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Things your instructor never told you... Answered

I was chatting about changing driving tests with a colleague today, and I realised that I had been driving longer than she has been alive, in often rougher conditions.

That means I knew a couple of things about driving that she didn't. Others here are in a similar state as I am, but many are in a similar state to her - young, and only learning (or yearning to learn) to drive.

How about sharing tricks that make your driving easier and/or safer that your driving instructor never taught you?

Here're my starters:

  • Reverse is lower gear than first - if you're stuck in a pothole, or trying to get up a hill your car can't quite manage, try again backwards.
  • Watch your thumbs - when driving in water, snow or mud, or otherwise uneven ground, keep your thumbs on the steering wheel, not in the "hole" - sudden unevenness can kick the wheel and spin it with enough force to break thumbs, especially if you don't have power steering.
  • Brake as you enter a sharp turn, accelerate as you leave it.
  • In urban driving, skill beats power every time (me and my 900cc mini could beat my mate and his three-litre Capri Sport across town every time).
  • On icy wet roads, slow down gradually with the gears instead of with the brakes


Braking on gravel Roads:

If equipped with ABS, give yourself a lot of extra stopping distance. When doing an emergency stop in gravel, a natural build up of gravel forms in front of your wheels as momentum pushes your car faster than your wheels are spinning (what ABS prevents).

===Do NOT=== turn on your hazard lights in the rain. It's likely illegal and makes driving in the rain "that" much more difficult. How are we supposed to know you're going to change lanes? If you feel compelled to turn them on -- pull over and safely park, turn them on and wait for conditions to clear.

A ditch will probably hurt your car less than a deer. Deer are out at dusk and dawn, then randomly at night when you least expect them. Learn to expect them. If you are driving in bad conditions you have every right to ask/demand that your front seat passenger help you see drive by also paying attention. If your brakes don't work and it's an emergency, putting your car in neutral will stop it very quickly. Don't pump the brakes if you have anti-lock brakes. You're just preventing them from working. If you have to pull over in bad weather think about where people are most likely to run into you accidentally. Don't stop there. Move over if there's someone stopped on the road. You are a bad person if you don't. Call in a car that seems to be in distress. Again, you are a bad person if you don't. However, unless you are absolutely sure you can help don't stop. More than one person has stopped to help someone who didn't need help and ended up robbed/hurt/killed because of it. Odds are, whatever is happening, you aren't going to die. You aren't even going to get hurt. Don't panic. That's all I've got right now...

"If your brakes don't work and it's an emergency, putting your car in neutral will stop it very quickly." No! That will just let it cruise as far and as fast as it likes. To stop in an emergency, change to the next gear down. The engine will protest, but not be danaged. After the surge of deceleration, change down again and again until you reach 1st. If you're still in trouble, speed-wise, steer uphill, try the handbreak or aim for rough/soft ground.

For those with an automatic transmission.... Do NOT put the car into Park while moving. This will only break off the locking mechanism off and then you'll likely be freewheeling.

Deer travel in groups. So do dogs. Don't concentrate on the first animal (more than is needed to avoid it), look for the second one.

Don't pump the brakes if you have anti-lock brakes. You're just preventing them from working.

I think you're confusing anti-lock with ABS ;) You really can't interfere with antilock VIA driving technique.

As for ABS, you're not really interfering with their operation - you're just preventing them from kicking on. Which could mean longer stopping distances.

It's generally a good idea to find a large empty parking lot and do a full brake test in which the ABS system kicks on. Just to feel what it's like. It may be loud and you may here strange sounds.

Turn off your cruise control when its raining or if there is snow or Ice on the road. If any of your drive wheels lose traction they will spin and accelerate your vehicle out of control. Very dangerous situation to be in.

When hydroplaning, no brakes or gas, and pretend you're "drifting". Turning the steering wheel does the opposite of what you think it will when 'planing.

Keep those door mirrors at the correct angle, they stray! They should be set so the back of your car is just out of sight. If you can see your tail end in them, they're not aligned properly and means you'll have blind spots.

I think what really separates an experienced driver and a novice is the ability to look ahead. Anticipating other driver's action/reaction, reading road behavior, understands other vehicle's maneuverability, etc..All contribute towards safe and pleasant driving.
No driving school can't teach us that, only years of experience on the road..

  • Lots of drivers seem to only slow down and apply their brakes when they see brake lights in front of them. Like you are saying, g, they need to slow down based on the conditions, distance between cars, speed, weather, etc. If the driver in the car in front of you isn't paying attention and applying the brakes appropriately or their brakes lights are out, then you end up in a close personal relationship with that car or more. It's not just about the car in front of you, it's about what is happening on your right, left, backside and occasionally above, as well as front.
  • Use your mirrors. Use your mirrors when changing lanes. Don't turn around. You can't see what is happening in front of you or in your peripheral vision if your turn around to see if the lane is clear. Most ppl turn the wheel when they turn around. If you hit a bump or someone bumps you then you end up going somewhere you didn't intend. The driver in front of you stops suddenly...
  • When I learned to drive a lot of emphasis was placed on driving defensively. These days it seems as if the emphasis is on driving offensively. I'm glad and relieved that CA has implemented a graduated driver permit/license plan.
  • You don't have to be a high school graduate to drive a car. You don't even have to graduate from 6th grade to get a license. When you drive assume the other drivers are idiots and unpredictable.

I've been driving for a year now. I once was at a point where I was so happy that I finally understood the concepts of potential and kinetic energy in a mathematical sense that I was trying to correlate that into driving. I've even considered building a device that, based on the angle of elevation of the car, and, taking into account the average coefficient of friction, the acceleration due to gravity of the car in Miles per hour per second :-P

I eventually decided to play around by putting my car in neutral when going down hills (on backroads and in places where there was no traffic). It is fun trying to maximize your efficiency. Now that I've done that, I feel i'm a lot more efficient when it comes to navigating up and down roads and I can coast pretty well.

I also learned the bad way to do a burnout this way. My friend had a long windy driveway that I decided to go down in neutral. When I got to the road at the bottom I slowed to make sure it was clear and put my foot down on the gas - oops. I then panicked and put the car into drive. Double oops. What happened next was the most spectacular and terrifying burnout an automatic transmission 1996 Mazda 626 sedan will likely ever perform. I've since learned I was lucky as hell the transmission didn't just annihilate itself.

Best tip I've learned is - low gear on really steep hills. That's why it's in automatic transmission cars! My cousin didn't know this and blew the brakes of his van flying down a mountain. He never thought to pop it in low. My dad taught me this and I'm sure my brakes will last a lot longer because of it.


11 years ago

Im learning to drive and my dad told me the thing about braking while in the turn but accelerate while coming out.

Brake BEFORE the turn. Actually most of the time you just have to let up on the accellerator. Except in the mountain. Break while in the turn you can skid expecially if wet, gravel, sand, snow, ICE. You can't always see it either. In SanJose, CA one time I was coming off the highway on the ramp heading down I hit a patch of black ice. Wheeeeeeeeeeee! Took my foot off the accellerator, carefully steered until I got some traction then applied brakes before the light. Not a whole lot of time to get control. Saw a lot of ppl behind me do the same thing. I grew up in snow country and have lots of experience on snow and ice but wasn't expecting ice in SanJose.

There's also what they call "Florida ice" It's during the summer (here at least) when it's raining a lot, and all the leaked oil floats to the top of the water, making it extra slippery.

We don't get much rain in the summer. But we get that when it does rain and then in the fall when our rainy season kicks in.

Handbrake turns on wet-cobbles? Something my dad used to be fond of, but now he's got a car that's worth something he's less inclined... L

Wow this is really interesting, cool