24 Dec 2013

10 tips to avoid crashing your car

Speed doesn't kill you.  It's the sudden stop that kills you.  An age old phrase but true enough.  Add in the fact that when in a car you are surrounded by 1,500kg of metal and plastic that can easily deform and crush you, or at least parts of you, in a collision and it's pretty obvious that the best course of action is to avoid having a crash.


How often do you drive like a zombie?  How often do you realise, whilst on the motorway or in slow traffic, that your mind wandered and you can't remember what happened over the past few minutes?  You do it, I do it, we all do it.  It's part of human nature and the sooner you realise you are in the 'zombie zone' the sooner you snap out of it and get back to driving with your mind rather than just holding the wheel.  But thinking is more than just being aware that you are driving the car.  Think about everything.  Think about mistakes you made and think about how not to repeat them.  Thinking about how you drive has everything to do with the rest of the rules.


Do you observe everything around you?  Really?  When police drivers are going through their training they have to narrate everything they see and do with no hesitation and no mistakes.  This is played back to them after the drive and the audio and video compared side by side.  They can be failed if the two don't match.  Do this yourself and see if you would normally spot everything around you.  'Car in side road waiting to turn across me, travelling at 38mph, speed limit 40, low sun obscuring vision, white Mondeo 20 yards behind, red BMW 3-Series 30 yards ahead, bend ahead, third gear, slow for bend, mud on road etc'.  The simple task of forcing yourself to say out loud what you observe makes you both more aware of what is going on and what potential hazards lie ahead - and can amaze you at how little you would normally observe when driving.

360° Zone

This is something motorcyclists learn very quickly either formally or through experience, and is equally valid in a car.  Know what is around you at all times.  Have an understanding of the 360° zone around your car.  You should always know what vehicle is behind you, to the side and in front.  Always.  This cannot be stated enough.  Use your mirrors, look over your shoulder and listen.  Not only should you know what is currently around you, you need to know what is going to be within your 360° zone shortly.  That car waiting in a side road may be in your 360° zone soon enough.  The driver might be on autopilot and pull out right in front of you.  Understand this, know that he might do it and prepare.  Slow down, allow space around you, be on high alert.  If another driver does something stupid or unexpected and you anticipated this then you have time to react and avoid a collision.  The 360° zone  matters even when stationary.  You stop at a set of traffic lights.  The car you can see in your rear view mirror is 100 yards behind you and approaching.  He might not stop.  He might hit you.  You could have avoided this by leaving space in front of you, keeping an eye on your rear view mirror and pulling forwards at the point when you realised he'd not left enough distance to stop.  This neatly leads us on to the next rule.

Plan your escape route

Accidents happen to other people if you drive properly.  But sometimes other people have their accident in the bit of road you were just about to occupy, or were occupying had you not done something about it and got out of the way.  This is why you should always plan your escape route - and it ties in with the above two rules.  An example - on the motorway you are in the fast lane (OK, lane 1) and the traffic is heavy but moving at 70mph.  Every now and again it slows to 40 for a few moments and then back up to 70 (this is because someone ahead isn't anticipating, which we'll come to).  Accidents often happen in these circumstances - usually someone driving up the back of someone else.  Both of those drivers could have avoided the accident, even the driver in front.  So you already know your 360° zone.  The traffic suddenly slows to 40 and the car behind is approaching fast. Before he hits you you should have already worked out where you are going to be INSTEAD of in the place where he will hit you.  This might be between the traffic in the fast lane and the central reservation, it might be in the middle lane or it might even be that you have allowed space ahead of you (by using anticipation).  If you constantly think of where you can escape to in case you have to escape you have a better chance of avoiding an accident.  It is for this reason I will not travel side by side with another vehicle on a dual carriageway or motorway.  You should always have space to the side of you in case you have to swerve to avoid some idiot who swerved in order to change CD, or whatever.

Anticipate, don't hesitate

You're travelling in your car.  You've observed that the brake lights of a vehicle four cars ahead of you have come on.  What do you do?  If you do nothing you might crash or be crashed into.  What you should do is anticipate that the traffic ahead will pretty soon be slowing as each driver realises that the car ahead is slowing and act accordingly by allowing space in front of you.  Don't let this happen.  Observe the road ahead and anticipate.  If you are at a side junction waiting to turn into moving traffic, observe the traffic and spot the space you can pull into well ahead of it actually being in front of you.  If the space disappears don't do a half-move.  Just wait for another space.  If you do this you won't hesitate, fluff it up and risk someone T-boning you.  Another example - you've observed the entrance to a construction site ahead. Anticipate that the road will be slippy, or that a dumper truck might suddenly appear, and act accordingly.  Don't hesitate and let an accident happen.  Don't let others' lack of observation and anticipation mean they have a crash in which you become involved.

Read the signs

This isn't a simile.  Read the road signs.  They're there for a reason.  OK, you often get stupid ones on the motorway like FOG when it isn't foggy, or a sudden 30mph limit when there is absolutely no reason for it.  But generally signs are there for a reason.  And the more signs there are means the more dangerous the road is.  Most warning signs are only put there because people have died on that stretch of road in the past.  A bend will have no chevrons warning of it's presence until at least two people have been killed at that spot in the past.  Signs cost money and councils will only spend money if they absolutely have to.  They absolutely have to if people are dying on a stretch of road because there are no signs.  Observe signs, think about what they mean, act accordingly.


Road positioning is hugely important.  Any motorcyclist knows this.  Most drivers don't.  When you approach a corner position yourself in the road so you can see as far round the corner as possible.  Extend your line of vision as best you can by approaching left hand bends on the right hand side of your lane and vice versa.  Use your road position to be able to see further round the corner.  This way you can observe and anticipate what is going to happen.  When on a busy road position yourself so you can see the brake lights of vehicles ahead.  This will give you time to observe, anticipate and react.

Only drive as fast as you can see

Pretty obvious but do you do it?  I like driving fast but I only go round a corner as fast as I can see.  What this means is I can always stop in the space that I can actually see ahead of me.  If I can only see for 50 yards I only drive as fast as I can come to a complete halt in 50 yards.  This is an advanced police technique and prevents you, for example, hitting a car up the rear who may be stationary - but out of sight round the corner, or an animal in the road, or a pedestrian crossing the road, or even idiot cyclists two abreast in the road ahead of you.

Know your limits

Know the limits of you and your car.  It takes 1 second for the human mind to physically react to something the eyes see.  If you've observed and anticipated then you've got a head start but do you know how long it takes your car to stop at 60mph?  If not, find an empty stretch of road and practice.  If you don't do this then you'll never know until it's too late.

And finally...

This one piece of advice was taught to me on a naughty boys course (A Speed Awareness course, which is an afternoon's training in lieu of points on my licence).  It is something you would never think of but is absolutely invaluable.  When waiting, in the road, to turn right (UK roads) always keep your wheels pointing forwards.  If, in anticipation of the right hand turn you're about to make (and despite everything you've read above), you sit in the road with your front wheels pointing to the right - what do you think will happen if someone shunts you up the rear end?  You'll be pushed into the traffic coming the other way and if a vehicle is approaching you will hit it head on.  If, on the other hand, you had your wheels pointing forwards you would be pushed further along the lane you were in - thereby avoiding a head on collision with the oncoming traffic.

Article by Matt Hubbard