Backing Up

Driving in reverse is deceptively hard, and has no correlation to driving forward. There is a simple reason for that. Cars are designed to go forward, when traveling in reverse the driver is asking the vehicle to do things the car was not designed to...


Many departments report that the number of accidents while backing up is higher than other types of accidents. More often than not, these result in fender benders. Not dramatic accidents, but still annoying and expensive.

Driving in reverse is deceptively hard, and has no correlation to driving forward. There is a simple reason for that. Cars are designed to go forward, when traveling in reverse the driver is asking the vehicle to do things the car was not designed to do. The major culprit is the vehicle's suspension system. Automobile suspensions possess a quality known as "caster." When the driver turns the steering wheel, caster is the force that helps to straighten out the front wheels after the steering wheel is turned. Caster also gives the car stability while traveling forward. Unfortunately, this stabilizing forward force destabilizes the car while it's in reverse. Adding to the difficulty is that while driving in reverse, the steering wheel will not center automatically. If you loosen your grip, it will stay in its last position. Another little quirk of caster is that the car becomes unstable while traveling backwards; and small changes in steering wheel movement will cause big changes in the way the car reacts to your inputs. The faster you go in reverse, the more difficult control becomes. A driver can lose control of the vehicle rather easily in reverse at low speeds. There is nothing you can do about caster. You need to understand that it's there, live with it and learn to control it.

There are a variety of techniques used to teach backing up at EVOC programs. No matter what backing up technique is used, there are some techniques that can help make backing up easier, and above all, safer.

Look first

No matter how short the distance you wish to travel in reverse, look where you're going and drive slowly. Most drivers back up and then look. Most cars feature a blind spot or spots to the rear large enough to hide a small child. Anytime you back up, press the horn. But whatever you do, be absolutely sure there is no one behind you when you back up. In an EVOC program, a good exercise is to have a driver sit in the vehicle and place a tall traffic cone (three feet high) directly behind the vehicle. Move the cone away from the back of the vehicle and ask the driver to let it be known when they can see the cone. Depending on the vehicle and the height of the driver it will be about 30 to 50 feet away from the back of the vehicle (in an SUV, that distance can be as much as 50 to 60 feet). That distance is the blind spot in the vehicle. If a child the height of the cone was within that distance, the driver would not be able to see them.

Clear the front

Before you put the car in reverse, make sure the area in front of the car is clear. Most police vehicles have long hoods and broad front ends. As you maneuver backwards and turn, the noses of many large cars swing out to the side dramatically and you could hit something--or someone. Many police vehicles have badly dented fenders because drivers neglected to perform this check.

Use smooth applications of the brake, steering wheel, and accelerator. When backing up, never combine a great deal of steering wheel movement with a heavy foot on the gas pedal. Life will get exciting real quick. The faster you travel in reverse, the more sensitive the steering becomes, and the greater the chance for disaster. Please keep in mind that, because of the caster mentioned above, and the instability it creates, it doesn't take much to flip a vehicle moving in reverse (unfortunately, I speak from experience)

Keep in mind that the handling characteristics of a vehicle driving in reverse is not the same as driving forward. A vehicle that handles well going forward may be very different while driving in reverse. As an example, if a vehicle moving forward can drive around an obstacle at 60 mph, the same obstacle, same distance, same vehicle driving in reverse may lose control at 20 mph.

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