Good drivers should be concentrating on their tyres instead of worrying about how fast they’re travelling.
It was in the 1990s, at a driving school in Germany. The instructor was taking five volunteers through a slalom test in a front-drive car. Going through a line of cones, first approaching them from the right, then left – nearside, offside.
The performance of each driver was videotaped and played back on a big screen at the end of each run.
The first was at 35km/h. Two drivers skittled cones; we watched where they went wrong on the screen. “Turn the steering wheel with your forearms; don’t wind it around with your shoulders,” said the instructor.
I thought of Formula One great Jackie Stewart driving a Jaguar around Manfeild with a bowl of water taped to the bonnet. The less you spill the smoother … you get the picture.
Back we went again, the five of us – the German instructor wanted a clean 35km/h run from the group.
Next test: same slalom, only at 40km/h. And so it went, at increments of 5km/h until the car was pretty much out of our control and scattering cones in all directions.
The point of the exercise was not to see who could do the slalom the fastest, but what effect speed had on progress -through the rotation and position of the front wheels, not via the car’s speedometer.
“Think from the ground up,” said the instructor. “What are your wheels doing? Put the wheels through the cones – not the car.” Drivers who think from the ground up, he said, make the necessary slight steering adjustments to get through cones.
They put themselves through the cones rather than the car. Progress is smoother. They become better drivers.
Drivers who think only of putting the bulk of the car through the cones, tend to swing on the steering wheel, making exaggerated inputs that, in the end, send the car wildly one way then the other before spinning out.
“Visualise what the wheels are doing – trust your hand-eye judgment and keep looking at the furthest cone,” the instructor kept saying.
Good drivers look ahead, way ahead. Peripheral vision and hand-eye wired to the brain keeps tabs on the car in front, or a dog or pedestrian.
More than 90 per cent of road deaths can be blamed on driver error, say statistics. Police, government, motoring bodies, commentators deplore the standard of driving in New Zealand.
But there is very little in place to improve it, in the form of a national driving school or standard. Next time you put your foot down, forget the speedo.
Ask yourself what the wheels and tyres are doing. Think from the ground up. Feel the tyres through the steering wheel. The speedo roughly shows your speed … tyres tell the truth.