It's a familiar scenario. The parent otherwise known as the "chauffeur" sits behind the wheel of the family vehicle, coffee in hand, kids' music playing. Time's tight because one child has to be dropped off and another picked up -- at the same time! With all that going on inside the car, it's no wonder the driver finds it difficult, at times, to keep her mind on the road.
Driving mindfully is something Joan Hoskinson, a champion rally car driver, knows a thing or two about. As the holder of the Ontario P4 and Novice performance rally driving titles, Hoskinson maintains control of her car in a variety of situations. On loose gravel, ice or snow Hoskinson can reach speeds of up to 150 km.
What she has learned on the rally circuit can help "family chauffeurs."
1. Check your tires regularly and ensure they are properly inflated. Your car manufacturer affixes a sticker to the car door listing the recommended pressure in psi (pounds per square inch). Hoskinson carries a tire gauge in her purse and suggests that if you don't know how to use one, ask your mechanic to show you.
2. Check your headlights, tail lights and turn signals regularly.
3. Wear your seat belts.
4. Is your seat too far back? Before starting the car, depress the brake
pedal as far as possible. If you slide back in the drivers' seat when applying the brake, move your seat up.
5. Many cars have adjustable steering wheel columns. To check if your steering wheel is at the right position for you, try this test. Imagine the wheel as a clock face and put your hands at 9:30 and 2:30 (the position your hands should always be in when you drive). Turn the wheel until one of your hands is at the top (12:00).
That top hand should be level with your shoulder. If it is too high or too low you won't have maximum steering power. "Keep your hands on the wheel," says Hoskinson, "because you may need to steer hard to control a car, and in an emergency, split seconds matter. Most of your car's controls can be accessed without taking hands off the steering wheel."
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6. Minimize distractions within the car, especially if you have kids riding with you. That means no radio, CD's, cellular phones or coffee cups. "If I need to concentrate, especially in bad weather, I turn off the music," says Hoskinson. She applies this rule with some discretion. She recommends personal CD players for the kids to listen to their tunes so the driver can concentrate more completely on the road and other drivers instead of trying to decipher the lyrics of the latest Outkast song.
7. Where are you looking when driving? "Most of us look at the road or the bumper of the car in front of us when driving but if something is going to happen, it will probably take place in front of the car in front of you," says Hoskinson. "Be aware of the traffic around you and look as far into the distance as you can see down the road. This strategy should give you more time to react."
8. Adjust your mirrors, especially the passenger mirror, in order to see other drivers rather than your own car. "Use your peripheral vision," says Joan. "Use your mirrors but do a visual double-check by looking over your shoulder, too."
9. Lessons are good for all drivers. Hoskinson suggests a defensive winter driving course so drivers get the opportunity to practice handling your vehicle in ice and snow conditions.
10. Try to keep your cool in stressful situations. Although Hoskinson has seen a lot of bad drivers, she avoids getting upset by quietly muttering
driving tips to them.
Visit Transport Canada for more information.
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