Friday, June 23, 2017

Sharing the Road: Young Drivers and Big Trucks


With winter just around the corner, many young drivers will experience cold weather road conditions for the first time; add large trucks to the mix, and odds are you’ll see a great increase in accidents that occur. Even if a truck driver receives the best CDL training possible, they are still relying on all of the young drivers around them to be aware of big trucks.  As a former truck driver, I know that 9 in 10 fatal truck crashes happen when smaller passenger vehicles are involved. If you’re new to driving, or just need a refresher course, here are the 4 B’s that drivers of all ages can keep in mind when sharing the road with large trucks.

Avoid Blind Spots

All young drivers know that cars have blind spots. For big trucks, especially those hauling trailers, these blinds spots are exponentially larger. This area is called the No-Zone. If you remember nothing else about blind spots then remember this: If you can’t see the truck driver, then the truck driver can’t see you!

• There are blinds spots on the left and the right of a truck’s cab. If you can’t see the trucker in the side mirror, then you’re in the blind spot, and you need to get out.

• Behind the truck is the largest No-Zone. The trucker cannot see you and you cannot see what is ahead of the truck, thus greatly reducing your reaction time.

• In front of a large truck is a dangerous place to be as well. Unlike small cars, trucks need considerably more time and distance to come to a stop.

Be Predictable

When driving a massive vehicle, operators need more time and space to react to anything happening out on the road. Others can make the roads safer by making sure their moves are steady and predictable. This is especially true when drivers need to pass through a blind spot.

• Always maintain a constant speed while driving around large trucks. When you enter a blind spot, maintain your speed and be visible and predictable.

• Change directions slowly and deliberately. Do not weave in and out of lanes. Driving a truck requires enough focus without having to keep track of erratic drivers.

• Signal plenty of time before making moves in traffic. This gives everyone else time to react to your change in lane or direction.

Be Alert!

Being alert while you’re behind the wheel is an absolute must. Fatal traffic accidents claim countless lives every year, and if you’re frequently inattentive when you drive, you’re only contributing to the problem. Rather than concerning yourself with your phone or your stereo, try focusing on what’s happening in front of you; it can save lives.

• Don’t text (or talk) and drive. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 21 percent of fatal car crashes, involving drivers ages 15-19, were due to cell phone distractions.

• Don’t be a Rubbernecker! This occurs when something of interest catches your eye and you whip your head around to see more. This causes immediate loss of focus on the road. Also, when you turn your head, your hands instinctively turn in that direction which could cause you to drift out of your lane.

• Keep in mind that there are many other ways to be distracted by influences in and out of the car, especially if you are getting up early in the morning to drive to school.

Be Considerate

This one may seem obvious but often forgotten when tempers flare on the roads. Just remember that everyone needs to get somewhere; that’s why you’re all driving in the first place. Big trucks are not on the road solely to make your life more difficult.

Driving on our roadways requires a lot of trusts, and the only way we can establish that with each other is by working together and being respectful of one another’s boundaries. Reading this article means that you have taken a great first step in ensuring your own, and everyone else’s safety.

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Road safety during wet weather

Being prepared for general wet weather

Driving in wet weather can be very dangerous. You should prepare and frequently maintain your vehicle to make sure you will always be as safe as possible when driving in wet conditions.

To get your vehicle ready for driving in wet weather make sure:
  • you have good tire tread (at least 1.5mm deep across the whole tire width)
  • all of your vehicle’s lights work well
  • your windscreen and lights are clean.

Driving safely in general wet weather

We recommend you look at weather forecasts and road condition updates, and plan your drive before heading out on long trips. This will help you to avoid driving in and around unsafe conditions. However, our weather can change dramatically, even within the space of a short drive. When you find yourself in unexpected wet weather (such as a quick moving storm), follow these safety tips.

In wet conditions:

  • drive slowly—to avoid aquaplaning and skidding
  • drive with your lights on low beam (it is easier to see with a low beam in fog)
  • use your air conditioner or demister to keep your windscreen clear of condensation
  • double the distance between you and the car in front
  • avoid breaking suddenly or accelerating or turning quickly—to reduce your chances of skidding
  • do not drive on unsealed roads
  • use road line markings to stay in the middle of your lane—in wet weather, it is more important than ever to stay in the correct position on the road
  • do not drive on roads covered with water (even partially covered)
  • watch out for landslides—heavy rain can cause layers of rock and soil to move
  • stay away from the stagnant water by the side of the road (it can be very bad for your health).

Drive slowly

When driving in wet weather, you should always remember that the signed speed limit is the maximum safe speed in ideal driving conditions so you may need to drive slower in wet weather.

Aquaplaning

Aquaplaning is where there is a build-up of water between the road surface and your tires, causing them to lose contact with the road surface completely. If this happens, you may lose control of your vehicle.

To reduce your chances of aquaplaning in wet weather, slow down and do not use cruise control.

Skidding

If some of your vehicle’s tires slip, but you still have some traction on the road, you are skidding. If your vehicle starts skidding, it may become difficult to control. Wet surfaces can increase your risk of skidding. When you are driving in the wet, reduce your speed and allow all of your tires to grip to the road at all times.

To prevent skidding:
  • accelerate smoothly
  • brake smoothly
  • corner smoothly.

Double the distance between you and the car in front

If you drive too close to the vehicle in front of you, you are likely to crash if they brake suddenly. Keep far enough back so that, if they do something you are not expecting, you can still stop in time.

: Image of 2 cars on the road, with a power pole. The image indicates that there should be 2 seconds between the rear of the first car passing the pole and the front of the second car passing the pole.
In good weather, make sure there are at least 2 seconds between you and the vehicle in front.

Cars
If you are driving a standard car, you should drive at least 2 seconds behind the vehicle in front of you. In wet weather, you need to double your stopping time—so you will need to travel at least 4 seconds behind the vehicle in front.


In good weather, make sure there are at least 2 seconds between you and the vehicle in front.

Heavy vehicles, trailers, and caravans

If you are driving a heavy vehicle, you should drive at least 4 seconds behind the vehicle in front of you. In wet weather, you need to double your stopping time to at least 8 seconds. If you are driving a vehicle with a trailer or caravan attached, you should allow at least 2 seconds for your car and 1 second for each 3m of your trailer/caravan in normal conditions. In wet weather, you will need to allow at least 4 seconds for your car and 2 seconds for each 3m of your trailer/caravan.

How to judge the distance

To work out how many seconds you are behind the vehicle in front of you:

  1. Pick a mark on the road, or an object close to the left side of the road (such as a power pole).
  2. When the back the vehicle in front of you passes the mark or object, count ‘one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three, one-thousand-four’. This takes about 4 seconds.
  3. If the front of your vehicle reaches the mark or object before you finish counting, you are too close and need to drop back.

Driving safely in floods

Floods can occur almost anywhere in Queensland and can rise over days, or in minutes in a flash flood.

Do not travel in flooded areas unless it is essential. If you must drive in or near a flooded area, try to view updates on road conditions and closures before heading out—so that you can take the safest possible route. But importantly, never attempt to drive across a flooded road.

Flood road signs

To keep you safe and protect our roads, we must carefully manage roads that have been flooded.

To do this, we may:
  • close roads
  • put load restrictions on and around flooded roads
  • put traffic controls at and around flooded roads.

If you need to drive in an area that has been flooded, signs will warn you of the roads that are unsafe to use. Always follow the directions of flood road signs and drive with extreme caution. Learn the flood barriers and signs.

Flood safety tips

If you must drive in a flooded area:
  • never drive on a road or bridge covered with water—floodwaters can be fast moving and contain debris
  • always take extra care when driving on a road or bridge that has been recently flooded—as it may be damaged or still drying out.
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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Hand Signals Guide

Whether you're making a lane change or turn, state laws require you to signal your intentions to other drivers on the road.
Use this guide to learn more about using hand signals when turn signals are not an option.

Hand Signals & Definitions

Signaling helps make other motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians aware of your intentions on the road. This improves safety and can help to avoid an accident.
Below are the basic hand signals you may need to use if you are a cyclist or a motorist whose turn signals aren't working properly.


Left Turn
When making a left-hand turn or changing lanes from right to left, you'll need to make a left-hand turn signal by:
  • Extending your left arm sideways from the driver's window, keeping your arm straight and your fingers extended.
  • Try to make your arm as visible as possible.
Right Turn
When turning right or changing lanes from left to right, make a right-hand turn signal by:
  • Extending your left arm out of the driver's side window.
  • Bend the elbow at a 90-degree angle so that the hand is pointing up and your palm is facing forward.
  • Try to make your arm as visible as possible to those around you.
Stopping or Slowing
When you intend to stop or slow down, signal your intentions when pressing on the brake by:
  • Extending your left arm out of the window.
  • Bend your elbow and point the hand down toward the road with your fingers extended.
  • Your palm should face the drivers behind you.
When to Use Hand Signals

While it might not seem like hand signals are needed most of the time, there are instances when they are both necessary and helpful in order to abide by state traffic laws.
These include:
  • When a tail or brake light isn't working.
  • When the morning and evening sunlight makes it hard to see signal lights from other vehicles.
  • Operating a bicycle or other vehicle that doesn't have turn signals.
  • Motorcyclists who have tail or brake lights that may not be visible to all other vehicles on the road.
Tips for Using Hand Signals

Here are a few tips you'll want to keep in mind when using hand signals:
  • States have different guidelines for when you should signal a turn. Make sure to read up on your state's specific requirements.
  • FOR EXAMPLE: In California, you're required to begin signaling at least 100 feet from an upcoming turn.
  • Continue signaling until the turn or lane change is complete.
  • Remember to use signals when pulling to or away from a curb.
  • Signal even when you don't see other vehicles around you.
  • Signal before you begin to break.
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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Driving corners fast

Once the optimum route through the corner has been determined, it’s time to negotiate the turn in the quickest way possible. To do this will, you need a decent knowledge of your car’s limits, some time to learn the track, and a combination of car control techniques.

It might be worth reading our introduction to the racing line before reading this article.

The corner (including the sections of track immediately before and after) can be divided into distinct zones which are shown in Diagram 1 below.
  • Acceleration zone (prior to cornering)
  • Pedal transition
  • Braking zone
  • Gear change
  • Turn-in point
  • Neutral throttle (or trail braking for experienced drivers)
  • Apex point
  • Acceleration (after hitting the apex)
  • Full power

Diagram 1: Driving the racing line

Acceleration zone

To get the best times on the track you need to be either accelerating or braking at all times while on the straights – any coating means you’re losing precious seconds! Try to accelerate all the way up to the braking zone and use maximum throttle up to the last point.

Pedal transition

Before you can begin braking, there is a short break as you release the throttle and apply the brake with your right foot. Left foot braking is an advanced technique which can reduce this time to the bare minimum.

Braking zone

Apply the brakes hard at your predetermined breaking point using the threshold braking technique. Due to the forward weight transfers, there is a possibility that you may lock up one or more wheels (or activate ABS), but as you’re traveling in a straight line this will not necessarily cause any detrimental effects. Ensure that you have come off the brakes, or reduced braking to a minimum before you turn in. As you learn the track and your tires warm up you will be able to leave the braking point later.

Trail braking

Once you have mastered the racing line and the various stages of driving through a corner shown in Diagram 1, you might consider taking things one step further with trail braking. This involves braking later and continuing to break into the early phase of the corner before the apex. This can help improve your lap times but also pushes your car closer to the limits of grip.

Trail braking should be considered in the following situations:

  1. If you have a car which is prone to understeer when turning into a corner
  2. If you have accidentally left your braking too late and need to further reduce speed to be able to take a corner
  3. If you have perfected the racing line and the phases of cornering and are looking to further improve lap times
  4. If you have a car which naturally has a tendency to understeer, feathering the brake into a corner will maintain a forwards weight transfer and can provide additional grip at the front wheels. This can sometimes allow a faster cornering entry, but the success rate depends on the setup of your car.
  5.  If you find you have plowed into a corner too fast and feel that there is a risk you might not be able to remain on the track, trail braking can help. Remember though that the less braking you can get away with mid-corner the better. So only use as much braking as you absolutely need to – this will leave you with greater reserves of grip which can be used to keep you on the track while cornering. This technique should be treated as a method of recovery rather than a matter of habit.
  6. Once you have cornering down to a fine art, trail braking is a method of further improving your lap times. When performing this technique at speed, it’s important to remember that the majority of the braking should still be completed in a straight line. However, to squeeze every last ounce of performance from your car, you can start to leave your braking point slightly later and continue to use the brakes in the corner prior to the apex. Before you turn in, progressively start to ease off the brakes until they are fully released at the apex ready for the acceleration phase. Some cars do not react well to trail braking, especially those prone to lift off oversteer – although there will be more grip available at the front wheels while trail braking, the rear will be more prone to break loose. Beware!

Gear change

Before you turn the corner you’ll usually need to change down. The golden rule here is to select a gear which will allow you to accelerate out of the bend efficiently. Heel and toe shifting can be a useful technique to master here as it allows you to brake and change down simultaneously while avoiding transmission shock loads which can unbalance the car and cause unwanted weight transfers.

Turn in point



When turning in, ensure your steering motion is smooth and progressive. The perfect corner involves tightening the steering until the apex (see diagram above) and then gradually unwinding the steering lock. If you find yourself increasing or correcting the steering lock as your traveling through the corner after the initial turn-in you’ve probably taken the wrong line.

Balanced / neutral throttle

The largest demand on the grip reserves of your tires occurs between the turn in point and the apex. It is vitally important not to place additional demands on the tires by accelerating or braking. This isn’t to say you can’t retain a constant speed, but the important factor is that the car is in a neutral state until after the apex. Understeer or oversteer are most likely to occur at this point.

Clipping the apex

When hitting the apex don’t be worried about cutting the corner slightly. During a corner, the weight is transferred to the outside wheels, and thus these are doing most of the gripping. Putting the inside wheels onto the rumble strip or slightly into the gravel shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

Post apex acceleration

Once you’ve hit the apex, you should be able to start reducing the amount of steering lock. As you are doing this progressively increase the throttle up to the point of full power. The point at which you can apply full power depends on your car. Some cars will be able to apply full power straight after the apex, depending on the severity of the corner and the conditions.

The next corner

By now you should already be thinking about the next corner and position your car appropriately to allow you to use the racing line, this may affect your route and the first corner may require a compromised line.

Factors which affect cornering speed

The overall speed at which you can take a corner depends on a vast number of factors including your experience, the handling of your car, and the conditions of the track. For example, a turn with a beneficial chamber can dramatically increase the speed that can be sustained. It’s really important not to second guess cornering speeds but build up the pace gradually lap by lap until you feel the limits of grip approach.

General note

All of the above guidance depends on your driving style and the car you’re using. You will not be able to use all the power of a Bugatti Veyron or McLaren F1 until you’re completely in a straight line, however, if you’re in a lighter less powerful car you can apply the gas much closer to the apex point. It’s very rare to achieve the perfect corner, it takes knowledge of the track and the car and a great deal of practice!
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Thursday, June 1, 2017

SHIFT IT YOURSELF: HOW TO DRIVE A MANUAL TRANSMISSION CAR


Driving stick is an art, so to speak. Mastering it might not bolster your reputation as a motor enthusiast, but remaining ignorant to the ways of the manual transmission could knock you down a few pegs with just about everyone.

It’s true, you can almost always navigate from point A to point B without utilizing a stick shift and a clutch, but there will undoubtedly come a time when your only option will be something other than an automatic. Perhaps you’ll be forced to drive your friend’s pickup truck home after he or she had a bit too much to drink. Maybe you’ll find yourself looking at the perfect hatchback at your local dealership only to discover it is, in fact, equipped with a manual. Or, you might need to rent a car in Europe.

Knowing how to operate this type of gearbox will serve you well — and it certainly can’t hurt, anyway. After all, manuals are easier to maintain and are known to help with fuel efficiency given their direct level of control. Here’s our simple guide on how to drive manual, so you can operate everything from compact economy cars to forklifts using a clutch pedal and a stick. There’s truly no substitute for the first-hand experience, but our simple instructions are a great place to start.

FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH THE CLUTCH AND STICK SHIFT


Assuming you possess or have access to a vehicle with a manual transmission, sit in the driver’s seat and take note of the various features and components while the vehicle is off. Get a feel for the clutch, the extra pedal that’s located directly left of the brake. Familiarize yourself with its resistance and when you can feel it grip. Afterward, locate the gear shifter or “stick,” typically located in the center console between the front seats or adjacent to the steering wheel. Make sure your seat is adjusted so you can easily reach all three pedals, and as always, ensure your seat belt is buckled.   

Next, examine the shift pattern, likely embedded on top of the gear knob. This diagram generally showcases a series of lines and numbers that correspond to each gear. Note the placement of the individual gears, most notably reverse, often accessed by shifting down from fifth gear. Occasionally, on many Volkswagen vehicles, for instance, the reverse is located by pushing down on the shift knob (or pulling up on the shift boot) and moving down from first. There’s also a neutral gear located in the “gray area” between every notch, allowing you to release the clutch pedal while keeping the car running. Pressing the clutch and positioning your shifter between first and second gear, for example, will move you into neutral. Automatic transmissions do all of this… automatically.

PRACTICE SHIFTING WITH THE ENGINE OFF AND EMERGENCY BRAKE ENGAGED


Here’s the golden rule of manual transmissions: shifting begins with the clutch but ends with the gas. With the engine still off, press the clutch to the floor and move the shifter into first gear. Then, release the pedal while slowly pressing down on the gas. If the engine were on and the brakes were disengaged, this would propel the vehicle forward.

To move into second, release the gas and press the clutch down again. At this point, you’re just repeating the previous step, only you’re moving into second, then third, then fourth, and so on. Put simply, shifting gears requires the following three actions:

  1. Depressing the clutch with your left foot.
  2. Manually shifting with the right hand, typically in gear order.
  3. Slowly depressing the gas pedal with your right foot while simultaneously releasing the clutch.

The faster you’re driving, the faster you can ease back the clutch, but keep in mind that smoothness counts more than quickness. Beginners should get in the habit of shifting from first gear directly to second gear.

SIMULATE A REAL DRIVING SCENARIO


Accelerating requires shifting to higher gears. In general, manual transmissions require shifting when your vehicles reach 3,000 RPM, or when the engine seems to be overworking; keep an eye on the tachometer if you’re not sure when to shift. With the engine still off, practice accelerating to 15 mph or so and switching from first to second to third gear. Practice depressing the clutch and manually shifting up through fourth gear. Practice releasing the clutch while simultaneously giving the engine gas. Imagine you see a traffic signal in the distance.

Downshifting requires shifting into lower gears. If the engine seems to be puttering, you’ll need to downshift in order to bring the RPM up and access more of the engine’s power. Depress the clutch and carefully maneuver the gearshift from third gear to second gear to practice downshifting. Just like accelerating, make sure you slowly depress the gas pedal while simultaneously releasing the clutch.

Coming to a complete stop requires drivers to depress the clutch and maneuver the gearshift into neutral, the position conveniently located in between gears. Neutral isn’t typically indicated on the gear shifter, but once you maneuver the stick into the correct position, you can take your foot off the clutch while keeping the car running. Again, you’ll want to shift gears when your car runs at roughly 3,000 RPM. 

START SLOW AND REPEAT


Practicing with the engine off is a great start (no pun intended), but it doesn’t quite compare to the real-world scenarios you’re likely to face on the road. The next step is to actually practice driving, preferably in a flat area relatively devoid of traffic and pedestrians — parking lots, back roads, etc. Secluded and low-traffic locations provide plenty of time should you stall the engine as well. Try not to panic when it happens though; engine stalls inevitably go hand-in-hand with learning to drive a stick.

Although you could practice alone so long as you possess a valid drivers license, consider bringing a friend who knows how to drive stick. To start the vehicle, make sure the car is in first gear, press down the clutch, and turn the ignition key. Slowly drive forward when the car starts, releasing the clutch while simultaneously pressing the gas pedal. Whatever you do, don’t accelerate too fast. When the RPM gauge reads more than 3,000, or you’re going roughly 15 mph, press down on the clutch and shift from first to second gear, and repeat until you reach your desired speed.

STARTING ON A HILL


The most complicated part of driving a car equipped with a manual transmission is starting on a steep hill. That’s because you need to operate the clutch pedal to engage first gear, the gas pedal to get the car moving, and the brake pedal to keep the car from rolling backward. It’s tricky unless you have three feet.

This is when the handbrake — typically located directly between the front seats — is useful. After you come to a stop, pull up on the handbrake so the car doesn’t roll backward. When it’s time to move again, start like you normally would on flat ground while simultaneously releasing the hand brake. Timing is key here. Releasing the handbrake too slowly will prevent the car from moving while releasing it too quickly will cause the car to roll backward. Get it just right, though, and the brake will keep the car still long enough for you to pull away.

Don’t sweat it if you stall; it happens to everyone. Re-engage the handbrake, put the car in neutral, start the engine, and give it another shot. With a little bit of practice, you’ll be stick-shifting your way through downtown San Francisco in no time.

Good luck and shift safely!
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Friday, May 26, 2017

How To Parallel Park

Few driving tasks are as intimidating as parallel parking. Many new motorists have failed an otherwise perfect driving test on this technicality alone. How many of us avoid parking on busy streets because we're just not good at parallel parking? Thank goodness for strip-mall parking lots the size of a small state―maybe humiliation-free parking is the real motivation for suburban sprawl.



  1. Seek out space you feel comfortable that you can safely get your car into without crunching into another car. Drive around the block until you find a larger gap if you need to; you will need a space that's several feet longer than your car.
  2. Check your rearview mirror and driver-side mirror as you approach the space to ensure another car is not riding on your tail. Signal toward space as you approach it, slow down, and stop. If another motorist rides up on your rear, simply maintain your position and keep signaling. You might even need to roll down your window and wave the other driver around; they might not have realized you're trying to park.
  3. Line up your vehicle with the parked vehicle directly in front of your desired spot. Don't get too close on the side, or you might scrape the other car when you make your move. But you also don't want to be too far away―two or three feet will suffice. Position your vehicle parallel to the parked car, aligning your bumpers.
  4. Check your surroundings. Use all your mirrors and check your blind spots for cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians BEFORE you begin to reverse your car.
  5. Put your vehicle in reverse. Look over your other shoulder at the space to assess the gap.
  6. Release the brakes and slowly begin backing into the turn.
  7. Turn the steering wheel when you see the front car's back bumper. When your back axle is aligned with the front car's bumper, turn your steering wheel all the way to the right (assuming you're parking on the right-hand side of the road).
  8. Reverse until your car is at a 45-degree angle. Then, turn your steering wheel in the opposite direction. Imagine your car is creating an S shape as you are maneuvering into the spot.
  9. Keep backing up until your car is in the spot. Be sure to take a few quick glances at the front of your car to make sure you don't hit the vehicle in front of your spot.
  10. Pull forward to straighten out. Once you're in the spot, you can turn the steering wheel so your tires are parallel to the curb.

Voila! At this point, if all went well, you should be tucked nicely in the space and parallel parked. If you aren't, there's no harm done. Just signal that you're about to leave the curb, pull out and alongside the car in front of you, signal toward the curb again, and start over. You won't be the first person―and certainly not the last―who tries parallel parking a few times before getting it right.
Keep in mind that some states require your vehicle to be within a certain distance from the curb. The ideal distance when parallel parking, for the safety of you and your vehicle, is to be within a few inches of the curb. If you're not close enough, don't be afraid to start again. And remember—practice makes perfect! 
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An insider's guide to driving in Italy


So you're ready to go. You've booked your flight, arranged your accommodation and organized a hire car. Awaiting is a week of motoring through Italy's magical countryside. But what's it really likes to drive in Italy? Is it as nerve-wracking as it's made out to be? Do you need the skills of a Formula One driver to cut it on the nation's dog-eat-dog superstrate?

Certainly, driving in Italy's main cities can be a white-knuckle experience but head out to the country and you'll find that the pace slackens and the roads are a lot less stressful. To help you on your way here are some insights based on years of experience and tens of thousands of kilometers.

Driving styles

Italian drivers are fast, aggressive and skillful. Lane hopping and late braking are the norm and it's not uncommon to see cars tailgating at 130km/h. Don't expect people to slow down for you or let you out. Rather, seize the moment. As soon as you see a gap, go for it. Italians expect the unexpected and react swiftly but they're not used to ditherers so whatever you do, do it decisively.

Road etiquette

Much driving etiquette is dictated by unwritten rules. Flashing, for example, means 'Get out of the way' or 'Don't pull out 'coz I'm not stopping'. But if an approaching car flashes you, it's warning you that there's a police check ahead. Similarly, the car horn can mean everything from 'Watch out' to 'Ciao' to 'Let's celebrate, the traffic light's just turned green'.

City challenges

When driving in cities watch out for traffic restrictions. Many city centers are off-limits to unauthorized traffic and if you slip into a ZTL (Zona a traffic limitation - reduced traffic zone) you risk being caught on camera and fined. City driving also involves dealing with one-way systems, scooters appearing out of nowhere and narrow streets better suited to horse-drawn chariots than modern cars. To escape the worst mayhem, drive in the early afternoon when traffic is at its lightest and parking is easier. Which brings us to...

Parking

Parking is a major headache. Space is at a premium in towns and cities and Italy's traffic wardens are annoyingly efficient. Car parks do exist but they usually fill up quickly, leaving you to park on the streets. If you park between blue lines make sure to get a ticket from the nearest meter (coins only) or tobacco (tobacconist) and display it on your dashboard. Note, however, that charges don't apply overnight, typically between 8 pm and 8 am.

Petrol stations

You'll find filling stations all over but smaller ones tend to close between about 1 pm and 3.30pm and on Sunday afternoons. This isn't as irritating as it might sound as many have self-service (fai da te) pumps that you can use anytime. Simply insert a bank note into the payment machine and press the number of the pump you want. Remembering, of course, to distinguish between benzina (petrol) and gasoline (diesel).

What to carry in the car

Apart from your driving license, car documents, insurance papers and reflective safety vest, which you're legally obliged to carry, it's worth having some coins for parking meters. Also, if you're traveling with kids, keep some plastic bags to hand. Car sickness is a real possibility on winding country roads and things can prove messy unless you're prepared.

Car hire

Hiring a car in Italy is easy enough - agencies are widespread and all the usual rules and regulations apply. But bear in mind that a car is generally more hassle than it's worth in cities, so only hire one for the time you'll be out on the open road. Also, think about what kind of car to get. Rural road surfaces are not always the best and many agriturismo and beaches lie at the end of long, axle-busting tracks. Similarly, road signs can be iffy in remote areas, so consider paying for sat nav.

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Have You Driven While Distracted? 8 Culprits to Avoid


In 2013, 3,014 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Texting while driving is one of the most dangerous driver distractions, but it's not the only one.

Here are seven other unsafe habits to avoid: 


  1. Grooming: Pressed for time, some people conduct grooming activities in the car, such as putting on makeup or using an electric shaver. Do yourself and other drivers a favor by completing your morning routine at home. 
  2. Eating and drinking: Your steaming cup of coffee spills or ingredients slip out of your sandwich—any number of distractions can arise when you drive and dine. Stay safer by saving the refreshments until you're parked. 
  3. Monitoring passengers: In a recent State Farm™ Distracted Driving survey, 40% of drivers indicated that attending to children in the backseat was very distracting, while 53% of drivers said the same thing about having a pet in their lap while driving. Passenger distractions are particularly important for teen drivers to avoid: The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm teamed up to analyze a sample of 677 teen drivers involved in serious crashes. The study found that drivers who had peer passengers were more likely to be distracted before a crash as compared to teens involved in accidents while driving solo. 
  4. Rubbernecking: Slowing down to look at a traffic accident could cause an accident of your own. The same thing goes for lengthy looks at billboards, a street address or a great mountain view. 
  5. Listening to music: Playing your radio at a high volume or wearing headphones take your focus away from the road. These distractions reduce the likelihood you'll hear car horns, emergency vehicles or other key noises. 
  6. Infotainment systems: Similarly, with cars getting smarter, DVD players in the back for kids, and other passengers' devices, more distracting sounds than ever before may be coming from various parts of the car. 
  7. Daydreaming: If you've ever realized you just missed an exit because you weren't paying attention, you've experienced a common distraction: daydreaming. Resist the urge to drift off while driving, and keep your attention on the road. Vary your typical driving routes. A change in scenery and traffic conditions could help you stay alert. 
  8. Nodding off: According to a poll by the National Sleep Foundation®, an estimated 60% of Americans have admitted to driving while drowsy, and 37% have nodded off behind the wheel. If you feel sleepy, pull over. Walk around to rouse yourself, switch drivers or find a safe place to nap before you resume driving.
Follow our site to give more direction: driving directions

Friday, May 12, 2017

Top 10 Ways to Become a Better Driver


Every time you get behind the wheel, you're operating a very dangerous piece of machinery. Whether you're an experienced driver or you've just finished driver's ed class, there's always room for improvement when it comes to driving. Here are ten things you can do to hone your safe, smart driving skills.

10. Take a Defensive Driving Course


Not only can online driving courses save you money on your car insurance or take points off your driving record, they're actually pretty good refresher courses for anyone who's been driving for a while and the answers to those driver's license tests are just a hazy memory. Do you know how to eyeball how far ahead the vehicle in front of you should be based on your speed? Know the difference between a DUI and a DWI and how many drinks can impair you for each? Stuff like that is covered in these courses, usually around $35.

9. Park with Precision


Parking is (usually) easy once you get the hang of it, but in tight spots or when you're new to driving backward, it helps to know a few tricks. Here's an infographic on parallel, reverse, and forward parking; and step-by-step directions for parallel parking. If you'd like even more help when parking, consider these DIY sonic sensors for your car.

8. Keep Your Hands on the Wheel at the Proper Positions


For decades, driving instructors taught students to keep their hands on the steering wheel at the 10 and 2 positions on the clock. In the last few years, those guidelines have changed, so you're now supposed to keep your hands lower, at either 9 and 3 or 8 and 4. This gives you more control and stability when driving, and is also the most ergonomic position to hold your hands for long periods of time. Muscles more relaxed and having more control over your vehicle? Instantly, you're a better driver.

7. Adjust Your Mirrors to Cover Your Blind Spots


Similar to the above, there's a better way to position your mirrors than you might have been taught: Adjust the side mirrors so far outward so they're just overlapping your rearview mirror. Here's an illustration.

6. Don't Drive When You're Sleepy (or Otherwise Not Alert)


We all know the dangers of driving after drinking, but a serious lack of sleep could also impair you just as much (some people even sleep drive!)—and one out of every six fatal crashes involved a drowsy driver, according to a study in 2010. Any time your mental facilities could be compromised—whether from alcohol, poor sleep, new medication, or even having a horrible cold—is a time to stay off the road or find an alternative to driving.

5. Don't Bother Speeding


We all want to get to our destinations sooner, but all speeding really does is increase your risk of getting into an accident or getting a speeding ticket, it turns out. Here's the math behind it, and why you're better off just driving at or below the recommended speeds.

4. Know the Best Way to Merge in Traffic


Inefficient lane merging causes traffic, road rage, and accidents. Some people are aggressive lane cutters, while others politely take their place in a lane long before an exit. The best, most efficient solution for all of us is to stay calm and zipper merge, each one taking our turn. (It was worth a try. At the very least, when merging or when others are trying to merge, be patient but also don't be that guy holding up a whole lane. We can work together to improve traffic for all.)

3. Handle Tough Driving Conditions Like a Boss


Even the most experienced drivers can get thrown off by hazardous conditions. Here's how to drive in extreme winter weather (including steering through slippery snow), how to see better while driving at night, how to safely pass a car on a two-lane road, and why you should wear sunglasses but not use cruise control while it's raining.

2. Ditch the Distractions and Know Where You're Going


By now, we all know texting while driving is both dangerous and against the law. It's possible to drive safely while using your cell phone, but you're better off just turning it off and sticking it in your bag if you don't need it for navigating. Your cell phone isn't the only problem, though. If you eat while you drive, fiddle with the radio, or have a too-talkative passenger, you won't be able to drive as well. The danger of texting while driving is rightfully getting a lot of attention, but distracted driving, in general, is the main issue.

Related to this: the distraction of not knowing where you are or exactly how to get where you want to go. Even with your phone's or car's navigation system, you could find yourself saying, "Wait, which highway am I supposed to get on?" and in a panic make a sudden, dangerous move. Try to scope out your route as much as possible before you start driving—even using Google Street view so you're used to the landmarks and tricky intersections before you get in your car.

1. Practice


Finally, as the fine folks at Jalopnik point out in their driver skills article, the top way to becoming a better driver is to drive more—conscienciously, of course, keeping the above in mind. It is, after all, a skill—one we shouldn't take too much for granted.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Driving in Italy: Car Rental Information & Tips

Driving Overview

Highway Information

Italy has an excellent network of roads and highways that is one of the most extensive in Europe, comprising nearly 4000mi/6400km of express highways and 180,000mi/288,000km of secondary roads. The country's famous super highways or 'autostrade' ('autostrada' is the singular form) run the length and breadth of the peninsula. These toll roads are supported by an excellent network of secondary roads, classified into different categories of national highways ('strade statali'), provincial roads ('strade provinciali') and municipal roads ('strade communali'). Due to the success of companies like Fiat, Italians have a high level of car ownership. This can create congestion in some of the northern areas and in cities. But in southern parts of the country, the roads are less crowded.


Rules of the Road
When driving your rental car in Italy, it is nice to know traffic travels on the right, similar to the US. If you are stopped for a traffic violation, police are empowered to collect fines on the spot making it necessary to keep cash on hand. More information about driving in Italy can be found below or in our Italy Travel Guide.

Gas
Gas stations are open from 7 am to 12:30 pm and from 3:30 pm to 7 pm. Most stations are closed on Sundays. There are 24-hour stations along the highways.

Tolls
The 'autostrade' is Italy's toll superhighway and toll cards can be purchased at banks or at Automobile Club d'Italia (ACI) offices.

Parking
Street parking is confined to the right side of the street. In blue zones, a parking disk, obtained at tourist offices, ACI offices or gas stations must be displayed on the dashboard. Parking in this zone is limited to one hour.

Speed Limits
Speed limits in Italy are as follows:

  • City - 30mph/50kph
  • Open Roads - 66mph/110kph
  • Highways - 81mph/130kph

Italy Driving Tips


Don't Panic If You're Tailgated 
Tailgating in Italy is common practice, so don't become shaken when this happens. Do your best to keep up with traffic, but do not drive faster than what makes you comfortable.  Tailgaters will pass you at the first opportunity, so just keep your cool and give them room.

ZTL Zones - Where You Can and Can't Drive  
Many larger Italian cities have instituted ZTL (Zona Traffico Limitato) zones in order to reduce traffic congestion in major city centers. These areas are surveyed by traffic cameras and the instant your vehicle crosses this zone, a ticket is issued and forwarded to your home address. It's important you know where you can and cannot drive in Florence, Rome and other cities with ZTLs in order to avoid traffic citations.

Watch Out for Scooters and Mopeds in Italy
In addition to speeders and tailgaters, you'll have to watch out for scooters and mopeds while driving in Italy. Don't be surprised if they pull right out in front of you from a side street without warning. Defensive driving is important when touring Italy by car, be on the lookout at all times and be prepared for anything. The swell in traffic during the busiest tourist months can make navigating the streets by the car a bit more difficult, so wary travelers would do well to research the best time to visit Italy depending on what you're looking to see and do.

Don't Use Mobile Devices While Driving
Use of handheld cellular devices is strictly prohibited while driving in Germany, and if caught you may face steep fines. Hands-free devices are permitted, but it is still recommended to avoid the distractions of cellular devices unless completely necessary. 

Tolls in Italy
There are numerous toll roads in Italy, and it can be tricky to understand since there isn't one single company in charge of collecting money. Individual stretches of roadway are monitored by separate companies, with the toll amount depending on the distance traveled. It's advised to always carry cash on you when driving in Italy in order to pay tolls. Credit cards are accepted at some locations, but not at others.

Gas Stations in Italy 
Gas stations that are located along the Autostrade are usually open 24 hours a day. Some stations along other Italian roadways are open from 7am-7pm, with a break around noon. When picking up your rental car in Italy at the local rental counter, be sure you know which type of fuel your vehicle requires and that you're up to speed on the company's fuel return policy.

6 Little-Known Driving Tips That Could Save Your Life

Driving a car, or getting run over by one, is still one of the most popular ways to get killed in the modern world. Despite the fact that cars are safer than ever, they are still driven by human beings who, let's face it, often have trouble retaining even the minimal techniques and rules required to operate a vehicle.

But if you're reading this, hopefully it means that you are intent on doing what it takes to survive in a world full of such drivers by being just a little more careful. So for you, here are some advanced tips that everyone should know, even if most people don't ...

6. Don't Have Your Car Visible Anywhere in Your Mirrors



This is one of those things that takes next to zero effort to do right, but that almost everyone does wrong.

You hopefully already know that the "blind spot" is the name for the area on either side of a car that is invisible to wing mirrors. It's such a frequent cause of accidents that higher-end car models have adopted fancy radar or camera systems capable of detecting other vehicles in your blind spots and delivering the information to you in furiously urgent beep-screams as you swerve in terror and/or crash anyway.

Just gritting your teeth and flooring it isn't the answer.

However, the technology isn't the problem -- the necessary equipment to eliminate blind spots was around back when Henry Ford was still producing cars and anti-Semitic newsletters. All you need are your car's wing mirrors -- which most people have adjusted incorrectly.

You see, blind spots can be put into full view of your side mirrors, provided that these mirrors are adjusted to contain no part of your own car. Just angle them away from you until the point where your car is no longer visible in either one and leave them there. That way, there's no overlap between them and the rearview mirror, and any car that's passing you on either side will remain in at least one of your mirrors until it enters your field of vision.

Admittedly, this seems less like a "tip" and more like "the most obvious piece of instruction of all time," but nobody freaking does it. Manufacturers have to let you adjust the mirrors (due to things like differences in driver height), and most people simply don't know how to do it. That's why those same engineers are spending millions on technology meant to eliminate blind spots -- they have simply failed to teach people not to point their goddamned mirrors at the sides of the vehicle they're attached to.

5. Pay More Attention to Traffic Than Road Signs


If you saw someone blow past a yield sign into traffic and vanish in an explosion of steel and glass not unlike one of the Iron Giant's volcanic diarrheas, you'd be tempted to blame the crash on the driver who ignored the road sign.

But what if the yield sign wasn't there, like those intersections where there's nothing but an esoteric flashing yellow light and everyone stops and stares at each other? There would probably still be the odd person who flies through, but average drivers would become extremely cautious as a result of having no clear instruction of what to do. They would instead just intuit their next move based on the traffic around them, which is kind of the point of stoplights and road signs to begin with -- to force you to stop and look.

"What the hell does 'yield' mean, anyway?!"

In other words, you may be better off without the signs.

There are experts who believe that the overabundance of signs and signals just make you complacent, because you're fixated on blindly following instructions printed on reflective metal rather than not killing your fellow drivers. And we've all seen it happen -- drivers with a green light will plow through an intersection and T-bone another car that was clearly in their path, simply because the pretty colored light told them they had the right of way. And think about how people will lose their freaking minds if traffic and/or weather conditions have them driving slower than the posted speed limit, routinely causing accidents by trying to weave their way back up to maximum warp, even though the speed limit is literally just a number on a sign that takes absolutely nothing into consideration beyond what a few civil engineers came up with on a calculator 30 years ago.

"15 mph is fast enough for anyone. Those buggy drivers are out of control."

The Dutch city of Drachten decided to test out the theory by replacing 20 four-way intersections with 20 roundabouts free of any road signage, and the results were surprisingly nothing like The Cannonball Run. One intersection that typically killed two to four people every year saw no injuries for the next six years, and another intersection went from 36 accidents in the previous four years to just two in two years. All this just from putting more responsibility into the hands of drivers and forcing them to interact with each other in the absence of indifferent commands from stoplights and signs (although it could also be related to the fact that nobody in the Netherlands has a The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift poster on their bedroom wall).
Since the success in Drachten, a number of other cities have tried out similar concepts, most notably London, whose recently debuted Exhibition Road looks like the guy in charge of painting lines on the streets was tripping balls that day.
We're still not clear on how this is supposed to help, but there you are.

We're not saying that you should ignore stoplights and road signs, but that you shouldn't rely on them to make every decision for you. Just because you had the right of way at an intersection won't make you any less dead if you pull in front of an 18 wheeler, and refusing to slow down for pedestrians because they aren't crossing in a designated crosswalk won't put you any less in jail if you chop them in half with your Daewoo.

Or maybe we should just put it this way: Obey the signs, but assume that nobody else is doing so.

4. Listening to Techno Makes Your Driving Worse



Every car comes with a stereo and speakers, but you don't find much in driving manuals about what you should or shouldn't do with them. So it's easy to assume that it's safe to bump some jams while driving, as long as you're focused on the road and not constantly messing with the knobs or looking at yourself in the rearview mirror while you're singing. But research shows that your tunes are probably making you a worse driver, even if you just like a little ambient music in your Prelude.

"These whale songs are so ... *yawn* ... so ..."

An Israeli study connected test subjects to heart monitors and put them through a driving simulator while they listened to the music of varying tempos. A no-music control group experienced significant heart rate fluctuation while driving -- that is, their heart sped up when things got exciting, like if a moose turned up in the street or something. But those who were listening to any type of music saw their heart rate stay level (except during the Les Miserables soundtrack, when their heart rates soared with bittersweet triumph).

At first glance, this suggests that the drivers who were listening to music were calmer, and thus more careful drivers than the control group. But it was the opposite -- the music group Dukes of Hazzarded their way through the virtual driving course like they were running moonshine for a one-legged banjo player. They were calm (maybe), but only because they were less focused on driving than the control group -- they were placated by the music.

Which is why your creepy uncle always told you that mood music was the key.

The study also showed that drivers who were listening to higher-tempo music (between 120 and 140 beats per minute, the speed of most dance and techno music) were twice as likely to blast through red lights and had twice as many accidents as those who were listening to slower music or the deafening echo of their own thoughts. Drivers who were listening to dubstep were 84 percent more likely to believe that there was a Transformer behind them trying to mate with their car.

3. Always Have Your Headlights On



According to a recent study, you can reduce your risk of being involved in an accident by up to 32 percent simply by driving with your headlights on at all times. This seems like common sense -- obviously, something that is lit up is going to be more visible, regardless of the time of day. And as long as other cars are driven by tired, distracted human beings, greater visibility equals less chance of having a hood ornament embedded in your skull. Yet almost nobody drives with their lights on during the day (and cars with automatic lights won't flick on until the sun goes down).

"How will I sneak up on unsuspecting motorists now?"

Other drivers are simply less likely to pull out in front of you if they can instantly see the glare of your headlights in a quick glance (unless they were planning to cut you off, in which case they are shitheads and the accident was unavoidable). This also counts for pedestrians and cyclists, who statistically will sometimes miss their own oncoming death unless there are bright lights attached to it.

In countries like Canada, Sweden, and Finland, all new cars are required to have automatic running lights that stay on at all times, and you can get them on some new car models in the U.S. But the majority of drivers still have dusty old manual headlights, so if you're one of those people, you'll just have to dig deep and flick your lights on and off every time you drive (we know, we know -- it hardly seems worth all the effort, but trust us, you'll be much safer).

"LIGHTS?! Are you crazy? I'm already late for work!"

2. Your Parking Break Stops Working if You Don't Use It Regularly



Of all the aspects of driving, parking should be the most straightforward. Basically, you take the keys out of the ignition and get out of the car (hopefully after putting the car in park, hopefully not in the middle of an elementary school).

Oh, and if you're on an incline, maybe pull the parking brake. If you don't, you might end up like this guy, which is simultaneously a worst- and best-case scenario.

Inexplicably, the next shot is him bending back down to continue filling the gas tank.

But here's something most people don't know: You should probably put on the parking brake, regardless of whether you've stopped on the taxiway of a Delta terminal or at the summit of the Grinch's mountain, just to keep it in good working order.

You see, the parking brake is also commonly called the emergency brake, and as the name suggests, it can be used in a situation when your brakes fail or have been otherwise disabled by enemy agents. It overrides the hydraulic mechanism normally used to control the brakes and stops you with cables, which are demonstrably better than hydraulics because hydraulics never cut anyone in half in a Die Hard movie.

But the problem with steel cables is that they often rust and corrode, particularly after long periods of disuse. The way parking brake cables are designed, if you don't engage the brake every so often, the corrosion builds up and will cause it to fall apart like the bad guy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

You'll want to skid out regularly, and with a gun so you feel extra cool.

So if you bought your car back when the cast members of Harry Potter were still children and have never used the parking brake, and then suddenly throw it on to bail yourself out of an honest-to-God emergency, such as barreling down the switchback of Lombard Street toward a rampaging atomic monster bursting out of San Francisco Bay, the cables will probably just snap under the strain and result in a headstone that will seriously confuse future archaeologists. Unless the monster wasn't just a one-time thing.

1. Don't Brake During a Blowout



The knee-jerk reaction to pretty much all panicky driving moments is to stand on the brakes like goblins are trying to crawl out of them, and in most cases, this is absolutely correct.

Unless you're in a Speed-like scenario

That being said, imagine you're cruising down the highway at about 65 mph when all of a sudden you hear your rear tire explode like you just ran over a tiny landmine. As you fire the shit out of your pant leg like a muddy trumpet, you can feel that the car is about to go out of control. If you follow your instincts, you'll probably hit the brakes, but in this case, your instincts have tragically failed you.

See, if you brake during a blowout, you're almost certain to fishtail (and maybe flip), possibly into another fast-moving car or the median (or both). This is especially true if your rear tire has blown out, which is more likely than a front tire blowout (front tires wear out more quickly, but people see that and replace them, while leaving the rear tires in place for years and years as part of their plan to just drive the car until it slowly disintegrates).

"Still here, eh? Well played, car."

So in the event of a blowout, you must do the very thing that makes the least sense: hit the gas. But don't drop an elbow on it like Macho Man Randy Savage; just squeeze it firmly for a couple of seconds to regain control, keeping the car as straight as possible. A completely blown or otherwise flat tire drags on the ground like an anchor -- if you slam on the brakes, the anchor catches at 65 mph or however fast you're going, and you're screwed. Ditto if you smash the gas pedal -- picture a cigarette boat tossing its anchor down at top speed. Give the car just enough speed to stay in control and then gently let your foot off the gas, turning into the blown tire (if you steer the opposite direction, the anchor catches). The tire that betrayed you will eventually bring the car to a stop on its own, and then you can get out and throw your pants into the woods.

Sharing the Road: Young Drivers and Big Trucks

With winter just around the corner, many young drivers will experience cold weather road conditions for the first time; add large truck...