Sunday, 26 September 2010

Advanced driving

Driving Nation

The goal of this blog is to be used as a system that keeps drivers, on the road and track, aware of key elements for "Effective Driving" by periodically publishing articles about contemporary subjects. Each publication would include a road driving article, a performance driving article, and both would include a summary, questions, and "trails", which are goals to be accomplished over a certain period of time.

This first article will disscuss the mental approach, how to percieve driving, how to think, what kind of driver to be. It might be a bit boring, I admit, but it's very important, and not too long a read. You can change the way you percieve yourself. If you thought of yourself as an "threatened" driver or as a "careless" driver, there is no problem with changing who you are. You do not even have to change your whole behaviour, just your attitude to driving. I am never serious on real life, but I take my driving seriously. It's not wierd, it just makes my personality more complex and interesting.

Why Advanced Driving?
Road driving appears very easy: You get in, press the gas pedal to move, get to destination and stop. Everything in between appears so natural and "automated". Alas, established research has proven this assertion wrong. Road driving encompases hugh amounts of information to be processed during fast movement, a lot of other road users, problems with the road itself, distractions inside and outside the car, etc...

For the sake of comparison, let's use a bicycle: Is it so trivial or easy? You are probably inclined to believe it is. But, you only start cycling from a certain age (i.e. it's not "natural" or "simple", it's complex and requires maturity). Even when you do begin cycling, does it not take time to pick it up? Are there no differences in skill levels between a beginner and intermidiate biker, between a kid and an adult, a novice and a professional? And even so, we usually cycle for short distances, in roads clear of heavy traffic or people with a lot of room, and usualy in the dry.With a car, we drive with more controls (brakes, gas, clutch, gear lever, steering, blinkers, etc) to operate, dozen times the speed, dozen times the other road users, more load on the car, more distractions on the road and within the car, etc.

Also, if driving a car is so simple, everyone would start driving at the age of, say, 13, with no need for a test, driving with parents and teachers, without being in need of the endless amounts of safety installements fitted into modern roads and cars, not having to yields to all sorts of laws and instructions and undergo courses for advanced/defensive driving, and we would all have no accidents or law enforcement and everyone would drive like Aryton Senna. Well, that's a long way from the reality, isn't it?

Now, I'm not saying this to make your life harder or to make you be afraid of driving. The whole point is to understand that the common approach to driving is false. Driving is a complex and hazardous task. Treat driving seriously, do not go into the car and put your mind into "auto-pilot", letting your mind drift to other places. Drive with ease, but without being distracted or dissconnected from the experience.

This, is what I call "Effective Driving". Effective driving is based on the right mental approach to driving, and from practical habits you use when you drive. If you fail to drive effectivelly, you expose yourself to great risks. Your driving becomes somewhat like a Russain Rollette. Yes, you might not be involved in accidents. Be it by the safety properties of the road and of your car, the skills of drivers around you, or by plain luck, many drivers can live a life-time of driving, even a lot of driving, without being involved in a collision or even a near-collision. However, any reasonable person would try to minimze the risk of driving, not just avoid the danger but minimize the chances of it's appearance.

Besides, "Effective Driving" is not about plain safety. It's about driving better. Not about doing something, but about getting it perfected. It gives you benefits of safety, speed, milleage (gas consumption and car wear), economy, comfort, ease, confidence, fun and entertainment, third party perception, etc. Think about "Effective Driving" as a skill or a task, as an ART, as a VALUE. When you think about "Effective Driving" As an art to be perfected, and of "Effective drivers" as artists; when you think of driving as a value and treat those who violate it and people who violate values (though not nessecarily by intention!), then you have made the first important step. 

Track driving is just like that. Many beginners try to go for fast lap times, but do not accomplish their goals. Why? Because driving on the track is based on being able to follow the fastest line around the whole track. If you try and drive fast, your speed will dictate your line. If you drive in the right line and pour speed into it progressively, you will do much better and will progress more consistently over time. Don't try to drive fast, drive effectivelly, speed will emerge by itself.

Many people think the track is nothing like the road, and that it involves pounding the throttle through the whole course. Well, this might be true in the perfect car, on the perfect tarmac and in a straight-line track. Each track is made unique by bending it and changing it from it's straight line shape. The more of this twisting takes place, the more technical is the track and less power-based. In fact, track driving is not about driving fast.  Track driving is about driving as slow as possible without exceeding the lap time you formerly set, or that is being set by another competitor.

Who is the "Effective Driver"?
An "Effective Driver" distinguishes himself from the novice, average driver, by personating the following treats:

1. Responsibility: Responsibility is the realization that YOU are the only one in charge of what you do and what happens to you. The average road driver relies in times on luck. You often hear such a driver complaining about another driver being able to crash into him with him not baring any fault. A responsible driver knows he is held responsible for his actions -- for good or for ill.
He knows that even when other factors around him create a certain situation, he is in charge to react in the way he sees fit. He knows to avoid pointing unnessecary blame towards others (ever heared a driver who collided say there was no way to save the situation?) and always sees where to improve and what to change. Responsibility is of course just as important on the track, where you are the one held responsible for the safety of yourself and others, to the integrity of the track and to the well-being of expensive cars.

2. Awareness: An effective driver is aware of hazards and risks. He is aware of the significance of life, of the effects of his mental state, state of the car, state of the road and other road users, and effects between those different levels like the effect of other drivers on him (say, when they honk the horn at him). He maintains awareness and concentration over time by several means: The first is looking and planning far ahead, filtering out unnessecary information to avoid dealing with too many factors and using his imagination and inside cognitive dialogue to avoid stress and distractions.
Second, he gets fascinated by driving and by the road and car. Being fascinated is the best and most natural way of keeping concentration levels high. Since driving is "his thing", he never goes out to drive when he is not capable (not just when intoxicated, also when sleepy and alike) and when he drives he defines driving as his single goal and is just driving.

3. Courtesy: Being courteous and kind to other road users, understanding their difficulties, forgiving them for their mistakes as quickely as you forgive yourself for your mistakes (but remember responsibility, learn from your mistakes!), he who gives, ends up getting. On the track, this takes place in the more basic form of patience.Instead of getting the car to turn NOW by turning sharper and squeezing more gas, the driver should know to wait for the right moment to turn, accelerate or slow down.

4. Knowledge: When you drive from a place of knowledge, you build up skill and confidence. Confidence gives you accuracy and the ability to respond accordingly (responsibility). Driving based on an image (like driving that is thought to be "natural" and trivial) generate either overconfidence or fear, and the final result here is panic input and panic input cannot be right. 

5. Skill: The ability to execute knowledge easily. The ability to perform real time, particularly during emergencies. In effective driving, skill does not come from trail and error. Skill comes from instruction, from well-based habits and from training. 

How to become a more effective driver?
The practical skills required for effective driving will be described later, but now the idea is to get the the mental model for improvement. How to move from a seemingly "stuck" situation. The process involves past, present and future.

1. Define your desired outcome: Imagine what you want your driving to be like. No setbacks, no "how to", just imagine driving a car like you wanted. Imagine this in various driving enviornments and from various angles: from driver's eyes, from passenger's eyes, from the side, from a "bird's eye" point of view. Bring up all sensations, sounds, feeling and emotions. As "references", however irrelevant they appear, note them down.

2. Recognise the current reality: Go driving, compare your driving or make a passenger compare your driving, to the notes. Rate your driving in all aspects from 1 to 10, for both your current driving and your desired driving. 

3. Try to minimize the gap between 1 and 2: There are various ways to get this. One is to use your inside, cognitive dialogue: Ask yourself questions in your mind while driving. These questions include: "What to improve" -- "That needs to be improve"; "What do you feel?"; "What are YOU doing to get in your own way?". These questions are also regarding the situaiton on the road: "What hazards can I see?", "What am I doing right now?", "What do I see in the distance", "How far can I see/am looking?", "What can I see in the distance?", "what is the width of the road?", etc...

Another means of progress is the change habits and imrpove your knowledge. Changing habits relates to most people as entering a certain chaos, do not! Be ready to change habits (when a solid and valid reaons exists). Values are more complex than habits. With beliefs and values we ask ourselves whether this change will be beneficial. Mind you, the movement from point 2 (current reality) to point 3 (desired outcome) is not nessecarily a forward movement. Progress isn't all it's cut out to be. Sometimes we seek "foundementalism": to return to former performances.

A third way is to learn from other effective drivers, particularly race drivers and people who deal with instructing advanced driving. I knew I was making progress, when I started to act and drive like my mentors and trainers, on the road and track. Training, particularly on a personal basis, is the best!

Modern school of thought dictates that imitation is not a respectable manner of decision-making, but that is just one perspective. A perspective that has not been as wide-spread as it is nowadays, for thousands of years. I take compliament from learning from the professionals, and not the other way around!

If you make certain routes of driving regularly, sketch the route and work on it like a race-track. Which part of the road imposed a difficulty for you? Where did something happened, which you wish have happened differently, where can you improve and how. Record your drives in that route as a certain "journal". It helps a lot.