The rules of night driving are no different from those of driving in the daytime. There are some precautions to take in order to avoid becoming too tired at the wheel, with the risk of sudden-onset-sleep, and in order to always keep alert:

  • not having too high a temperature in the passenger compartment: heat creates tiredness and drowsiness;
  • planning breaks along to way to rest and recover energy;
  • using the car radio as “company”, so long as the volume is not too high and the music is not too relaxing! These might bring an increase in mental relaxation, which interferes with the concentration needed on the road;
  • drinking good coffee, so as to keep the organism active and lucid;
  • avoiding foods that are too “heavy”, as they require a laborious and long digestion phase, with consequent sleepiness.
And in case you can’t go on anymore, don’t keep pushing the limit of endurance, but stop for a rest!

The rule is: the higher the speed, the further ahead you must always look, both to know in advance what is happening ahead and what is the situation in terms of road/curves, and to have a better “sense” of  the behaviours of the car. Sight is of fundamental importance, so it must be combined with perfect visibility of what is outside the vehicle: the latter also needs to “see” well in difficult conditions. Its eyes, the headlights, at night become the driver’s as well.  Therefore in addition to being in perfect working order, they must be regularly cleaned. And the tail lights must not be forgotten, as they represent safety from third parties in case of bad visibility. The windscreen also must always be as clean as possible, in order to have optimal visibility: the windshield wiper blades must be replaced regularly and in any case at the first sign of wear, and the windshield wiper reservoir must be filled with water and detergent liquid.

As far as possible, the luggage must be put in the trunk: any object free to follow the car movements in the passenger compartment can cause a hazard (e.g. end up between the pedals following sudden braking, or hit the occupants in an accident). “Necessary” objects near the driver or passengers must be placed on the floor, in order to avoid the situations described above. If something falls from the seat while braking (e.g. a handbag), the rule is to stop and pick it up, and not do so while driving! The distribution of luggage in the trunk must be viewed in the perspective of better weight distribution, as it can influence positively, or negatively, the balance of the vehicle. Consequently, the heavier bags must be placed in the trunk close to the back seat backrests, so that they are positioned closer to the centre of gravity of the car and not projecting beyond the axle of the rear wheels. Child seats must be installed according to the manufacturer’s indications, making sure to check in which direction they should be facing, and remembering to disable the airbag if the child is placed in the front seat.

It is statistically proven that the great majority of accidents are caused by human error. Therefore, the longer the journey, the more useful it will be to take some precautions to maintain maximum concentration. First of all, the correct driving position is also the one that ensures best comfort over long distances. Stop when you begin to feel excessive fatigue, and do some stretching exercises to recover your energies. Finally, avoid “heavy” and excessively fat foods: they cause sleepiness!

Wind can create a few problems, particularly when driving wide vehicles (e.g. mini-vans, cross-country vehicles). The best advice in these conditions, in addition to reducing speed significantly, is definitely to hold the steering wheel tightly with both hands so as to prevent the wind from suddenly changing the direction of the vehicle.

Driving over snow (or ice) requires, in addition to proceeding at a much reduced speed, gentle and gradual manoeuvres with the accelerator, steering wheel and brakes. In particular shifting down, which on a dry surface does not create any problems, must be extremely gentle in zero-grip conditions (heel-and-toe is the best solution, or releasing the clutch very gradually): otherwise one risks blocking the drive wheels, which can lead to tailspin in a rear-wheel drive car and loss of direction control in a front-wheel drive vehicle.

There are no specific rules for driving in the fog: the only solution is reducing speed. There are, however, a few precautions to take, first of all that of always keeping windscreen wipers in perfect working order (fog leaves a layer of water on the windshield), and fog lights and rear fog lights clean. The latter must always be turned off as soon as visibility goes back to normal. As for headlights, it is better to use low beam lights rather than high beam ones: light is reflected by the wall of fog, thus making visibility even worse. It must always be remembered that driving fast when there is only a few meters’ visibility is not a question of ability but of idiocy!

Wet asphalt clearly makes for a lower grip surface than dry one. And this needs to be taken into account, particularly when estimating safety distance. But in addition to lower grip, and obviously the diminished visibility, one of the most treacherous phenomena associated with precipitation is aquaplaning. When rain is so heavy as to exceed the drainage capacity of the street and of the tyre grooves, the rubber “detaches itself” from the ground, becoming in effect suspended on a layer of water. The typical sensation is that the car is “floating”. The most frequent modalities of aquaplaning are shown in the image opposite, according to the kind of road on which it happens. When your vehicle starts aquaplaning, the first rule is not to panic! The control procedure is not particularly complicated: no sudden reaction, steering wheel firm at 9:15, no sudden release of the accelerator, at most a slight lessening of the pressure on the pedal. And never any braking. Once through the puddle that caused aquaplaning, the situation will return to normal. As always when driving, prevention is best: modifying speed according to the weather conditions, so as to avoid aquaplaning, is always the best thing to do.

Il percorso urbano, statistiche alla mano, è quello con la più elevata percentuale di incidenti, morti e feriti. Questo perché, spesso e volentieri, data la velocità considerata dai più modesta, la concentrazione viene meno e le cinture spesso non vengono allacciate. Attenzione invece: l’imprevisto, specie in città, è sempre in agguato! Stesso discorso si può fare per le strade extraurbane: non “insidiose” come quelle urbane dal punto di vista della percentuale di incidenti, ma sempre meritevoli della massima concentrazione, anche perché i mezzi che vi si possono incontrare (motorini, motocarri, macchine agricole) spesso hanno una velocità davvero ridotta se comparate a quella di un autoveicolo.

As well as according to weather conditions (which may require lowering the speed limits set by the Road Code), motorway driving must be regulated according to the traffic! Safety distance is one of the first rules to be respected, and it depends not just on the car’s speed, but also on traffic and weather conditions: in particular, it must be remembered that on a wet surface braking spaces increase dramatically. Therefore the distance from the vehicle in front must be greater, and it must always permit the car to stop without collisions. If asphalt does not have high draining capacity, aquaplaning is always a danger (a specific section is dedicated to this topic).

Modern cars are often real concentrates of active safety technologies, the devices which assist the driver in the safe operation of his vehicle: the 3 main ones are ABS, stability control (VDC or ESP or MSP or TSC, each car manufacturer uses a different identification acronym even if the device is the same) and ASR traction control system. In addition, the constant progress of electronics has led to the development of different systems: the EBD brake force distribution system, MSR, and many other driving electronic aids. But beware: these devices do not overcome the limits of physics! The most important part of a car is always the driver at the wheel!

In specialized magazines, braking distances of modern vehicles are calculated without taking into account the reaction times of human beings, which corresponds in average to 5 tenths of a second. The data in magazines is a mere technical reference. For everyday driving and above all for estimating safety distance, it is of essential importance to take reaction time into consideration. In addition to the reaction time, the type of braking must be taken into account: without ABS, blocking the wheels, stopping distance will be worse, and moreover without direction control. Asphalt conditions obviously influence braking distance: on wet surfaces it is almost doubled, and on snow and ice it’s even worse! All these factors must be taken into account.

When the succession of curves is in opposite directions (e.g. one to left followed by one to the right) the trajectory of the first one must always be “sacrificed” to that of the second one in order not to, for instance, anticipate too much entry into curve 1 and risk leaving the road in curve 2!

When dealing with successive curves in the same direction (e.g., two curves to the right), one must try as much as possible to coordinate them within a single steering action, in order not to compromise too much the stability of the leaning vehicle. Abrupt wheel and accelerator reactions are forbidden!

A curve is divided into 3 phrases: braking/shifting down, entry, exit. Let’s consider them one at a time. Braking and shifting down phase: it must occur as much as possible with the car straight, to the advantage of stability. First speed is reduced as needed, and only then is a shift-down made (if necessary). Otherwise there is the risk of unstable deceleration and of the drive wheels locking because of the different rotation speed between wheels and engine. Entry and middle phase: the concept, which of course needs to be applied and personalized according to the kind of curve one is taking, is: entry (therefore rotation of the steering wheel) while releasing the accelerator and without braking in order to maintain maximum stability and safety, driving along the curve with constant gas or only accelerating slightly to further balance the car loads. Exit phase: starting from the apex, the curve is “finished” and one can begin to realign the steering wheel and let the car release to the outside of the curve, accelerating at the same time.

Each curve tells its own tale. Still, there are concepts which are always valid and which it is up to the driver, according to his experience and ability, to apply to his driving. The ideal trajectory requires a delayed entry into the curve, reaching the “apex” (the moment in which one is closest to the inside of the curve), and gradually increasing the steering angle while exiting. In this way the steering wheel remains turned for the least amount of time needed, to the advantage of stability and safety!

As well as longitudinally, loads move transversally in a curve, obviously towards the outside of the curve itself. By combining longitudinal with transverse transfers, for example when braking in a curve, the car can go into a skid. Load transfer is an important factor in determining how to negotiate a curve.

The heels must rest on the floor. The right food must be able to move from accelerator to brake and vice versa by pivoting on the heel resting on the floor. The left foot is on the clutch only when it is being used to change gears. If it is in resting position, it must be placed on the foot rest, to the left of the clutch pedal, in order to have the best support in a curve.

Control of the car depends (also) on the driving position. Take therefore a few moments to adjust it correctly: backrest positioned so that the arms are rather close to your body and bent at almost 90°, legs sufficiently extended to allow optimal foot movement on the brake, accelerator and clutch with just one movement of the foot involved, and hands in the basic 9:15 position. Being seated “properly” at the wheel means being able to react more rapidly in unforeseen cases and having much better control of the vehicle.

There are, however, curves so tight as to require the driver to move his hands on the wheel. The correct manoeuvre for facing this case (e.g., mountain road with hairpin bend to the right) is as follows: basic position always at 9:15. The right hand, in the phase prior to entering the curve, slides up until it reaches the vertical centre of the wheel, while the left hand continues to hold the wheel firmly in the basic position. At this point, with the right hand in the 12 o’clock position and the left hand at 9 o’clock, the right hand pulls the wheel to the right while the left hand lets it slide until it reaches the central lower spoke (or in the case of a steering wheel with 2/4 spokes, until it is parallel to the right hand). From here, with the wheel turned by 90°, but with the hands at 9:15 again, one continues turning towards the right, concluding the turn. In practice the turn is increased by a complete rotation of the wheel, without ever letting go of it even with one hand, and maintaining therefore (maximum) control of the basic position at all times. If the curve is to the left, the procedure is the same, but with hands reversed.

100% of motorway curves and 90% of highway curves can be taken with the hands in this position. The main advantages are: speed of reaction, consistency of movement with consequent increased sensitivity, awareness of how much the steering wheel has been effectively turned without having to look at it.

There is an ABC for all things, and in driving the A is represented by the position of the hands on the wheel. If one looks at the steering wheel as a clock face, the basic position, on a straight road with the car facing ahead, is at 9:15. Almost all cars now have a steering wheel with 3 or 4 spokes, giving the possibility of placing the thumbs near them. So: maximum grip!