Q: What are easy ways to become a better driver?
A: Besides bolting on a set of BFGoodrich tires?
Everyone you know wants to be the best driver you have ridden with, or at least that should be his goal. I know it’s been mine for over 50 years.
And we’ve all ridden with someone who makes us very nervous for many reasons.
You’ve heard the term "plan ahead" all your life, and that sums up this advice.
First, let’s look at what physically drives the car.
The hands do the steering (and maybe shifting!) and the feet accelerate or slow down your BFGoodrich tires. Where does their initial input come from? Yep, your vision. The hands and feet can (or should) only react to what the eyes are looking at. If the eyes aren’t looking far enough ahead, the hands and feet are reactive, not proactive, which results in jerky inputs to the wheel and sudden acceleration, or worser, sudden braking!
On the racetrack, we sorta "rifle-vision" our next reference, as car placement (the line) is critical for fast (safe) laps. We don’t have to worry about traffic lights, pedestrians, soccer balls, and cross traffic (for the most part). But we look far enough ahead (through the corner, not at the corner), to be sure we’re gonna stay on line, and to see when and how much power to add!
The street, however, presents thousands of issues we must deal with on a daily basis, so in order to be safe, we need to use our eyes much harder!
Number 1: In traffic, try to drive 3 seconds behind the car in front of you. This gives you plenty of reaction time should the car abruptly brake, or swerve, or spit out his rear differential suddenly. As the rear bumper of the car you’re following clears a stationery object—like a mailbox or maybe Jeff Cummings' Bronco—simply count "a thousand one-a thousand two-a thousand three" and you should arrive at the object. At 30 mph, it’s not very far, but the faster you go, the gap automatically becomes bigger!
Number 2: Back to the eyes. You should be able to see 12 seconds ahead of your car at all times. This is a key part of being smooth. A 12-second lead gives you plenty of time to change lanes, slow down smoothly, alert the folks behind you with turn signals, pull the chute, etc. This trick, too, is speed conducive.
Try to pick out the next large object in your natural vision, like a bridge. It should take you 12 seconds to arrive at the bridge.
At night, it's pretty easy. Look for the next object your headlights pick out, and slowly count to 12. If you get to the object under 12 seconds, you’re going faster than your ability to be smooth should something pop out.
Number 3: Scan your mirrors every 3 to 7 seconds. This is a key step in your new situational awareness. (I know—the dictionary defines "situational awareness" as “Looking for toilet paper before you sit down”.) But if you’ve been in the mirrors within the last 7 seconds, and need to make a quick lane change, you have a pretty good idea if there is someone in that spot, or not. Is that Crown Vic getting closer? Is he changing lanes when I do?
Adjust your side view mirrors away from the car. In other words, move them just off of your rear fenders, which will give you the view of another half-a-lane of interstate you don’t have now.