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Refresh your driving skills


Driving is the most dangerous thing most of us do on a daily basis. But being regarded as “a good driver” remains a rare accolade and one that too few people aspire to earn.

Andrew Kerr introduces some memorable techniques to help readers acquit themselves better behind the wheel so that their time on New Zealand roads becomes safer and more rewarding.

1. SORT OUT THE SMARTPHONE

Work out a plan for safely managing your phone and stick to it. We all know that messaging while driving is especially dangerous.

Hands-free is the answer if you must make or receive calls while driving.

2. ASSUME THE POSITION

A correct seating position involves hands at nine and three on the wheel, pedals pressed by the ball of the foot, the weight of each arm split between wrist and shoulder, and right thigh horizontal, so you’re braking with quad muscles, not an ankle flex.

Check out the full range of adjustments of the driver’s seat and also the steering wheel. Most wheels move in and out as well as up and down.

3. MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS

Driving against the clock creates pressure and increases the temptation to bend rules.

Be realistic: it won’t always take 20 minutes to drive across town to your workplace, or 8 minutes to get to a friend’s house.

And while it’s okay to enjoy a modern car’s performance when the road opens up and conditions allow, expect brisk progress to be short-lived.

4. RECOGNISE PRE-JOURNEY RISKS

Recognise you’re in a rush, sunstrike is affecting your visibility, the roads are very busy, it’s nighttime, the weather is poor, the roads are wet, you’ve got boisterous passengers… you’re already managing risks by identifying them.

5. CREATE AND MAINTAIN SPACE

The golden two-second rule describes what is a conservatively safe following distance on the open road.

At 100km/h, those two seconds equate to 55m of travel. At 50km/h, it’s 27.5m.

In wet or greasy conditions, tyre contact patches are less effective. Increase following distances and reduce your approach speed to roundabouts/intersections in wet weather.

6. COMMIT TO COMMUNICATING MORE

Indicators are your key communication tool.

They broadcast your intention to turn, change lanes or overtake, but they don’t grant you the right to do so.

Use them earlier so other drivers have time and space to react and allow you to complete your intended move.

7. BREAK OUT THE SMOOTH MOVES

On motorways, abrupt lane changes heighten the risk of two cars converging in the same lane.

When changing lanes, indicate early, double-check your blind spot and make the move gradually, not suddenly, like taking nibbles from an apple rather than a huge bite.

That way you give yourself the time and space to retreat if necessary. Overtake on the right rather than undertaking on the left.

8. EYES UP FOR AN INSTANT IMPROVEMENT

One way to instantly improve your driving is to look further down the road.

Look well ahead to where you want to go in order to remain in the centre of your lane and better anticipate hazards or traffic light changes.

Look well through a bend to where you intend to go, even if it means looking around the screen pillar.

Your hand-eye coordination will automatically set you on the best driving line.


9. BE STREETWISE IN THE CITY

Putting your lights on is a bright idea, especially in silver/grey cars, to stand out on a grey road on a grey day against a grey sky.

When exiting busy carparks, deploy your hazard lights when manoeuvring to reduce the risk of a low-speed collision and reduce the risk to pedestrians.

And if the car ahead is clearly attempting to reverse parallel-park, hang back and let them make the manoeuvre.

They need a little time and space, not undue pressure from drivers trying to overtake.

10. BE A GOOD PASSENGER

A very good driver tends to be a very good passenger, one that remains engaged, sets a positive tone, respects a driver’s need to concentrate, and stops short of over-involving themselves.

11. TAME THE TAILGATERS

When being pressured by a tailgater, or the driver behind you is on their phone, buy yourself space by increasing the distance to the car ahead.

You can’t afford to brake suddenly and risk being sandwiched in a nose-to-tail incident.

Keep those eyes looking well ahead to anticipate traffic light changes or potential hazards.

12. ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE

Acknowledge good driving and other drivers’ courtesy whenever possible.

They will appreciate (even expect) the gesture, whether it’s a quick wave, a blink of your hazards or a gentle toot, and you’ll feel good for the interaction.

Acknowledging thoughtful driving breeds more thoughtful driving.

13. BREAK DOWN THAT ROAD TRIP

If you have a long drive ahead, say 350km, break it down into 50km sectors and hatch a plan for rest breaks, a meal, or a detour to view a point of interest.

Will you need to refuel or recharge en route? If your average journey speed is a realistic 75-80km/h, will you be comfortable and remain alert being behind the wheel for up to five hours?

14. LET OTHERS OVERTAKE

Safe overtaking on the open road requires excellent visibility, good vehicle performance, driver confidence and excellent judgement.

It’s easily the hardest thing to do well on NZ roads and requires a big margin for error. It’s also often unnecessary or of little real benefit.

Be considerate by helping faster-moving traffic overtake you.

Letting them past early is far preferable to being tailgated by an impatient driver and getting caught up in their rash or unsafe manoeuvre.

In passing lanes, keep left and ease back to create a differentiation in lane speeds and avoid a bottleneck when the lanes merge.

15. GOING GREEN IS SERENE

If you’re focused on smoothness and economy, you’ll consistently scan the road ahead for potential interruptions to your progress, apply measured inputs when accelerating and braking, change lanes less frequently and increase passenger comfort in the process.

Imagine you’re carrying a new television set on the back seat. But be reasonable: don’t fear using the accelerator, using the air-con or having to stop at orange lights!

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