Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Contributed by Ross Bentley
Whether it's for a pleasurable holiday trip, getting to and from work, or a regular part of your job, driving is simply a way of commuting from one point to another.  The key to safe, enjoyable and relaxed commuting is driving smoothly and with finesse.

Driving a vehicle with finesse will not only mean more enjoyment and reduced stress for you, but you will also conserve fuel.  Plus, it will mean a more comfortable and relaxed ride for both you and your passengers.
However, the most important reason for driving smoothly is to maximize your traction.  The smoother you drive, the more in-control you will be.

Your car only has a fixed amount of traction, or grip, holding it on the road.  If you exceed that specific traction limit, the vehicle will begin slide, spin or skid - often beyond your control, and resulting in a crash of some type.

As a driver, you can exceed your vehicle's traction limit in at least two ways: (1) by increasing your speed beyond the point in which the tires will continue to grip the road surface, or (2) by driving in such a way as to actually lower the vehicle's traction limit.

That first scenario is easy to control - keep an eye on your speedometer.  But, let's take a look at the second scenario.

Actually, it's the four tires that grip your car to the road.  When your car is sitting still, or when it is moving down the road neither accelerating, braking or cornering (in a straight line at a constant speed), it is "balanced".  That is, the weight of the vehicle is pretty much equally distributed between the four tires.  All four tires are doing about the same amount of work gripping the car to the road.

When you brake, the car tends to nose-dive.  When that happens the car becomes "unbalanced", as some of the weight from the rear of the car transfers to the front of the car.  When you accelerate, the rear of the car tends to squat as weight is transferred from the front to the rear.  When you go around a corner, the car leans to the outside, causing weight to transfer from the inside tires to the outside tires.  Understand that the overall weight of the car has not changed, just the distribution of that weight.

Whenever the car becomes "unbalanced", its overall traction limits are reduced.  Without going into a long discussion about vehicle dynamics and tire engineering, this is because a tire with more weight applied to it gains traction while a tire having weight taken off it loses traction - but it's not proportional.  In fact, as weight transfers onto a pair of tires (for example, the outside tires in a turn), they gain less traction than the pair having traction taken away from them loses (the inside tires in a turn).  The overall result is a net loss of traction for the car.

So, every time the car becomes "unbalanced", you have less traction.  The smoother you drive, the more "balanced" the car is.  The smoother you turn the steering wheel, or apply the brakes or gas pedal, the better "balanced" the car will be and the more traction you will have.

Another factor to consider.  Tires "give" more when they are progressively taken to their limit.  If you jerk the steering into a corner, or stab at the brake or gas pedal, you haven't given the tires a chance to build up to their limit.  Again, the result is an overall loss of vehicle traction.

As you can see, you play a vital role in how much traction your vehicle has.

everything you do behind the wheel must be done smoothly.  When turning into a corner, turn the steering wheel as gently and slowly as possible - this will make the turn smooth!

When braking, squeeze the brake pedal, don't jab at it.  Believe me, if you squeeze the brakes on, you will stop faster and with more control than if you very quickly jabbed at the pedal.  So, always think "squeeze" when applying the brakes.

A good driver is unspectacular - calmly, smoothly flowing through everyday traffic without upsetting other drivers, their vehicle's traction or their own passengers.

You may think that all this talk of traction is unimportant to you.  But it is important.  Even at a relatively low speed, you can exceed the tire's traction limits if you don't drive smoothly.  If you drive smoothly, you will not unduly lower your vehicle's traction limit.  And the more traction you have, the better prepared you will be in an emergency.

Conserve your vehicle's traction by driving smoothly.  Always keep some in reserve by keeping the car well "balanced".  You never know when you'll need a little extra traction to avoid the unexpected.

copyright: Ross Bentley

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