the advanced driving test.

We start with a thought to ponder on... If all of a drivers actions are smooth and progressive time seems to flow a little slower and there is more time to take decisions and a better ability to react to the sort of emergencies that can arise.

We'll return to this very important point later, but to start with basics.

The most important first step is to, ensure a comfortable driving position in your car. I drive a huge number of cars each year and it is my habit to spend at least 5 minutes finding a comfortable driving position in each car and familiarising myself with the controls before moving off.

Spend some time finding a comfortable driving position in your car. Legs and arms should be slightly bent - not straight - so that leverage can be applied in turning the wheel or, in braking heavily, should it be necessary. You must be able to depress both clutch and brake pedal fully to the floor to take up the full travel.

Your hands should normally be at the ""ten to two"" position on the wheel and you should be able to reach, with straightened arms, all controls , without the need to lean forward. A good test is to see if you can rest one hand on top of the other at the ""twelve o'clock"" position without reaching forward.

Adjust the seat height so that you can get a clear view of the front and rear of the car and all mirrors. Seat belts should be on and tightly fitting. If height adjustable, the lowest comfortable setting will give the most restraint in any accident.

While mentioning accidents, one of the commonest injuries is whiplash - a straining of the neck muscles - not, in itself, a very serious injury but nevertheless very painful. The risk of this can be reduced by carefully setting the headrest. While adjusting the seat, raise the headrest so that it supports the head near to the top of the skull, not as so often seen, set low down where it may worsen the effects of a whiplash injury.

So, are we now sitting comfortably ?

A fundamental driving skill which seems to be sadly lacking in so many drivers is Concentration.

Any driver must be able to concentrate near to their maximum at all times and a conscientious driver will train themselves not to become distracted by other events happening outside of the car or by the actions of their passengers.

Concentration is helped by being comfortable in and with the car. Take care in achieving a comfortable driving position - as described above  - and  ensure that distractions inside the car are minimised, so no dangling furry animals or joke bottom flashers please!

Teach yourself to " sweep " the road ahead at varying distances, all the time looking for potential problems and anticipating other drivers' actions. It is not usually too difficult to assess the level of attention of drivers close in front of your car such that you can allow for any deficiencies in their driving and keep a suitable distance behind them.

Try not to become distracted by extraneous information, learn the knack of filtering out those roadside signs which do not offer useful information, for example poorly placed or superfluous traffic signs or the increasing barrage of distracting advertising boards, so that you have a little more time to concentrate on the really important ones. Not enough people do this, but re-read the Highway Code so that you know what all of the road signs actually mean.

To illustrate the point, at roundabouts you may be faced with a number of destination boards but you only want one place name. If you can quickly locate the board which contains the name of your destination you will have more time to study it only and are less likely to get lost and perhaps have to go round again.

Always know what is in your mirrors, constantly scanning  across the 2 external mirrors and comparing the information they are providing with that from the interior mirror.

If you are constantly checking your mirrors it should soon become as easy to assess the traffic flow behind you as that in front of you. Such awareness will ensure that you take maximum care in making your own signals and you will be able to tell whether your signals are being correctly understood by following drivers.

Remember the highway code and your driving test, Mirror - Signal - Manoeuvre, it is still the only way to drive.

We now go onto the subject of competence, those all important skills which all of us should keep highly polished but, regrettably, few do.

Competence can be seperated into two major skills, car handling and traffic handling. The former is a skill that is entirely in your own hands. The latter can be described as the safe interpretation of and reaction to other drivers car handling skills - or lack of them and is often known as defensive driving.

At it's grimmest, defensive driving is keeping yourself out of the way of other drivers' lunatic behaviour!

To concentrate on improving our own skills, a brief explanation of the terms understeer and oversteer is in order before talking about how our actions affect the stability of the car.

Understeer is a situation where the front of the car wants to continue straight ahead despite increasing the turning motion of the steering wheel and is caused by lack of adhesion at the front of the car.

Oversteer is where, due to less adhesion at the rear, the car tries to rotate about the front, using the front wheels as a pivot.

Both situations are caused by excessive speed, coarse steering or braking without regard to the grip afforded by the road surface. For example most front wheel drive cars, if driven too hard in to a roundabout, will run wide - understeer - because the speed is too high.

The attitude of the car is most important, a car which is level with the minimum of suspension loading is at it's most stable.

A car which is unstable on entering a bend - for example because the suspension is heavily loaded on the outer tyre due to cornering at too high speed - will initially understeer and may then rapidly turn to oversteer where the rear end of the car tends to pivot around the most heavily loaded tyre.

Such extreme instability may result in a spin at which time the car is totally out of control and heading for a major accident.

Therefore at a corner, bend or roundabout there is a sequence of actions which should all carried out in a smooth, unhurried, manner, as they can be if the speed is approriate.

All clutch, brake and throttle movements should be slow and progressive as should  gear changing. This imposes less strain on the car and is less tiring for driver and passengers.

All braking and gearchanging should be carried out in a straight line before the bend, the sequence being to lift smoothly from the accelerator and smoothly on to the brakes - the primary stopping power being by braking -, change down smoothly to an appropriate gear and having lifted gently from the brakes, smoothly feed in enough steering to flow the car around the bend or roundabout. As the suspension is then not stressed minor steering corrections are easy to apply without disturbing the car's balance. After the apex of the bend the accelerator is again used smoothly to accelerate away.

If, however, as is often seen, you are still braking when turning into a bend the load on the outside front tyre is excessive, grip is reduced and because of the car's instability the ability to steer smoothly is reduced, this can lead in quick succession to understeer and then subsequently oversteer where the car tries to spin off into the undergrowth.

As Jackie Stewart says " Light is Right " and to illustrate this he points out that most of the great racing drivers - Fangio, Moss , Prost , Senna and himself - have all been notable for their smooth driving style and their mechanical sympathy with the car.

For those whose cars have A.B.S., that is, some form of anti-lockup brake control, practise with it somewhere safe so that you know the point at which it will come into operation, what it feels like and how much control it will give you. Don't just leave it to discover during a genuine emergency, its application is another skill to learn.

If you do not have A.B.S., well, we all managed without for a long time and there are alternative techniques to achieve a similar effect, for example,  cadence braking. This is a technique which is as near as can humanly be got to A.B.S. and which really needs to be learnt on a skid pan. It comprises the rapid application of the pedal to lock and unlock the brakes so as to retain some steering capability during a potentially very dangerous skid situation. By this means it may be possible to drive around a hazard but it must be learned away from the public road.

While mentioning skid pans, they are available at nearly all racing circuits and practise is invaluable  both in predicting when a skid might occur and in learning to control, in safety, any type of skid, the most important skill being to learn how to retain as much of steering capability of the car as possible.

Remember, if the car is skidding with brakes locked it is out of control and the driver has become a passenger. If some steering is retained you can drive out of the problem.

Finally, we come to the last of the C's... Care and Consideration, which can be considered as one.

It is always safest to allow for other people's fallibilites. Even if you become a good road driver there is little point in becoming involved in someone else's accident secure in the knowledge that it was not your fault, better to avoid the accident.

As discussed earlier it is usually fairly easy to judge the competence of the other road users around you and it makes sense to give others drivers sufficient room to manouvre. Don't sit too close to other people's bootlids as they may run into problems and you will assuredly run into them.

If others are desperate to get into a flow of traffic, allow them in, they may have an urgent reason that you are not aware of, but even if not you will feel safer with them in front of you, where their actions can be seen, than behind you where they put you also at risk by their impatience.

Acknowledge with a friendly wave - all fingers to be used please - the good behaviour of other road users who let you in at junctions or make life easier for you in some other way.

If you consider that you have become a better driver, act accordingly and don't do anything which puts yourself or other drivers at risk. Remember, there are no such things as accidents, just drivers  making mistakes. Have pride in your wish to learn new skills and thereby become a better and safer driver. Remember the old adage "forewarned is forearmed".

All of the advice given above will, I hope, make you into a better, safer, and more relaxed driver. AND if you are a more relaxed driver your passengers will travel more comfortably [and won't complain so much ], your car will be less stressed which will save you fuel, save you tyre wear, reduce the strain on your  car's brakes, gearbox and suspension and may one day, ultimately save your life.

I will repeat my caution... Although reading about safer driving is a start, there is no substitute for experience and this can only come with practise. If you genuinely wish to improve your standard of road driving almost every motor racing circuit in the country offers high performance courses, where anyone can learn the basic principles needed to be a smoother, safer, driver, the key word here being smooth. Also many driving schools are now able to offer post driving test tuition which in my view is best carried out off the public road.

Take care of yourselves and other road users and never stop learning. Be a better driver.

Article © Graham Benge 2007

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