Tips for New Drivers
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage
Ceylon Today Features
All of us can be a little guilty of road rage every now and then, especially when driving on the roads of Sri Lanka. Surely all of us want to avoid being the one responsible for another’s road rage and have that directed at us. Whether you are a seasoned motorist or a novice who just got their license recently and want to master the art of driving, here are some tips for you to increase your skill as a driver, save money and make the best of your time behind the wheel.
Know the rules
Needless to say, knowing the rules is important before you jump in behind the wheel. Not knowing basic rules that define how we drive on the road will only put yourself, the people in the car with you and the people on the road in danger.
Also, not knowing the rules means that you are at a disadvantage more than you are at an advantage. So take the time to know the rules before you sit behind the wheel.
This is both a good practice figuratively and literally. Sometimes, we worry about the cars around us and fail to look ahead. Have you ever found yourself in a sticky situation with traffic because you failed to predict what may happen?
While it is hard to look at what’s going on five or six cars ahead of you on the road when there’s a big SUV, bus or lorry blocking your field of vision, it’s important that you look ahead of the traffic and do your best to predict what may happen next. None of us can see into the future, but we can plan what may happen next. With experience, you’ll keep getting better and better at it.
Keep an eye out for what’s happening right in front of you, while being aware of what may happen five or six cars ahead of you. Then, plan your next move accordingly, instead of trying to react split-second to every situation, which can increase the chances of you causing an accident.
Driving is one of the most entertaining things you could do and can be a hobby in itself. However, remember that when you sit behind a steering wheel, you’re responsible for more than just your life. One simple mistake can cause a lot of pain and heartbreak for everyone, so make sure you’re well aware of that whenever you start your engine.
Show responsibility when driving and always ensure the safety of your passengers, fellow drivers and specially pedestrians. Just because you follow the rules doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Some might feel that they are the innocent party just because they followed the rules. However, the truth is that if you don’t take action to prevent an accident from happening, you’re still wrong even if you followed all the rules.
Have situational awareness when you’re driving, especially when you’re following the rules. An accident prevented is another life saved.
The same can be said for speeding or drunk driving. It is tempting to step on the accelerator and unleash that ‘lead foot’ of yours, but it could cost the life of an innocent bystander. Same can be said when driving while under the influence of alcohol. If you feel your reaction times are slow and you’re not concentrating well enough, don’t risk getting behind the wheel.
Know your car
The second, but equally crucial thing you must do to become a better driver is to know your car.
A good driver is familiar with a car, but an excellent driver knows their car through and through. They know how far they could go without refilling the fuel tank when the indicator says it’s empty, they know exactly what gear and rpm range they should maintain for a quick overtake instinctively and of course, they know how their car will behave in any weather and in any adverse circumstances.
Of course, obtaining this kind of understanding doesn’t come easy. It takes experience and some love to be able to ‘learn’ the vehicle you drive. However, the journey and result are definitely very rewarding at the end of the day.
Once you properly ‘know your car’ and it’s behaviour, you can try these tips to be a more effective driver.
If you drive a car with a manual transmission, you might have experienced times when you shifted down a gear and your car lurched, jerked and juddered more than you would have liked it to. This happens when there is a difference of speed between the engine and the transmission that’s connected to the wheels. When this happens, there is an added strain on the engine, clutch and transmission.
To prevent that, try ‘rev-matching’. For example, if you’re driving at 40 kmph in third gear, your engine should likely be at a lower rpm in your tachometer. If you suddenly downshift into second gear without using the brake, you’ll experience this lurch and judder. With that you would see your tachometer climb to a higher rpm instantly. That’s because your car has to run at a higher engine speed to go at 40kmph in a lower gear. When you rev-match, all you do is gently blip the accelerator to get the engine turning at this higher rpm before you shift to the lower gear.
Needless to say, making a mistake will bring problems to your engine as well, which is why you have to really know your car and how it operates to be able to master this skill. When you do so, you’ll be able to have better control of your car and because you are using what is called “engine braking”, you’ll be reducing strain on your brakes as well.
There is a variation of this called ‘heel-toe-downshifting’ where you apply brakes while using your heel to blip the accelerator and downshift. However, that’s a skill used by race-car drivers and trying that out in Sri Lankan roads without any practice or experience could increase the chance of mistakes that can lead to more accidents.
When driving, stick to your lane and be disciplined on how you switch between lanes. Being too impatient can sometimes make more traffic and would cost you more time than if you would have driven with more discipline.
Be it in the city or long distance drives in the countryside, when taking corners, make sure you follow a clean line and drive smooth. Accelerating hard and braking often is an easy recipe to put strain on your car and your heart. Drive smooth and efficient with a clean, clear line in mind to impress everyone of your skill behind the wheel.
Manage the weight when steering
Weight management is something common in motorsport. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn to handle your weight as well.
Make sure the weight in your car is evenly balanced when you’re loading it with all your camping gear and heavy backpacks. Otherwise, you might find yourself losing control of your car while taking a sharp corner, especially on wet roads. This usually happens in two forms.
Having too much weight on the front would create a phenomenon known as “understeer”. It’s also very common in front wheel drive cars. Understeer happens when you turn but your momentum overpowers the grip of your front tyres and the car keeps going straight without turning.
If that happens, straighten the wheel a little, lighten the weight you are putting on the accelerator or brake and hope that your tyres grip the road before you slide off a cliff.
Then there’s “oversteer,” something you usually see in rear wheel drive cars. When you see Ken Block slide around a corner, that’s basically a controlled oversteer, also known as drifting.
Oversteer happens when the rear wheels are turning faster than they can grip. The rear-end of the car slides out and if you control the slide, congratulations, you’re drifting. If you make a mistake, it’s sufficed to say things won’t end well. Most likely in a horrible road accident.
If this ever happens, slowly reduce the weight you’re putting on the accelerator or brake while looking to the direction you want to go and steering towards it. Do it gradually to prevent your car from spinning completely out of control.
Driving is one of the most enjoyable experiences. However, not taking what you’re doing seriously could result in a lot of pain for you and others. There are plenty of other tips you can find to help yourself become a more effective driver. This is just the tip of the iceberg.