Race drivers and qualified driving instructors use the same message at driver training days at tracks like Hampton Downs.
It is: brake in a straight line, let the car roll through the corners, get the steering wheel into a neutral position, don’t load up the tyres, look forward, keep looking forward, trust your hand-eye judgment …
It is all about how to work at one with the car – on the track and on the road. Instructors talk of creating a “safety bubble” on public roads. That is putting yourself in a position where there is plenty of room around you. That car that is trailing you too closely? Let it pass and stay in the safety bubble. If the car ahead is awkwardly slow, pass quickly and settle again in the safety bubble.
What’s Kiwi race great Greg Murphy’s advice? Automotive News asked him.
AN: Are planning ahead and looking ahead the two critical elements in driving a car in any environment?
GM: There are many critical elements to being a safe driver and planning and looking ahead are definitely two very important ones. People end up in accidents all the time because they don’t look far enough ahead. They are not “scanning” the environment, being aware of possible situations that could occur.
AN: Is it a given on the track and road that the further you look ahead the more time you have to react to any situation?
GM: Obviously if you are looking down the road at a car waiting to turn right and you are ready in case that car decides to pull out in front of you, versus being focussed on the leading edge of your car bonnet, the resultant outcome will be very different. It is no different in racing – you need to be prepared for all eventualities.
AN: Is it vital to understand just how long it takes to stop a car? How much longer does it take to stop in wet conditions?
GM: This is another one of those critical elements and one that most people have no idea about until it is too late. This is a major reason for having tyres on your car that are in good condition. The road conditions change constantly and you need to adjust your driving to suit them. Knowing the stopping ability of your car in all conditions and knowing if it has anti-lock ABS brakes or not will be the difference between having an accident or avoiding it.
AN: At 60km/h you are travelling at almost 18m a second. Every 10th of a second you are travelling 1.8m. Just a 10th of a second at any speed can be critical. Is this something that should be drummed into drivers?
GM: I personally believe you should have to pass a maths and physics test to get a licence. Understanding how long it takes to stop an accelerating mass is a lot harder than just putting your foot on the brake pedal.
AN: Is it true that most mistakes on public roads are caused by people travelling too closely together?
GM: I think it is very difficult to put a finger on exactly what all the reasons are. The problem is a huge lack of education from the beginning. We don’t put anywhere near enough emphasis on driver training and education. It is up to the individual to decide what type of driver training they have and that leads to most going the easy route. Driving on New Zealand roads kills way too many people each year – we need to put more importance on drivers’ lives.
AN: How important is the correct seating position at the wheel?
GM: Being comfortable and in the correct driving position is critical to being in control. Modern cars have a huge amount of adjustability so there really is no excuse for not getting this right.
AN: What about the position of a driver’s hands on the steering wheel?
GM: Somewhere around a “quarter to three” and “ten to two” is the best position to have your hands. This allows the driver to have a balanced control of the steering wheel.
AN: Is it true that drivers who sit slouched at the wheel have little control?
GM: Unfortunately people get into bad habits and they become very difficult to get out of. It is a generalisation to say someone who sits slouched behind the wheel is a bad driver, but not sitting correctly is going to inhibit many parts of driving safely.
AN: Do you need to have a nice bend in the elbow and be able to place your wrist on top of the wheel but still keep your shoulder flat against the seat?
GM: This is a standard technique for checking that your seating position is correct. It determines if you are close enough to the steering wheel. Most people do sit too far away from the steering wheel.