Beating institutional ignorance: Learn how to drive, for real

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A minibus stuck on the median, between cars on either side.

If the bus driver had learned how to drive properly, this likely wouldn't have happened. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Ahram Newspaper/Wikipedia)

Conventional driver’s training classes do a poor job of preparing people how to drive. Too many drivers don’t know how to take on many real-world roadway scenarios. If you’re truly interested in learning how to drive, you need the full story. Here are a few driving tips that can contribute mightily toward anyone’s auto safety.

Learn what ABS brakes can actually do

Most drivers who haven’t attended racing school have learned to fear pushing a vehicle to its limits. In an emergency, many would prefer to hit something and sort out the messy details later. Not only is this self-defeating, but it’s stupid in that it goes against humanity’s evolutionary instincts. Turn your back on the survival instinct at your own peril, but don’t subject innocents to your stupidity, timid drivers.

A key to making it out of a hairy roadway situation is using ABS (anti-lock) brakes properly. A full-on ABS stop must be practices. Various race school instructors say a driver should first stomp hard on the brake pedal and ride it hard. Don’t let up, and don’t mind the sound and the fury of the shimmying pedal. Assuming you’re riding the ABS brakes, the most important thing the driver should do at this point is to steer out of danger. ABS allows turning while braking, but the key is not to over-steer. Steer out and center the steering wheel before releasing the brake pedal. If you let go of the pedal before you’re centered out, you’ll likely fly into oncoming traffic or find yourself in a ditch.

Don’t panic and learn how to drive

If you read between the lines, it’s obvious a driving test administrator wants you to be afraid of them. Their aloofness and mocking gestures of authority, aside from covering for their own burning personal inadequacies, teach students to associate the act of driving with fear and anger. That’s a hideous message to send when teaching someone how to drive. What drivers should know is how to drive by remaining calm and taking control of a situation, rather than being afraid to earn the wrath of some faulty, misplaced authority figure/god.

Fear tends to cause over-correction during a traffic incident. Spastic jerking of the wheel is typically what actually causes traffic accidents, particularly on rural two-lane roads. Trust the traction your tires provide, and use ABS brakes in the manner referenced above. Certainly an icy road makes this more difficult. Either use chains and hope for the best using sound auto safety techniques, or don’t drive on icy roads during winter.

Here’s a related scenario. Let’s say your passenger-side wheels drop off the road and you begin to lose control of the vehicle. Don’t panic. Ease off the accelerator, and let the car slow on its own. Scan ahead for a safe place to get back on pavement, and steer gently back onto the road. Don’t brake in this situation unless there’s an obstacle on the shoulder ahead that you must avoid, such as a bridge or parked car. If you must brake, do so lightly. Practice how to drive this way on a safe country road at about 20 mph, experts advise.

Hands at 10 and 2? Wrong!

Thinking of your steering wheel as the face of a clock, standard driver’s ed once taught hand placement at 10 and 2, but the rise of airbags ended this practice. Hands at 9 and 3 is how to drive, or even 8 and 4. When making turns, avoid using the hand-over-hand method that inadequate driver’s training courses preach. Instead, feel for the “thumb hangers” on the steering wheel – common to most modern steering wheels – and use more of a shimmy-shuffle technique when turning. In most cases, only one hand has to do the work. You’ll find you can turn more effectively, and the hand placement makes it much less likely that in the event of a airbag deployment, your hands won’t come back and smack you in the face.

Train your reflexes to react

Imagine a car ahead is stopping in the middle of a three-lane road. Two large vehicles are tailgating, and then there’s you right behind. When the lead car hits the brakes, one tailgater swerves left, the other right. Suddenly, the stopped car is right in front of you, and you have less than two seconds to react. With practice, you can cultivate the presence of mind that will lead you to quickly veer into a neighboring lane, rather than smacking into the stopped car because you were afraid to challenge your car – and yourself.

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