Thursday, May 3, 2012

Reading the Road

Guest Contributor: Ross Bentley

One thing that every driver does naturally is what I call “reading the road”.  As you drive, you constantly note and evaluate the shape, layout and condition of road ahead.  You do this without even thinking about it.  It’s one of the most important things you do while driving.

The more effectively you read the road, the safer you will be.  So, let’s take a look at just some of the things you can do.

If you're driving a winding country road or mountain highway, one of the most difficult tasks you face is just knowing which way the road curves on the other side of the hill-crest.  A simple glance at the tree line or the telephone poles can give an advanced indication as to the direction and inclination on the other side of the hill.

At night, shadows will give you a hint of upcoming bumps and rises.  Light travels in a straight line, so when you see a shadow, the road is dropping at that point.  Likewise, if the surface is gathering more light, it is rising.  Since oil and antifreeze leaking from cars are more likely to be shaken off and onto the ground by a bump, you can assume that where there is dark stained roadway, there is a bump - possibly to be avoided.

Watch for uphill, downhill, banked and off-camber corners.  They will have a considerable effect on the acceleration, deceleration and turning of any car.  A good  driver uses these to his advantage - and conversely, attempts to minimize their disadvantages.  Just remember, a car going uphill or turning on a banked corner has better traction than one going downhill or on an off-camber corner.

Traction capabilities can, and should be checked at very low speeds, whenever possible - especially in adverse conditions.  When it is safe to do so, brake heavily to determine where the braking traction limit is under these particular conditions.  Don't wait until you are approaching a stop sign, or in an emergency situation to find out the road is a little icy!  That's too late.

Try to avoid braking or accelerating heavily when driving over painted road markings - especially in the wet - as  these are often very slippery.  Also, watch for leaves on the roadway.  Driving on wet leaves can be like driving on ice.

I guess the final thought is to look far ahead, reading the road and watching for changing conditions - and thinking about how that will affect you and your vehicle.

copyright: Ross Bentley

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