I can’t read minds, but I’ll wager some of my kids’ inheritance on this hunch: that you’re reassured to know that the pilots of our holiday jets take a systematic approach to ensuring our flights fly by without mishap. It’s reassuring knowing that pilots use checklists to ensure no important consideration is overlooked. Knowing that they’ll adhere to established procedures to minimise hazards is reassuring too, right?
During the years I spent training police drivers, I always emphasised the need for them to plan their approach to individual driving hazards. A systematic approach to bends, junctions, hill-crests, and other hazards was needed before the emphasis moved on to making swift progress in response to emergencies. Like most drivers, these aspiring pursuit drivers initially had an approach to hazards that was haphazard. A by-product of driving on auto-pilot was that at first they often overlooked what was key to safe driving: ensuring that their position in the road, their speed of approach, and choice of gear, were addressed prior to each hazard.
It was one of the most famous racing drivers of the day, the Earl of Cottenham, who, in 1937 and 1938, first stressed the importance to the police of such a systematic approach to hazards. His “system of car control” helped to reduce accidents. My “driving drill’, outlined below, reflects his thinking.
Scan & signal
Before changing position or speed we should first check a mirror (or combination of mirrors) to ensure it’s safe to carry out our intended manoeuvre. We should be continually scanning the driving environment to effectively observe our surroundings, before considering communicating our intentions to others. If we give a signal, we should remember that for it to be of benefit it needs to be given sufficiently far in advance that other road users have the time to see and react to it prior to us carrying out the manoeuvre. At least three seconds in advance is a good rule-of-thumb.
If we adopt the appropriate road position for our intended manoeuvre early, there will be plenty of time for others to observe any change in position, and consequently anticipate our intentions. We may not be signalling at this point, perhaps because there are a series of hazards close together.
For those hazards where it’s necessary to brake on the approach, we should endeavour to do so in a straight line. By separating steering (i.e. a change in position) and braking we’ll be asking less of the tyres, reduce the forces acting on the car at any one time, and thus reserve more grip – what if we encounter some spilt diesel or black ice? Our passengers will enjoy a more comfortable ride, too.
Having slowed down, perhaps by braking, we should change into the gear we need to enter the hazard. For almost all hazards a single gear-change should suffice. Gone are the days when brakes needed to be assisted by judicious use of engine compression!
Now for my favourite bit – accelerating out of the hazard. Having begun cycling through the driving drill in plenty of time, we should be entering the hazard after an unhurried gear-change, with both our hands on the steering wheel, and the car under an appropriate degree of acceleration. If we started braking on the approach later rather than sooner, we would have compromised progress through the hazard by delaying the point at which we could begin accelerating. In-slow-out-fast is best.
Someone somewhere once coined the phrase ‘if you fail to plan you’re planning to fail’. Although this particular saying makes me cringe, it is paramount to developing an effortlessly safe driving style.
Enjoy your driving,