Driving Tips



Well, we're off to see the relatives. Good stuff and even better, it is a simply beautiful day. You have done the vital fluids check and ensured that the cold tire pressures are correct. You also had a good night's sleep, and breakfast with the family was a little hectic, but pleasant. Given these circumstances, the theory is you are now approaching your vehicle in the very best mental and physical manner. That must make you feel good - and it should. Just one thing, what about those other drivers out there in that dangerous environment? Have they the same "advantages" as you in terms of rest, car maintenance, etc? The safe thing is to make the base assumption that they have not. Think of them as a bunch of people who feel miserable, have a headache and want to get from A to B as quickly [and as recklessly as the law enforcers will allow], as possible. So what are you going to do about this situation?

Well, you have completed the cockpit check in detail. Everything is nominal, and everyone is strapped in and all the doors are secure. Mirror and shoulder checks complete and you are now ready and safe to move off. Let's talk about the "safe zone". I describe this as the walled fortress around my vehicle and more importantly around you and your family. You will do everything you can to prevent any intrusion into your safe zone.

The first action is a deliberate and planned scan of your surroundings. You want to know the threat locations, what cars are doing alongside, ahead, and behind you. Are they staying at a constant speed and distance, closing, changing lanes? Has something just joined the freeway that caused traffic to change behavior?

Whatever you do, do not become fixated on one spot - scan, scan and scan again. Mirrors - inside mirror, driver's side outside mirror, instruments, passenger side mirror, back to the inside mirror and repeat the process. Frequency of the scan - depending on traffic density about every 20 - 40 seconds. You know your speed and distance from the cars in front, ahead and alongside you. Ask your passenger to cover the inside mirror with their hand, and turn around and look through the rear window. Without you using the side mirrors, describe the colors and cars in all the lanes behind you and what they are doing. Are they a threat, is one gaining on you, did one seem to be gaining three cars back so you can expect a lane change?

The British Police have a manual entitled "Roadcraft" which is the bible for Class A and Armed Response drivers. This is the foundation of the examinations by both the Institute of Advanced Drivers as well as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents Advanced driving courses. They teach the process in a very structured, yet flexible way known as "The System". It consists of five parts.

Part 1. The System's foundation is the information phase. In three parts, it comprises:

T equals Take
U equals Use
G equals Give

What you have been reading about above is exactly that. You have been taking information in; used it to protect the fortress walls and then given it back to other motorists. This would be in the form of a signal, example - sounding your horn [never as a rebuke, only as a warning] use of hazard warning lights, even a hand signal, etc. The mirror, signal and maneuver that we were all taught support this.

Part 2. Position
Part 3. Speed
Part 4. Gear
Part 5. Acceleration

Parts 2., 3. and 4. overlap. They are a continuum. The purpose is to ensure that you are in the right position, at the right speed, and in the right gear under all circumstances. Part the acceleration phase and is applied at the end of the process.

Two points worth raising are both speed and gear related. How many times do you see people approaching a stop sign and changing from 5th to 4th to 3rd and even 2nd before coming to a stop, and then selecting 1st? Brake the car to a halt using your brakes - they are much cheaper to replace than your gearbox or clutch. Brake to slow, gas to go. Further, be prepared to "block change" the gears. Go from 4th directly into 2nd if that is the right gear at the right speed for the hazard or junction. In this case, consciously miss 3rd gear.

The next part goes back to the information phase. You have all the "elements" to start putting together a running commentary describing what you are seeing, and what you are going to be doing about it. With a commentary, three things will happen. First, your vision will increase significantly. With that increase in vision, you will recognize hazards more quickly, and if you do your ability to prioritize those hazards also increases dramatically. Now you are really showing just how protective you can be on maintaining that safe zone.

To reiterate, a commentary is probably one of the most significant single skills you can develop to become a safer and better driver. You will also become much smoother because your anticipation is at a significantly higher level. A smooth driver is a safer driver.

For the benefit of new readers, allow me to give an overview on the question of the commentary. This is probably the greatest single tool to safe, controlled driving that you can practice everyday, in the privacy of your own vehicle.

Start by talking about what the cars are doing around you. Say, "the speed limit is 65 mph and I am doing 60 mph". What is the condition of the road surface? Are there changes in the surface? What about those road signs? Are they informational or advisory? Do they warn of a hazard or do they order as in a stop sign? Start doing the commentary slowly, and build in the various visual inputs. After some practice you will be able to do a "running commentary".

To date, you have seen articles addressing Driving or Car Control; Safe and fit to drive and Are you seated comfortably? This time we are back on the road. It's a big and very dangerous world out there. All vehicles are faster than they were, When I grew up, 80 HP was a lot of power, and now SUV's are appearing to get bigger with their drivers [?]. Seemingly intent on intimidation, mixed with cell phone usage and liberal amounts of machismo they have convinced themselves of their own immortality. The fact is they usually are not good multi-taskers and certainly are generally extremely poor when it comes to using turn signals. So what are we dealing with while driving to work or out over a weekend with your new or lovingly restored car?

Some statistics to consider:

Driver error accounts for greater than 90% of all road traffic accidents. Corporate drivers have a significantly higher risk of being involved in accidents - they drive more miles. 38% of deaths among those aged 16-19 years occurred as a result of car collisions. Crashes are the number one cause of death and serious injuries in people age 3 to 34. At almost all ages, males have higher vehicle death rates than females. Passenger deaths represented 77% of motor vehicle deaths in 1999. Sport Utility Vehicles (SUV) have a higher center of gravity and the possibility of a higher rollover rate. Middle aged drivers develop bad driving habits and may not realize it. They do however, have the experience to reduce their risk through training. Older drivers are more likely to get traffic citations for failing to yield, turning improperly, and running stop signs and red lights

Source Documents:
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety et al - December 2000
US Department of Transportation - Various

There are two statistics that always register with me. They are the percentage of passengers that are killed and that greater than 90% of all accidents are driver error. Staggering and very sobering statistics.

As you know from Driving or Car Control I am a believer in feet per second rather than miles per hour [mph]. I believe feet per second conveys more about the energy you are carrying, and the time it will take to dissipate that energy. It is absolutely true that it is always easier to gain energy, than it is to lose it Put another way, at 70 mph, and with ABS capable of 0.9g of deceleration, with an alert driver, anything within one football field length of the front of your car is going to be hit. If you observe traffic on freeway off ramps, they are always far too close. The only thing that saves them plowing into each other, is that they all have the same 'thinking" distance. In terms of thinking, if one was even slightly faster than the other there would be an accident. Reflecting, you will have seen more 3 or 4 car accidents on off ramps than you have 1 or 2 car incidents. Correct? In the same article, there was a quiz on speed differentials. If two cars, one travelling at 70 mph, the other at 90 mph are parallel, and brake with the same efficiency at the same time, what speed will the 90 mph car be doing, when the 70 mph car is stopped? The answer was 57 mph. This is the "squared" rule in action. As you increase your speed you increase the vehicle's energy by the increase in speed squared, and the braking (not thinking) distance is proportional to the vehicle's energy. The figures here do not exactly follow the squared rule because "thinking" distance does not square with speed. To make another comparison, take the same two cars doing 30 mph and 40 mph and braking per the criteria above. What speed will the 40-mph car travelling, when the 30-mph car has stopped? The answer is 26 mph. Put this into the context of driving down a street in your home town - it's "only" 10 mph faster, but think of the consequences when you come to stop. To reiterate, speed does not kill, inappropriate use of speed kills

Feed this type of information into your now daily use of the running commentary addressed in my third article. It will remind and heighten your consideration of speed and energy. How are you doing on this new "tool"? With practice you will be a better, smoother and safer driver.

So we have faster, more powerful and some heavier vehicles on the more densely populated roads. But you can say we have ABS, and yes, that is good. It allows you to turn and brake without skidding. By the way, have you all engaged your ABS so that you will not be distracted by the steering wheel feel and the braking sounds when you do need to use it? If not, please do engage this system, but check the mirror, try it on a nice dry road with a good surface, and before you do it check your mirror again. But if the ABS system failed would you know what to do? Those living in more northerly climates certainly know about the old fashioned ABS - cadence braking. Please practice it when you can, so that when it is needed, you will remember how to do it. The other braking method I frequently use is threshold, or some call it tapered braking. With positive pressure on the brake, think of it as wiggling your toes individually while braking, and using that toe action to progressively and firmly increase the pedal pressure. The objective is to brake as hard as you have to without locking up the wheels - it is very effective under all conditions. I know we have all the safety systems, but I also believe that these can lull us into a false sense of security. Practice the "old" way just in case it is needed.

Safe controlled driving to you all. Talk yourself into talking, and you will be safer.

This is the fourth in a series of five articles that deal with defensive driving techniques. Contributed by Gordon Booth, Team Corvette member and Chief Instructor of Drivetrain Inc. based in San Jose California.


Virtually all of the braking that a race car driver does is done in preparation for or in conjunction with cornering. One of the first lessons that every racer must learn is that the most efficient way to slow a car is in a straight line, with the car's weight evenly distributed side-to-side. The "standard" turn on a race course is made under power, with all slowing having been done before the car is turned.

In the last article I noted that braking transfers weight from the rear of the car to the front, and that your braking system is designed to accommodate this. Cornering transfers weight from one side of the car to the other -- from the inside to the outside of the cornering direction. The braking system is not, with rare exceptions, designed to adapt to this weight transfer. The driver has to adapt instead.

Any time we turn our car's steering wheel we compromise braking efficiency. When we turn left, for example, some of the car's weight transfers to the right side; the left side of the car gets lighter. If we brake (or, for that matter, even slow down) at the same time, the car's weight is transferred forward as well. Now the car is unbalanced; the braking and tire adhesion forces on all four corners of the car are different. In all likelihood, each of the four wheels is either bearing too much weight to brake efficiently or too little weight to stick to the pavement optimally.

At the very least this condition will make the car uncomfortable for its passengers and difficult to steer. At the worst, it can cause the driver to lose control of the car entirely. The solution? For comfort or for safety, whenever possible, don't brake and turn your car at the same time. If you have to do so, be aware that it will neither brake nor turn as well as it would if you were doing one at a time.

While absolutely correct braking and cornering may not be a matter of safety at street driving speeds, they can be a matter of increased comfort. Next time you drive on the street try slowing down for corners before you turn the steering wheel to negotiate them. Turn at a constant (but not too fast) speed, and as you start out of the turn, accelerate gently. If that's different from the way you usually drive, you'll feel the difference immediately and so will your passengers.

The same braking technique will make driving a curvy road much easier: concentrate on slowing down for each corner while the steering wheel is straight. If the corners are esses, slow during that brief time when the wheels are straight as you turn from one direction to the other. Do this as smoothly as possible. Accelerate lightly coming out of the corner. Assuming you've judged your cornering speed correctly, slowing in a straight line and not braking while turning will make a dramatic difference in the ease and comfort with which your car negotiates a curvy road. And it will let you make better time without having to drive any harder.

Ideally all braking should be done before the wheel is turned for a corner. At the very least, 70% of your car's braking should be done before turning, and all of it should be completed by one-quarter of the way into the turn.

The cornering/braking tradeoff is dramatically illustrated in a highway emergency situation we've all seen or experienced. The car in front of you stops abruptly. You brake as hard as possible and swerve into the breakdown lane simultaneously. If you're lucky, this works, but it's only because you weren't stopping as quickly as you could have. If you're less lucky, you're suddenly sliding sideways toward the car you'd hoped to avoid or you're in a spin.

That shouldn't be a surprise now that you know your car can't brake and turn optimally at the same time. If you've mastered the technique of "instantly" squeezing your brakes to the limit, you'll brake at the limit first, then ease off your braking slightly to turn to the side; or, if getting out of the lane is more critical, brake lightly to preserve turning capability.

Copyright © 1998 by Tim Moser of Silhouette Racing. All rights reserved.


Of all the skills that a race car driver must master to go quickly around a road or street course, none is more complex or more critical than braking. In fact, braking is important enough and complicated enough to discuss that I plan to devote two of these articles to it, and I'll do a third article, later in the series, on the unique characteristics of antilock braking systems (ABS).

No racing skill is harder to execute perfectly or to learn than is slowing a race car at the limits of its braking performance. It occurs dozens of times each lap on the race track. Slow down too much, too slowly or too soon and you've lost critical lap time; slow down too little, too quickly or too late and you've lost your race car or more.

There are three factors that make braking so complex. First, virtually all braking during a race is done at the absolute limits of the car's performance -- at the limit of the brakes' ability to convert the car's kinetic energy into thermal energy and/or at the limit of the tires' ability to adhere to the track surface. Second, the car's braking characteristics are never the same for two stops in a row. Third, the act of braking induces changes in the race car's posture, its weight distribution and its handling characteristics, all of which make braking more difficult and complicated.

Because race braking is done "at the edge," race car drivers have plenty of opportunity to experience and to practice braking for maximum performance. The everyday driver rarely experiences braking at the limits. When we do, it's an emergency, and one for which too few of us are prepared. I'd like to see every driver have the chance to practice braking at least twice a year, coming to a full stop as fast as possible, without skidding, from 30, 45 and 60 miles per hour. If all of us knew exactly what that feels like and how much time and distance it takes, the streets and highways would be safer places to drive.

There's a television commercial on these days that says something to the effect that your brakes stop your wheels; your tires stop your car. That's actually a profound statement, for all that it's technically flawed. Tire characteristics such as pressure and tread depth have a direct impact on a car's ability to stop. Race cars are checked for tire pressure and condition dozens of times during a race or practice session. Do you know the ideal tire pressure for your passenger car? Do you know how to measure it? What's the tire pressure of your car right this very minute? If you can't answer these three questions, you are in increased danger of not stopping in time when you need to. Tire pressures should be checked every time you put gas in your tank, and you should take a conscious look at the tread on your tires every time you get into your car.

When you step on your car's brakes, whether gently or firmly, some of your car's weight transfers from the rear of the car to the front. You experience this in the front end's dipping down. Your front brakes and tires experience it by having to do more of the work of slowing. That's why your front brakes are probably larger than your rear brakes and why they will probably need maintenance before the rear ones will. Weight transfer happens as a result of the laws of physics and your car is designed to accommodate it.

However, if you "grenade" your brakes -- if you stomp on them -- it is possible, even likely, that your more powerful front brakes will lock before that weight transfer occurs. Your tires will be skidding well before your brakes have dissipated any energy, and most of your braking effectiveness will be lost. The race car driver learns, and every passenger car driver should learn, to squeeze the brakes on (rapidly) rather than to stamp or slam them on, and to maintain pedal pressure right at the brakes' limits. The panicky "Oh no....STOMP!" stop has no place on a track and no place on the streets or highways; when it occurs either place it's likely as a prelude to a crash.

Copyright © 1998 by Tim Moser of Silhouette Racing. All rights reserved.


The ability to steer a car with absolute precision for long periods of time at extremely high speed is absolutely critical to a race car driver's success. Of course, every driver knows how to steer, but the race car's steering is extremely sensitive -- less than a quarter turn of the wheel will make the race car turn as tightly as it can. It connects the driver's body directly with the ground -- few race cars have power steering. The race driver steers under high-g stresses, often for hours at a time.

Every race car driver knows the importance of hand position on the wheel and body position relative to the steering wheel. All too often, these basics are ignored by the passenger car driver, yet they're every bit as important, for safety, efficiency, comfort and reduction of fatigue.

Seat or body position first, the most overlooked factor in steering: short people, in particular, tend to sit close to the steering wheel in order to reach the car's pedals. This puts their forearms in a plane parallel to the wheel. It's impossible to steer accurately and smoothly this way. Further, given the way most passenger car restraint systems work, it's extremely dangerous. The arms should be comfortably extended to the steering wheel, with both upper arms and forearms at about a 45-degree angle, with the elbows bent at about 90 degrees.

The driver should be close enough to the wheel to reach any place on the wheel with either hand and without lifting back or shoulder blades off the seat, but no closer. If you have to get closer than that to your steering wheel in order to reach the car's pedals, you should consider getting extensions for the pedals. Held into your seat by your seat belts, you have no reason to hang onto the wheel for support or to grip it tightly, both of which will wear you out and cause you to over-steer the car.

The classic, standard hand position on your wheel is to put your hands at 10 and 2 o'clock. That old standard derives from a steering technique called "hand-over-hand" in which, in a large turn, the arms nearly cross and the driver releases and regrips the steering wheel if necessary. Since virtually all movement of the wheel is accomplished by the downward-pulling hand, the 10-2 position, which puts the palms downward, uses some of the arms' smaller muscles for steering.

A better steering technique is called "shuffle steering." In this method, the pulling hand and arm move the wheel while the other hand loosens its grip slightly to let the wheel slide through. If necessary in a large turn, hands can shuffle and steer alternately. The driver's hands, when not turning, are farther down, at 9 and 3 o'clock on the wheel. With palms turned more inward in this position, the driver uses larger arm muscles. This gives better control and produces less fatigue. The hands are always on the wheel, and the hand that's "shuffling" is ready to regrip the wheel to turn in the opposite direction instantly. Recent studies of airbag safety and internal injuries have indicated that perhaps the 8 and 4 o'clock hand positions are even better.

This 9-3 or 8-4 hand position also decreases the likelihood that the driver will over-steer the car. All unnecessary steering wheel movement should be eliminated from your driving, in the interests of efficiency, comfort and tire wear. Far too many drivers make tiny and unnecessary corrections to their car's direction constantly. They saw at the wheel, however slightly. Looking well ahead of the car, as we discussed in our first article, will help eliminate this.

Highway engineers are paid large sums of money to design highways and freeway ramps. There's a consistency in their designs which has implications for your steering. Virtually all highway corners are constant radius turns. That means that you can establish your car's turn to match the highway's radius and leave the wheel unmoving through the turn. There's no need, in fact it's dangerous and uncomfortable, to constantly steer back and forth through a modern highway turn.

Freeway on- and off-ramps, on the other hand, are almost always decreasing radius turns. That means that they get tighter as you go along them, but they do so at a constant rate until they start to straighten out. Steering through one of these highway devices entails slowly turning the steering wheel throughout the ramp's length, matching the car's turning radius to that of the ramp. This can be done steadily and dependably. There's no reason to be surprised or have to make a sudden turn as you exit or enter a freeway. A look at the outer guard rails on most ramps will tell you that too many drivers aren't looking ahead and aren't turning steadily.

Copyright © 1998 by Tim Moser of Silhouette Racing. All rights reserved.


Mirrors are a crucial driving tool for both the race car driver and the driver on the street. In a race car I constantly scan the view behind me to determine whether I'm pulling away from my competitors or whether they are catching me. In a close racing situation I can monitor on which side a driver is trying to pass and can drive defensively if necessary to make that job as hard as possible for him or can move aside to let him pass safely.

Race cars don't, typically, have a rear view mirror, and the field of view of side mirrors is limited. The racer has to get his mirrored information from quick and infrequent glances at times when information from behind him is more critical than information from the front.

For the street driver, mirrors are much more informative and much more important. The passenger car driver should make adjustment of the mirrors a part of his pre-start routine, checking to make sure that they are properly adjusted after fastening the seat belt but before starting the car. Ideally, your three mirrors should be positioned on the car so that you don't have to move your head to see them. While this is not always achievable, it is usually possible to adjust your mirrors so that they can be viewed with a minimum of head movement. If you have to lean, scrunch or crane to use any of your mirrors effectively, readjust them or, if necessary, move them for easier viewing. Scanning all three of your mirrors should only take your attention from the road ahead for a split second.

Passenger cars have three mirrors for a reason. To focus all three mirrors on the same area is redundant and wastes their usefulness. The center, rear view mirror should look almost directly to the rear of the car and should be adjusted to cover all of the rear window and as much of the rear side windows as its field of view will permit. When it's properly adjusted, the bottom of the car's rear window should be just at the bottom of the mirror. There's no driving value in being able to see into the back seat of your car.

The left and right side mirrors should be adjusted to show just the smallest hint of their respective sides of the car. When these mirrors are perfectly adjusted a car passing you should move seamlessly from your rear view mirror to your side mirror to your peripheral vision without ever being out of your sight. Most cars have one or more side "blind spots" which aren't readily seen in the rear mirror or by the driver's turning his head. Proper adjustment of the side mirrors will enable them to cover these blind spots so that the driver is never unable to see nearby traffic.

The heavier the traffic in which you're driving, the more often it is necessary to scan your mirrors. If you're working on developing a habitual scanning pattern while you drive, all three mirrors should be a central element of your scan and should be looked at no less often than every 30 seconds. Awareness of the status of traffic immediately behind and beside you will allow you to take evasive action, when it's necessary, with confidence and safety. The importance of using your mirror -- combined with a turn of the head -- before routinely changing lanes cannot be overemphasized. Look before you signal, signal before you move.

If for any reason you are unable to use your rear mirror, whether because your rear window is blocked (even though it shouldn't be) or because you're being followed by a much larger vehicle, readjust your side mirrors inward to cover slightly more of the road behind you and slightly less of the road beside you. If you can't easily adjust the right side mirror from the driver's position, leave it in place but compensate with the left side mirror. Don't neglect to take your reduced visibility into account, however, and adjust your driving style accordingly. Return your mirrors to their ideal position as soon as the obstruction is gone.

Many drivers find that the addition of a small, convex stick-on mirror to one or both of their side mirrors gives them a valuable second view of the area around them. Your side mirror may be large enough to accommodate one of these; if it is, they're worth a try. I'm very partial to Multivex mirrors, both on my race cars and on my personal cars.

With properly adjusted mirrors and a little practice in quickly and frequently scanning them, the passenger car driver can always know the traffic conditions in his immediate vicinity, just as the race car driver should.

Copyright © 1998 by Tim Moser of Silhouette Racing. All rights reserved.


To finish first, you must first finish." This racer's maxim is somewhere in the mind of every race car driver throughout every race. Some variation of it should be in yours whenever you're driving a motor vehicle. Whenever a racer is driving wheel-to-wheel or nose-to-tail with another car, whenever he is about to pass another car or be passed, some portion of the driver's mind is considering accident avoidance: "Where will I go if.....?"; "What will I do if....?"

Accidents are avoided in the driver's head, not in his driving skills and techniques, for all that our previous articles have emphasized the safety aspects of driving technique. In past columns we've discussed looking well ahead of one's car and being aware of one's surroundings at all time. We've talked about the importance of and techniques for keeping braking and steering as separate as possible. We've discussed mirror adjustment and its importance in assuring visibility of all parts of the road. All of these elements increase the driver's ability to anticipate dangerous situations and to respond to them appropriately.

Probably the single most important element of accident avoidance is space. More highway accidents are caused by following too closely than by any other factor. The 2-second rule -- leave 2 seconds of space between your car and the one in front of you -- should be followed rigorously. Allowing yourself the space to deal with another driver's actions should be combined with your awareness of traffic well ahead, beside and behind you in always having an escape route available. Think consciously about where you can go if another driver suddenly puts himself in harm's way, and reassess your options continuously.

Any time you're not doing this, because you're talking on the cellular phone, because you're adjusting the radio, because you're sightseeing, because you're dealing with the drink that your child just dropped on the upholstery, you are dramatically increasing your chances of being in an accident.

Another significant contributor to street and highway accidents is speed differential. For the racer it comes into play when several classes of cars are racing at the same time or when cars of the same class are racing at markedly different speeds.. For the highway driver it's a much more common experience. One of the most dangerous places on the highway to drive is in the fast-moving commuter lane when single-occupant traffic is stopped or significantly slowed. Never assume that the cars next to you in that situation are going to stay out of your way. Always know what you will do if a slow car suddenly moves into your path. Depending on the surrounding circumstances, a speed differential of as little as ten miles per hour between your car and a nearby car can decrease your safety margins.

Accidents occur, on and off the race track, when someone exceeds the limits. Know the limits of your car. Know your own limits. Driving with impaired vision or impaired visibility; driving while drowsy; driving after consuming any quantity of alcohol, drug or medication; all increase your chances of being in or causing an accident.

"Avoiding accidents is no accident" is more than a safety slogan. It's the essence of safe driving on and off the track.

Copyright © 1998 by Tim Moser of Silhouette Racing. All rights reserved.


This is the first of a planned series of short articles on race drivers' techniques and how they can be applied to make everyday driving safer, more efficient and more comfortable.

One of the first things every race car driver has to learn is to pay attention to the track ahead. It's hard, when you're inches away from another car or a concrete wall at 150 mph or more, to remember that the most important part of the track is hundreds of feet -- or hundreds of yards -- ahead. Even at highway speeds, there's very little the driver can do about things that happen within 100 feet of the car, virtually nothing he can do about things that happen within 50 feet. While it's important to know what is happening in that space, the part of the road on which the driver must concentrate is the part that's going to be driven next.

Racers attempt to drive their cars to and through precise spots on the track, lap after lap. One of the hardest things for the novice driver to learn is not to look to see how close he or she is to each point. Well before each critical point is reached, the driver must be looking past it, down the road. Fixating on any particular location, but particularly on one close to the car, is a sure formula for slow lap times, at best, or an accident, at worst.

Successful race car drivers develop a constant visual scanning pattern. They use only their peripheral vision to note what's happening on the sides of their cars. They automatically and constantly scan all mirrors, the car's instruments, the track immediately in front and the track far to the front. Then they scan back to the mirrors, the instruments, etc. This same technique should be applied to driving on the street or highway, where the scan should not include the passenger's seat, the back seat, the radio dial, the cellular phone, the scenery that is going by the car or the attractive person in the adjacent car.

There are several reasons for looking ahead. It's obviously important to see what traffic is doing, to anticipate slowdowns, congestion, accidents, pedestrians and stray animals. Of equal importance, and perhaps not as well understood, is that looking ahead gathers information about where the road is going as well as what's happening on it. A quick look (remember, don't fixate anywhere) brings the driver a road picture, a mental map, that is stored and processed after the visual scan shifts to somewhere else.

Looking as far ahead as possible on a curvy road or a curvy track will reduce the number of steering changes necessary to negotiate those curves safely and smoothly. Looking 100 feet ahead instead of, say, 25 feet ahead on a winding road canl reduce wheel input (the number of times one moves the wheel for steering corrections) by about half. On the street, that translates into safer, smoother and more comfortable cornering. On the track it translates into cooler tires, higher cornering speeds and faster laps.

One looking ahead problem that race car drivers don't, typically, have to deal with is larger vehicles. You can't look at the road ahead if you're behind a truck, a bus or a passenger vehicle you can't see around, over or through. Any time your forward visibility is limited to the vehicle in front of you, you're in danger on the highway or the street. Whenever possible, even if it requires slowing down or moving from a faster lane into a slower one, stay with vehicles your own size on the highway. The back end of a truck or bus doesn't give you the visual information you need to stay safe and comfortable.

Copyright © 1998 by Tim Moser of Silhouette Racing. All rights reserved.


Night driving is not a common racing experience. For the most part, only endurance racers and, occasionally, rallyists encounter its unique challenges. Even when racing at night at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour, night racers have some unique advantages over the typical motorist. They don't have to cope with oncoming traffic; they are driving a familiar course; they are driving cars equipped with extraordinarily bright and far-reaching lights. While the night racer is always outdriving his lights, he has the use of familiar reference points on the race track and a system to prewarn him of hazards in front of him.

The everyday motorist, especially this time of year, spends a substantial portion of his or her driving time in nighttime conditions. Night driving is such a common experience that we tend to forget until we're reminded, usually unpleasantly, its particular hazards.

We can't see as well at night -- not only because it's dark, which is obvious, but because our general visual acuity is diminished. Color vision disappears and with it the ability to distinguish fine details. Eyes that are constantly dilating and constricting in changing light conditions become tired quickly. The degree to which vision is impaired at night varies greatly from driver to driver, but all drivers experience it.

Oncoming traffic is a major source of both vision impairment and eye fatigue. When meeting another car, avoid looking directly at it, particularly when its lights are shining directly at you. Instead, look to the right side of the road. In cases where oncoming lights are particularly bright it might even be worth very briefly closing one eye to avoid its being exposed to glare. One advantage that you have driving at night is that you can see oncoming traffic earlier because its lights precede it.

Use high beams whenever you can safely and legally do so, even if only for brief seconds at a time. Their advantages are obvious. But remember that your bright lights are a hazard to other drivers' vision. On straight roads, switch to low beams for oncoming traffic as soon as oncoming headlights resolve from one light into two. When following another car, switch to low beams well before your lights illuminate the leader's car.

Since you're still looking as far as possible in front of your car, you can take advantage of the headlights of the car you're following to show you road direction and road hazards well in front of your own headlights. Typical passenger car high beams can't illuminate effectively much farther than 200 feet away. Since your car travels 88 feet per second at 60 miles per hour, any speed in excess of 60 mph (or about 45 mph on low beams) puts your 2-second stopping area (see my article on accident avoidance) beyond your range of vision. At any speed in excess of 60 mph you are outdriving your headlights.

Your headlights also serve the purpose of enabling you to be seen. They should be turned on well before dusk, left on well after dawn and should be on at any time that your windshield wipers are in motion. Do not, under any circumstances, drive with only parking lights on. Not only is it illegal in many states, it risks misleading oncoming drivers about the size and range of your vehicle.

Finally, we must take note of the hazard of drowsiness at night. Not only are we more likely to be sleepy, but the light conditions and resulting eye fatigue make us prime candidates for "highway hypnosis", a semi-alert state in which we may be able to drive but are unable to react quickly to emergencies. To avoid highway hypnosis, make sure that you change your focus often -- scan inside and outside the car, close and far, just as you would in daylight.Avoid at all costs becoming fixated on the road's center reflectors, which are great hypnotizers.

If you notice that centerline reflectors look like squiggly lines instead of bright dots in front of you, you are experiencing severe eye strain and are on the leading edge of highway hypnosis. Pull off the road, take a break, refocus your attention, use whatever trick is necessary to get yourself alert and attentive once more. Failing this, stop. You're on the verge of being a hazard to yourself and the drivers on the road with you.

Copyright © 1998 by Tim Moser of Silhouette Racing. All rights reserved.


In my first braking article, earlier in this series, I promised a separate article on antilock braking systems (ABS). A recent report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has raised questions about the effectiveness of antilock brakes and prompts me to follow up with this article.

Strictly speaking, antilock braking isn't a racing technique, since most race cars don't utilize antilock braking. There are two primary reasons for this: 1) It isn't entirely clear that antilock braking will reduce stopping distance for the skilled driver; and 2) Antilock brakes add system complexity, cost and weight to the race car, the disadvantages of which outweigh any possible advantages.

The IIHS report, issued December 10, 1996, notes that in single-vehicle accidents, cars with antilock brakes are as much as 44% more likely to produce fatalities than are cars without the antilock system. While the Institute declines to give a reason for this, it seems to me that the reason is simple and obvious. I don't believe that it indicates that antilock brakes are ineffective or dangerous in and of themselves. The problem is that stopping with antilock brakes, in an emergency situation, requires an entirely different braking technique than the one used with conventional brakes, and virtually no drivers have had or taken the opportunity to learn this new technique.

Different ABS systems work and react differently under extreme braking. While they all prevent the brakes from locking up, many of them generate pedal feedback -- pulses or bumps -- when they're working. They may seem to be pumping themselves; they may alternate between feeling firm and feeling soft; they may feel as though the pedal is going to the floor. The instinctive reaction for most drivers when they feel this strange brake pedal action is to reduce brake pressure, which deactivates the ABS, increases stopping distance and can actually cause a loss of control by upsetting the car's balance.

I said earlier that it isn't entirely clear that ABS will reduce stopping distance for the race car driver. It is very clear that it will reduce stopping distance for the everyday driver -- except perhaps in loose gravel or loose snow -- but that's not its primary purpose. The primary function of ABS is to enable the driver to steer the car while braking at maximum effectiveness. But steering in an emergency stop is itself a new technique. Abrupt or severe steering movements under these conditions will, again, unbalance the car and may cause a loss of control.

If you have a car with ABS you must learn to use it. ABS works and works well when you apply maximum braking pressure and HOLD it. DO NOT pump or ease off on ABS brakes in an emergency braking situation, no matter what they seem to be doing. If you steer while in an ABS stop, do it smoothly, but don't, under any circumstances, release or lighten your pressure on the brake pedal until your car is stopped completely. None of the above, by the way, applies to pickup trucks with rear ABS only, which should be driven as though they have no ABS at all.

It behooves every driver of an ABS-equipped car to unlearn his or her old braking habits and to learn the new ones that work with ABS. To do that, take your car to a safe location such as a completely empty and obstacle-free parking lot or a completely unoccupied street, preferably when the pavement is wet, and practice hard braking. Don't "slam" on your brakes, but press firmly, as hard as you can, with the force that would definitely lock up conventional brakes. Start at 15 - 20 mph and try to lock the brakes up while driving in a straight line. Your tires may screech or even skid or slide momentarily, but they should not lock up. If you can lock your brakes up, your ABS is not functioning properly. Stop your practice immediately and get your brakes checked and repaired.

No matter what the car or the brake pedal does in this practice, don't let up the braking pressure. Get used to what your ABS feels like when it's working; then do the same thing from 30 - 35 mph. At each speed, once you are comfortable with the feel of the car in a straight line, practice turning smoothly but positively while under maximum braking. Repeat this exercise several times, particularly at the higher speed, until you are completely comfortable with the way your car will react to a maximum braking situation and are confident that it won't surprise you.

ABS technology is expensive, and the more expensive the car the better the quality of the ABS system it is likely to have. There is a world of difference between, say, the ABS in a relatively low-cost Chevrolet and a top-of-the-line Mercedes. Both, however, require learning new driving habits.

Learn your car's ABS braking, what it feels like in your car and how it's different from what you have learned in the past. It is an exercise that can save your life in an emergency.

Copyright © 1998 by Tim Moser of Silhouette Racing. All rights reserved.


Most of us if not all, have to drive. We have to since there maybe limited or no public transport to get us to our destination, on time and with the flexibility we want. As you will have noted it seems as if more and more cars are on "our" highways - all competing for that 20 feet or so of space.

So, not only has traffic density gone up but we have more distractions. The debate still rages over the relative distraction of tuning a radio versus using a cell phone versus talking to your passenger. No matter what your personal feelings on these issues the fact of the matter is that once you start your car, you and your loved ones are in a very dangerous environment. If you are driving an SUV then your chances of survival are probably better than most, but not all of us drive these vehicles, so what can we do to get the maximum protection for ourselves?

The first step is your state of mind when you get into your vehicle. You know that you are a good driver - right? So, you need to challenge yourself with the question "How can I be a better safer driver?" Back to the state of mind. You are not "just" driving; you are now responsible for yourself, family and the other road users. Start thinking about the potential impact of that 1,000th of a second slip in concentration. Start thinking about car control versus driving.

What's the difference? Car control is a major step in approaching defensive driving. It is an all-embracing process starting with you. Do you check your tires every week? Is there one tire that is always a few pounds off? Might that be a clue to having the tire or valve checked? Did you do a cockpit check when you got into the car? Did the warning lights go out before you started the engine? Were the instruments reading normally, were the passengers all strapped in with the doors secured before you moved away? Do you look at the ground after you have reversed out of the garage or away from a parking spot? Are there any vital fluids on the ground seemingly always in that same relative spot?

This is not boring stuff, this is critical to your safety. So now you are on the road. Do you do a moving brake test? It is a good habit to get into. Go to 20 mph and check the mirror, and breathe on the brakes - do they bite -well, now we know that they work.

The single biggest thing you can do to be a safer driver is to start talking to yourself. Give a commentary about traffic in general, cars changing lanes, slow cars, fast cars and more. Tell yourself about what you are observing and then what you are doing about it. Two things are going to happen, one your vision will go up, and with improved observation you now have the tool to plan.

The information you are gathering should be used in three ways.

  1. Take
  2. Use
  3. Give

Take the information in, use it appropriately and give it back to other road users. This can be through the use of turn signals, brake lights, hazard lights etc. With planning you will improve your hazard recognition and with that your hazard prioritization. With the foundation of information, the next layer is position, speed, gear and acceleration. The position, speed and gear overlap and ensure that you are always in the correct position at the right speed and in the correct gear for all hazards and occasions. You can then move to the acceleration phase with the car under complete control. If you can plan, you are going to be a smoother driver. You are going to take the "suddenly" or "I thought" or "He/she looked like…" out of the program. In almost all cases where there is a smoother driver, there is a safer driver. If someone describes you as a smooth driver, it is one of the biggest compliments you can receive.

A key statistic to remember - Driver error accounts for greater than 90% of all accidents. Think of your car as a half full bottle of water. You don't want all the water at one end. If that is where it is, then you are either braking or accelerating. Brake smoothly; feed power into the car through controlled acceleration. Consider the lateral effects and relate that to what the passenger is sensing. Can you make the journey more comfortable for everyone? I like to ask the people I coach to stop thinking in absolute terms of miles per hour. At 60 mph you are covering 88.2 feet per second or about 4 car lengths. The conversion is 1.47 but use 1.5 to multiply mph into ft/second for ease. Does that sound better or worse? I think it sounds more realistic because it directly converts into thinking about energy, and in a case of braking how one dissipates energy. If one car is overtaking another, and they are side by side with the slower car doing 70 mph, and the faster is doing 90 mph, they both brake at exactly the same time and with the same efficiency, what speed will the 90 mph car be doing when the 70 mph car is stationary? The answer is a staggering 57 mph. At 70mph, a 28.6% increase [90 mph] in your speed will result in a stopping distance 52% longer.

This is the "squared" rule in action, as you increase your speed you increase the vehicle's energy by the increase in speed squared, and the braking (not thinking) distance is proportional to the vehicle's energy. The figures here do not exactly follow the squared rule because of course "thinking" distance does not square with speed. The scary thing is that at 70 mph, and with ABS capable of 0.9g of deceleration, with an alert driver, anything within 270 feet of the front of your car is going to be hit. Speed does not kill, inappropriate use of speed kills. Safe controlled driving to you all. Talk yourself into talking, and you will be safer. Article contributed by Gordon Booth, Chief Instructor of Drivetrain Inc. based in San Jose California.


Are we safe and fit to drive? We should all be asking ourselves this question before we strap in and start moving a vehicle on the roads. Let's all remember the vehicle gets us there, but we are in control - or are we? What is safe and fit? First, there is the mental approach to driving. Did you wake up concerned about something this morning? Were you dreading "that" meeting you could not put off yet again? As you walked out of the house was there a last minute "debate" on a sensitive issue? These emotions, concerns and worries will all contribute to your mental approach to your vehicle and how you drive.

The second element is the physical ability to drive. Did you have a good night's rest, or are you paying for your overindulgence of last night? Did you have breakfast, or was it rushed, out the door with a cup of coffee? On that note, I am always amazed at driver's willingness to have hot drinks - drinks that can and do burn, sloshing around the cockpit. Yes, I know about the travel cups, and cup holders, but think about it. So now we have established that we have a safe and fit driver approaching the vehicle. Let's stop, take a deep breath and admit that if this is the case then we have a significantly better chance of being a safe and accident free driver. I believe your mental approach and physical well being are keys to safe, planned and smooth driving.

Now we are strapped in. Let's go through the cockpit pre-departure check. When did you last check the tire pressures? Did the warning lights go out before starting the engine, or were you in too much of a rush to notice? Did the remaining warning lights go off after you started the engine and after releasing the parking brake? Everyone strapped in and with the doors securely shut? Excellent now we can proceed to that fun filled environment called the freeway. Oh, by the way, did you complete that 20-mph moving brake test? It's good to know they work before getting on the freeway.

This is great! Now we are on the freeway. You will have noted that all those drivers going faster than you are maniacs, and all the slower one's idiots. Does that sound right? The competition for that 20 feet of road is intense. This combined with traffic density makes for a dangerous environment. Not only that, but in this fun filled environment we have "tools" to ensure that we are completely occupied. When I say "tools", yes, I am referring to the radio, the scalding hot coffee, the wonderful cell phone, and we are also having an intense conversation, so who has time to drive and drive safely? So this is said somewhat tongue in cheek, but I am sure that at one time or another you have been there.

This is multi tasking big time and comparable with asking the pilot flying the aircraft to complete the crossword puzzle during takeoff or landing. The answer is no. If it is yes, then you are probably in cognitive overload and it's getting worse. I would suggest that these factors taken cumulatively all contribute to that horrible phenonenom Road Rage and you do not want to be a part of that. So let's get back to basics - driving the vehicle safely. If you have read any of my earlier articles you will have seen reference to the use of a "commentary". This is probably the greatest single tool to safe, controlled driving that you can practice everyday, in the privacy of your own vehicle.

Start by talking about what the cars are doing around you. Say, "the speed limit is 65 mph and I am doing 60 mph". What is the condition of the road surface? Are there changes in the surface? What about those road signs? Are they informational or advisory? Do they warn of a hazard or do they order as in a stop sign? Start doing the commentary slowly, and build in the various visual inputs. After some practice you will be able to do a "running commentary".

The primary benefit is significantly improved vision. Your ability to recognize and then prioritize hazards will increase, and you are now in that wonderful situation of being able to "plan" the drive. Things will happen less "suddenly", you will have created a "safe zone" around your vehicle. You will become a much smoother driver. As I have said before, a smooth driver is, in most cases a safer driver. To be called a smooth driver is a great compliment. Going back to the cockpit drill, here is my suggested checklist. Please add to it if circumstances require and maybe cut it out and have it laminated - I have.


1. Door secured - CHECK
2. Parking brake - SET & CHECK
3. Gear lever in park - SET & CHECK
4. All doors secured - SET & CHECK
5. Seats, steering position, mirrors and seat belts adjusted - SET & CHECK 6. Pressure on the foot brake - SET
7. Ignition on - SET
8. Fuel gauge rising, warning lamps are illuminated - CHECK
9. Depressing foot brake, and starting engine - SET
10. All warning lamps extinguished - CHECK
11. All instruments functioning - CHECK
12. Ready to move off - CHECK
13. Select drive, check round car - CHECK
14. Release park brake, foot brake, mirror and shoulder check, indicator signal and move off
15. Moving brake test 20 mph - CHECK
16. Seat belt lock up functioning - CHECK

Hopefully, you are now safer and fitter to drive. Safe controlled driving to you all, and talk yourself into talking.

This is the first in a series of five articles that deal with defensive driving techniques. Contributed by Gordon Booth, Team Corvette member and Chief Instructor of Drivetrain Inc. based in San Jose California. We published Gordon's earlier article "Driving or Car Control" in the June 2001 issue of the "Team Corvette" magazine.


Until fairly recently, racecar drivers were viewed as just that - drivers. The question of a comfortable environment was never addressed until someone concluded that a comfortable driver was going to be a more focused and a better, maybe faster driver. Real life has proven this to be true. After all, in your everyday life, a comfortable seat makes a difference in your ability to concentrate.

So, what has this to do with driving your car better and more safely? The answer is that if you are focused, you are going to be a better, safer driver. The seating position should be with the back of the seat slightly reclined, maybe one or two notches from the vertical. Your legs should have a 60-80 degree bend at the knee.

Your hand positioning is easy to set. When you get into your vehicle, put your wrists on top of the steering wheel. They should be at the top of the wheel at the 12 o'clock position, with the wheel 1/2-1 1/2" behind the wrist joint. Some drivers like the wrists to just "cut" the top of the steering wheel. Try to find you most comfortable position that gives you the required wheel authority.

If you are now leaning forward, move your seat up to achieve both the wrist and knee bent positioning. Together the position should be comfortable and relaxed. I really can't stress the importance of taking time to get this right. Your arms should have an 80-90 degree bend at the elbow once you have settled in. You will probably be somewhat nearer the wheel than customary for you, but try it both on short and longer journeys. Correct seat placement, along with steering wheel adjustment should ensure that you are in the correct position for a safe controlled drive.

The benefit of this positioning is in the event of a crash, your arms and legs will act as shock absorbers - they can move up and back. Put another way, if your arms and legs are straight, any energy from a head-on crash is going to transfer directly to your hip joint, as well as to your shoulder socket. The additional benefit is that you have improved steering wheel authority, and therefore, increased car control. Let's turn to your hand positioning on the wheel. This is one subject that just about everyone has a strong opinion on - and they are all different! If your question is " What is the one hand position I should use?" I would reply "There is no one position!" I can hear the gasps now.

I have found the combined effect of the seat position, particularly as it relates to your arm angle, plus hand positioning on the wheel, become vital to effective steering control and authority and therefore to car control.

The most universally accepted is 9 to 3, however one hears of police forces suggesting 7 to 5, 8 to 4 and more. My own opinion is that anything less than 9 to 3 and you probably have reduced your steering authority by 80%. Never ever "just" put one arm or both arms completely through the steering wheel. This is simply downright dangerous since it offers no steering authority in the event of avoiding a collision, and to have any effect, you would have to move your hands on to the actual wheel. It is also an easy way of breaking wrists and arms if a curb or pothole is hit. In heavy town traffic, I use 9 to 3. The primary reason is that if I have to execute a major traffic avoidance procedure, I can get rapid and at least half a lock of turn on the wheel before moving my hands. It is highly effective when someone "suddenly" comes out of a driveway or a parking lot.

On the freeway I prefer the 10 to 2 or 9 to 3. The 10 to 2 gives good authority and is a natural and relaxed position. The determinate is the density of the traffic around me. On fast flowing open roads, I will even go to 11 to 1. The basis of this being that the car is going to go where you eyes are looking, and on a open flowing road you can look well ahead. With this you should be able to achieve a smooth drive with good car balance. If combined with throttle finesse and sensitivity, you will find your braking action is substantially reduced. You will know how you are doing, because if it is right, you will feel great - and so will your passengers!

Let's go back to town driving for a moment. Yes we are at 9 to 3, but we have to execute a turn in two blocks - what then? Again this depends on how you steer. If you use rotational steering or the pull/push method, consider this option. I always use pull and push since it gives greater wheel control, providing your hands do not drop below 9 to 3. We know that right hand turns are harder to make because of the reduced radius of the corner. Left-hand turns are easier, but the downside is having to face and cross over oncoming traffic.


The objective of cornering is to achieve a smooth, continuous movement around the radius of the corner, and end in the correct position of the exit road.

Starting with the right hand turn. Your hands are at 9 to 3. You approach the turn, mirror check, indicate, and move into position, brake to get your speed down to the appropriate level for the corner - feel those brakes biting. Make a conscious point of not going for secondary braking. Get the job done the first time. If you drive a manual car select the correct gear - probably either 2nd or even 1st. Move your right hand to the 12 o'clock position, your left hand to either 9 or maybe 8 depending on the severity of the corner. Approaching the corner, you are now signaling, doing another mirror check - rear view and right hand


Event Categories
Stock Cars
Indy Cars
Formula Cars
Sportscars & Exotics
High Performance Car Control
Race Series

Gift Vouchers
Privacy Policy