The ABCs of Precision Driving

It's critical to understand the forces that interact to influence vehicle control.


The Performance Envelope

These three variables, the ABCs of precision driving, are combined in various ways as a vehicle is driven. Of course, each of the three has its theoretical limits: A vehicle has a top speed, or a certain turning radius, or a certain ability to stay on the road when turned into a corner at a given speed. Each of these maximum performance potentials can be combined into the theoretical construct of a "performance envelope."

As long as a driver keeps the vehicle inside the envelope, the vehicle is capable of being controlled. Once outside the envelope, the vehicle is forced past its engineered performance capability, and cannot be controlled. The performance envelope flexes, changing size and shape based upon the vehicle's condition and the physical environment within which the vehicle is operated.

Of course, an inexperienced driver may not be able to control the vehicle, even though it's still within its performance envelope. And even an experienced driver would do well to stay more toward the center of the performance envelope, away from the edges, where a vehicle that's right on the edge of control could easily be thrown outside the envelope by an unforeseen circumstance, such as a sudden change in pavement surface, weather, or an unexpected obstacle. Driving close to the edge is really "pushing the envelope."

Driver Experience: The Moderating Factor

Since a vehicle's condition and the driving environment will constantly evolve during a driving scenario, the driver must remain alert for these changes, and be prepared to act accordingly to maintain safe operation. The more experienced a driver is, and the more training he or she has, the better equipped they will be to make quick decisions based upon their perceptions while driving.

A driver must build a memory bank of experiences that can be drawn upon in a vehicle handling situation. Actual driving experience is invaluable in this regard. Driver training can then augment what a driver already knows.

In an academy setting, where many recruits have only a few years of driving experience, multiple repetitions of driving maneuvers take on added importance. Whatever time is available should be spent on allowing students to practice defensive and precision driving skills, under the tutelage of experienced instructors. Various exercises should be utilized that will force students to make decisions about how and when to apply the ABCs of precision driving in a given situation.

Given this solid foundation to build on, even inexperienced drivers will have a better chance of reducing the likelihood of a traffic crash once they hit the street.

Stay safe, and wear your vest (and Buckle Up!)

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