The scariest things are often the most fun. Like diving off a cliff, swimming with sharks and race car driving. I definitely have a need for speed.
Driving fast isn’t for everyone. Admittedly, many people shouldn’t drive fast. At least based on their everyday driving skills. You know who you are, mr/ms too good for turning signals.
At the same time, having experience going at fast speeds in a vehicle is indispensable. Most of us will never reach the limits of our car. And I think that’s a very bad thing. Here why.
Do you know what losing control in a car feels like?
When you increase the speed of a car, there is a pivotal moment when its stability changes. Sometimes slightly, other times Dukes of Hazzard styles.
With momentum heading in one direction, the weight of a car shifts along with it. Depending on if your car has rear, front or all wheel drive, that weight feels substantially different. This can make steering the car also feel heavier and twitchier, so to keep the car going straight, it can require incremental adjustments.
If you’re picturing Gone in 60 Secconds or Fast and the Furious movies, that’s pretty on point.
But, losing control isn’t always related to speed. It can also happen for unseen reasons, like hitting a puddle of water, slick surface or finding yourself on black ice. If you’ve never aquaplaned, consider it a blessing from heaven!
For highway drivers who have ever hit a bump in the road, you’ll never forget the feeling. For a split second the car feels like it’s lifting off like a jet.
For fellow speed demons and self proclained slow pokes, inevitably you will run into a situation where you have to drive quickly. Car handling under different circumstances like this requires practise.
Wouldn’t your rather be prepared so you know how to react?
Stop Right There, Thank You Very Much
Speed is one thing, and stopping at speed is another. At certain accelerations your car’s braking ability changes. Very drastically.
The very first time I really tried to stop at high speed (aka had complete faith my car wouldn’t explode or the airbag would poof into my face), it honestly blew my mind. It was a lot faster than I expected. Especially contrasting slowing steadily to a full stop and all out face ripping and seat belt strangling hard stop.
At advanced driving school they took it a step further. My teacher lined us students up and asked us how long we thought it would take our cars to brake from 60mph at a yellow line marked on the ground. Some people thought it would be 15 car lengths, others thought one. Truth be told, we were all wrong. From a Miata, BMW to my Mustang, all our cars reacted differently. On average, it took 5 car lengths.
Knowing how quickly you car can stop is integral, both at regular road speeds and highway speeds. It could save lives by avoiding an accident and the cost of a busted bumper.
If you know how long it takes to stop at slow and high speeds, you can adapt your driving around that distance.
Spin Me Right Round, Baby Right Round
At speeds a car also reacts very differently to very small steering wheel inputs. If you’ve ever tried to swerve out of the way of an obstruction on the road, you know how terrifying this can be.
A turned car tire has less surface area on the road, and so it has less grip and will noticably feel less firmly planted and more skittish.
Sometimes you can’t avoid mixing speed and turning, like when trying to safely merge onto the highway or passing an unsafe vehicle. Bad weather like rain and snow make it even more difficult.
In many cases it’s not speed that’s the culprit, but the driver’s inability to adapt to the circumstances.
It’s also not as uncommon as you may think for a driver to flip a car over due to loss of control aka the incorrect steering wheel inputs at the wrong time. I’ve seen this IRL. A lady lost control of her sedan after skimming a concrete barrier. She panicked and turned the steering wheel too quickly, which threw the weight of her car off. Up the barrier lip and over her car went. She was lucky to only have minor scratches and a bruised ego. I know I won’t ever forget it.
Long story short, there are a lot of variables at play for when, why and how you can lose control of a car. You’re either prepared or not.
To Know or Not to Know
Knowing is half the battle, and has literally saved my life.
While driving on the highway one sunny day, the tractor trailer in the middle lane next to me decided he wanted the fast lane. Unfortunately I was in it and my car was at the halfway mark of his huge truck. There was a car behind me and one further ahead of me. Thanks to my advanced driver training and auto cross experience, I was able to safely divert my car while maintaining highway speed partially onto the dirt and rock shoulder, and then pick up enough speed to pass him.
All of these circumstances were not in my favor. But I was lucky because I was prepared enough. Would you be?
Where and How
I hope it goes without saying but I will mention just in case. Never ever excessively speed or do anything car control related on regular roads. That’s stupid and you’re putting other people at risk. Be part of the solution, not problem.
Here’s are some ways you can safely test the limits of your car and become a better driver:
- Car control school or clinic
2. Autocross: timed competition in which drivers navigate one at a time through a defined course
3. Race track
4. Rent a parking lot or airstrip (a great team event idea!)
Power is knowledge, so do yourself and the world around you a favor and go ahead and try driving fast (and stopping fast). You might just like it. And if you don’t, it could save your life one day.
FYI, I plan to do more posts on safe driving including in-depth ways you can get involved locally.