Most of us think we’re pretty good behind the wheel. Whether that’s true or not, there’s always room to improve. You might be a dab hand at drift racing and put down plenty of mouthy competitors on the quarter-mile, but unless you’re continuing to improve, you’re just another gas head full of dreams. To really get the best benefits – and the most pleasure – out of your daily commute or your weekend road runs, you should consider taking a look at attending a professional driving/racing school. Since we can’t help you with that, we decided to bring as much of the school to you as we can.
Any driver, from the formula racer to the daily putterer can put these 16 driving tips to use on the highways of the world. They’ll make you better, make you smarter, make you safer, and best of all: make you faster.
The first key to being adept on the road is to make sure that your hands are always smooth as you steer. This is another area where we all believe we’re better than we are. First off, you should always have two hands on the wheel, since it gives you better control and thus more suave motions. Then, focus on how balletically your hands move as you steer, rather than how quickly. Quick motions are almost always jerky. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.
Few people realize that a tight turn doesn’t mean hugging the inside, but using an outside-inside-outside method, also known as finding the racing line. You essentially want to rotate your car, rather than just turn it. The closer you get to making a true 90-degree turn, the more time your car spends going in a straight – or mostly straight – line. Straight lines are faster, so you’ll want to wait until later in a turn to start moving the wheel.
Watch Your Weight
Hitting the gas puts weight on the back of the car, meaning the wheels you steer with aren’t going to be as effective. Hitting the brakes puts weight on the front of the car, meaning the more you turn while you brake, the more likely you are to lose control. The reason is that the back end is now making less contact with the ground and can swing around on you. Control how the weight shifts, and you better control the car.
We almost all tend to get too close to the car in front of us. At a stop light, you should always be able to see the undercarriage of the car ahead. This gives us more time to react, and the opportunity to get away if something goes wrong (like they decide to just set up camp at a stop light.)
Pump It Up
Less a driving technique than just a smart rule of the road: Inflated tires are safer tires. The better inflated your tires are, the closer they are to having the perfect level of contact with the asphalt. They’re your whole world when on the road, so keep them happy.
Turn It Down
Driving is boring, and we know that, but cranking the music all the time isn’t going to make you a better motorist. You need to hear the traffic around you and stay attuned to your environment. You’ve got 5 senses to make you aware of what is happening on the road, don’t dull one of them blaring Celine’s greatest hits.
Learn to Heel-Toe
A good turn is a rolling motion you make with your foot, where the heel hits the brake, then rolls onto the gas. A good stop is a calm, gentle cessation of movement. To do both, learn the heel-toe. Get out in a parking lot like you did when you were a kid and practice this braking/downshifting style. It’s how The Stig does it, and it’ll shear time off any drive by making every corner a masterpiece.
Look Down the Road
Our instinct is to focus on what is right in front of us, and that’s dangerous. At 30 miles per hour, we’re actually out-driving our own vision if we aren’t seeing what’s down the line. Stare down the road and let your peripheral vision take care of the stuff nearby. You’ll be able to react more quickly if you see something sooner.
Stay in Position
The mirrors on your car all move for a reason; so you don’t have to. You should shift your eyes while driving, but not your body. The less you move, the more relaxed and prepared you are. Minimize motion, which also helps you stay smoother.
One at a Time
Your car isn’t any better at multi-tasking than you are. Don’t try to make it. If you’re braking or accelerating and steering, it’s not doing any of the acts as well as if it did just one. When stopping, stop. When turning, turn. When accelerating, accelerate.
This is only for the fine people who still hold onto the elegance of a manual transmission, or those who have a manual option on their car. The best drivers never force their shifter, but move it gently – like moving an egg – in concert with the car. This softness is another example of smoothness that will enhance your wheeltime.
Set a Focus Trigger
Highway hypnosis happens to all of us, often every single day. As people, we’ve all got a little ADD when doing something as mundane as running to the grocery store. Setting up a reminder to focus and a phrase to help you stay in the moment facilitates superior driving. Whenever you stop, teach yourself to refocus on the moment. Say something like “I’m here now” to snap your mind back in line. Good driving is about your mind as much as your machine.
The more you can tune in with your car, the better your relationship is going to be. Every rattle and squeal; every hum and pop; every rev and whisper tells you what your car likes, and what it doesn’t. You can get through life ignoring your spouse, but listen to your car.
You’re a passenger in the vehicle as much as the driver, and by keeping track of what is going on with your body you can learn where to improve your driving. If you feel like you’re shifting too far back or feel your head jerking back and forth, it’s time to iron out your herky-jerky starts and stops. Do you feel all your organs trying to jump out your side? Turn smoother and work on that heel-toe motion.
Practice Proper Braking
The brakes on modern cars are better than the people operating them. You should still learn to work them properly, but the margin for error is ever shrinking. Braking should start gently, get hard, then ease down. Good braking happens in a wave, like a relaxing breath.
Easier said than done. The fewer emotions you have while you drive, the better you’re going to be. If you’re angry at other drivers, you’re worse on the stick. If you’re terrified of something happening, you’re worse. Zen detachment is what you want, and then you’ll just need to apply that to the rest of your life and be forever joyful. Simple, eh?