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.
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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.

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...