Are You a New Driver Who Struggles With Turns? Here's How to Fix it.
Everything will be going well until we have to turn. Then the once stable car gets whipped around, and as the curb approaches, the driver quickly develops “that” gaze. If you’ve driven for a while, you have experienced “that” gaze. It’s the same look when you hit ice or hydroplane or nearly get in a crash with a stationary object. That same look when an animal jumps in front of your car. It’s that unbreakable stare with inevitability. We know early on with our students who will be good at turning and who will have trouble. It all begins with how they get situated in the car.
For many experienced drivers, turning is second nature; it’s nothing more than a feeling. For a new driver, there are seemingly a thousand things going on at once. While most see it as a divided attention task between wheel input, braking, accelerating, and not crashing, it is quite the opposite. This is the main reason why getting situated in a car is a telltale sign of how you’ll turn. We have been coaching teens on how to drive for many years now and we see it all the time. There are students who get in the car with a purpose. When opening the door they glance down at the handle. As they put their phone away, they consciously look at where they’re placing it. Seat belts are the best indicator. Does the driver look down at the buckle or do they fumble with it while looking everywhere else? All of these actions give us insight into their visual characteristics.
We’re concerned with the driver’s visual characteristics because proper turns start well before the input is placed into the car. Knowing when you’re going to turn is just as important as the turn itself. Making a last minute decision to pull a hard-right typically doesn’t end well. Instead, make the decision well in advance. This will give you adequate time to activate the turn signal and start the process. We’ll let you in on a little secret. Turning, at any angle is done in three simple steps. These three steps not only keep the turn safe, but are consistently repeatable regardless of environment. Before we introduce our three steps to the perfect turn, let’s talk about vehicle dynamics.
Cars can only do one thing at a time. They can brake, turn, or accelerate. Even in motorsports, while multiple inputs may be going into the car, one input is consistent before the other is added. It’s a smooth relationship. This is where the old phrase, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast” comes in. If you’re asking the car to do several different things aggressively, the outcome won't be what you expected. When you break things down and smoothly pass one input off to the next, magic happens. Now onto the steps:
Once you have made the decision to turn and activated your signal, begin slowing down. You will want to bring your car’s speed to between 15 - 20 miles per hour. This goes for any turn in good conditions. While at 20 miles per hour, you will be able to safely navigate your turn, it is still quite fast. With the range considered, 15 is ideal and 20 is your upper limit, given conditions. If the weather is inclement, you’ll need to adjust the range down by approximately 5 miles per hour. As you brake, be sure to brake in a straight line. Once you’ve reached the optimal turning speed, remove your foot from the brake pedal.
You’ve made it to optimal turning speed and removed your foot from the brake pedal. Before turning the wheel, look in the direction you want your car to go. This may leave you looking out the passenger window, or far right of the windshield if you’re making a right turn. Either way, find a focal point past the backend of your turn. We typically recommend looking to the middle of the lane you are turning into. Once you have your focal point, begin to turn the wheel.
With proper entry speed and focal point, the wheel turn will be controlled, and placing the car properly will come quite easy.
While important during a right turn, both focal point and car placement are imperative during a left turn. Many drivers tend to turn-in too early and cut the corner through the median. This poses a few safety risks. Not only does this increase the chance of a crash, but it increases the chance of a tire failure. Sharp debris is often swept to the median edges and out of the roadway. When you cut the corner, your tire may pick up some of this sharp debris causing a slow air leak or an all-out failure. So, don’t cut your corners.
Once you have made the turn and as you begin to straighten the wheel, progressively accelerate. This is where some skill comes in. You’ll want to match your acceleration with your wheel speed. If you are straightening the wheel slowly, you’ll want to accelerate slowly. Remember, our goal is to pass one input off to the next. Slow is smooth.
So what can go wrong? A majority of the time, our three step process works wonders for inexperienced drivers, but there is one thing to mention. We can’t stress enough to remove your foot from the pedals prior to turning. Occasionally, body mechanics will get in the way of an otherwise beautiful turn. We’ve had students begin to turn the wheel and unintentionally stab the brake pedal. This abruptly brings our graceful maneuver to a stop, and in the worst way.
Driving has a rhythmic component to it. If you’re in a line to turn, drivers behind you will expect you to keep the rhythm. The moment it’s broken, say in an unintentional stop, the risk of a crash increases substantially.
Another Way to Think About It
We’ve introduced our three-step process to the perfect turn for new drivers. While the steps are fairly straightforward, as a driving school, we like giving fun names to our concepts. We call this independent movement: String Theory. Imagine a string is looped through the bottom of the steering wheel and tied to both the throttle and gas pedals. When the steering wheel turns, it will pull the string upwards, also pulling the pedals upward. As the steering wheel returns to straight, you’ll get slack in the string allowing you to press the pedals again.
This visual reinforces the concept of independent movement: When the wheel is turning, the pedals should either be coming up or not pressed at all.
Putting It All Together
New drivers often find turns to be anxiety-inducing maneuvers composed of multitasking and luck. The key to fixing errant turns involves slowing the maneuver down, separating the inputs, and driving with a focal point. If you can do these three things, you’ll be well on your way to making consistently safe turns at any angle.
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