I am certain that there are a few out there who has been driving for decades and think there is nothing more to learn. Wrong. The issue here is that the average modern automobile available in India today is much smarter than the first or second car you bought. Another important fact is that our roads are improving, and we need to adapt to faster average speeds and that means learning a few skill sets.
Let us begin with brakes. Optimal use of brakes can save you from a lot of trouble, especially in cars equipped with disc brakes and have ABS systems. Earlier it was important to apply brakes cautiously or even apply multiple times to prevent the brakes from locking up and sending car on a skid.
In cars equipped with ABS you can apply full force on the pedal and steer the car while at it. The advantage is huge as your stopping distances reduce and you can steer your way out of a vehicle that has come to an abrupt halt or even avoid a stationary truck. Similarly, you can avoid hitting jay walking pedestrians, cattle that leisurely stroll across the road and so on. For getting the best out of your brakes, you should spend time practising braking.
Choose a closed road or an empty parking lot to practice sudden braking. Put a marker (a traffic cone or a used tyre) and try stopping before it at, say, 60 kph to begin with. Repeat the exercise by braking at 70, 80, 90 and 100 kph. During this exercise you will get a feel of how to come to a halt or even avoid the marker by using all the braking force you can get from your car. Trust me, after this exercise you will brake much better every time you are forced to panic braking in real life conditions.
Most drivers end up rear ending cars or get rear ended because they don’t know how good modern brakes are. This simple practice session will make you a better driver when you hit fast roads such as the Mumbai-Pune express way, the Delhi-Agra highway and most of the Golden Quadrilateral and other national highways.
Now let us deal with speed. There is a huge difference between driving at 80 kph and100 kph on Indian roads (in international road conditions it will be 100 kph and 120 kph). At 80 kph, you will have so much more time to react to a hazardous situation on the road than at 100kph. Chances of you losing control of the car increases dramatically with speed, especially in inclement weather. Even in the unfortunate instance of a tyre blow out, you will be able to control the car and bring to a safe halt at 80 than at 100 kph.
Hill driving and driving on relatively fast highways with oncoming traffic is next.
While on a hill/mountain road the right of way is for vehicles coming up hill. That does not mean that you can drive blindly into corners and expect on coming traffic to stop. To begin with get into a gear that will give you adequate amount of speed to negotiate the climb. Honk before you enter the corner to alert vehicles coming against you. And stick to your lane! It is easy to stray onto the other side of the road if you are carrying too much speed.
Many of our national and state highways are narrow and feature oncoming traffic. The most dangerous thing you can do on such roads is to try and overtake a slow-moving vehicle and slip back on to your side of the road. It gets worse in the night when blinding head lights come into play. The golden rule is not to overtake if you can see oncoming vehicles. But there are times you have pulled out of your lane for an overtaking manoeuvre and have no option but to complete it.
Assessing the speed of the vehicles involved (the one you are passing and the one that is coming against you) is very critical. Once you are committed and you think you can’t make it, you can always try to slip back behind he vehicle you were trying to overtake. In short, do not play Russian roulette with oncoming traffic -it is just not worth it.
(Bijoy Kumar Y, a former editor at Business Standard Motoring, heads adventure initiatives at Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd.)