Driving is an art. More than just a means to get from point A to point B, driving your vehicle is an exercise that is best honed over time. Constant practice and application of techniques can develop habits. Good habits, though, are borne out of good practices.
If you drive long distances regularly, it would be prudent to develop good habits to ensure a safer, faster, more fun, and less tiring drive each time you are behind the wheel.
Check your car
Like a pilot who goes around and visually inspects his aircraft prior to every flight, you should also do a once around of your car before every long drive. Inspect the tires for nails or damage, see if all lights are working. Do you have enough fuel? Coolant and wiper washer fluids topped up? Little things like these can make or break your drive.
Start off clean
I always start every drive with a clean car, inside and out. This makes me feel good and gives the perception that the car is in tip top shape. Having your car washed and vacuumed before a drive also gives you the chance to check it out prior to your journey. If it happens to get dirty along the way, so be it. Small carwash joints are a dime a dozen nowadays.
The proper seating position
How you control the car and its effect on your body after a long drive all depends on the way you sit while driving. Adjust your car seat so that your back and bum are firmly planted all the way back into it.
To determine how far back the seat should be, step on either the brake or clutch pedal. There should still be a slight bend in your knee even with the pedals fully depressed. This gives you the power to firmly depress the pedals all the way into their travel and get the most out of their function.
To get the seat back and steering wheel height right, rest your wrists on top of the wheel while keeping your shoulders fully rested on the seat back. Maintain a slight bend in your elbows in this position. Adjust the seats and steering wheel accordingly to get it right. This prevents you from straining your back when turning the wheel.
Hands on the wheel
Keep your hands on the 9 and 3 o’clock position of the steering wheel. Together with the correct distance to the steering wheel, this will give you the best leverage when turning. It also helps remind you where the direction of the car’s wheels are pointed.
For rear passengers, keep your head up and eyes on the road ahead to minimize dizziness. As a driver, looking way, way ahead also lets you spot hazards earlier and let you plan your escape route easier. Don’t fix your gaze on one point only of the road. Move your eyes and attention to the sides as well. This will keep you from being drowsy.
Long drives after sunset
For long drives, start at night. The car and the environment will be cooler plus there is little or no traffic. Just be more alert as there is limited visibility. Also, make frequent stopovers for coffee or chips. A piece of lemon under your tongue can keep you alert for a while too.
If you are feeling drowsy while driving, find a gas station or open parking lot and stop. Sleep it off. You’ll probably lose 30 or so minutes of time but at least you did not lose your life.
bridge done right
Provincial highways always have small bridges that are usually higher than the road itself. Coming at them at speed can surprise you and make your car jump. To negotiate them safely without losing too much time, you need to gently brake just before the ramp up to the bridge. As soon as the car heads up the ramp, step on the gas and accelerate. This does two things: it transfers the weight of the car to the back and by doing so, it raises the front end of the car a bit. The raised front end creates more suspension travel in the front that absorbs the sudden elevation change caused by the bridge. This avoids unsettling the car at speed.
Because of heavy trucks that ply some roads, the asphalt seems to bulge and deform causing unevenness and difficulty in keeping your car driving straight. Try driving off-center of the lane when you encounter these roads to avoid the bumps as the trucks’ heavy wheels would have created a flat portion on the lane.
Lessen the jolts
Driving over a hump, especially ones that are crudely made, can be a jarring experience. To lessen the impact on your car and your sensibilities, take a hump diagonally, one wheel at a time. This reduces the impact on your car’s front end by distributing the force over two wheels at different moments in time instead of all at once when driving at them head on.
The same applies when you are approaching a thin dig that runs across the road where small pipes are laid. Approach them diagonally so the tires don’t fall into them. This way, you don’t feel the full brunt of the suspension crash.
Be wary of large vehicles
Sharing the road means driving with vehicles that are larger than yours. If you are overtaking a bus or a truck, back off and increase the distance between your car and the truck first. This will let you see what is ahead of the large vehicle before you make your move.
If you are approaching a parked bus or truck, take a peek underneath the vehicle all the way up to its front to see if there are people’s legs. Pedestrians might just be deciding to cross the street from the front of the bus as you are approaching it. Be prepared to slow down or stop if necessary.
On a long, fast drive, avoid coming in too close behind a vehicle. Give yourself at least three to four car-lengths of space from the car ahead. This gives you time to react in case of an emergency.
And if it rains, drive at least one car distance behind the car in front. Position your vehicle either on the left or right lane, and not directly behind it. So in case the car ahead drives over a flood or puddle, there will still be time for the water to fall to the ground rather than to splash over on your windshield.
Also, when it rains, observe the car in front as it negotiates a flooded road. If it suddenly jerks down and up, then it probably just hit a pothole. That is why maintaining proper distance is important, it gives you time to react appropriately.
Control is everything
Driving at speed on a straight line is easy enough. But braking and cornering takes a bit of experience to get right.
First of all, brake in a straight line. Do not brake while turning as the action transfers the weight of the car from the back to the front in a rotational motion. This can lead to a loss of control and a spin. If you find yourself coming in too fast into a corner, you can make the turn tighter by simply easing off the throttle pedal while turning. This will make the car point into the corner easier.
Beat the heat
Too hot inside after parking it under the sun? Some takeaway food filling the cabin with a less than appealing scent? Open diagonally opposed windows, front left and rear right will do, to let air flow in and hot or smelly air out faster. This also avoids buffeting that happens when one window is opened.
Driving is all about being observant and situationally aware whenever you are behind the wheel. Who doesn’t enjoy a chat with family or friends while driving? The company is part of the journey too, right? But you must still keep your eyes looking ahead and even scanning the sides and back to know where other cars are. Always have an escape route planned if ever something untoward happens, like the car in front blowing a tire, or a wayward vehicle from the opposite lane heading your way.
By being alert when you are driving, you can have a safer journey ahead. Most of the time, a semblance of control is enough to give you peace of mind. Your next drive need not be your final destination.
Motoring and motorsports are two of Mikko’s greatest passions. Combining more than twenty years of professional automotive photography and videography experience with years of touring car racing competition, and a deep understanding of the car industry, from both the manufacturers’ and consumers’ points of view, have given him a unique and insightful perspective in the motoring beat.