Training for Truly Defensive Driving, by K.W.

After a long day of work, where you had plenty of motivation to get your rear in gear and start working on your projects, you hop in the car for the drive home. As you grab 5th gear, good choice on driving a manual, and look over your left shoulder to merge on the highway as a truck 200 yards in front of you just dropped a huge pile of tree branches in your lane. You look ahead as you are merging and see that pile of branches! What do you do? Time is quickly going by, and so is the distance. Hitting this pile of tree debris just might disable your fancy Prius that gets so many miles per gallon, let alone the fact you may be injured severely. Hit the brakes and the driver that was only feet behind you as you merged might end up in the middle of your car. Instinct takes over in a situation like this. Your instinct was to physically lock up and slam on the brakes, you hit the pile of debris and the driver who was texting rear ends you causing major injuries sending you to the hospital in a Helicopter ride. Big expenses on medical bills that your insurance would only cover part of.

Situation normal for the trained driver.

As he hops in the Civic–almost the same miles per gallon as a Prius–bangs the shifter in 5th the same situation happens. Over the shoulder look to merge, a huge pile of nasty branches fall out of a truck ahead. The driver merges and then looks ahead to see the impending doom just yards from the bumper, his reaction is instinctive. His brain knows he just merged from the right, so that area is clear still. A Chicago box says the drivers memory, the driver’s hands that are gripping at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions aggressively apply right steering input and roll out of the throttle slightly to allow the front tires to dig out the turn. The brain allows the driver to stay in control to the right, gather the car as left steering input is applied sending the car around the pile of debris and safely back to the lane. The car texting hits the pile……

So how did the Civic driver maneuver around the brush pile so easily while the Prius driver plowed right into it? Autocross, that’s how. It feels like 100 percent pure madness behind the wheel of your car, yet it in a safe environment. The only thing that can be damaged is your ego.

I know, I know, you are an awesome driver and the magazine says your car will do 0 to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds. You have been driving for 30 years and always do well in winter.

How much time and money have you put into firearm training? Hopefully you have done some, right? How do you see yourself getting from your current home to your Bail Out location? We all drive a car at one point or another. We see all kinds of wild and crazy things happen on the road. Not one of us plans on getting into an accident, but what is it worth to help yourself stay out of one?

Looking at the reports of these “protesters” blocking traffic and causing traffic jams concerns me greatly. If there are people trying to get me to stop in the middle of the road or highway I believe I would see them as a Slalom! Just steer around them as long as it is safe to do so. How does one steer around objects in the road? just turn the wheel right? That is only partially right, you need to steer the car with your feet also. What does that mean? It means transferring weight to the wheels that you need traction on. It is really an art that is learned over time. You get can a very good idea on how it works quickly, but will take some time to get very good at. Front wheel drive cars that are so prevalent today work well with trail braking, this transfers weight to the front wheels and will allow very big steering inputs and keep the tires maintaining grip.

Tires! You need tires? How old are your tires? They have plenty of tread and will last a few more years, they are only six years old. Tires wear, and age. Old tires will have less grip than new tires. If you want to keep safe, keep quality and fresh tires on your car. Learn to read the date code on the sidewall. This is very important for all your tires.

We all have a non 4×4 automobile that is safe to compete at a local Sports Car Club of America  (SCCA) autocross. If you have a Civic or Accord, then that will do. A Camry or Avalon, yep. Almost any BMW, yes. All you need is a safe low center of gravity vehicle. Bring it out in the condition you normally drive it, as in you do not need special tires or other work done on the car. You will need to ensure you remove all loose items from the interior for safety. A water bottle behind the brake pedal makes for an interesting threshold braking experience. A helmet is mandatory for driving on course, most clubs will have loaners in case you do now already own one. A Snell rated helmet 2005 and newer is all you need. As you will the tossing the car around on an open lot around cones no damage will come to your car, even plowing cones at 50mph will only leave scuff marks that come off with a wash and wax. With the aggressive driving you will want more air in the tires than normal to prevent the tires from rolling over on the sidewalls. Adding 4-10 psi from the recommended pressure would be a good start, do this only for the Autocross event, air them back down to normal afterward. With a cleaned out car and more air in your tires you are ready to head to your first event.

Arrive to your local SCCA autocross on time or early. Showing up a little early is always a good thing. Letting a club member know that this is your first Autocross would be beneficial. Most clubs will be able to lend a hand to ensure your car is preppedbcorrectly and take you on a course walk. Yes a course walk! You will have to take your car through a tech inspection to ensure it is safe. Most issues are from a loose battery hold down, a very good thing to find before it starts a fire. Autocross starts with timed runs on your very first look at the course behind the wheel. You area allowed to walk it as many times as you would like, competition begins with the first run. Some clubs may have as many as 8 runs or as few as 4. No matter how many runs you have, you have no other opportunity like this to drive your car to the limit and beyond in a safe environment. Now that you are on course it is time to test your skills and see how quickly you can maneuver your car around all the cones. Most clubs will have an experienced driver available to ride around with you and give some pointers to you. Take it, some of these Autocrossers have been doing this with a passion for 30 or more years! If you have a chance, ask one of these drivers to drive your car on course. You will be amazed at what they can do, then drive it again and try to copy them. This is a great way to learn. Leaning the ins and outs of how your car handles is essential to being able to stay safe in emergency situations. Drive in the snow in your neck of the woods? Autocross will help. Drive on dirt roads? Autocross will help. Drive in the rain? Autocross will help. Drive during peak rut of the Whitetail deer season? Autocross will help. Enjoy driving, in general? Autocross might help more than you know.

Costs of these events can vary from club to club. You can get started with no commitment for $40 or so for an event, most accept cash too. A typical course with have your car starting in 1st gear and shortly going to 2nd for the duration of the course. The average max speed you will see is 60 mph. Most courses can be run in less than 60 seconds for an experienced Autocrosser.

Driving your current commuter car at an Autocross or four will get you programmed to handle emergency situations on the road. We know firearm training teaches us we will react to situations at our lowest level of training. When our lives are on the line we do not want to be dependent on a lack of training! We want to know we are trained fighters capable of overcoming any adversary! The same has to be with driving a car. How many hours do we spend driving? How many situations are we in driving on a day to day basis? Have we become desensitized to all of the threats from driving?

Have a teenage driver? The SCCA holds events geared for them too. Any licensed driver can compete at an Autocross. That also means a holders of a Learner’s Permit with a parent in the passenger seat.

Have fun and learn how much you know about driving, you just might surprise yourself on your current skill level and how the lives of your family depend on them.

Want to take it to the next level? Try out a Track Night that is being organized by the SCCA. You can get your car out on a road course and put those skills to use at speed!