Driving is one of those things that most people just assume they've mastered long ago. We took the driver's ed classes as teenagers, passed the tests, got our licenses, and that was that. And yet somehow, avoidable car accidents keep happening. According to early estimates by the National Safety Council, 35,200 people died in US traffic accidents in 2013, and a staggering 3.8 million crashes required medical attention. The agency points to "human error" as the most common reason. Hey, we're not saying it's you. It's probably those 3.8 million other drivers. But maybe, just maybe, it's time to take a closer look at your skills behind the wheel.
We called Bobby Ore, a 40-year Hollywood stunt coordinator, to see if he could offer a few pointers. Ore has taught A-listers like Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie how to drive fast without crashing, so maybe he could help us do the same thing. Here are just a few of his suggestions; the common mistakes he sees non-pro drivers making every day, and how you can course-correct your technique to make the roads a little less treacherous.
SITTING TOO CLOSE TO YOUR STEERING WHEEL
The Problem: "Most people don't even t
hink twice about their airbags," says Ore. "All they know is they got 'em. But if you're sitting too close during an accident, an airbag can cause serious damage, even giving you third degree burns."
Solution: "Make sure you are sitting no more than two inches from the bag’s maximum deployment. Check out the owner's manual or look online to find out how the bag in your particular type of car deploys. It’s designed for you to hit the bag, not the bag to hit you."
NOT REGULARLY CHECKING YOUR TIRE PRESSURE
The Problem: "You assume your tire pressure is fine, because it's what the tire manufacturer recommends," Ore says. "But then you pick up mama and the kids and the dogs, and put an extra 300 pounds of luggage in it. Tires are like balloons; the more weight you put on them, the more likely they are to pop."
Solution: Have an intimate relationship with your tires. "Before you get behind the wheel," Ore says, "think about your load. How many extra pounds are coming along for the ride? Make sure your tire pressure is ready for it." When in doubt, drop the pressure a little below the recommended (2psi at most). But don't get carried away. An under-inflated tire rides closer to the road, so it gets more friction and can overheat.
RIDING YOUR BRAKES
The Problem: "If you want to wear your brakes out real quick or warp your rotors, go ahead and ride them," Ore says. "You're going make your mechanic real happy, and real rich." Every time you brake unnecessarily, you need to accelerate again, and that's more gas, and more money out of your pocket.
Solution: "Try braking with just your right foot," Ore suggests. "This will keep you from pressing down on both pedals simultaneously. Or better still, keep your eyes up and on the horizon. If you know what's coming, you're less likely to brake unnecessarily.
SIDE MIRRORS ARE TOO CLOSE
The Problem: "Whether you're backing up or changing lanes, if your side mirrors aren't adjusted correctly, you're essentially driving blind," says Ore.
Solution: "If people learned how to set their mirrors correctly, they wouldn't even need to glance over their shoulders to make a lane change. Look at either side mirror; if you can see the edge of your car, the mirror's tilted too far in. Spread that mirror back, so you see only what's beside and behind you."
HOLDING THE STEERING WHEEL INCORRECTLY
The Problem: "Some people still think they should hold the steering wheel at the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock positions," Ore says. "But if you get into an accident and the air bag deploys, you'll end up punching yourself in the face."
Solution: Try the 8 o'clock and 4 o'clock position instead. "We've been teaching that at my driving school for years," Ore says. "Also, don't just palm the wheel. Get a firm grip on it." If an emergency situation comes up, your hand will slip before you get enough friction to turn the wheel. "Hold that wheel like you're ready for anything," he says.
(Original article featured on the Men's Health Magazing website at www.menshealth.com. Original post launched Friday, October 3, 2014 at 4:33pm)