Knowing that you can safely descend or ascend a snaking two-lane road under any type of weather condition is indeed something to be proud of. And if you love driving, then those twisties are surely something to look forward to.
Having been raised in Baguio City, I'd like to share what I know about driving safely on a mountain road because I'm sure a good number of you love heading to the mountains during the holiday break. But guys, don't expect any talk about racing lines, apexes, and late-braking points here. If you want to break records or drive at the limit, the safest place to do so would be on a racetrack. Don't be that idiot who endangers lives on public roads.
I will let you in a secret: It is usually the safest and smoothest drivers who are the quickest ones up or down the mountain. This is because driving safely and smoothly also ensures that you are covering distance in the most efficient--and safest--way possible.
Here then are the fundamentals of being a good driver on twisty mountain roads.
1. Keep your car balanced. Whether you are ascending or descending, do all braking and down-shifting before entering the corner. As the corner approaches, slow down, pick the right gear, and then enter the corner gently. Once your car is pointed toward the exit of the corner, put down the power smoothly. You should feel yourself being pushed back into your seat, and not jerked sideways. I guarantee that every jeepney, bus and delivery truck operator who plies the Halsema Highway in the Mountain Province knows this basic technique. If a vegetable dealer didn't drive in this manner, his overloaded delivery vehicle will surely tip over.
2. Maintain a safe speed. This is especially important if you are unfamiliar with the road. I have seen colleagues push their vehicles too quickly and then brake too hard after completely missing the entrance to the corner. This unbalances the car, which is not pleasant for your passengers. It is also very dangerous.
3. Never overtake on a blind corner. This is really a no-brainer, but I still see it happening. On a public road, this is tantamount to suicide. Drivers who do this type of thing deserve no respect. There is no excuse for doing this.
4. Look as far ahead as possible. Train yourselves to look beyond the car in front of you and all the way to the horizon. This gives you more time to prepare for what is up ahead--be it an overtaking car heading your way, road hazards and obstacles, or the next series of blind corners. Peripheral vision will take care of what is happening closer to the car. Driving on a mountain also requires your full attention. Stay sharp by being extra observant of your surroundings.
5. Relax. This is not a race, so there is no reason to gun for an imaginary first place. Pushing your car and yourself hard is especially dangerous if you end up driving beyond your skill level. When the adrenaline is pumping and you start sweating and breathing heavily, back off the gas pedal and ask yourself if you need to be driving so fast. What's the rush?
6. Anticipate the moves of other drivers. Sometimes you can tell what other drivers on the road are up to judging by their speed and the composure of their vehicles. Maybe they aren't very confident yet, so extend to them the same courtesy you expect from other drivers. Don't tailgate or cut them off. Just be cool.
7. Don't ride the brakes. During long descents, it is a good idea to keep the car in low gear. Don't be afraid to engine-brake and let the revs rise as this is better than heating up your rotors and pads to the point of them fading. This tip can be used in conjunction with the next bit of advice.
8. Do not coast around corners when descending. Even if your car is running a sophisticated automatic transmission, it is wise to shift it down manually before tackling a corner. Coasting around a corner while on Drive leads to more body roll, which in turn unbalances the car and can throw your passengers about. Keeping power on the wheels keeps things smoother. Also, a mountain road is not the place to do any eco-driving techniques. Being in full control is better than losing control just because you try to save gasoline by coasting.
9. Let the quicker car pass. If another car pulls up from behind, that means it is traveling at a much faster rate than you are. If the driver signals to pass, let him through. Don't be the guy that speeds up and blocks a quicker driver's progress. He probably knows the road better than you, so don't be tempted to race him to the top, either. You might end up overdriving and get yourself into an accident.
10. Keep your vehicle and your body in good running condition. Your car should be ready for a long road trip anytime. And so should you. Get proper rest before going on a long drive. Nothing can be worse than falling asleep at the wheel. Fatigue is your enemy, so stay sharp by being fit, healthy and well-rested.
Have a safe journey, and happy New Year!
Photo by Paulo Rafael Subido