A Look Ahead

From the Driver’s Seat by Chuck Tucker ©2005 – A Look Ahead

Chuck Tucker
Chuck Tucker

Eight years ago, my friends talked me into attending a PCA driver’s education event at the Putnam Park Road Course. In the classroom I heard that 70% of Americans consider themselves to be above-average drivers – but of course they aren’t. On the track I found that driving fast is much harder than it looks, and loads of fun. I got so hooked, I now instruct at PCA events. In From the Driver’s Seat I’ll share some of the lessons I’ve learned from the track. These tips can help you at the track, but they are primarily intended for every day driving on the street. I hope that they will make driving your Porsche more fun.

The first tip is this: look ahead – way ahead! Too many drivers lock their eyes and their brains down just a short distance ahead of the car. Often their attention span ends at the bumper of the next car, which they are probably following at some NASCAR-inspired distance you could measure with a ruler. When something unexpected happens – the car in front brakes hard, the light turns red – these drivers are surprised, unprepared, and often on their way to the body shop.

Good drivers look ahead. The good drivers at the track look surprisingly far ahead. They plan the path they will take around the next turn, spot potholes and slick spots, predict how the traffic will develop and position themselves to deal with it. They scan for potential dangers (Is the car rushing in from the side street going to stop?) and allow themselves room to avoid them (I’ll ease up on the accelerator until I see him begin to slow).

Familiar advice from driver’s ed is to imagine a piece of tape running horizontally across your windshield, halfway between the upper and lower edges. You should spend most of your time looking above the tape, and only glance below the tape from time to time. If you are going 60 miles an hour and your reaction time is 0.7 seconds, there’s no point in looking at anything closer than 60 feet in front of you (about four car lengths); if it suddenly changes, you can’t react before you hit it. By keeping your eyes farther out, you see things that you have time to react to. By looking much farther out, you see them when a small change in brake, throttle or steering will take care of them.

The next time you are on a curvy road, look as far ahead as you can. Keep pushing yourself to see around the next bend, even when the trees are in the way. The next time you are on the highway, try to look half a mile ahead. See the traffic patterns, predict how they will develop, and make lane changes that allow you and your fellow travelers to move smoothly up the road. The next time you have to follow close behind another car, look past them, or even through them (if their windows are clean), so that you can see what is happening ahead. As you look farther and farther ahead, you’ll be surprised how, even when you are driving quickly, events around you seem to slow down and become more manageable. And your driving will be smoother, safer, and more fun.