5 tips to become a better driver

Friday, September 21, 2012

There’s no secret to becoming a better driver. The answers are right in front of you.

1. Adjust your mirrors

When you pay thousands of dollars to take a competition driver’s course so you can become a racer, one of the first things they will teach you is how to adjust and use your mirrors. Competition drivers rely on their mirrors every second they’re on the road, but most drivers don’t know how to adjust or trust them.

American drivers like to fix the outside mirrors so they show the sides of their cars, like some sort of reference point. The center of the lane on each side of you is what you need to see. Set up your mirrors so you see traffic, not your own car.

2. Adjust your seat

Many of us set up the seat when we get a car and leave it alone after that. Most cars have at least three adjustments on the seats, but few of us change anything but the forward-backward distance.

The steering wheel needs to be about 10 inches from your chest to fully deploy, so you don’t want your chest closer than that. Measure the distance with a tape measure to be certain.

Your wrists should rest comfortably on the top of the steering wheel. The seat belt anchor point should be adjusted up or down so the belt comes across the middle of your shoulder. You should be able to read all the instruments.

3. Turn your head

Driving is not just watching what’s in front of you, but also scanning beside and behind your car as well.  Don’t get “white line fever” on the highway. This is especially important with older drivers with mobility limitations that hinder turning their heads as much as they should.

Scanning is a skill, it needs to be practiced. Like all skills, it gets rusty with disuse.

Reading signs and lane markings is a good way to break up your pattern and keep your car in the correct lane. Always be on the watch for potential road hazards such as potholes, construction zones or stalled vehicles.

Be especially aware of large trucks or other vehicles that travel at different speeds and have different capabilities.

4. Let blood circulate during long trips

Sitting in one position for a long time leads to a sore butt, leg cramps, body aches and other problems associated with restricted blood flow. All of these distract you from your driving.

Experienced drivers wear driving mocs because these slipper-like shoes are comfortable, do not bind the foot and have soles designed for feeling and operating pedals. Apply the same rules to the rest of your wardrobe.

Aspirin inhibits blood clotting and improves circulation so well that it’s recommended as a daily medication for people with heart and circulatory problems. When you feel the aches coming on, it’s the one you turn to.

Walking around a highway rest stop is also helpful.

5. RTM

Any new car we buy or rent is going to be a good half-generation newer than the one we’re used to, and there are many features that you can only learn by spending a long afternoon with the owner’s manual.

Here’s an example. Manuals always caution drivers not to use cruise control on icy or snowy roads, but very few drivers know this. When one of the drive wheels loses traction the cruise control speeds it up to maintain speed, causing cars to spin out of control.

This can also happens in heavy rain when wheels tend to hydroplane.

Know all of your car’s strengths and limitations. Use all the resources you can to become the best driver possible.

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