Believe it or not, driving is fun! While modern-day urban traffic has made driving something most of us dread more than a trip to the dentist, it remains quite an enjoyable activity--especially if you really like cars. It becomes even more so when you have the necessary skills to tackle any situation that might present itself down the road.
Unfortunately, it is this very same daily drudgery that also whittles away at our alertness and driving aptitude. It doesn't happen overnight, but if you're not already aware, the constant exposure to crawling traffic lures our bodies and senses into a false sense of security.
It is this complacency--mixed with a dash of impatience and fatigue after many hours sitting inside a vehicle--that can contribute to the modern-day faux phenomenon of sudden unintended acceleration. Should it happen to you, you won’t realize what has occurred until after the incident, and even then you're going to be in disbelief at what you may or may not have done.
As G.I. Joe likes to say, knowing is half the battle, and I believe affirmative action is the other half. Here are 10 reminders to keep ourselves alert behind the wheel of a vehicle that's seemingly "accelerating out of control."
1. Maintenance. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and it's no different with our cars. Keeping them in the best shape possible will ensure that they work as they should. That means being serviced regularly by qualified personnel, or if you’re the DIY kind of guy, don't put off that brake job, oil change, tire replacement or whatever maintenance you need to do. Don't over-lubricate that sticky pedal, by the way. Excess lube will become a dirt and dust magnet, and may end up causing more problem than solution.
2. Awareness. Avoid driving if you’re half-asleep, or worse, under the influence of alcohol! Until you are fully awake, sober and cognizant, you have no business being behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. Reduced alertness is much, much more dangerous than you think--even on an open, seemingly empty road. Trust me on this one.
3. Driving position. Far too many drivers seem to think that the correct seating position is the laid-back, arms-fully-outstretched stance like what they see on TV and in the movies. That couldn't be farther from the truth. Sit up properly and assume the proper upright driving position. This puts you in a position to properly control your vehicle at all times. You owe it to yourself, your passengers and every other road-user. Oh, too close to the steering wheel isn't good either.
4. Floor mat. Stick to one floor mat instead of piling on layers of cheap ones. A good, thick and heavy rubber all-weather mat is the ideal one to use. It will stay in place due to the better build quality and the carpet-grabbing texture on the underside. It will also keep water and dirt off the carpet. If your vehicle has an OE floor-mat anchor, all the better! It will keep the mat in place and eliminate the chances of it slipping and jamming the accelerator in the most inopportune of moments.
5. Footwear. It's another thing that most drivers aren't too aware of. If your feet feel like they're in an odd position when you drive, check your footwear. High heels (sorry, ladies) are a no-no. That fancy pair of high-cut Air Jordans? Sorry, there's no place for them in the driver seat. These kinds of athletic shoes are not designed for driving, and will restrict your ankle and foot movement. Flip-flops, sandals or oversized clog-like footwear that allow your feet to move loosely within them or have too much width are out, too. Anything that dramatically reduces your ability to properly work the pedals puts you at an increased risk of not being able to keep it together. Going barefoot isn't recommended either. Some protection is needed, as those pedals are made primarily of metal. Slip up and metal will always win against bare skin.
6. Familiarize. Take a minute or two to know where all the controls are and how they work. You don't want to be trying to figure out what that switch, lever, pedal or crazy flashing button does when you're already on the road. Know how to get into neutral, how to shut off the engine (once you're stopped), and where the emergency brake is and how to engage it. Anything that makes the vehicle stop, you want to be best friends with.
7. Brake firmly. Let's say despite arming yourself with knowledge, the redundancy built into your car's drive-by-wire system fails, or you’re just having a really bad day and your car still continues to move for unknown reasons. If this happens, consciously locate the brake pedal, and step on it with authority. If necessary, get your foot off the pedals briefly (we're talking about blink-of-an-eye brief here), and make sure you’re not madly abusing the accelerator. And don't pump the brakes! You don't want to be wishy-washy and ease off, come back, ease off, come back, and so on. Putting your foot down all the way without letting off until you've regained control is the only way to do it.
8. Disconnect. Remove power to the wheels by disconnecting the engine from the transmission. With a manual transmission setup, you use the clutch pedal to your left. If that doesn't work, you can, with difficulty, push hard on your shift lever and pop it into neutral. That'll usually do it. For automatic transmissions, firmly push it into neutral quickly, but don't hit it so hard abruptly that you may accidentally drop it into Reverse or Drive. By disconnecting the engine from the transmission, you're no longer accelerating the car, have one less thing to worry about, and can better focus on stopping the car while minimizing damage to objects around you or in your path.
9. Ignition. Avoid turning off the engine and pulling the key out! All cars with power-assisted steering and brakes will encounter significantly reduced efficiency, and require much, much more effort to apply the brakes or turn the steering wheel. The power assistance doesn't work if the engine's not running. While both will still function with the engine off, it is going to be very, very difficult to maintain control of the vehicle. Most cars also have steering wheel locks that prevent the wheel from turning with the key pulled out. That's not something you want when you need to keep control of a "runaway car." You’d want to turn off the car after you've come to a complete stop.
10. Buckle up! Your last line of defense in any accident is your seatbelt. It keeps you in your seat instead of flying out the windshield in an accident. Use it. Your airbags are designed to work properly with you buckled up--they're called supplementary restraint systems for a reason. Be very intimate with your seatbelt, wear it properly, and let it touch you in all the right places.
Now, get out there, have fun and drive safely!