Articles

SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DRIVE...

What's the safest quickest way to-Stop your car Make time in traffic Take a curve Dodge a collision Get out of a skid Drive in snow or mud?

September 17 1955
Articles

SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DRIVE...

What's the safest quickest way to-Stop your car Make time in traffic Take a curve Dodge a collision Get out of a skid Drive in snow or mud?

September 17 1955

SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DRIVE...

What's the safest quickest way to-Stop your car Make time in traffic Take a curve Dodge a collision Get out of a skid Drive in snow or mud?

THEN TRY THESE QUESTIONS:

who runs a driving school has the answers

DURING the last nine years my driving school in Vancouver has taught forty thousand persons, including nineteen thousand women, how to operate an automobile safely in traffic. Our students sit beside their instructors in dual-control cars equipped with two steering wheels, two accelerators, two brake pedals and two clutch pedals. We teach them how to drive by the same basic method I was trained to use on aircrew rookies when I was a flying instructor in the RCAF.

A lot of them approach us with the odd notion that courtesy at the wheel is just a motorized equivalent of “good manners” in polite society. But there’s much more to it than that. The truth of the matter was once made painfully clear to a young bank clerk who asked me for driving lessons after being involved in a crash that almost broke his heart and could have cost him his life.

He told me he usually made signals and obeyed traffic signs because he felt this was “the nice thing to do.” But one day after a telephone argument with his girl friend he was in an “anti-social mood.” So he pulled away from a downtown curb without making a signal. Along came a Cadillac which sideswiped him, broke his left arm and almost ruined his brand-new “dream car,” a two-toned sports convertible. He had made the down payment just one week previously, after scrimping for a year.

The bank clerk didn’t give me much argument when I pointed out to him that his neglect to signal was quite different from a small breach of graciousness at a social gathering. If he had signaled he’d have done himself a favor. “Drive Carefully—For Your Own Sake!” That sounds like a cynical and ignoble slogan; but if it’s the only advice of its kind that will strike home to the self-interest that rules

so many people, then I’m all in favor of spreading it.

I’m supposed to be an Old Pro at the wheel, having been a truck driver before my war experience as a flying instructor. Ever since I opened my driving school in 1946 people have been asking me for inside tips on handling a car and getting along in traffic. I’m expected to tip them off on how to steal a jump on the Other Fellow or how to get away with tricky stuff that might ordinarily bring trouble. They usually look blank when I tell them that, although most of the professional pointers I could give them are worth knowing for strictly selfish reasons, they generally benefit the Other Fellow too.

Here are some examples:

• Your brakes will work better and faster if you “fan” them instead of just jamming them and holding. Fanning consists of lightly stepping on

¡¡¡¡e brake pedal and almost instantly releasing it, gfen repeating several times in rapid succession. Ifhis is easier on your brakes and tires; and believe it or not, it stops your car sooner than a screeching jskid does.

• How to stay awake at the wheel without drugs or pills: Just take off your right shoe and resume driving. The engine vibration transmitted to the sensitive ball of the foot through the accelerator L even in the biggest, smoothest limousine that ijnoney can buy—will positively keep you from fdozing.

^ How to keep your windshield clear of ice and sleet in winter weather, without constant scraping or rubbing: Raise the hood and insert a ball of

paper or a rolled handkerchief between the hood and the body of the car just below the centre of the windshield. Then bang the hood shut. It ¡remains slightly ajar (but not in any way warped ¡or damaged) and this allows a steady stream of warm air from the radiator to spray upward against the windshield; the ice never gets a chance to form.

Some of the vexations suffered by drivers can be removed or minimized at your own discretion. Example: If you find yourself “trapped” behind a vision-blocking truck or bus, and if conditions !are suck that you can’t pass it, don’t chug along a few feet to the rear. Fall well behind for a wider, safer horizon.

Are you always in a hurry? Here are some professional tips on how to make better time on city streets without getting a ticket or ending up in a crash:

1. Learn to use through streets and one-way streets as much as possible instead of following parallel routes on streets where you must stop or hesitate at every intersection.

2. Study the traffic lights. Learn which streets have fewer lights and in what direction the lights are progressively synchronized (and at what average speed). Every driver has known the delight of “hitting the green ones” block after block, but this needn’t be a matter of blind luck—it can be planned. You can get this information from the police traffic department, or from your local automobile association.

3. On three-lane, one-way streets, stay in the centre lane unless you want to turn off almost immediately. It’s human nature to want to dodge in and out and keep passing slow cars, but the slight resultant timesaving can be easily wiped out if you find yourself trapped in the wrong lane and are forced past your corner.

4. Don’t rush up to a red light and then slam on the brakes. Often you can gauge your speed so that by slowing down a little you will reach the corner just as the red changes to green. This can be an exhilarating timesaver.

5. Don’t push the accelerator down to the floor for a fast start. It’s a mathematical fact that gradual acceleration lets you cover the first hundred yards faster—and with less risk of flooding your engine. This advice applies more rather than less in the case of an automatic transmission.

6. If your car is a gearshift model don’t be afraid to use second gear a lot. Never let your engine “labor.” When slowing down to make a turn, shift into second—and use this extra power for picking up speed after rounding the corner.

7. Don’t over-use your brakes. This may sound like strange advice from an advocate of careful driving, but it isn’t. Here’s one of the neatest ti mesa vers of them all: When nearing a corner that has no traffic lights or stop signs take your foot off the accelerator and let it hover just over the brake pedal but not on it; glance around to make sure you are clear, then nudge the accelerator again. This reduces “corner slowdown” without increasing traffic risk.

It’s not unusual to find an otherwise excellent driver with one bad habit which can eventually lead to disaster. A man once came to us for a checkup because he had been getting into a series scrapes and minor collisions. We found he did everything perfectly except that he persistently swung out or lane-straddled while rounding a curve. As soon as he had eliminated this he sent his daughter-—who,

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U USE THESE TRICKS IN YOUR CAR?

So You Think You Can Drive ...

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sure enough, had learned the same bad habit from daddy.

The daughter had one other driving weakness: her parking. It’s a thing

that seems to baffle many people who’ve been driving for years. Yet parking is easy—when you know how. Here’s what to do:

1. Make a conspicuous signal that you are going to stop or slow down.

2. Pull up beside the car in front of the space you want to park in. The distance between the two parallel cars should be one to two feet.

3. Make a "go-ahead” signal with your left hand. This tips off the cars behind that they should go around instead of waiting at the rear.

4. Back up slowly, turning the steering wheel as far to the right (clockwise) as it will go. This will throw the front end of your car to the left so be careful of other cars passing on your left. Stop when your car is at a 45-degree angle to the roadway and the front right door of your car about opposite the left rear fender of the car in front.

5. Now ease slowly back, turning your steering wheel to the left (anticlockwise) about twice as fast as you turned to the right, making sure your right front fender clears left rear fender of car ahead. After that it’s just a matter of straightening your wheels if necessary. Throughout this whole operation, the secret is never to fully engage the clutch, but to bring clutch pedal up to the "friction point” and nudge the car slowly backward, keeping it under control. Remember, the faster you move backward the faster you have to turn the steering wheel.

Be extra careful when parking on a hill. Don’t leave all four wheels facing forward; instead, cramp the right front wheel against the curb for additional braking. If you’re facing downhill, leave the gearshift in reverse. If you’re facing uphill, leave it in low. (With automatic transmission select the P for park position. Then pull on the hand brake—hard.)

Here are some other tips to drivers:

• Check frequently to make sure your lights, horn, starter, windshield wiper and brakes are working properly.

• Don’t tire yourself needlessly by the way you sit at the wheel. Sit up straight, with both shoulder blades touching the back of the seat. Believe me, this is less exhausting than the slouching and sprawling practiced by some drivers under the heading of "comfort.” Sit slightly to the left of your steering wheel and grasp it firmly —but not tensely.

• Don’t dangle your arm over the side: you might suddenly lose it in a sideswipe collision. Use the interior armrest if necessary. Besides, your dangling arm may slow up traffic by looking like a signal to other drivers.

• Proper way to take a curve: ease

off the gas pedal as you approach the curve, then as you get into the curve, feed gas lightly. This will overcome the centrifugal force which tends to throw your car sideways. Using brakes when turning a corner tends to increase centrifugal force causing squealing tires and skids.

• How to dodge a head-on collision: if you see another car coming right at you in your lane, don’t panic-—do something about it. First, give him the horn. If it’s at night, flick your lights at him. Put on your brakes and slow down. This will give him a chance to get out of your way. If worst comes to worst, "hit the dirt” by swerving

to the right along the shoulder of the highway or even into a ditch. Almost anything is preferable to a head-on crash. Above all, don’t pull over to the left—you may run into oncoming traffic or the wrong-lane driver may return to his correct lane at the last split second and you’ll hit him in spite of everything.

• Bbwouts are less common than in the old days, but they still happen. If a tire blows, hold the steering wheel tight and don’t use your brakes until the car loses speed. When you’re sure you have the car under control apply the brakes carefully.

• Much the same advice holds good for pulling out of a skid. In the words of Harold L. Smith, of Detroit, one of the top American authorities on driver training, "the best way to stop a skid is to stay off the brakes and quit doing whatever started the skid.” Keep the clutch engaged—"coasting” will only make things worse. Steer in the direction in which the car is skidding, no matter how strongly this may go against your instincts. Such instincts aren’t really normal; they’re just panicky.

• If your brakes fail, or if you think they have failed, try pumping them anyway—they may suddenly grab hold and save you. Pull up your hand brake and leave it on. If that doesn’t stop you, shift to second gear (or "low” on an automatic). As a last resort, pick a crash spot off the roadway where you’ll come into the least possible trouble.

• When driving on ice or any other slippery surface, don’t start in low. Use second or high — you’ll be less likely to spin. If the wheels slip when starting, rock gently back and forth by alternating between low and reverse, taking advantage of the car’s forward weight to get rolling. Go easy on the brakes. Remember: the instant your brakes lock your wheels on ice you turn your tires into skates.

• Deep snow brings special problems that can usually be solved with a bit of forethought. When stopping momentarily in snow on a straight stretch of road, back up a bit so that when you start forward again the snow won’t be piled up in front of your wheels. The momentum you’ll thus get by starting in your own tracks should keep you rolling. Before parking in deep snow run your car back and forth two or three times, creating a runway for your departure.

• On driving in heavy mud: try to keep moving at a moderate rate of speed. Don’t fool yourself that a low spot with gooey mud but no water is safer than a low spot filled with water. It’s the low spot with water that will have a solid bottom; the gooey spot probably is a quagmire. Use the waterholes to run your car back and forth in, washing off excess mud.

I’ll never forget my own first driving lesson. I was fourteen years old. My father took me out one afternoon in his latest Model T Ford, showed me how to start and steer and stop, then left me alone at the wheel in an Alberta cow pasture. "Okay,” he said with a grin, "when you’ve got nerve enough to drive it back on the road and go into town you’re all right.”

That kind of "lesson” would chill the blood of a professional driving teacher nowadays. In defense of my dad’s casual approach, however, I’d like to point out that cars were a lot slower and traffic a lot thinner in 1927.

I was given a much more drastic lesson about four years later. A friend asked me to drive his car home from a country dance. Six of us piled in and we tootled off along a two-lane highway. When a car ahead of us began slowing down I swung left to

pass, and at that moment he turned left too into a dim sideroad which I hadn’t even noticed. I tried to slam on the brakes—and discovered I didn’t have any. We smacked into that other car amidships. Nobody was hurt, but twenty-four years later I still break out in a cold sweat at the memory of those girls’ screams and the sound of that crumpling metal.

What did I learn from that long-ago collision?

1. I should have tested the brakes before beginning the trip.

2. When the car in front began

slowing down I should have slowed down too and stayed behind him until I could see why he was reducing speed.

The idea of opening a driving school after the war occurred to me while I was in a German prison camp in 1944. Some of the other POWs doubted that people would pay for driving lessons when they could learn free from friends or relatives. I gambled on the thought that there were thousands of amateur golfers around too but a lot of people preferred to pay a professional who could teach them correct habits.

I had one dual-control instructional

car and one instructor—myself—when the school opened June 10,1946. Today we have twenty-two instructors and a fleet of twelve dual-control cars, including one with automatic shift.

Most of our students are divided into three groups. One third have never driven before. One third have tried to learn from friends or relatives but haven’t made much of a go of it. The other third may have driven a bit but were never very good at it or else they haven’t driven for years and feel the need of a refresher.

How long does it take us to teach

somebody to drive? We find this varies widely with individuals, but it averages out at eight one-hour lessons for teenagers, nine hours for people in their twenties and ten hours for people in their thirties. The early forties usually need about eleven hours, and after that the total increases unpredietably. We’ve taught dozens who were in their seventies, and one man of eighty-one who finally passed his provincial test and drove home in triumph. But it took him twenty-seven one-hour lessons to do it.

Ideally, we prefer that the student take one lesson every day until he is ready—in his own opinion and in ours —to be tested for his license.

Our instructional fee in Vancouver is four-fifty for one hour. This is about average in Canada. Some schools in Toronto charge a bit less. Nowadays there are dependable driving schools in almost every city or larger town.

It’s a shrewd idea to take one "reconnaissance” lesson when you first move into a different town where you’ll

Teaching his wife to drive could wreck a man’s car, and maybe his marriage too

be doing a lot of driving. Thus you won’t be caught unawares by unfamiliar local signs, regulations and traffic traditions. For example, pedestrians in Toronto are accustomed to scrambling for their lives; in Vancouver even a jaywalker is the king of the highways and can cause brakes to squeal in all directions every time he saunters out into the traffic. A Toronto driver may get into trouble in Vancouver in a hurry if he hasn’t been forewarned.

Shocking though it may be to the gents who insist on the doctrine of masculine superiority, my own professional experience has convinced me that women, on the average, are better drivers than men. I’m not talking now about phenomenal feats of manual skill and endurance on the professional

speedways; I’m talking about average day-by-day driving under usual conditions. The two words "women drivers”—generally followed by a hiss —have become a curse-phrase with millions of males, but the implied scorn and accusation are hardly borne out by the facts. Insurance statistics show' that men drivers have at least twice as many accidents as women, even in proportion to the number of miles driven. Further, most of the really bad smashups are blamed on the males. The women, true enough, often scrape fenders or make bewildering signals or get flustered in parking lots, but it’s usually a man at the wheel when another of those big ugly traffic headlines hits the front page.

Here’s a peculiar point, though.

about women drivers: I’ve never

known of even one verified case in which a husband successfully taught his own wife to drive—that is, without getting into quarrels and misunderstandings sometimes even serious enough to endanger the marriage.

Exactly why this should be I leave to the psychiatrists and the Courts of Domestic Relations. I’m a professional instructor, and an instructor of instructors, but I tried and failed to teach my wife and finally had to turn her over to one of the teachers on my staff. He had no trouble with her at all and she soon became a first-class driver. Ironically, the instructor who taught my wife had been having the same trouble in his family. So I taught his wife.

Just for the record, during all of 1954 there were precisely two accidents chargeable to my driving school. Both were minor bumps, with nobody hurt. One student driver was a man, the other a woman. In nine years not one of our forty thousand students has ever been injured while taking the course, and their postgraduate records at the wheel have been impressively better than the average of the driving population. Since our school was first opened, auto insurance rates in general have steadily gone up. Our insurance rates have steadily gone down.

As to the future—well, I suppose every driving-school manager occasionally suffers from a nightmare which was rather ghoulishly sketched a few years ago in a magazine cartoon. Two men are shown sitting side by side at the dual-control steering wheels of a driving-school car headed the wrong way amid a swarm of traffic on a one-way street. Both drivers look panicky, and one of them is saying: "I’m not the

instructor. I thought you were!”

We’ve never had two of our students pull a stunt like that and I hope we never will. But each new pupil is a fresh challenge to the instructor. I’ll always remember, for example, one woman who was having persistent trouble with her steering. Try as we might, we couldn’t train her to keep glancing well ahead and sizing up the traffic; instead she fastened her gaze on the hood or barely in front of it like a walker gazing down at her own toes.

Finally I had to tell her she seemed to be one of those rare persons who simply cannot learn to drive properly. Her eyes filled with tears as she sat in my small private office. Battling for self-control, she told me it would be a tragic disappointment if she failed to qualify for her driver’s license. For twenty years, she said, she had been guiding her blind brother around the city on foot, in and out of crowded streetcars and buses. This had become increasingly awkward and now she just had to learn to drive because she had saved up for a car and it would make things so much easier for her brother.

After that it didn’t take us long to figure out the cause of her steering difficulties. She had developed the habit of looking down, matching her own stride for twenty years with the slow and wary plodding of a blind man. We merely pasted a strip of paper along the lower portion of the windshield, forcing her to lift her gaze into the stream of traffic ahead. She earned her driver’s license a few days later and gave us a happy honk of her horn as she breezed past our office on her way home. ★

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