Your Mind and Your Car
Sure you’ve driven for years—But do you really know how to drive?
THE THOUGHT we had was that the men who design. manufacture and sell automobiles should know more about how to drive them than the average person who merely buys a car, gets himself a license and dashes lightheartedly forth upon his various affairs full of confidence and courage. So we went to Windsor, where most Canadian cars are either made or assembled, and asked for opinions on how to drive a car. What follows is a cross-section of the answers we received from automobile executives, engineers and test drivers, many of them men w'ho have been with the industry since it was an acorn, who were piloting motor cars when a crank handle dangled from beneath every radiator and impudent rapscallions stood on the plank sidewalks shouting raucously, “Getta horse!” The ideas on driving, here expressed, are those of several individuals, all of them automobile men.
Safe driving (they told us) is an attitude of mind. It follows that unsafe driving also is an attitude of mind. One is the right attitude, the other a wrong one.
Every single move the man behind the wheel of an automobile makes is directed by his brain. Starting, stopping, gear-shifting, braking, his speed, his conduct in city traffic, on the highway and in emergencies, all are governed by his thinking. Every physical impulse is the result of a mental impulse. Together these individual impulses constitute his attitude of mind. If the sum of his mental impulses produces the right mental attitude, he is a safe driver, and therefore a good driver. Otherwise he is a bad driver.
A correct mental attitude toward driving does not just happen. Rather it arrives first from the desire to drive safely and with consideration for others, then from the lessons of experience, applied intelligently. Temperament is an important factor. A man who is naturally reckless, arrogant, impatient, thoughtless of others, or merely absent-minded, will not become a good driver until he has conquered his temperamental weaknesses. A driver must control himself before he can control his car.
It is true that many good and safe drivers function by instinct; but that instinct is not natural in them. It is the result of experience intelligently applied. One of the first things a driver must learn is to overcome certain natural instincts. Safe drivers are made, not bom.
One of the commonest driving faults is a complete failure on the part of the driver to appreciate just how much distance is necessary for him to stop his car in an emergency. There is no guesswork about this. Scientific surveys over a number of years have provided us with exact data. Every driver should be aware of the facts and apply them to his own case. Few drivers even know them.
Most people, whether they drive a car or not, believe that physical reaction to a brain impulse is practically instantaneous; that thinking and doing are synonymous.
They are not. Between the mental impulse toward any physical exertion and its resultant muscular reaction, there is a definite time lapse. That is, when a driver sees ahead of him some condition requiring immediate action—application of his brakes, for one example—a certain amount of time will pass before his brain can register the condition and telegraph to his muscles the warning, “Put on your brakes.”
Following a series of tests, the American Automobile Association has established a record of these time lapses in different individuals. The tests show that it takes the average individual three quarters of a second to react to a message from his brain. So, when the brain of an average driver tells him to step on his brake pedal, three quarters of a second will have passed before he actually applies the pressure.
On paper, three quarters of a second does not look especially formidable; but measured in terms of speed and distance it becomes an important consideration. At ten miles an hour the time lapse takes the car eleven feet; at thirty miles, thirty-three feet; at fifty miles, fifty-five feet, and at sixty miles, sixty-six feet.
But, even with the finest modern braking equipment, it is impossible to stop an automobile at the instant the brakes are applied. Momentum carries the car forward, though all four wheels are locked. Therefore, in order to arrive at an accurate estimate of the distance travelled by a car after the first impulse to apply the brakes has been received by the brain, the reaction time distance must be added to the braking distance.
The A.A.A. tests were made under the most favorable road conditions and with effective four-wheel brakes. They show that a car travelling at ten miles an hour will go forward eighteen feet before coming to a full stop. At twenty miles the distance is fifty feet; at thirty-five miles, 122 feet. A car travelling at fifty miles an hour will be carried 227 feet before stopping, and at sixty miles the combined reaction time distance and braking distance is 314 feet, or nearly 105 yards!
Moreover, reaction times differ with individuals and with circumstances. Some drivers are faster to react than others, some slower. Fatigue slows up reaction time. So does alcohol, even in small quantities.
A driver whose mental attitude toward his responsibilities is right, will take the trouble to have his reaction time
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tested, and keep his brakes always in good shape. With those two factors fixed in his mind, he knows the distance within which he can stop his car, and he will drive at all times within his limitations.
Many drivers who otherwise appear to jxissess normal intelligence refuse to accept these facts as accurate. Theirs is a wrong attitude of mind. They have persuaded themselves that because of some special quality inherent in themselves or their cars, or both, they are above the laws of mental reaction and momentum. Definitely they are not good drivers.
A Matter of Judgment
"pAULTY judgment of distances constitutes another mental failing in many car owners. The good driver knows always exactly where his right front wheel is in juxtaposition to the curb, a passing or parked car, or the soft shoulder beside the highway. Many automobilists drive all the time in the middle of the road, or close to it, simply because they do not know where they are.
This weakness, common to men and women who have been operating cars for years, as well as to beginners, can be corrected only through practice. A simple test will quickly determine whether or not your judgment of distances is accurate. Get out on the highway at some sjx>t where traffic is light. Take a friend along. Drive slowly beside the edge of the road, then estimate the distance between your right front wheel and the soft shoulder. Your companion. leaning from the car window or the door, will be able to tell you how far you are off the mark, and you will he surprised at the number of times you will be a good two feet away from the shoulder when you think you are right on the edge of the pavement. You will be surprised, also, how quickly a little practice will give you accurate judgment of your position, an asset that will remain with you as long as you drive a car.
Perfect judgment of distances comes to most drivers only through experience. It is a tremendously important part of safe driving in all ordinary circumstances. The matter of a few inches may be vital in narrow streets, or streets where cars are parked on both sides, or on the open highway in heavy traffic. Mere again the most commonly encountered attitude of mind is that of overconfidence. Too many drivers take it for granted that their sense of distance is naturally perfect. Such judgment might come by instinct in one case in a hundred. To the other ninety-nine it comes through experience only.
Some drivers are hazy in their mental approach to the problem of safe driving on curves. They know that curves are dangerous. Probably they have some knowledge of centrifugal force, that unseen but verymuch felt power of momentum that tries to push the car forward always in a straight line. Only the most reckless of them will fail to keep constantly in mind the fact that on curves it is often impossible to see approaching traffic, so they are driving into an unknown quantity.
They “slow up on curves”—or they think they do—but in too many cases they slow up only when they are actually on the curve itself. They are halfway around it before there is any appreciable reduction of speed.
That is all wrong. Good drivers slow up long before they reach a curve, then round it accelerating. Increasing speed on curves gives the car the advantage of forward stability, and the driver complete steering control. On the same basis, when you find that you have hit a curve at too high a rate of speed, the thing to do is to increase your speed rather than to step heavily on the brakes; but there’s no earthly reason why any driver should be in trouble on a curve
if he will cultivate the attitude of mind compelling him automatically to cut his speed as soon as he sees he is approaching a bend in the highway.
Any average main thoroughfare, at any hour of the day and during most of the night hours, will show hundreds of cars rolling along at anywhere from thirty to fifty miles an hour, yet steadily holding to positions only a few hundred feet behind the car in front of them. This carelessness would seem to arise from the foolhardy conviction many people have that nothing can ever happen to them. The mental kink here is in forgetfulness of the fact that while their own car may be in perfect condition—brakes sound, steering gear perfect, tires in good shape—the car ahead may be in exactly the opposite fix. Its brakes may be worn, its steering gear uncertain its tires patched and liable to blow out at any minute. Anything can happen to such a car at any time, and anything that does happen to it has an immediate effect upon the car behind it. The driver of the following car must slow down. He may have to turn out suddenly, or stop quickly, to avoid a collision. If he is driving too fast at a too short distance in the rear, he may not be able to turn out or stop in time.
Night and day the rate of speed should be regulated strictly by the distance the driver can see a clear road ahead. At night that distance is limited to the range of the driving lights. Two simple rules. Even a child can understand them. Yet every day we have wrecks on our highways caused by one car travelling at high speed closely behind another car that for one reason or another has stopped suddenly.
Even when crashes are avoided, sudden stops and sharp turns are bad driving because they are poor economy. They waste gas and oil, burn brake linings and impose unnecessary strains on the component parts of the car’s mechanism. Good drivers are never wasteful drivers.
NATURAL instincts are not to be trusted when you are driving a car. Sometimes obedience to a blind impulse is not only wrong, but dangerous, emphatically so when it comes to use of the brakes. In a sudden emergency demanding a quick stop, in a skid on greasy or ice-coated pavements, the immediate natural impulse is to jam on the brakes. This particular brand of mental error causes thousands of accidents each year. It arises from a lack of understanding of the mechanics of braking, plus the natural instinct toward immediate physical action. There is only one way to overcome it. and that is regular and persistent practice until correct braking becomes an automatic mental reaction in an emergency.
When you bear down suddenly on the brake pedal, or jerk back the handbrake to its limit, your normal forward movement is abruptly checked. The rear end of your car tries to climb over the front end. You lose steering control. The rear end swings round. Instead of correcting the skid, you have exaggerated it, and the nearest ditch,
tree, lamp standard, or telephone pole is likely to become your immediate destination, sometimes with dire consequences.
All braking should be done gradually, for more than one reason. The most important consideration is safety; but economy of fuel consumption and the preservation of the brakes themselves and their linings are considerations too.
It is difficult to give any clear or comprehensive advice about handling skids, except to keep out of them. Skids occur under so many varied conditions that no general rule can be made to apply to all of them; but ordinary caution and wariness when slippery road conditions prevail will keep your car out of skids, and in many instances straight skids can be controlled by a gentle on-and-off application of the brakes.
A good driver remembers always that no one of his driving motions should be made abruptly. Braking, accelerating or decelerating, clutch operations and steering should all be gradual.
The reason for this is easy enough to understand. Your automobile is a complicated mechanism involving a number of different mechanical actions, all of them co-ordinated to produce a certain result from certain causes. A sudden, spasmodic demand uixrn brakes, gears and other working parts shocks the whole structure, and causes unnecessary fatigue in the materials of which the parts are made.
If you place an ordinary building brick on a flat surface and then give it a deliberate powerful shove with your foot, you can propel it for a considerable distance without damage to either the brick or your tocs. But if you kick at it suddenly, it will not move far. and your foot will be hurt. The same thing goes for your car. Deal with its mechanism firmly but gently, and you’ll get satisfactory results.
On slippery surfaces the safe driver moves with caution at all times. He thinks of himself as carrying a load of eggs in the back seat. He governs his speed by traffic density and the condition of the road surface. A speed which would be safe on the open highway with no other car in sight, might be sheer insanity in ordinary city traffic.
Surely nothing but an abnormal state of mind can be held responsible for the number of drivers who every day get into trouble because they try to pass the car ahead on a hill or rounding a curve. This is one of the most stupid blunders a driver can make, because it is so obviously wrong. On every highway, signs admonish the driver against it. Common sense tells him that he should never try to take his car where he cannot see what is ahead. Yet thousands are guilty of this lapse from sound driving practice every day of the year. Some of them get away with it, for a while. No driver can get away with it indefinitely, even though he be a fool for luck.
Anyone who drives regularly in city traffic knows of the type of driving mentality that is always in a hurry. The man who has to beat the lights, swings around corners at high speed, scrapes past other cars, always in a seething rush to get ahead. Here is a definite state of mind, and a wrong one.
The driver-in-a-hurry rarely saves actual time. If he beats one traffic light, chances are he will be caught in a jam at another light a few blocks away. He takes chances he should not take, violates at least the spirit and often the letter of the law. and makes a public peril as well as a public nuisance of himself.
And it costs him money. Extensive tests of a six-cylinder car operated at a constant speed of thirty miles an hour, showed average gasoline consumption of approximately twenty-four miles per gallon. When the same car was alternately accelerated and decelerated between fifteen and thirty miles per hour, gasoline mileage dropped to 18.7 miles to the gallon. The same test in second gear delivered only 12.6 miles per gallon.
In the same series of tests two cars were
driven over a ten-mile route in city traffic, the drivers being given no special instructions except to drive. Average mileage for both cars was eight and a quarter miles per gallon. After several days of operation on this basis, the two drivers were instructed to maintain an approximately constant speed, avoiding braking, accelerating and the use of gears as much as possible. No changes were made in the cars but average mileage was increased to seventeen and a quarter miles per gallon, and the drivers lost less than five minutes in elapsed time for the entire ten-mile circuit—a gain of over one hundred per cent in economy for a very slight loss of time.
Smooth driving pays dividends. Racing through traffic is expensive, unnecessary, and therefore foolish. City traffic is regulated to move at an even tempo, and the wise driver saves himself time, money and trouble by accommodating himself to that rhythm.
Relax, Brother, Relax
CORNER turning on city streets often brings out evidence of mental carelessness on the part of the driver, and here again judgment of distance is a factor. Numerous drivers seem to be incapable of taking a corner without swinging wide into the opposite traffic lane. If they contemplate a right-hand turn they cross over to the left and come around the corner in a sweeping arc, hampering traffic moving in the opposite direction and covering a greater distance than is necessary.
In city traffic the correct way to make a right-hand turn is to drive close to the curb. The turn should be made when the street corner is opposite the front seat. In that position it is impossible to hit the curb, no matter how sharp the turn. A left turn should always be made from the left lane, immediately to the right of the road centre.
A strong case on behalf of a sounder mental attitude toward driving responsibilities may be based upon what seems to be the complete failure of all authority to persuade drivers to adopt and regularly use a standardized code of hand signals. For years governmental agencies, police officials, automobile associations, car manufacturers and educational organizations have been trying to teach individual drivers to employ a few simple motions of the hand, indicating their intentions to turn right or left, or to stop. Yet today we find only a small proportion of drivers attempting to signal, and most of those who do so merely make motions that might mean anything. A hand stuck straight out of the window serves such drivers for an all-purpose signal. It may mean a right turn, left turn, straight ahead, or a stop. Following drivers are not mind readers. Better no signal at all than one whose only consequence is increased confusion.
There can be, too, extremes of poor driving. The attitude of mind that causes the driver to grip the wheel tightly, tense his whole body and concentrate fiercely upon the immediate business of getting through traffic is just as harmful in its way as is carelessness and loose control of the car. With such drivers the whole body is taut, every driving motion is jerky and edgy. Attention is concentrated on the driver himself and his car, rather than on the traffic ahead. The over-tense driver tires quickly. His mental reactions slow up. He is not a good driver. Relax, brother, relax; but keep your eye on the road.
The steering mechanisms of modern cars are so adjusted that only a wrist action is necessary to control them. Gear-shifting, braking and acceleration are easy and should be automatic muscular reflexes. Keep one eye open for what is happening on the road in front. That is more important than hanging onto your wheel like grim death.
All of us know, only too well, the man who drives on the horn. At every opportunity, with or without reason, he bears down on the button, sometimes with unhappy consequences, especially for nervous
pedestrians. This habit may be interpreted as due to sheer mental laziness—the driver will not take the trouble to avoid difficulties on his own account—carelessness, or just bad manners. In either case, excessive use of the warning signal is poor driving. In automobile circles the opinion is growing that if the horn were removed from every car on the road, accidents would be fewer because drivers would be compelled to do more of their own thinking.
And of course, the speed merchant we have always with us; the chap who. because the engine beneath the hood of his car is capableof producingseventy-five. ninety, or a hundred miles an hour, feels he is not getting his money’s worth unless he drives at those speeds whenever the urge seizes him.
Excessive speeding results from an attitude of mind, and a very wrong one. Engineers and manufacturers developed those extra-powerful engines with entirely different objectives in view. The addi-
tional power is under the hood primarily for greater driving flexibility and more certain control. The speed factor is intended for use only in emergencies. The man who drives regularly at close to the limit of his car’s capabilities is not a good driver. He is a dangerous driver and, therefore, a bad one.
Average speed does not increase in the same ratio as driving speed. A driver holding to a steady forty on the open highway will make better time relatively over a long journey than the chap who goes to seventy or ninety at intervals and then is forced to slow down.
It’s all in the state of mind. A driver who conscientiously wishes to drive well and safely must first learn the elements of good driving, then practice them constantly. Eventually he will drive safely by instinct; but that only comes after months or years of study and experience.
There is no such thing as a born driver; but there are an awful lot of born fools.